Category: current events

Trump wasn’t Talking about Countries. He was Talking about People.

I didn’t really want to write another Trump post. There have been so many of them, and when he decided to refer to African countries as “shitholes,” I was anything but surprised. He continues to do and say the same things he’s always done and said. Expressing shock or disappointment at this point seems pretty redundant. And this post isn’t really going to be about Trump, believe it or not.

It’s about the rest of us. It’s about how we respond to Trump, and what that says about us.

Because in the days after his shithole comment, there have been a variety of responses. Outrage and disappointment were expected, but what was not expected were the ones where people tried to continue to defend the man. I know I shouldn’t be surprised by that, but I am. And I have seen two main arguments used to try to excuse his remarks. Both leave much to be desired.

First, Trump and some of the Republicans in the meeting are saying he didn’t actually say “shithole.” Instead, this is what each are claiming:

  • Trump: “The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.”
  • Senators Cotton and Perdue: “We do not recall the President saying these comments specifically”
  • Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen: “I don’t recall him saying that exact phrase.”

And in each case, the defender then tries to deflect the conversation back to what’s “really important,” which is immigration and how impassioned Trump is about it, and how we have to blah blah blah. And there are other Republicans who just aren’t saying anything, and some who are ignoring the comment altogether, skipping straight to focusing on what’s “really important.”

I go to a lot of meetings. Day in, day out. Meetings. And if I were ever in a meeting where the person running it used the word “shithole” in the middle of the meeting, I would remember. It would be blazed across my mind, because the people I go to meetings with just don’t use that kind of language in formal settings. So to have even the defenders hemming and hawing about it, spouting out about strong language and exact phrases? Even if I believed them, all it adds up to is Trump used some comment other than shithole. Not only that, but he uses such foul language in meetings on a regular basis that “shithole” doesn’t really make a lasting impression on people. I wonder what would.

So this defense pretty much agrees with the fact that he used terrible language to describe some countries. So much of it that “shithole” as a single adjective kind of blended in with the rest, perhaps.

“Tough” language indeed.

But let’s move on to the second defense. I’ve seen multiple people (some of them friends of mine) try to excuse Trump’s remarks by saying he was just crudely stating what many people believe anyway. To them, “shithole” is shorthand for “economically challenged, corrupt, unstable nation with severe infrastructure problems.” And as I look at that definition, it seems to fit “America” more and more with every passing day.

Except what people try to make this mean is that there are some countries we’d rather visit or live than others. That anyone who’d rather go to Norway on vacation is just as “racist” as Trump. Except that’s not how this works. There’s a huge difference between preference and labeling, especially when you’re the leader of a major geopolitical power.

I have traveled a fair bit in my life. I have seen places where people are living in abject poverty. Where they don’t have enough money to provide heat and food for their families. But even in those dire circumstances, the people I’ve met and talked to have always impressed me. They’ve been outgoing, passionate, and generous. Even in the worst of circumstances, I’ve found places to admire and wonder at. History that amazes me. Adventures all over the globe. And the more I’ve traveled, the more I’ve seen that people are people, no matter where you go. There are great people, and terrible people. Motivated people, and lazy people. I don’t care what country you’re from. Your life is what you make it. Your culture might be different, but that just means we’ll have a bit more trouble understanding where we’re both coming from, not that my culture is better than yours.

But even after we take all of that into account, we’re missing the point. Because Trump wasn’t having a conversation about where he wants to go on vacation this year. He was talking about immigration, and who is coming to our country. We must not forget for one moment that Trump wasn’t just referring to the countries when he said “shithole.” He was asking why we want more people from these shithole countries.

It wasn’t about the countries. It was about the people who live in them.

And that’s where the charges of racism stick and no amount of wiping will clear them away. All of Trump’s defenders have been so focused on that one shithole word that they didn’t realize words themselves are fleeting things. It’s what we use those words to say which is far more important. According to reports, Trump wondered why we couldn’t get more people from “good” countries like Norway, as opposed to all these “shithole” countries like African nations. He wasn’t talking about places he’d like to live, or where he’d love to go on vacation. He was saying people from Norway are better than people from Africa. More desirable to have in our country.

If that’s not racist, I don’t know what is.

And yet people continue to defend the man. People I know. And instead of talking about what we should do about Trump–how we might mitigate the damage he’s doing to our country–we end up discussing the words he uses. He continues to do and say terrible things while we waste time being outraged. And we get tired. And we don’t want to talk about it anymore. I know I don’t. I’m so sick of hearing what he’s up to that I just want the next three years to be over and done with. Except ignoring it doesn’t help. It just lets him have an easier time of it.

So don’t be fooled. Don’t let them switch the conversation, or change the meaning of what he said. Remember that it wasn’t about the word (though the word was bad enough as it was). And it wasn’t about the countries (though that too, would have been awful). It was about the dismissive thoughts he had about the *people* in those countries. When  you can dismiss entire countries of people with such ease, how are you anything but a racist? And you’re one step closer to treating people like commodities, not individuals, something which I think Trump already does. The more we focus on the word and not the meaning, the more we allow ourselves to be inundated with his ideology. We begin to normalize it, and it becomes that much easier for racist groups to thrive in  our nation.

Words have consequences. They lead to actions. We need to keep our leaders accountable not just for what they do, but what they say.

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No One Has a Monopoly on “Values”

Roy Moore was defeated yesterday in the Alabama Senate race, showing to the country that, for once, standards and decency count more than party affiliation. But only barely. I was relieved to see Moore go down for a variety of reasons, but setting all that aside for the moment (sort of), I wanted to talk about the narrative behind the race.

Because I have to believe most of the people who voted for Moore didn’t actually believe he molested 14 year old girls. They thought the accusations were lies or exaggerations. And while I can at least see the logic there, I was very discouraged to hear the rhetoric that was being used to support Moore. Basically, Republicans were arguing that even if the allegations were true, it was still more important to hold onto the Senate seat than it was to not elect a child molester to the Senate.

This coming from the party that likes to position itself as the “Christian values” voice of the country.

The fact of that matter is that people like to make excuses for themselves. Justifications. “I know people shouldn’t normally do this, but it’s okay for me to do this, because _____________.” But when it comes time to hold people they don’t know or like accountable, then those justifications hold no water. It’s the same principle that makes it so we all feel like all the other drivers on the road are maniacs, but we ourselves are reasonable, perfect drivers. Cut someone off, and you excuse yourself. You didn’t see them. They shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Someone cuts *you* off, and they’re a complete jerk.

Politically speaking, people seem willing to overlook the flaws of people who agree with them, regardless of how big those flaws might be. They’ll justify it by saying it’s for the greater good, or that the flaws are lies, or that the other side is even worse. But of course when the situation is reversed, they have no patience for any of those excuses.

Here’s the thing. For me, there should be certain lines that are just inexcusable. Child molestation allegations need to be dealt with and completely disproven before someone can hold office in our country. Imagine if Roy Moore had been up for any other position. What if he were applying to be a cashier at McDonald’s, and this came to light? Something tells me McD’s would hold off hiring the guy until it was crystal clear he wasn’t a child molester.

I already hear the people saying “innocent until proven guilty!” but that’s another justification. This wasn’t a he said/she said situation. This was multiple women, providing physical evidence, corroborated by other accounts that all added up to the same thing. And yet the party that was all for jailing Clinton for deleting emails suddenly becomes overwhelmed by mercy and understanding.

Standards. Both sides. The same. Franken resigned. Trump should come under the same scrutiny. I don’t care what party you belong to. Some accusations deserve to be heard and then resolved. Sexual abuse? Child abuse?

Thank goodness Alabama got this one right. It gives me hope for this country yet.

On Not Being a Creep, Jerk, or Harasser

In hindsight, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that so many revelations about men in positions of power have been coming out, one after another. There’s a reason there’s a stereotype for the “casting couch” and the like. That sort of thing doesn’t come ex nihilo.

That said, it’s getting to the point that I start to wonder who isn’t a creep out there in the world. Of course, I know that’s not the case. There are tons of good men out there who aren’t walking around, creeping on everyone they come in contact with. But those men don’t get news stories written about them. And thank goodness, I suppose. How depressing would it be if it started to become newsworthy when someone wasn’t sexually harassing people?

At the same time, I’m continually dismayed by the tone deafness of some people out there. This past week, the Magic the Gathering scene has had its own brush with controversy. A YouTuber with more than 100,000 subscribers has been, apparently, trolling the interwebs, casting stones at just about anyone he could hit, and a well known cosplayer has stepped away from the game because of it. This caused a cascade of criticism to follow, all aimed at the YouTuber, detailing the many different things he’s said and done, and the behavior from his fans that he has at the very least turned a blind eye to, and at the worst encouraged.

I’ve watched the clips and read some of his posts, and I’m just left shaking my head in disappointment. Disappointment that someone out there can be that much of a jerk and claim to not understand he’s being a jerk. Even bigger dismay that 100,000+ people like his content enough to subscribe to him.

But he isn’t alone. There are many people who are making good money by being brusque and uncaring. By being as provocative as they can be to anyone that might get them more eyeballs. It’s the Simon Cowell effect on the internet. Some people just love to watch a good train wreck, and if there’s someone who’s going to sit back and say mean nasty things about other people, that inevitably attracts those people, like moths to a flame.

Part of me can understand the appeal. I was an American Idol fan back in the day, and I used to love to be shocked at just what Simon got away with saying. But it didn’t stop with Simon. People (and television executives) discovered this was a sort of brand you could replicate, until all judging shows seemed to have the requisite jerk. Donald Trump went from “rich white guy people sort of abstractly know about” to “judge of The Apprentice.” He rode that Jerk train all the way to the White House, where he’s become the troll in chief.

It should not surprise us that behavior like this is rampant in our society. Not when a man can say and do the things Trump has said and done and still be elected President.

There is a large contingent of mostly white males who are outraged. Outraged that people are becoming more tolerant. They’re disgusted by what they call PC culture. Enraged that some people are actively trying to make the world a better place. Social Justice Warriors, they call them. SJWs for short. I’ve seen this happen in fantasy author communities, video game communities, politics, religion. You name it. I assume it’s pretty much anywhere, to one degree or another. It’s ugly, but it seems the people spewing this hate just don’t get it. They do not understand that what they’re doing and saying is harmful and obnoxious.

Trump tapped into this vein in his run for office as well. “Make America great again” speaks to this mindset. Reassures people that this new world where people can be accepted for who they are and treated how they wish to be treated is something that doesn’t have to stick around. That we can go back to the good ol’ days, where white men got to grope who they wanted to grope, say what they wanted to say, and could crush anyone they didn’t like.

The sad truth is that 38% of the country still think Trump’s doing a good job. “Pay attention to what he does, not what he says,” they tell me. While Hawaii is testing its nuclear alert system and North Korea is playing chicken with the world. “It’s just an act,” people reassure me. And never mind that just today, Trump retweeted anti-Muslim videos posted by far right extremists. I continue to believe Trump has made this country much worse in his two years of influence. (The first when he was running for office, the second as he’s been in it.) The country I live in now is an actively worse place to live than it was two years ago.

But there’s hope. I see all these accusations of sexual harassment coming out against people at the highest levels of entertainment and news. Matt Lauer. Kevin Spacey. And there are very real consequences for them. That’s good. There needs to be. My hope is that Trump’s presidency ends up being a wake up call to the majority of people in this country. That we reject what he stands for the way we’re standing up and rejecting a culture of sexual harassment.

I know not everyone will agree with the change. But I’m consoled by the fact that I believe the ones who are scared by it are on the decline, while the ones who find Trump reprehensible only gain in numbers every day. And I think the more Trump bangs his little drum of hate and discord, the more he strengthens the opposition.

In the meantime, I continue to do what I can to be a good person. To say nice things. To try to improve myself, and to not just do unto others as I would have others do unto me, but to treat people how they ask to be treated. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

When the Team Becomes More Important than the Player

I’ve been generally disgusted with politics lately. So many people involved in getting so little of real worth accomplished. It’s depressing, and that’s before you trot out Trump and take a long look at just what he’s doing to this country. (Case in point: we’re now focused on bolstering our nuclear defenses, and Congress is examining just what sort of nuclear powers the President should have. This is 2017, by the way. The Cold War has been over for coming up on thirty years. And yet suddenly we’re worrying about this, and I think you can plop pretty much all the blame right at Trump’s bloated feet.*)

But one of the things that has disappointed me the most has been the trend of people more and more focusing on what “team” each politician plays for, and less and less on the character and quality of the actual players/politicians themselves. In the presidential election, many seemed to vote simply because of what the party each candidate belonged to stood for, holding their nose or overlooking anything that candidate might have done or said personally. And I certainly believe Trump and Clinton can have this accusation lobbed at them.

This has become much clearer now with this Roy Moore nastiness. For those of you not following along, Roy Moore is a Republican candidate for Senator in Alabama. The Washington Post published an article detailing an investigation they ran, encompassing thirty interviews with people who knew Moore and connected him with sexually assaulting girls as young as 14 back in the late 1970s, when Moore was in his young 30s. Other women have since come forward, confirming the allegations.

I get that it’s basically a he said/she said situation at the moment. (Though I’ll note that when you have multiple people willing to make the same allegations, that actually turns into a he said/THEY said, and that’s quite a different equation in my book.) Is it possible Moore is innocent and wrongly accused? Sure it is. And some people are taking that line, saying he should step down from the race “if the allegations are true.”

The thing that baffles me—that has my jaw on the floor—is how some others are actually defending his actions, even if those actions are true.

“Take Mary and Joseph. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus,” Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler told theWashington Examiner. “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

And this one:

Joel Pollak, an editor-at-large at Breitbart, criticized the Post’s report in an interview on MSNBC, saying “the 16-year-old and the 18-year-old have no business in that story” because Alabama’s age of consent is 16. “As far as we know, there’s only one relationship that’s been alleged that is problematic,” Pollak said of the encounter with 14-year-old Corfman.

You have politicians and talk show hosts and public figures defending the man’s actions, even if they are true. And the reason many of them give for it? It’s important Moore gets elected to that Senate seat, because otherwise the Republicans have an even more tenuous hold on the Senate. Better to put a child molester into power than to risk the Republican agenda. Let that sink in for a moment. These aren’t people who are defending his character or saying he’d never do such a thing. They’re saying even if he did it, it doesn’t matter as much as politics.

I don’t know why it should surprise me. People voted for Trump to keep the Democrats out of the Presidency, and Trump was on the record saying and doing awful things. It wasn’t he said/she said. It was just “he said.” And you had him on tape actually saying it.

This is not right, plain and simple. And anyone who wants to show up and start accusing Democrats of terrible behavior in order to excuse Republicans for terrible behavior is equally at fault. I literally do not care what party a child molester belongs to. I’m sure there are terrible Democrats out there. But this isn’t football. Two penalties, one against each team, do not offset each other. Play does not continue as normal. I would much prefer an inherently good person be in office, even if I disagree with that person’s politics, than an evil person who might happen to vote the way I’d prefer from time to time. I don’t think that statement should be groundbreaking, but sometimes it feels to me that it’s heading in that direction.

The best way to make it stop (that I can see) is to break up the parties, which might (in turn) break up the talk radio and biased news reporting. When it becomes less of us vs. them, perhaps Americans can start actually caring that good people represent them once more.

Or maybe I’m just dreaming.

Disclaimer: I do not actually know if Trump has bloated feet or not. Perhaps they’re very dainty. Tiny, even. I have no real desire to find out.

Rewatching Gangs of New York after Trump

I was a fan of Scorsese’s Gangs of New York when I first watched it fifteen years ago. I thought the acting was fantastic, and it was great to see the way the historical details of New York City in the mid-1800s came to life. The place looked so foreign from the New York I knew in 2002, and it was crazy to think it had been like that less than 150 years before.

Over the weekend, I decided to give it another watch to see how it held up. The acting was still spot on, the historical details were still engrossing, but what surprised me most this time through was how . . . similar New York looked to me now. How we seemed to have come full circle in just 15 years.

I don’t mean that New York has devolved into a place where violence rules the streets and gangs and politicians work hand in hand to control the way the city is run. Certainly no one’s getting bludgeoned to death in full daylight, and I haven’t read of anyone dying from being stabbed with a meat cleaver recently. But the city in the film is, broadly seen, very similar to the situation we have today in America.

For example, one of the big conflicts of the movie is the Natives (led by Bill the Butcher) vs. the Irish (led by Amsterdam Vallon). Bill is upset that so many Irish are flooding the country, and he’s dead set on keeping America for Americans. People who had been born there. Essentially he wants to Make America Great Again, which shows how tenuous the argument is. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. I believe many people look back to “the way things were” as a return to simpler times. How things were in your childhood. But from my experience, the only reason things seemed simpler to me when I was a child is because I didn’t fully understand the forces at work in the world. So it’s easy to think back on the 80s and reminisce about how great they were for me, because I wasn’t up to date on the Cold War or the AIDS epidemic, for example. Yes, they were concepts in my head, but they weren’t nearly as important to me as Transformers or the latest Nintendo game to be released.

Bill the Butcher wants things the way they were. He blames his current problems on an exterior force: the Irish. Now that enough time has passed, we can look back at his views and see just how close-minded they are, and yet those same views still hold sway today in the rhetoric of Trump. All that’s changed is the minorities that are blamed for the country’s woes.

Another huge issue in the movie is the disparity between the haves and the have nots. At the time, the North instituted a draft as it continued the Civil War. The catch? If you were drafted, you could pay $300 to get out of your obligation. So it became a draft of the poor, who couldn’t dream of affording that payment.

The movie essentially shows how all of this turmoil and anger boiled up and changed the city in one fell swoop. For the first 4/5ths of the film, we see a depiction of how life in New York worked, and we have expectations for what will be the climax of the movie. But then the city is hit with massive riots, and suddenly everything changes. That rang true to me. We can easily think that “the way things are” will never change, but often it changes in the matter of a day or less. Think about Pearl Harbor, or 9/11. The stock market crash in the 20s. Everything gets turned on its ear, and a new normal is established.

I have no idea what the future holds for America. But I was reminded in my rewatch of the movie how much things can change in a day, or 15 years. And as we see this wave of Nationalism sweeping across much of Europe and the US, I just hope we can get through it without the same conflicts we’ve experienced in the past.

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