Be Better Than Fear

My last two posts were pretty bleak. I admit it. I don’t believe the world is ending just yet, but there are definitely signs of doom for democratic ideals.

The fear and loathing can’t be divorced from the current President, his administration and the mockery that is being made of fair governance. Basic human decency should be an occupational requirement. But it’s not.

Although actual progress on any part of the Trump agenda has been mercifully slow, change is very much in the air, dredging up fear on both sides of the aisle. It’s just being channeled and processed differently. On the left we’re seeing authoritarian activities we believed were ancient history once again in vogue – and we’re resisting. On the right…I honestly don’t know what we’re seeing. But the Party of No is gunning for women’s health, civil rights and immigration.

At the center of both reactions lies fear. For some conservatives, it’s fear of what America’s changing demographics look like, particularly in post-9/11 America. On the liberal left, there’s panic that we’ll never make it three and a half more years of Trump.

Fear drives ignorant, shortsighted behavior, such as a school teacher handing out a “Most Likely to be a Terrorist” certificate to a seventh grader (as a “joke”). In what universe is branding someone at the most turbulent stage of their life as a terrorist, funny? Or even remotely appropriate? It’s harassment, an attack on a child’s mental state, creating a hostile environment for the entire community. We can’t have the people entrusted with our kids damaging their mental health and creating a bullying culture from the top down.

That same fear of the “other” contributed to North Carolina’s racist voting district gerrymandering efforts. These moves placed large groups of African-Americans into the same few districts, concentrating their votes. In effect, gerrymanderers split representatives 10:3 in favor of traditional, white republican representation in areas where black voters skew democratic. This approach was struck down by the Supreme Court with the uncharacteristic support of Justice Clarence Thomas, rarely to be found on the “liberal” side of a case.

SCOTUS’ ruling in the North Carolina case is one of the few moments of clarity and bipartisan unity we’ve seen in recent months, an indication that black votes, voices and lives matter. There is hope to be found in the system of checks and balances, no matter how delayed.

There’s also reasons for optimism as courts across the country slap down Trump’s proposed travel ban time and time again. In fact, just this last weekend Following another terrorist attack in London, Prime Minister Theresa May called for action to restrict “the safe spaces it needs to breed.” Trump’s travel ban and May’s preference for a police state are responses of fear, because they do not understand the bigger picture.

The proposed ban exists to discriminate against six majority Islamic countries as a show of nationalism (not to be confused with patriotism). Somehow Trumpsters and their supporters fail to realize reducing all Muslims to terrorists is like conflating all Christians with the Westboro Baptist Church.

May, while having a legitimate cause for concern (this is the third attack on British soil within three months), is reacting to radical elements of Islam. She’s looking to penetrate so-called self-segregated communities and be “less delicate of their sensitivities.” It’s panic that targets civilians.

When we hear the word “terrorism,” it’s disturbing  to observe the automatic jump of many to Islam. We need to remember that terrorism isn’t a religion; it’s a tactic. A tactic founded upon bullying, sadism and sociopathic tendencies to control people through threats, intimidation and violent action.

Terrorism does not exist “over there.” Look no further than America and Breitbart’s hate-filled agenda, the constant stream of cultural ignorance (yes, those are different links) thrown at those who look or believe outside of hetero, Caucasian, Christian paradigms. Consider Betsy Devos’ anarchist, hands-off approach to education. Every day on the job, she’s developing a hostile experience for future generations.

There is a lot of negativity to weight us down at present, but we also need to look beyond our own fear. By doing so, we’ll learn how to advance together. By way of example, there’s the One Love Manchester concert benefiting victims of the second U.K. attack. There’s also the aforementioned Supreme Court ruling against gerrymandering, and the unprecedented number of women running for public office. There’s human decency and intelligence visible everywhere – if you know where to look. 

Allowing paralysis or backward movement under the weight of fear does no one any good. The ability to look forward is what will distinguish leaders matching the global, human challenges of these times.

F is for Feminism

Let’s get a a couple of facts out of the way:

1). I’m a feminist.

2). If you respect any of the women in your life, you should be one too.

Feminism, as defined by Merriam Webster is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” or “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” For the sake of this conversation, let’s use both variations as working content, rather than the ludicrous urban dictionary definition. I’m currently reading Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist and one of the core takeaways is that as long as you adhere to the basics of equality, feminism is flexible. No matter how you react a word however, the truth is there’s a lot less respect for women around the world than there should be in 2017, and a lot of this inequality flies right under our noses.

In a previous post, I mentioned that pregnancy is considered a pre-existing condition in the recent Congressionally-approved repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). However after she read my post, my mother pointed out I was playing softball. Her point: under some pre-Obamacare insurance plans, not just pregnancy, but RAPE could be classified as a pre-existing condition in some states.  If ACA is fully repealed, non-consensual sex could still be categorized as such, depending on providers and channels of coverage.

This health care onslaught against women comes at a time when we have definitions like Urban Dictionary’s crawling around the Internet (even as a “joke,” it’s highly offensive and disturbing). And there are many who treat the label “feminist” like a curse word, avoiding it altogether. What’s wrong with being an acknowledged pursuer of equal rights?

Answer: Nothing.

The “problem” is that asserting modern equality of any kind (see: Black Lives Matter) upsets the status quo and is viewed as a threat by the reproducers of ideology. Humans are capable of great change, but are too often resistant and intellectually lazy about the associated effort. But here’s the reality: women are treated unfairly. In the workplace, in interpersonal interactions, and by too many governments.

Most of you reading this are probably well aware of the gender climate. Apologies – the last thing anyone wants is another lecture from a white man. I know I’m writing from a position of privilege on complex set of issues that don’t subjugate me.  All the more reason to speak,  to push for an end to these injustices. My life has been enriched by strong women who overcame obstacles they shouldn’t have had to. As a society, we’re standing on yet another precipice of choice between advancement and regression. If I’m in a position to support and advocate, I will and I must.

The examples of regression are numerous.  Headlines display a barrage of egregious physical and political violations. Last week a ten year-old who was raped in India was granted (oh thank you justice system) permission to abort her abusive rapist’s child. This same district horrified the world in the case of a brutal gang rape, where the driver blamed the victim for “being out too late” and not what he considered a “decent girl.”

We don’t have to leave American shores to find other disgraceful examples of sexual violence that debase a women’s person-hood. Baylor University football players are accused of drugging and raping female students as a demented bonding ritual. This kind of depravity treats half a population like a commodity; a viewpoint enforced by governing bodies who attack women’s access to healthcare. Iowa just swapped out Medicaid money for state funds, which limits those funds’ usage at centers that provide essential care if they also offer abortions. Life and death decisions for women are founded on the opinions of those who can’t possibly empathize – mainly rich, white men. 

It’s almost a mistake to label the aforementioned examples “regressions.” The word ignores the history and constancy of gender inequality. Nothing here is new, but somehow it feels freshly discouraging.

Until a few months ago, a path to gender progress in American was visible. Hillary Clinton was primed to be the first female President of the United States of America. Despite constant hectoring (see this satiric compendium of everything she’s been called) voters seemed to be With Her. Instead, “Grab’em by the pussy” Donald Trump won the election, leading to the Women’s Marches as a direct response. For many the civil unrest offered hope that we haven’t lost our sanity altogether, that as a democratic nation we’ll resist all forms of tyranny. 

Maybe I’m guilty of romanticizing that moment, believing the day’s momentum would propel women forward. Easy access to healthcare, freedom from toxic slut-shaming, working side-by-side with men without the spectre of sexual harassment. But progress doesn’t move in bursts. Unfortunately it comes in fits and starts. Knowing this, let’s keep standing and protesting.

Getting Human Rights Wrong

Last week, America’s foreign policy shifted in a startling way. Our nation went from home of the free and the brave, to a potential Airbnb stay for oppressive dictators. Donald Trump is courting foreign leaders who have been likened to Hannibal Lector, and is opening the floodgates to negative possibilities by meeting one of the world champs of human right’s violations.

To the uninformed, inviting Rodrigo Duterte to the White House doesn’t seem that extreme or worrisome – foreign leaders are called to Washington on a regular basis. It’s common, expected diplomatic behavior. That this head of state, specifically, was invited is alarming, because a quick Google search turns up a number of 7,000 civilians killed due to his war on drugs in the Philippines (as of March 2017). Other evidence of his disregard for human rights can be found in additional returned searches. Legal experts assert that if Duterte were not President of the Philippines, he wouldn’t be allowed into the U.S due to these violations. But these are not normal times. There are certain similarities between Duterte and Donald Trump. The current egoist occupying the Oval Office would apparently love the opportunity to speak to himself through a fun-house mirror.

Combine Trump’s curious condoning of Duterte’s murderous war on drugs, with the recent designation of Kim Jong-Un as a “Smart Cookie.” Add in his ongoing obsession with Russia’s Vladmir Putin, and we’re looking at a bleak future for human rights. This is a president easily swayed by flattery who quickly absorbs problematic ideas. He shouldn’t be left alone unsupervised. All three of these foreign powers (The Philippines, North Kora, Russia) sit high on the Human Rights Watch violations list, with regressive policies against free speech and mounting (state controlled and sponsored) paranoia of the west, specifically the United States.

The truly terrifying take away from a potential visit with Duterte isn’t what could happen in the future, should The Donald develop a strong relationship with the leader. The real horrors are the shades of dictatorial political systems and regimes that have already infiltrated America. There are more examples than space in this column to provide, but you don’t have to look far to see escalated aggression against any group defined as “other” (read: non-white, poor, homosexual, religion other than Christianity). The divisive rhetoric from world leaders such as Duterte, Putin, Jong-Un and Trump creates a muscled environment for hateful propaganda to flourish. It encourages divisive hostility, supporting an “us vs them” narrative (looking at you, Breitbart, with your glowing “special report” of the first 100 Days of the Trump disaster) that  supporters embrace.

Mr. Trump signed an executive order (his 35th in just over 100 days in office- this list summarizes the first 29 and six more have been produced since) promoting “religious freedom,” which allows tax-exempt churches to advocate for and endorse political entities. This is another dangerous muddling of the lines between separation of church and state (The Constitution only mentions Congress in Amendment I). Many readers (myself included) interpret this as a blank check, allowing Indianans to refuse to bake me a cake if I decide to tie the knot. We all know how that turns out.

That’s just one tame example of authoritarian, dogmatic creepage. But right now, we have a President who’s achieved his definition of “winning” almost entirely through executive orders. He’s resentful of the press (no-showing at the Annual Correspondents Dinner) and prefers to create “alternative facts” while decrying reason and established journalism as “fake news.” We’re looking at the early stages of a dictatorship with a self-generating propaganda machine. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the arrest for laughing during confirmed racist’s Jeff Session’s Confirmation Hearing,  the same week that Alton Sterling’s highly publicized death resulted in no charges for the officers who shot him.

While all of these are technically separate events and occurrences, together they point to a narrowing notion of freedom in America – one where racism is rewarded, undue aggression is allowed a free pass if the victim isn’t a cisgendered white male, specific religious beliefs Trump (pun intended) others, and unrepentant murderers receive invites to the White House. The closing window of life and liberty also expanded last week to shut out the poor and unlucky further. The House passed a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, expanding the definition of pre-existing conditions to absurdly discriminatory levels (pregnancy is now apparently a pre-existing condition, whereas erectile dysfunction is not).

Detractors might say that coddling up to a man like Duterte could help promote a growing relationship with China. An increasingly hostile North Korea faced together and all that. I’m going to go however with a less is more approach. Given their records, Duterte and Trump should never be in a room together. America can’t risk it.