The Year in Tears, Fears and Cheers

I’ve done a lot of the right kind of crying this week – big, fat tears of hope, awe and relief. More fantastic than the cathartic sobs themselves, however, is the direct connection between them and national politics. For most of the year, emotional inspiration from the country’s elected leaders has been in short supply.

The lion’s share of 2017 blubbering has been of the traditional disappointment/rage strain. It’s been a tough year with many challenges to moral authority, character and justice. It may seem incongruous to sexist hate mongers like defeated Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore, but a liberal, atheist, feminist can also believe that standard codes of conduct should straddle all walks of human life. Righteousness is not the spiritual property of Bible-banging, racist, homophobic straight white men who condemn everyone outside their circle of privileged ignorance.

Regardless of gender, faith, geography or race, there should be a few universal agreements. We should reject white supremacy, violence, sexual assault, pedophilia, corrupt looting of the public treasury, heartlessness toward the poor and the war-torn.  When an American territory is ravaged by natural disaster, we should offer all forms of recovery assistance and skip the Ayn Randian self-reliance lectures. We should support science and research and take care of the only Earth we have. When hundreds are publicly gunned down at a concert and children are not safe in school, its way past time to ask ourselves if the Second Amendment should supersede all other rights.

Moderates, cynics and self-styled realists will be quick to say that we must make our way through the world as it is. Indulging idealistic daydreams is a waste of time. To which I reply in the words of my favorite former Vice President, Joseph R. Biden III: “That’s a bunch of malarkey.” Despite the unaccountable example elevated by President Trump, we can admit when we’re wrong. We don’t have to live with the choices we’ve made when empirical and experiential data illuminate error. If we’re not here to try our best to build a greater and more just world for ourselves and our children, what’s the point? If all we’re meant to do is take what we can and run, what sets humans apart from scavenger species like rats and vultures?

2017 has made it painfully clear that at the highest levels of American government and industry, a shared vision of social justice and opportunity has fallen out of favor. The Trump administration has appointed numerous leaders to public agencies with the express purpose of making it harder for us to breathe, receive a quality education or equitable treatment within the justice system, among other taxpayer scams. See, as just one absurd example, the decision to install Scott Pruitt, tool of the fossil fuel industry, as leader of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Never in modern history has it been so obvious that the public trust and tax dollar are being misused. The heavy-handedness of it all has elicited buckets of my impotent, despairing tears throughout the year. It’s been overwhelmingly tempting at times (Charlottesville, Republican tax “reform,” a sexual assaulter as POTUS) to view the country’s oligarchic, cynical tailspin without hope.

I recently took a personality test shared via link by a Facebook friend. I scored high on the quiz’s concept of reverence. Although the word has taken on a religious connotation, as applied in the personality assessment, it denotes a humbling of the self in respectful recognition of something perceived to be greater. I recognize this existential need. I’m a devoted planner and tactician, but always in service of a motivating larger concept. Shake my faith in the efficacy of action and I’ll quickly devolve. More Law & Order marathons, less self-confidence and movement. Reverence and I have been estranged for months at a time this year, replaced by tears of bitter shame as 45 debases this great nation with Twitter feuds, misogyny, bigotry, feckless and dangerous domestic and foreign policies.

But as we approach the end of the calendar year and the conclusion of the first twelve months of the Trump presidency, I’m starting to get my reverent groove back. On Monday night, Bob and I went to the Chicago Theatre to see the aforementioned Joe Biden on the Windy City leg of his book tour. Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose, according to The New York Times Book Review, “splices a heartbreaking story with an election story and a foreign affairs story. And in so doing, he offers something for everyone, no matter which strand draws you in.”

Reading the words of Joe Biden is a privilege. Hearing his earnest, human good sense and compassion live is better still. The 75 year-old public servant is an American hero. A man who has weathered enormous personal tragedy with grace, intelligence and a steadfast commitment to bending the arc of humanity towards justice. I was, am and will always be inspired by Papa Joe. The choked sobs I released on Monday were full of gratitude – for Americans like the longtime Delaware senator, and for a husband who knew that walking down Obama/Biden memory lane would sooth my battered soul.

Then last night, voters in the deep red state of Alabama rejected a twice-sacked, child molesting, bigoted judge in favor of a pro-choice Democrat with a demonstrated commitment to civil rights. Much has been made in the media about urban and suburban white distaste for Moore. But the real story is the 93 percent of black men and 98 percent of African-American women who overcame all disenfranchisement odds and pundit expectations to put their state on the right side of history. As Esquire columnist Charles Pierce noted:

“Voter suppression is a scandal and a crime and an offense against the Constitution. John Roberts’s declaration of the Day of Jubilee in Shelby County v. Holder was an act of historical butchery. The laws enacted since that day should be torn out, root and branch, and burned to cinders. However, what the results from Alabama demonstrated is that, with good candidates and a solid message and tireless work, you can swamp the bastards and all their works just by showing up.”

2016 went out for me with a disillusioned, distressed whimper. Hillary Clinton’s loss was my despair for the country, for womanhood, for immigrants and any chance of addressing the nation’s increasingly stratified economic and social opportunities.

At the end of 2017, I’m rediscovering reverence for the American proletariat. The wise and compassionate words of a retired public servant and the empowered, forward-looking agency of Alabama voters make great holiday gifts.

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Me Too: Louis C.K. Joins Hollywood’s List of Outed Sexual Predators

Yesterday afternoon, hours after the cancellation of his film, I Love You, Daddy, Louis C.K. publicly admitted that yep, he’s been a creepy wanker. I’d tell you what the shelved movie is about, but I can’t bring myself to type the words. So I invite you to read New Yorker writer Alexandra Schwartz’s account of needing a “barf bag” to endure the disgust. And oh by the way, C.K. – which is apparently an acronym for “cock” – also uses the “N” word in the movie. We really missed out, America. There’s just not enough self-involved, middle aged, white male stories of privilege being told (see: Election 2016).

C.K.’s fans have always found him edgy and – in a cruel irony – honest. The man traded on this reputation to create sometimes artistic, often funny content that also, from any angle, included plenty to make one wince. It was part of the brand. But hey, he was all in on Hillary Clinton, even if he felt the need to use the word “bitch” to describe her toughness. He has two young daughters. American audiences validated him. Unconventional feminist for sure, but we’ll take allies anywhere we can find them. Cool, I guess.

Except no. Louis C.K. and the guerilla-style perversions with which he attacked up and coming female comics were no secret to the industry. The power players – who are overwhelmingly male – enabled and uplifted a sick man who made them rich and famous by association. Let the shame hang on you now, Hollywood industrial media complex. You’ve also given us Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Mark Halperin, Brett Ratner, Charlie Sheen, Woody Allen, Billy Cosby, Roman Polanski, R. Kelly and Casey Affleck. None of these men committed their wide range of predatory acts in the shadows. Some of them, like Charlie Sheen, made TV millions after allegedly assaulting a young Corey Haim, and knowingly exposing female partners to HIV. That’s #Winning in the anything goes patriarchy.

And of course, Louis C.K., a writer on The Dana Carvey Show in 1996, has been running around with his dick in hand for over 20 years. His own work made no attempt to camouflage it, and still he kept rising (pun acknowledged, if not intended). In March 2012, now-defunct website Gawker, published a blind item entitled, Which Beloved Comedian Likes to Force Female Comics to Watch Him Jerk Off?

I’ll give you three guesses, but you only need one.

Five and a half years ago, the author wrote, “this shameless funnyman whips it out at the most inopportune moments, often at times when his female companions have expressed no interest in watching him go at it.” Yes, this checks out with what we now know. But appallingly, no one but the victims – two of whom who were intimidated by C.K.’s manager Dave Becky after one particular Aspen incident – would publicly say the emperor of American comedy was wearing no pants.

Well there were a few folks who decried the star’s penchant for pud pulling, but they’re women, lesbians or both. Why listen to them? Funny lady Tig Nataro, the deadpanned creator and star of Amazon’s One Mississippi, publicly distanced herself from her former collaborator long before the story broke this week. Jen Kirkman, Roseanne Barr and others have talked about Louie C.K.’s reputation as a glorified subway creep in an expensive trench coat. Nataro wisely advised the comedian to “handle that.”

As we know, after the quick flight of C.K.’s many entertainment partners this week, his weird, traumatizing business has been handled for him. No longer will the wildly successful comedian have access to talented, ambitious women he degrades by pleasuring himself. Louis C.K. belongs in intensive therapy, not on our screens. The victims deserve to be heard, if they wish. They must be believed regardless. And if the timing were not so totally cynical, while still lacking in honesty, the comedian’s Friday afternoon admission of guilt might have offered a chance to begin healing. The too little, too late, empathy is almost touching, nearly enlightened:

“I want to address the stories told to The New York Times by five women named Abby, Rebecca, Dana, Julia who felt able to name themselves and one who did not…. what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.”

We know there are more than five brave women who’ve endured the full Louis. C.K. experience. And we know that there are more predators hiding in Hollywood’s sunshine-filled plain sight. And that should make us all angry, mad enough to finally start calling these pigs back to the trough (I’m looking especially hard at you, male allies). There’s no excuse for Louis C.K.’s behavior. But the celebration and inner-circle secrecy that allows powerful men to illiberally victimize women and young boys is what’s truly inexcusable.

Handle that.

Misogynist-in-Chief

Nine months ago, after the release of the infamous Access Hollywood “grab ‘em by the pussy” audio footage that got Billy Bush sacked from The Today Show, my brave younger sister Jennifer wrote I Am You: An Open Letter to Trump’s Accusers and Promoters of Rape Culture. Both of these events suggested the promise of an honest conversation about the country’s regressive and damaging gender politics.

With Trump’s exposure (word deliberately chosen) as a misogynist pig of the highest magnitude, it seemed impossible that his presidential campaign could continue. After all, 51 percent of the American voting population?  Female. And for one beautiful moment, our male allies on both sides of the ideological spectrum united in rebuke at the notion of mothers, sisters, friends, wives and daughters seized by the genitals. Some of the language used to condemn Trump smacked of patriarchal appropriation (cough, Mitt Romney) but there was a brief, national consensus that a sexual predator ought not to be Leader of the Free World.

At the same time, women like my sister – a suburban wife, mother and broadcast journalism professional – seemed to reach a breaking point. Jenny’s long radio career makes her no stranger to working in a male-dominated field and the public and private discrimination and harassment that come with it. She’s tough, hardworking and certainly not a snowflake. But to read her story is to absorb the traumas of millions of American women who stopped feeling safe in their own bodies, and became aware of unequal opportunity, shortly after hitting puberty. We were tired of staying silent and refused to let Trump’s behavior become normalized for our sons and daughters. Pussygate was ugly. It was dehumanizing. It was painful. But if ever there was that overused trope, the old teachable moment, we were there.

Yet on November 8, 2016 the Misogynist won the election. The Electoral College perversity was more than an affront to a popular vote that overwhelmingly favored Trump’s opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton.  It was more than the selection of an inexperienced, proudly unread corporate grifter over the most qualified candidate to ever run for President. The real punch to the vagina was the clear opinion, articulated at the ballot box by voters of both genders, that the possession of lady parts is the ultimate leadership disqualifier.

How else to explain why white women in every demographic pulled the metaphorical lever for Trump more often than Clinton? Slate’s L.V. Anderson bespoke the November 9 anguish of the sane, Caucasian female minority and gave voice to the anger of intersectional voters: “What leads a woman to vote for a man who has made it very clear that he believes she is subhuman?…Self-loathing. Hypocrisy. And, of course, a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue.”

The months following the election – the effectual end of Hillary Clinton’s long career of public service, the elevation of a clownish, perverted reality television personality to the nation’s highest office, and above all, the undeniable truth that the climb from the pit of social, economic and political misogyny has barely begun – were so difficult. I stopped writing altogether. I avoided media – social and traditional – of every kind. Existential depression and disappointment. The knowledge that the country was under the executorship of a gaudy, classless and ignorant shithead who may or may not be in the pocket of Vladimir Putin. It was all too much.

But like many other Americans, male and female, I found my voice again. I stood with my Midwestern sisters at the January 21 Chicago chapter of the Women’s Marches. With renewed determination, I picked up a keyboard to critique a Trump administration that poses a cornucopia of threats to peace, security, freedom of speech and social morality.

The current occupant of the White House has brought a dizzying amount of shame and scandal upon the office and the country – in a very short time. Hateful immigration policies, withdrawals from international agreements, an illiteracy so appalling that complete sentences and a basic familiarity with American history prove too much to ask. Frederick Douglass deserves every moment of his surprising 2017 resurgence but come on…

And last week’s Twitter war between President Trump and the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe is a stark reminder that Access Hollywood is no regrettable fluke of early Aughts “boys will be boys” braggadocio. America’s leader is an active and determined misogynist. He will not be educated. He will not apologize. He will not even be discreet. However, could this ultimately work to the pissed off poon advantage?

Peter Beinart of The Atlantic writes:

“Hostile sexism seems to motivate women even when they merely observe it happening to others…There’s some evidence that Trump’s hostile sexism, as evidenced most infamously in the Access Hollywood tape released last October, has had exactly that result…”

It’s worth noting that Trump’s current approval rating with women is just 28 percent. Yes, #AllWomen. Even the white ones who’ve finally figured out that placing patriotism – and pussy – in this POTUS’ care is an act of self-annihilation.

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.

Barack and Michelle Obama: Mr. and Mrs. Frustrated, Hopeful Every American

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“I’ve been around long enough to remember presidential contests where the incumbent and his team were roundly shunned by presumed successors of the same party. Al Gore dodged Bill Clinton as much as possible in 2000, and in 2008, John McCain wisely steered clear of Dubya and his war-mongering, deficit busting tenure. This year is different. Because we have a sitting President empowered by the highest approval ratings of his second term, who cares about the progress through which he has led the American people and the threatening menace posed by an authoritarian demagogue aspiring to the White House. And he is married to a partner of equal rhetorical gifts and passion for her gender, our children and our country.

Hillary Clinton is going to make a fine Commander in Chief. She is smart, tough, experienced, empathetic and practical. But damn those Obamas are something else, aren’t they?”

Read the full post for Contemptor.

 

Come Back to the Trail Hillary: You Have Much More to Say

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“As Donald Trump’s institutionalized misogyny and penchant for sexual assault continue to grab headlines, Team Hillary remains steadfast that her perspective on these issues should be simple – she doesn’t have one. After all, her husband, former President Bill Clinton had/has his own infidelity challenges, so she can’t touch Trump’s perversions. His campaign is only too happy to jump on her own alleged aggression toward Bill Clinton’s accusers.

Allow me to dissent from the generally accepted school of thought that quiet is a good thing. A silent Clinton is not doing herself – or the nation – any favors. I’m all for Hillary’s temporary seclusion to prepare and brace for a debate tomorrow night in which anything – quite literally – could happen. With Trump in the full scorched earth mode of almost certain November defeat, she has to be ready. However I’m also inclined to agree with Joel Benenson, Clinton’s Chief Strategist and Pollster, who told The New York Times last week: ‘You take nothing for granted…You campaign all the way to the end, and you regularly look at what’s ahead and you manage time and resources to get the most value out of the candidate’s time around the country.'”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

Revenge Of The Ballot: Women Don’t Need Help Or Permission To Send Trump Packing

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“Women sitting in the middle of the political spectrum, farther to the right or even the young far left may be tempted to tune me out, but I ask that you keep reading. No matter my personal belief that Hillary Clinton is the most qualified and judicious candidate for President in modern history, this piece is not trying to convince you to develop love for someone you don’t. Clinton has had decades in the public eye to either endear or alienate herself to voters for a wide variety of reasons. We’re all entitled to our opinions and comfort levels. I also wouldn’t think of asking anyone to cast a ballot in her favor simply because of gender.

But disregarding our respective public and private politics, there’s a bigger, far more malevolent force at play here that threatens to roll back just about every goddamned advance for which we’ve worked together. I speak of course of Donald Trump and his insane, dangerous, hateful campaign. This is a year that must transcend buckets (or baskets of deplorables). We’ve reached a decisive moment when every female must ask herself: “If I vote for anyone other than Hillary Clinton, will I be able to live with the consequences – and myself – on November 9?”

Read the full post at Contemptor.