United States of Emergency: Beyond Charlottesville

This past weekend offered a horrifying example of growing boldness empowering the hateful in America. The rally to “Unite the Right” under the alt-right banner culminated in the death of a counter protester run down by a white supremacist. Two local policeman helping to subdue the unrest were also killed in a helicopter incident.

The rally’s stated purpose was to protest the removal of a General Robert. E Lee Confederacy statue. The protest was organized by card-carrying bigot Richard Spencer, among others. Spencer played a key role in coining the term “alt-right” and has done much work to mainstream the divisive, radical ideology.

Ensuing discussions around who’s to blame for last weekend’s tragedy are moot and counter-productive. Ownership is clear. Richard Spencer, David Duke and their neo-Nazi thugs, including James Fields (the second-degree murder charge facing piece of garbage who mowed Heather Heyer) are directly responsible for the mayhem. Their words and actions incited hatred and violence that led to Saturday’s events. As political tensions blow up like powder kegs on issues such as Russia’s totalitarian actions, and the loose cannon of North Korea, it’s time for our country’s leaders to take strong, immutable positions against hate speech and violence.

To to white supremacists/nationalists/Neo-nazis trying to “take the country back,” a word of caution: nationalism is NOT patriotism. Members of “Unite to Right” are focused, not dissimilarly from their “spiritual” leader, President Trump, on entitled demanding and punishment, lacking any positive agenda to create a better, more productive America for anyone (including themselves).

There’s a severe disconnect between Spencer’s band of terrorists, who claim to feel disenfranchised, and the basic principles of inclusion. Gaining access and acceptance does not need to come at the expense of other groups. Equality and inclusion are not limited resources. The xenophobia I examined last week is boiling over, courtesy of a President that refuses to condemn the hate-filled intolerance of his core constituents. In fact, last weekend’s verbal response from The Donald adopted a “many sides” position that managed to affirm the white supremacists while casting vague blame on counter protesters. This is sickening.

You know Trump failed at bringing the country together beyond expectation when other conservatives trip over themselves to call out and condemn acts of domestic terrorism for what they are. The list includes Cory Gardner, Marco Rubio, Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Jeff Flake, and Tim Scott. Only open, vocal condemnation of white supremacists and their supporters will tell the Neo-Nazis they are not welcome here. The rhetoric of Republican leaders outside the White House is promising.

We need more than words, however. We need action. While freedom of speech is a foundational right, the border stop at inciting violent hate. Our leaders must condemn hatred and adopt all measures to protect diversity. Useless statements that allow white nationalists to misinterpret their advantage and gain momentum are the enemy.

If it’s time to “Make America Great Again,” we can’t equivocate. The alt-right is just plain wrong – and dangerous. 

America is in a state of emergency. We cannot doubt it. It’s 2017 and Nazis are terrorizing our country. Our collective response will make history – because either we stood together to expel hate, or because we failed our Constitutional commitment to each other.

America: You Must be This Tall to Ride?

Recently, we saw the introduction of some truly terrifying measures from the current White House administration. They include a bill that would halve the annual number of immigrants allowed into the United States. We’re also seeing Affirmative Action challenges in higher education: indicators of increasingly vocal levels of xenophobia. And over the weekend, the private sector joined the “fun” with a published manifesto from a Google employee advocating for less diversity, based upon debunked notions of gender inequality.

All of this points to an undeniable and disturbing trend. The administration – and more than a small number of (male) business leaders – want to directly control who has the ability to succeed. They’re also challenging what it means to be an American. Authoritarianism and “othering” were behind proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act, which were recently rejected. Similar shades of over-reach have been witnessed in continued attacks on women’s health. The fear and subjugation of the “other” is also found in an onslaught against trans civilians and individuals in the armed forces.

The rules for “who belongs” in America, set by predominantly white men is beyond unacceptable. While CNN’s Jim Acosta could have made his point without throwing shade at other country’s English-speaking capabilities, his larger argument was solid. By limiting who can enter, and further reducing the definition of free citizenry, we stray from the empowering words of “The New Colossus” engraved at the base of Lady Liberty.

Fortunately, while blinding, dominant, white male ideology is working to limit the diversity that actually makes America great, individual movements are mobilizing to combat the ignorance.

For our trans brothers and sisters, Bandcamp hosted a fundraiser this past weekend to benefit the Transgender Law Center. This comes on the heels of Lambda Legal preparing recourse should the tweet storm come to actual military disenfranchisement. Perhaps even more significantly, even if we’d prefer to raise attention another way, the Kardashian Clan’s outrage toward Caitlyn Jenner’s “Make America Great Again” cap is creating conversation on social media.

As far as immigration, the statistics prove that increasing or reducing the number of entrants to the country has little to no impact on jobs available to U.S. citizens. In fact in industries staffed with majority immigrant labor, the economy is bolstered rather than injured. This verifiable truth highlights the hypocrisy and cynicism of the Trump administration.

If we’ve reached a place where we’ll stop efforts at educational equity, accept immigrants on a points system, restrict basic healthcare, and deny rights based on selfish and irrational interpretations of gender, it’s time to tear down the Statue and mail her back to France in boxes.

Nobody likes packing. Let’s leave the Lady, and American diversity, standing stronger, rather than torn apart in pieces.

America’s Red Herrings

Do you know the term “red herring?”

Dictionary.com defines it as “something intended to divert attention from the real problem or matter at hand; a misleading clue.”  The concept, removed from argument context, should be familiar; we’ve been exposed to it every news cycle since the 2016 election process began, though examples can be found throughout history.

But back to 2016 and our present. It was an efficient distraction to say “look at her emails.” It may now be worth it to the President to sacrifice a son to media frenzy in order to make darker moves behind the scenes. The red herring has to receive notice, it must be given attention to be effective.

That process is made easier with reduced access to information. The media and public are ready to pounce on any morsel delivered by POTUS via Twitter, even when the tweets don’t make any sense. That’s what happens when he controls the message. From the ranks of dubiously moral Mad Men character Don Draper: “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” That’s exactly what we’re witnessing. The conversation keeps changing. “Alternative facts”  have ascended. The term is part of popular vernacular and explains why Kellyanne Conway still has a job despite never saying anything relevant.

This shift is worrying, but dig a little deeper below the surface distraction. The big, bold red herring headlines aren’t always what’s important to the American people, the stuff of daily life. What does impact us? The little things hiding behind Don Jr. ‘s turn at e-mail scandal, or what’s been swept under the rug of America’s consciousness:

These examples brings me back to the point: the surface craziness of Team Trump serves as distraction from the larger agenda. It’s the flash that hides the impact, allowing the Trump administration to dominate news cycles with loud, hollow clamor. Meanwhile, the shady bits are happening outside the average citizen’s social media or news feed. It’s not just POTUS engaging in this charade. Congress is complicit as well,  as with 2016’s non-appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. In 2017, it’s secretive discussions on healthcare reform that are meant to strong-arm support while introducing massive, decimating reforms under a arbitrary deadline.

This kind of flimflam is completely unacceptable, particularly from men and women elected to  lead America through an increasingly complicated 21st Century. This is not the America we were promised, and local elections are beginning to show impact from concerned citizens awake to the con. Long declared party loyalties are disintegrating – with good reason.

As easy as it is to place blame on a distant and cynical Washington D.C. for the easy circulation of red herring news, we are equally culpable.  We must overcome all-too pervasive apathy toward staying informed and engaged. We don’t have the luxury of avoiding tough challenges that can depress the mood. The health of our nation is like work, oxygen, love – we need it.

Staying informed is a responsibility bestowed upon us by privilege-turned-rights of the First Amendment. Cutting through the din is unpleasant, but sticking your fingers in your ears is much more dangerous.

 

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.

America Wants Sharia Law

no-hate

My first guest post of 2017 comes from my younger sister’s longtime friend, and thoughtful American, Kyle Twenty. No additional setup needed. Just read….

There’s been an idea germinating in my head for awhile now. This is an attempt to more fully work it out. I’m seeing increased hypocrisy amongst some of the very grassroots Christian movements using fear tactics and hate speech to justify Islamophobic actions.

It’s like this. Despite impassioned words to the opposite effect, many Americans seem to want Sharia law. As counterintuitive as it sounds, recent actions and decisions in this country have led me to believe that the same people who denounce the Islamic faith and everything it stands for, are the ones who are craving Sharia life the most. Allow me to explain.

Literally translated, Sharia means “the path to the watering hole,” or “the right path.” A recent description I encountered labels Sharia “…a religious code for living, in the same way the Bible offers a moral system for Christians.” Sharia deals with nearly every aspect of daily life, including politics, economics, banking, business law, contract law, sexuality, and social issues.

Growing up in a conservative, Midwestern, Christian family that regularly attended church, these spheres of influence were often topics for the Sunday sermon. The homilies that emanated from the preacher covered all of the above, interspersed with passages from the Bible that were meant to provide models for adapting the teachings into daily life and relationships.

I’ve been fortunate to be exposed to ceremonies from many religions of the world: Presbyterian, Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Jewish, and yes, Islam. While I don’t pretend to understand every intricacy and nuance, all of these faiths use teachings of the past to help guide followers in the present and future. So though in name origin, “Sharia” hails from the Muslim culture, in practice the idea is part of every religious theology. In effect, all faiths have their own Sharia.

So why it is that many people who denounce Islamic Sharia have no struggle accepting Christian Sharia into their hearts and lives? It’s a rhetorical question to which I have no immediate answer. Perhaps it’s a lack of education or curiosity about other faiths. Maybe it’s a deep-rooted, hereditary fear laced with racial prejudice. Perhaps it is Christian dogma itself, which instructs the faithful to “Put no other Gods” before the Lord, or that “No one comes to the Father, if not through” (presumably) white Jesus.

Regardless of the motives, there is a decades-long movement at work in the United States to introduce more Christian law into conservative politics. Just like Islamic Sharia, many legislative leaders are interweaving religious dogma into governance, attempting to define how we should live. What is this if not Sharia?

The rampant fear of Islam and Islamic Sharia that’s overtaking the country stems from a very vocal minority of Muslims who misuse parts of the Qur’an to justify hatred and violence. These fringe members of the faith look at verses which state “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore, strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them, or “And fight with them until there is no more fight and religion should be only for Allah.” The extremists choose to interpret these words literally, without any review of context. And for convenience sake, Christians with a fear and loathing of Islam identify these same passages as “proof” of the religion’s malice. They fail to realize their own hypocrisy as they stand, clutching their King James Bibles, accusing Islamic Sharia of breeding chaos.

Before Christian Americans cast any more proverbial stones, perhaps we should take a look at our own Book. Deuteronomy 17:2-5 states that “If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the Lord thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the Lord thy God, in transgressing his covenant, And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded; And it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and enquired diligently, and, behold, it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel; Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.”

Even the more forgiving New Testament, which forms the basis for modern Christianity, chimes in with these two gems. Luke 19:27 – “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.” Matthews 10:34 -“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”

Here we have two holy texts – the Qur’an and the Bible – with verses taken out of context, inciting violence. How exactly is this different?

Based on the excerpts offered, the conclusion could be drawn that, in a vacuum, Christian Sharia is a system just as violent as the Islamic variety. But for sociopolitical expediency, we ignore the Bible’s angry rhetoric. It’s there and we make peace with it as part of a larger belief system. Yet we’re unable to afford Muslim practitioners the same latitude.

In the end, it’s very simple. “Extremists” are those who try to push the boundaries of religious law – any religion – to gain power and justify inhumanity.

I ask you to consider the following question. What are the qualitative differences between the Islamic Sharia rejected with such vitriol by so many, and the conservative Christian Sharia being used to dominate and inflict pain upon the country in 2017?

Kyle Twenty is a 15-year veteran of the broadcast industry, from which he eventually escaped to settle in the suburbs of Chicago with his wife, two children, and their assortment of pets. He spends his time trying to use logic, reason, and facts to win over the hearts and minds of others, demonstrating that there are many sides to issues of the human condition. You can contact Kyle via email at ktwenty@comcast.net, or follow him on Twitter @gpsdetour.