Thursday, November 10, 2016

This Time It Feels Different

I remember waking up for work one morning in November approximately sixteen years ago and feeling demoralized by the news.  As ballets were still being re-counted in Florida and we were all introduced to the concept of a “hanging chad,” it was pretty clear that the country had made a decision to go in a new direction.  After eight years of strong economic growth, shrinking unemployment, and historic budget surpluses, the country favored change over the status quo.  Instead of selecting a supremely qualified, albeit slightly robotic candidate who promised to continue the policies of his predecessor, we had chosen the likeable, bumbling son of a former President whose personal failures far outshined his marginal success as the Governor of Texas. 

After all of the lawsuits and protests were over, we had made our decision, and our new President proceeded to take our nation in a new direction.  Afraid of an impending economic recession, President Bush pushed through income tax cuts for everyone and enacted new tax rules that overwhelmingly favored wealthy individuals and large corporations. After the tragedy of 9/11, our foreign policy failures were many, putting our fellow citizens on the battlefield for political purposes, and changing the face of the Middle East forever.  The construction business was put back to work, not to re-build the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges, not to revitalize our railways, not to modernize our communication and power infrastructure, but to build houses.  Big houses, little houses, enough houses to support an enormous “ponzi” scheme that created scores of billionaires, brought the world economy to its knees and created the largest economic recession in my lifetime.  The causes of our economic meltdown are varied and complex, and certainly are not limited to the decisions of the Bush administration.  In 2008, our nation again felt it was time for a change, and change we did. 

Eight years later, under the steady and admirable leadership of President Obama and in the face of unprecedented obstruction, we have clawed back to solid ground.  The financial system was saved from total collapse, the American auto industry was rescued, and a government stimulus plan was rolled out.  A few new regulations were put in place to reduce our risk of another financial meltdown, and the CFPB was created to protect citizens from unchecked corporate greed.  After bottoming out in late 2009, our economy has produced a record 73 consecutive months of private sector job growth.  The official unemployment rate (U-3 rate, as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics), which peaked at 10% in October 2009, is currently sitting at 4.9%.  The budget deficit, calculated as a percentage of our total economy is 2.4%, after peaking at 9.8% in 2009. Meanwhile, 20 million people, who previously walked around without medical insurance, are now covered.  Strong rules have been imposed on the health insurers, to combat those who were traditionally underinsured or in danger of losing their insurance under certain circumstances beyond their control. The number of illegal immigrants, which peaked in 2007 at 12.2 million, has actually fallen by over a million under President Obama ( 

Despite improvements, not everyone was feeling hopeful about their own futures.  We created lots of jobs, but they weren’t the same jobs that were lost.  We opened some more factories, but they were staffed to a large extent by computer operators and robots.  Small business growth, which both parties agree creates most of the new jobs in our country, increased, but mainly in large, urban areas of the country.  The number of jobs available to those without high school and college degrees continued to shrink.  Many of the new jobs were taken by (legal) immigrants from Europe, India, and elsewhere in Asia.  Wages stagnated, as they always do in the years following a recession, but are now starting to rise slightly.  Profitability returned, but most of the gains went to those who didn’t need the money. Healthcare costs for individuals continued to go up, and profits continued to go overwhelmingly to those on top.  

Our brave men and women in uniform remained stationed around the world, lives were still lost, and unpopular decisions were still made in foreign policy.  Gun violence continued to take more lives in our country than in any other developed nation on Earth. And what about re-building our crumbling roads, bridges, railways and power grid?  Some of that happened, but only as part of the aforementioned stimulus package. When the money ran out, future infrastructure spending bills put forth by President Obama and some members of Congress were blocked as “unnecessary government spending,” depriving the working class of a much needed lifeline.  In 2016, Americans once again voted for change.  Instead of selecting a supremely qualified, slightly robotic candidate who promised to continue the policies of HER predecessor…WE CHOSE TRUMP.

Waking up on Wednesday morning, the sun was shining bright, and the last of the leaves were falling to the ground from the maple tree in my backyard.  My daughter Paige, who was born just days after the historic election of 2008, was turning eight years old, and I had been excited for her to wake up, have breakfast in bed, and learn that America had just elected, for the first time ever, a supremely qualified woman as President.  Instead, after our family finished singing “Happy Birthday,” after she had blown out the candle and eaten her birthday donut, my wife and I explained to her that…WE CHOSE TRUMP. 

How do we explain to our children the things that we can’t explain to ourselves?  Lacking any satisfactory explanation, we did what we could to make sure our own disappointments didn’t ruin her special day.  I, for one, shoved my feelings deep down inside, went to work, did my job, and prepared for a wonderful family birthday dinner with Paige’s grandparents.   Fortunately, the food, gifts, and most of all, the company helped make November 9th, 2016 a great success for our family.  What it means for our country, and our future, depends on where we go from here.

We chose Trump.  As President Obama predicted, the sun continues to rise and set each day, yet I cannot get these words out of my head.  It is no secret that I am willing to share my thoughts and speak my mind.  It should be clear by now where my loyalties lie.  Hopefully, after years of comments, conversations and compositions, most people can see that my beliefs are guided by facts, education, and morality, rather than simply “politics”.  When I say “facts,” I mean evidence, driven by an overwhelming desire to educate myself through available channels.  When I say “morality,” I refer to the things that were taught to me at an early age, and those things that we try to instill in our own children.  Politics are a necessary evil.  They are messy, often dishonest, sometimes immoral, and yet they are how we get things done in a democracy.  Politics requires compromise and understanding, and often disappointment. To reject “politics” is to reject democracy in favor of something easier, cleaner and nicer.  Our nation is great because of what politics affords us, and in this instance…WE CHOSE TRUMP.

For someone like me, who fought until the end talking to voters, posting on social media, and even donating money to candidates, this loss is a tough one to swallow.  If all of my facts, education and morality don’t point in the same direction as the result, then what is the point?  I had thoughts of cancelling my Facebook account, or at least taking a much needed “break.” No more blog posts for me, even though it serves as an important kind of personal therapy.  My emotions swung wildly from anger to apathy and back again.  What’s next?  Where do we go from here? I wanted to put my head down, wrap my arms around my family and friends, and focus on what’s best for me.  Maybe Trump can’t do too much damage in two years. Maybe then the people will decide to elect those who can limit his influence.  Perhaps, in 2020, we can make a better decision.  Maybe I’ll just sit back and watch as this country burns to the ground, doing what I can to protect what is closest to me wrapped in a fireproof blanket. 

NO!...Hell No!

I’ve spent 40 years trying to understand what type of person I want to be.  I decided a long time ago that I’ll continue to learn and evolve every day of my life (even the really hard days).  This is one of the gifts that I will pass onto my children, and I’ll spend every day trying to convince them that is the better way. I refuse to become a person who spends every day trying to figure out how to make things better for myself alone.  I refuse to ignore the privileges that I have been afforded because of the hard work, sacrifices, and choices of my parents.  I refuse to take for granted the sacrifices of those who came before me and helped to grant me the comfort that I enjoy today.  I will not ignore the realities of an increasingly inter-connected world in which most people survive with so much less.  I also cannot ignore that there are others who have so much more.  I understand that the place that I was born, the place that I currently live, who my parents are, and the color of my skin have far more to do with my privilege than anything I can do on my own.  As an American, I believe that if I work hard, make the right choices, and persevere though challenges, that I will live a good life and have an opportunity to pass on that good fortune to my children.

No, I’m not going to stick my head in the sand and reject my morality because 25% of our nation doesn’t believe the things I do.  I will continue to believe that the promises of this great nation can be realized for all of us, not just for those as fortunate as I am.  I will continue to learn every day so that I can better understand how to share that opportunity with all people in this great nation that we are lucky to call home. 

Being an American doesn’t require me to simply accept the results of the election and move on with my life.  It doesn’t require me to support the President just because he won the Electoral College.  Being an American is about using our individual voices to speak up for what is right, building a movement of people who share our values, and pushing for the kind of change that works, regardless of who is in charge.  That is how I choose to move forward today.  That is how I will continue to fight for the kind of country I want my children to know.

You see, the truth is this.  Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both got about 25% of all eligible votes in this country.  The other 50% of voters decided to sit this one out.  So, the real winner was “I DON'T CARE,” with Clinton and Trump splitting the remaining votes.  We need to take a hard look at those 50% of our citizens, and figure out what makes then so uninterested, unwilling, or unable to speak out for the future of their country. 

If you voted for Clinton, or even if you just voted “against Trump,” your voice needs to be heard louder than ever before.  I’m not talking about rejecting the results of the election or violently protesting in the streets.  We are beyond that.  But for all of us that voted against the horrific policies and proposals during the campaign, we must be more vigilant than ever in continuing to convince others that our dissent was justified.  For those of us who rejected the hateful rhetoric directed at racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and refugees, we must be more inclusive than ever before, to let our neighbors and friends know we are with them.  We need to continue to push for the kind of reforms proposed by Clinton and Bernie Sanders that 25% of our citizens favored.  We need to respect the legacy and the values that we have been graced with for the past 8 years of the Obama administration.  To the extent that we agree with our new President, we should support any changes that respect our morals and values, even if the politics aren’t popular.*

*Editor's Note: 
This is stated hypothetically, of course, since I honestly can’t name a policy or proposal of Trump’s that I even remotely agree with, based on his campaign.

And finally, if you cast your vote for the winning candidate, I expect you to own it.  Whatever it was that he did or said that convinced you to fill in the oval next to his name, I expect you will fight just as hard to make sure he follows through on his promises.  For most of the millions of people that voted for Trump, I hope you weren’t actually voting to kick out or keep out people because of their religion, or because he promised to implement a database to track "certain people". I hope you don’t sincerely root for government officials to round up peaceful families and rip them away from their homes and their children.  I sincerely hope that those people represent the minority of Trump supporters, and that something else convinced you to choose Trump.

Maybe you had a need to feel safe, the kind of safety that only a giant border wall can provide.  I can only assume, however, that you will express your disapproval when you are asked to pay more taxes to build this wall, or when the wall isn’t built at all.  When the factories don’t move back to your towns and beg you to take your old job back, or when large corporations continue to game the system for the benefit of highly paid executives, I expect you will hold Trump accountable for his failure to protect working class Americans.  If he is able to push though his economic agenda, I know you’ll remind him of his promise that our economy will grow at 4-5% per year, and that he’ll somehow manage to control our skyrocketing national debt.  If he is able to “tear up NAFTA” and other free trade agreements, I’m sure you’ll be the first people to complain when prices go up and jobs disappear due to a trade war he created.  The first time someone is killed in uniform, or a diplomat tragically loses their life in a war zone, I assume there will be an investigation (because we have a right to know what really happened).  When Obamacare isn’t overturned, or even if it is, I expect you’ll complain just as vigorously over rising healthcare costs.  When your neighbor is denied coverage and gets sick, I assume you’ll offer to pay their medical bills.  When Trump takes away the freedom to marry from your fellow citizens, or the right to control one’s body, I really hope it makes your life happier.  The next time a mass shooting occurs, or an officer is gunned down, I’m sure you’ll find a way to blame President Trump for his weak leadership. 

75% of our country decided not to vote for one candidate or the other.  That is more than enough to really take back our country, and demand the kind of change we can truly believe in.

THANKS OBAMA! (No really, thank you Mr. President, you will be missed.)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

On Kaepernick

As Colin Kaepernick continues to silently drop to one knee as the Star Spangled Banner is played, the conversation and the controversy continue on Facebook and Twitter, around water coolers and at kitchen tables. After spending plenty of time reading, discussing and thinking about the subject, the time has come to put my thoughts into print.  Writing, for me, has never been reactionary.  It is the culmination of deep thought and reflection, and it allows me to present my thoughts and ideas with clarity and conviction.

I can say with complete clarity and conviction that not everyone who reads this will agree with my conclusions.  I am certain that most people reading these words have their own feelings on the subject and may disagree strongly with Mr. Kaepernick’s actions.  I am confident that others will write, and have written, words that convey a different opinion, and yet are just as thoughtfully presented as mine.  I only ask that, as you read these words, you understand that they are not intended to provoke an argument, but rather to spark a conversation. 

My words are my platform.

We are raised as Americans to always respect the American flag, to stand for the Star Spangled Banner, to remove our hats, place our hands over our hearts, and to appreciate the freedom and opportunity that these symbols represent.  The anthem means many things to many people.  For me, I think of freedom, the Olympics, and the many sacrifices of our soldiers.  I think of how lucky I am to have had the blind luck to be born here, considering that more than 95% of humans live somewhere else on the planet.  It is not surprising, especially given my upbringing, that I had mixed feelings when I heard that Mr. Kaepernick was taking a stand by sitting down.

I want to talk about the means of protest, but I’ll come back to that later.  The first thing, and the most important thing, is the protest itself.  Colin hasn’t made a lot of public statements, but he hasn’t been unclear about his reasoning.  From the reading that I’ve done, he has made two major public statements explaining his actions, and I’ve copied them below. 

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color”, Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

“I’ll continue to stand with the people who are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change, and when there’s significant change — and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way it’s supposed to — I’ll stand.”

While it is relatively clear from the first quote that he is referencing recent police shootings of black men, he also talks more generally in both quotes about “a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” and standing with “people who are being oppressed.” His statements suggest that he is holding the flag, as the symbol of our country, to a higher standard.  He is demonstrating a disapproval with how our country is currently performing against our stated ideals and expectations for ourselves. 

In recent days, a number of other athletes have voiced their support for his sentiments, and many have even decided to join in the protest. Brandon Marshall, a linebacker for the Denver Broncos, recently started taking a knee. His explanation is as follows:

“The message is that I’m against social injustice,” Marshall told reporters after the game. “I’m not against the military, police or America at all. I’m against social injustice and I feel like this is the right thing to do.”

If you believe that racism is a problem in this country, that minorities are sometimes oppressed, that injustice is ingrained in many of our institutions, then it is easier to understand the actions of these athletes.  If, on the other hand, you disagree with the premise of the protest, then the means of expression is irrelevant.  In other words, if you don’t think Colin has a point, then it really doesn’t matter how he decides to express his disapproval. 

I’ve also listened to people argue that, because of Kaepernick’s success as an athlete, or due to his financial standing, that he doesn’t have a right to speak on these issues.  I suppose the suggestion is that you shouldn’t protest oppression if you are not among the oppressed. Let’s put aside the fact that Kaepernick is a mixed-race man raised by white parents, who works for mostly white billionaire employers alongside mostly black co-workers.  I’m going to go out on a limb and assume he’s run into some sort of difficulty at some point in his 28 years. This contention reminds me of a discussion I once had with someone who tried to convince me that a wealthy, white politician was a hypocrite for suggesting tax increases on wealthy people.  After spending quite some time arguing that acting against your own self-interests to benefit others doesn’t make one a hypocrite, we ended up agreeing to disagree. 

The more important point, however, is that protesting against the unjust treatment of others is exactly what we should all be doing.  As I’ve stated before on these pages, real change doesn’t tend to happen unless those who have the power find the courage to stand up for those who are denied it.  Kaepernick’s fame and fortune don’t disqualify him from standing up for his ideals, they simply give him a larger stage to stand upon.

If I haven’t lost you yet, I hope that you can agree with the following two points:
  1. Oppression of minorities happens, and it is a problem worthy of our time and contemplation.
  2. Colin Kaepernick, or any one of us, has every right to call attention to this problem.

Let’s return to the flag.  Even if we can agree that there is a problem with racism in America, and that an NFL football player has every right to speak his mind, many of us are still bothered by the means of protest.  Initially, I was bothered by the ambiguity of the action, by the many ways that his protest would be (mis)interpreted.  I worried that his important message would be drowned out by the protests of police officers, active military officers and military veterans. 

Instead, something else happened.  Kaepernick’s team supported his right to protest.  The NFL decided not to punish him.  He sat down with a member of the military to discuss his motivation.  Pretty soon, #VeteransForKaepernick started trending on Twitter. He decided to kneel with his teammates instead of sitting alone.  A white US women’s soccer player followed his lead.  Soon, others were kneeling, raising a fist, or supporting his right to protest.  Before you knew it, a conversation was beginning in this country.  Not a consensus, but a conversation. 

Finally, it occurred to me.  You don’t bring attention to something that you care deeply about by doing something that nobody cares about.  That would be like “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli protesting his treatment in the media by going on a hunger strike (seriously dude, go away).  If you want to make a statement, you need to get people’s attention.  Regardless of your feelings on the matter, I’d say he succeeded.

The Star Spangled Banner is much more than a poem set to the music of an old British song.  The flag is more than stripes and stars on a piece of cloth hanging from a pole.  These symbols represent our country, in all of its imperfect glory. It represents immigrants from Europe fleeing from religious persecution and the repression of an archaic caste system.  It represents the farmers and shopkeepers, millers and blacksmiths, who took up arms and demanded the right to govern themselves.  It represents the millions of Native Americans murdered and pushed aside in the name of progress.  It represents boatloads of Africans brought to this country in chains.  It represents Japanese internment camps, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation, women’s suffrage, civil rights legislation, the Citizen’s United Supreme Court ruling, and the inexplicable rise of Donald Trump.  This is, and has always been, a country built by imperfect people, with imperfect ideas, and yet we continue to search for a “more perfect Union.”

Colin Kaepernick represents so much of the progress we’ve seen in this country.  There was a time when a bi-racial child would be shunned by society.  Abandoned by his biological father, his mother gave him up for adoption to a white couple who had lost their own children in infancy.  A changing America gave him the opportunity to attend integrated public schools, go to college, and get drafted into the NFL.  He has built his platform through hard work and perseverance, and he has every right to use it as he sees fit. 

Let the conversation continue…

Monday, July 11, 2016

An Open Letter to Trump Supporters

I suspect that, at this point, people who support Donald Trump's candidacy for President of the United States fall into two main categories:
  • Racists, Sexists and Xenophobes – no explanation necessary
  • People who have completely lost faith in government and would prefer to blow the “MF’er” up

To group number one, I feel sad and sorry for you.  It is tragic to think about how terrible your lives must be that you choose to blame your personal circumstances on the weak and marginalized among us. You represent the absolute worst of our instincts, and the absolute opposite of the principals that conservatives in this country claim to fight for.  These people simultaneously complain about the “takers” who rely on the government instead of “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps”, while blaming their lot in life on everyone but themselves and their own actions. 
To the second group, I have much more empathy and understanding.  My frustration with “politics as usual” and the unrelenting protection of the status-quo in Washington is genuine. I believe that the two party system creates an environment where we are too often forced to accept the lesser of two evils.  I believe that the influence of money in politics, combined with an inexplicable lack of term limits for legislators creates a breeding ground for corruption.  I believe that political maneuvering has, and continues to, erode away at the bedrock of the representative Democracy that we speak so passionately about.  Through years of gerrymandering, voter suppression, and due to the over-sized influence of special interest groups and lobbyists, my vote continues to lose value relative to some.
A number of years ago, I was part of a group of rebellious citizens who cast a vote for a former wrestler and movie star to “shake things up” a bit.  Whether or not I would vote the same way again, I’m not sure.  What I do know is that Governor Ventura was not up to the job, as he proved far too weak to navigate the ugly world of politics.  He was unable to accept criticism, far too unwilling to compromise, and generally unable to follow through on most of his ideas.  Had he run for a second term, he would not have gotten my vote again.  In any case, I am not immune to the temptation to cast a “protest vote” as recently occurred in the United Kingdom.  I am also not reckless enough to put our security and respect in the world and global economy at risk to prove a point. 

If you are interested in my thoughts on how valid a Trump vs. Ventura comparison is, go here.

If you are still tempted to give up on our Democracy in this election, I ask you to consider a different course of action.  Use your vote at the local and state level to elect people who will truly fight to restore the legitimacy of our representation.  Pledge your support to those who actually support the ideals that our founders laid out in the Constitution.  Pay attention to those who fight for more people to vote, rather than fewer.  Support those who truly want to eliminate the influence of money in politics by requiring publically funded elections, overturn Citizens United, and limit the outsized influence of special interest groups and super PACs.  Listen to politicians who have the courage to enact term limits so that politics become an honorable duty, rather than a profitable career.  Support legitimate 3rd party candidates who are more in line with your actual beliefs, rather than one of two highly funded special interest groups who are only accountable to a select few insiders. 

Whatever you do, please don’t cast your vote for a careless, joke of a human being whose only motivation is to promote himself and his selfish interests, at the expense of everything else, including our national security.

Protest Candidates

The rise of Donald Trump’s candidacy often prompts comparisons to another “outsider” candidate, former Governor Jesse Ventura.  As a longtime resident of the state of Minnesota, who elected Ventura to office, I feel the need to clarify a few things.  First of all, I definitely understand the desire to make this comparison.  Both built their campaigns on an anti-establishment, straight talking platform, and both were famous in TV and movies long before running for public office.  It is also notable that both Trump and Ventura took positions that didn’t fit particularly well in either of the established party platforms.  Each of them has a reputation for saying things that aren’t necessarily politically correct, and their comments often got them in trouble.  If you are willing to look deeper, and revisit history a bit however, that is where the similarities end. 

First of all, it is important to note that Ventura actually won the election as a third party candidate (Reform Party), defeating both the Republican and Democratic nominees. Trump, on the other hand, is going to be, albeit reluctantly, the GOP nominee. In addition, Ventura, while not a seasoned politician by any means, was not a complete newcomer to politics.  Prior to running for Governor, Ventura was the mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota from 1991-1995.  Ventura’s views, even at the time, were fairly reasonable and consistent, in stark contrast to Trump’s positions, which range from inconsistent, to incomprehensible, and in many cases, unconscionable.  Looking at Ventura’s views in today’s political environment, they seems almost refreshing.

Ventura described himself as fiscally conservative, and socially liberal.  He also like to say that he’s a “libertarian” (with a small “l”).  By simply analyzing his beliefs and political statements over the years, one site ( pegged him as a “Progressive Libertarian,” which I imagine he’d be fine with.  A sampling of his positions, both political and private, are as follows:
  •   Doesn’t agree with abortion, but supports the ultimate right of the woman to choose.
  • Doesn’t support gay marriage, but supports full legal rights regardless of sexual preference.
  • Does not support increased surveillance and invasion of privacy, even to fight “terrorism.”
  • Supports a simplified tax system, reducing overall taxes and attempting to balance out the tax burden across a larger tax base.
  • Favors taxes based on consumption of services, rather than income level or property values, including implementation of a national sales tax to replace income tax.
  •   Supports funding public education out of the general fund, rather than by local property taxes.
  • Does not support the absolute right of gun ownership.
  • Strongly in favor of separating church and state, including in public schools.
  • Believes in campaign finance reform, reducing roadblocks to voting, and is skeptical of the military and prison industrial complex.
  • Is against mandatory sentencing, “three strikes and you’re out” and criminalizing addiction.
  • In favor of legalizing and regulating marijuana, similar to alcohol and tobacco. 
  • Supports free trade agreements
  • Moderately isolationist and in favor of downsizing the military
  • Believes in climate science, is in favor of expanding green energy, and he made mass-transit (light rail) a priority for Minnesota while in office.

Another similarity between Ventura and Trump seems to be their willingness to support and to give credibility to conspiracy theories.  I’m not sure what to make of that, other than to note that Ventura’s love of conspiracy seems to be a fairly recent development, coming out after he decided not to seek re-election as Governor.  This is one major reason why so many people (myself included) who were drawn to his candidacy in 1998, would have problems supporting him today.  In 1998, he was the grassroots candidate of the people who gave us a viable option that fell somewhere in between the two mainstream options. His views made sense to pro-choice, small government crusaders who happened to have LGBT friends.  He provided a viable candidate for those responsible gun owning, recreational pot smokers who wanted to send their kids to a quality public school without having to buy a $500,000 house in the suburbs.  I certainly didn’t (and don’t) agree with all of his views, but he represented a common sense and practical view of the role of government in our society.  His policies were generally well thought out and consistent with a man that grew up in Minneapolis, and built his own success in this country.  He believed that our government had a role to play, yet we all needed to take an active role in our own success. 

Donald Trump does a very good job of getting noticed, and that was his primary motivation for jumping into this race.  He saw, much like Ventura, that people were getting fed-up with politics as usual, and saw a window of opportunity to appeal to those who felt left out.  The miscalculation that both the GOP and Democratic parties made, was regarding the scale of those voters who had lost their voice.  Trump not only grabbed hold of the white supremacist vote, the anti-immigrant vote, and the far-Christian right vote, but he also appeals to another growing category of voters.  This last group, much like the young people that handed the Governorship to Jesse, are those so fed up with the our government doing nothing, that they are willing to blow this “thing” up rather than put faith in politicians to fix politics. 

A candidate like Bernie Sanders also grabs a large group of the disenfranchised voters, but his message tends to appeal to those that believe there is still a path to success through politics, rather than in-spite of politics.  We need more than two options, and we need to change the system, not just rotate candidates in and out of government.  We need to reduce the role of money in politics, and we won’t get that done with candidates who are funded by millionaires and billionaires.   I fear that there are enough Sanders supporters who are so fed up with government that they’d rather “burn it down” with Trump rather than maintain the status-quo with Hillary.  

Only time will tell…

Friday, July 8, 2016

What I think I think...

We all know the kid in high school that always got picked on and pushed around. There are a few in every school, in every town in America. Maybe he/she was a little different, a little awkward, or just didn’t quite “fit in”. We all have a different story. That kid might have been you, your sister or brother, your neighbor or your friend. Or, that kid might have been a stranger to you, someone that you never really got a chance to know on a personal level.

Then there are the people who had power over this kid, those whose power was displayed by making him feel inferior. We all know who they are as well. Once again, this could have been you or me, your brother, sister, friend or acquaintance. The vast majority of people don’t qualify as either the tormented or the tormentor, but most are at minimum complicit in the abuse. Most of us have, at times, seen someone treated poorly, have felt bad for that person, but didn’t intervene to help.

 My personal story is pretty similar to the above generalization. I never considered myself part of the “popular” crowd, but I managed to generally avoid being considered “unpopular,” at least in most circles. I played sports, sang in choir, and did well in school. I was involved in activities, had enough friends, and never really craved the acceptance of the social elite. Still, there were times when I was bullied or mistreated by one group or another, and while the perpetrators were very few, many more stood by and did nothing to stop them.

 One night, in the fall of my senior year, I found myself at a party with a diverse group of friends, classmates and casual acquaintances. Also at the party were a few of the guys who, for whatever reason, liked to give me a hard time. By this point, I was perfectly able to stand up for myself, and the expected harassment wasn’t overly bothersome. This particular night, however, something amazing happened. A casual acquaintance of mine, and a good friend of these guys, stepped off the sidelines, and actively stood up for me. I’ll always remember that moment for a couple reasons. First, I will always respect this act of kindness and bravery, and to this day hold this person in very high regard. Second, I’ll never forget the look of shock on the faces of my tormentors, when their friend told them, and I’m paraphrasing, to “knock it off.” They were literally speechless, and they basically never bothered me again.

 For the last several years, and over the last few days in particular, I’ve struggled to make sense of how people are treated in this country. There are large segments of our society that are marginalized and made to feel inferior and forgotten. The powerful few among us exploit their advantages to make themselves more powerful. Most of us, just like in high-school, are left somewhere in the middle, as spectators to watch this all unfold. As we watch, but fail to act, we are complicit in the many injustices that we witness, some of us more than others. What I realized that night back in high school was that people will continue inappropriate behaviors as long as it is acceptable within their social circle. All it took was one comment from a respected peer to put a stop to years of damaging actions.

 Throughout American history, it has been the same story. Slavery was accepted as a practice for white land owners long after people started to struggle with the morality of owning another human being. Segregation and Jim Crow laws were prevalent long after African Americans began to express their displeasure. I imagine that many white Americans disagreed with these practices, but chose not to act. How long did women have to request the right to vote before progress was finally made? For how long did the fight for LGBT rights go on before real measurable progress was realized?

 The truth is, oppressors don’t simply change their behavior because the oppressed complain about their treatment. Real change only takes place once one’s society no longer considers that behavior acceptable. In order for that to happen, members of that society must speak out against the behavior of their own peers, making formerly acceptable views and behaviors unacceptable. It took two white Presidents (Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson) to abolish slavery and provide legal protections to African Americans. It took members of the straight community to demand equal treatment for their LGBT friends and family to prevail in that struggle. And it took one of the “cool kids” standing up to his peers to get them to stop bothering me in high school.

 Many people criticize President Obama for not doing more during his eight years in office to improve the lives of African Americans. Many people believed that having a black President would naturally make things better for people of color. The truth is, the minds and hearts of people who are comfortable in believing that the color of their skin makes them superior are not going to be changed by a black President. The responsibility for fighting inequality and institutional racism in our country lies with those who benefit from it, not those who suffer because of it.

 If we want to combat injustice and institutional racism on the police force, police officers, specifically white police officers, will have to create an environment where racism is not acceptable or tolerated. In order to combat racism in the justice system, white district attorneys and judges must be a model for fairness and equality. In order to change gun laws, gun owners must speak out for commonsense gun reforms. In order to recognize that #BlackLivesMatter, white people need to pick up a sign and march alongside our brothers and sisters to demand action and reforms. As long as we continue to sit on the sidelines while others are oppressed, the oppressors will continue to take comfort in the belief that their actions are justified, and nothing will change.

  The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. – Martin Luther King, Jr.