Increasingly Blurred Partisan Lines Offer Hope for Journalism in 2018

2017 has been a strange and disturbing year for the United States in so many far-reaching ways. Long, well-researched books will be written about this year’s impact (or lack thereof) on income inequality, government corruption, gender dynamics, the justice system, immigration, suffrage, healthcare, civil rights, the First Amendment, foreign policy, war and climate change. I’m hard pressed to think of a major issue facing humanity that hasn’t been stress tested to the point of breaking spirits, cultures, families, the economy and the nation in the seventeenth year of the 21st Century.

For liberal political journalists, it’s been especially hard to dissociate the self from the reporting. 2017 has been an unusually challenging year for investigating topics unemotionally. At least tangentially, we have a stake in the story by virtue of sharing space with other people affected by a policy, decision or revolution.  I don’t live in Puerto Rico, but I don’t need to in order to feel helpless anger over fellow Americans failed by every possible government system in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. People are still dying from the ripple effects of disease, water and power shortages, not to mention the callousness of a President who believes a paper towel tossing photo op is #MAGA – because brown people are takers.

As a writer/human hybrid, there have been many days and weeks this year when the power of the pen hasn’t felt forceful enough. That the exercise in information sharing that is journalism falls impotently short of the action needed to right a country that has popularly lurched toward heartlessness at the highest levels of government. Isolationist xenophobia, backs turned to war-torn refugees, a place where Nazis are labeled “very fine people,” black lives only matter when it comes to kneeling in protest and female reproductive health is a political bargaining chip for the dominant hierarchy of middle-aged white men. It’s easy to become disoriented and confused to the point of inertia. Should I be writing about this? Should I be in the streets? Am I supposed to be deliberating? Hand me another scotch in the meantime.

I do not pretend to be a moderate. Never have. I can’t be less than all the way when it comes to constructing government and social systems that support and offer opportunity equally. I do not believe we go it alone. Call me a socialist, a radical, an angry intersectional feminist or any of the more colorful epithets offered by my (typically male) Twitter trolls. When the leader of the country governs by pandering to the ignorant 35 percent, rather than representing all Americans, displaying the kind of divisive, threatening behavior and rhetoric well known to despots, I’m happy to be branded an enemy of the state. As lonely and frightening as it can be to sit outside the circle, the air is a lot less toxic.

All of this is to say that as the end of the year approaches, I and many other exhausted journalists in my acquaintance are still trying to find our footing. Just the facts has been replaced by fake news, many of the policy threats are deeply personal and after all, wallowing in the muck of the Trump era is spiritually exhausting. However the work continues in a bi-partisan way, and if there’s comfort to be found in the crusade, it’s the unexpected shared experience with an increasingly large number of conservative writers and pundits. If you’d told me just 18 months ago, that I’d find myself aligned with the thoughts of the New York Times columnist David Brooks, the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan and Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center – in the same week! – I wouldn’t have believed it possible. But here we are:

“The Republican Party is doing harm to every cause it purports to serve. If Republicans accept Roy Moore as a United States senator, they may, for a couple years, have one more vote for a justice or a tax cut, but they will have made their party loathsome for an entire generation…Young people and people of color look at the Trump-Moore G.O.P. and they are repulsed, maybe forever.”

“The support being given by many Republicans and white evangelicals to President Trump and now to Mr. Moore have caused me to rethink my identification with both groups. Not because my attachment to conservatism and Christianity has weakened, but rather the opposite. I consider Mr. Trump’s Republican Party to be a threat to conservatism, and I have concluded that the term evangelical — despite its rich history of proclaiming the ‘good news’ of Christ to a broken world — has been so distorted that it is now undermining the Christian witness.”

“[Republicans], have faith. Not everything comes down to an immediate election that is this coming Thursday. Think long term, philosophically. Be true to your own political principles, but have some faith and don’t make decisions that are not ones that you’re really comfortable with.”

Suddenly it seems conservative to stand against cynicism, pedophilia, party before country and the corporate raiding of the American people. I and other liberals may disagree with these writers on “everyday” policies. But in 2017, normalcy has been supplanted by Constitutional crises and the end days of representative democracy. The journalistic blurring of party lines may offer small 2017 comfort. But as a writer, it gives me energy to take on 2018.

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No Matter What Happens at the Polls, the Trumpists Already Won

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“Whichever nominee of our two major political parties comes away the victor (because spoiler alert Jill Stein and Gary Johnson: it won’t be either of you), there’s a group amongst the 2016 campaign madness that’s succeeded beyond its wildest expectations – and our collective revulsion. The venerable New York Times devoted front page space to this cohort today. To wit: Donald Trump’s Extremist Supporters Feel Like Winners Either Way.

Because really, even if Trump is drubbed at the ballot box, it’s kind of hard to recork a popped bottle of (until recently) simmering racism and misogyny. And pop it these “special” interests did with a little help from the vilest human ever to receive a nomination for the nation’s highest office. Let’s take a look at some of the Trumpists key accomplishments…”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

It May Not Be Trending, But Rahm Emanuel Is Still Ruining Chicago

Rahm

“Why has the #FireRahm inferno cooled, fully ablaze as it was just months ago? Self-serving media/political laziness is one factor. Why fight a stubbornly intransigent and still powerful City Hall when an election-year Trump is the headline-grabbing gift of a generation? I appreciate The New York Times keeping this story nationally alive. Summer is coming and there’s no reason to believe the soaring 2016 murder rate will decline in a hot city torn apart by cynical, dehumanizing leadership. I said it in December 2015 and nothing has changed. Rahm has got to go.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

3 Reasons Super Bowl 50 Might Be My Last

3 Reasons Super Bowl 50 Might Be My Last

Next week Sunday evening, the Carolina Panthers and star young quarterback Cam Newton will face off against veteran Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Super Bowl 50 at Levi Stadium is being touted as the “Father Time vs. The Fountain of Youth” matchup, and rightfully so. Only New England Patriots superstar Tom Brady can rival future Hall of Famer Manning for the title of generational greatest. And Newton? Well he’s 26 years old and already the best of what remains should Manning and Brady finally decide to hang up their cleats. Barring major injury (unfortunately always a prospect in the NFL), we should be talking about him for a long time.

I’m deeply interested in this game. I’ve always had the utmost respect for Peyton Manning as an athlete and competitor, and I’ll also admit I’ve enjoyed his humorous turns in a variety of ad campaigns. He’s far looser, with better comedic timing than his wooden and unfathomably two-ringed younger brother Eli (another rant for another time). This may well be his final season and it would be awfully sweet to see him go out a champion. Also, suck it Colts.

As for Cam Newton, he’s at the top of his game and a possible 2016 MVP candidate. It’s fun to watch a guy who just won the Heisman Trophy five years ago dominate the sport. The fact that he’s also extraordinarily good looking has nothing to do with my affinity (lies).

But you know what? Other than perhaps the first three contests of the 2015-2016 Bears season, Super Bowl 50 might be the ONLY game I’ve given a shit about in awhile. Yes, the former Monsters of the Midway went a pathetic 0-3 and never improved much. Sure my fantasy team comfortably finished in last place. And I admit I was out of my survival pool by Week 5. I miserably own all of these misfortunes, but I’d be lying if I claimed they weren’t the year-over-year norm.

No, for three colossal reasons, I’ve just found it hard to care much about this season. My love of sports and competition springs eternal, but National Football League, if you’re listening? I’m over it. Notwithstanding welcome and overdue news of Buffalo’s hiring Kathryn Smith, breaking the glass ceiling as the league’s first female assistant head coach, I’m just not that into you anymore.

Here’s why.

The absurd greed.

The NFL has finally begun paying taxes, but corporate whore Roger Goodell and his machine generate over $10 billion in revenue for football. It’s a business, and this fact permeates seemingly everything the Ginger Hammer decrees (thanks Drew Magary!).

  • The decision to depart from Roman numeral 50 for the coming Super Bowl, and the fact that this story about the merchandising theory behind it ran on CNN Money.
  • The strong but struggling Midwestern city of St. Louis delivered a huge blow with the Rams’ pending relocation to Los Angeles, California. Despite valiant efforts by city leaders to make staying in place an attractive deal for the team, shitbag CEO Stan Kroenke trashed the Lou, and per Sports Illustrated, “the NFL and its ownership followed the money.”
  • And as a female fan weary of the league’s blatant, rampant misogyny (see #3 below), I can’t even deal with it’s misappropriation of the breast cancer awareness pink ribbon without actually raising funds for research.

The long-term injuries

It’s true that the NFL agreed to a $1 billion concussion settlement with thousands of former players, stemming from the brutal sport’s catastrophic injury record. It’s also true that there is serious doubt about whether this amount can ever be enough to reimburse a steady stream of former athletes for their medical bills and ruined lives. Just this month, former Steelers star Antwaan Randle El opened up about his struggles with memory loss and balance. He’s a mere 36 years-old and was never seriously impaired during his playing days. Yet he says, “I have to be on my knees praying about it, asking God to allow me to not have these issues and live a long life. I want to see my kids raised up. I want to see my grandkids.”

This is a tragedy and there are too many human stories like it. A fellow writer and friend recently observed, “I said in a blog post once that I wonder if, in the future, our support for the game will be seen as barbarian.”

It’s getting tough not to feel barbaric for continued support of a system that allows an unacceptable number of men to commit suicide as pain relief.

The chauvinism

I wish I had a stronger word for this last one, but I already used “misogyny” and I don’t like to be linguistically repetitive. Ray Rice and thousands more overpaid, entitled, criminal cases like it – spoken and perhaps just as often, hushed. The New York Times titles the sport’s unchecked – and frequently unpunished – violence against women,”a quandary.” Once again the nomenclature seems feebly understated.

The Super Bowl is a national event and millions are looking forward to a Patriots-free contest, while relishing the commercials and spectacular half time show. Including me. But it feels different in 2016, much more bittersweet. I don’t know how if my engagement can survive the offseason into the fall. The NFL is going to have to do some work over the next six months to demonstrate less cynicism. The lack of currency involved may not matter to Roger Goodell and the league, but continuing to ignore fact is bad business for my moral conscience.

The Unasked GOP Debate Question: Will Someone, Anyone, Please Drop Out of This Race?

Contempt

“So many questions in the aftermath of an ongoing exercise in excruciating national embarrassment. But the most important one remains unanswered today. With 14 candidates left in the field and the actual primaries just a couple months away, is anyone going to make like Scott Walker and go back to screwing up his or her regular day job?”

Read the full post on the Contemptor website.

 

Ben Carson and the Alan Keyes Cautionary Tale

Ben Carson

In February of 2013, author and retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson gave President Barack Obama a piece of his mind on issues ranging from health care to political correctness, during the National Prayer Breakfast. And a Republican star was born. Earlier this month in a column entitled The Soft Bigotry of Ben Carson, New York Times Op-Ed writer Charles Blow offered this assessment of the confrontation:

“It’s not that others have not criticized the president before or since, but it was the particularity of the racial imagery of Carson’s critique — one smart, accomplished black man undressing another in public — that gave it particular power. It insulated the attack from racial characterization. He said things from the lips of a black conservative that roiled the minds of white ones. And it represented a prominent breaking of ranks, a slicing off of black solidarity from not only Democratic loyalty but also from fidelity with this president.”

The accomplished, soft-spoken Carson currently sits just five points below 2016 Republican front-runner Donald Trump in a recent release from Public Policy Polling. That is a sentence I’d never thought I’d write in my lifetime, but I digress. Carson may be a brilliant physician but as my sister Jennifer recently and astutely observed, he’s also “frankly, one of the smartest dumb dudes alive.”

In a 2016 Republican primary campaign depressingly rife with distortions, inflammatory hate speech and blatant cynicism, Carson has not been the voice of class and reason for which many undecideds hoped. No matter how accomplished his resume or soft his tenor, the good doctor has disqualified himself over and again for the nation’s highest office – even as “progressive” Republicans and conservative media pundits enjoy their latest mainstream alienating love affair.

I’m quite sure the party’s base would love him to go on talking. Because no matter how outrageous the right has grown in its free political ignorance, as Blow highlights, there are still things white candidates (Donald Trump notwithstanding) can’t allow themselves to say. Such as these gems from the Sunday, September 20 edition of NBC’s Meet the Press:

“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

“Congress is a different story, but it depends on who that Muslim is and what their policies are, just like it depends on what anybody else is. If there’s somebody who is of any faith but they say things and their life has been consistent with things that will elevate this nation and make it possible for everybody to succeed and bring peace and harmony, then I’m with them.”

To quote Bart Simpson, Ay caramba. This was not gotcha journalism (my thoughts on the investigative dereliction of Meet the Pressmoderator Chuck Todd will be happily shared another time). This is an unqualified, racist crackpot speaking with the authority and support (silent or otherwise) of his partymates, trying to convince the rest of us that he is wizened and thoughtful enough to lead a nation of disparate peoples.

23 percent of Muslim Americans identify as black. Most of the remainder are other persons of color. Carson is a person of color, therefore untouchable no matter how hurtful and discriminatory his statements. An ironic carte blanche. See Carson shoot up the polls.

The only qualification Ben Carson seems to possess as a legitimate politician is the ability to talk (or mumble) out of both sides of his mouth. He wants everyone to succeed, peace and harmony for all, but he also wants to exclude an entire group of citizens from the White House against explicit Constitutional decree. Because 9/11 y’all. MD and skin color aside, Carson’s neck is just as red as Mike Huckabee’s.

As a longtime Illinois resident, the Republican and mainstream media’s pathetically forced Carson/Obama symmetry brings to mind the 2004 Senate contest between the future president and political activist, author and former diplomat Alan Keyes. Keyes, an African-American, demonstrated to his party’s caucus that being educated and black was far from enough to counteract Obama’s stride to Washington. The Free Republic reported at the time:

“He’s alienated almost all of the Republican party operatives throughout the state, starting with his wild-eyed rhetoric about Barack Obama’s pro-abortion stance (the ‘slaveholders’ position, similar to a terrorist, etc) and his attack on Dick Cheney’s gay daughter (Keyes called Mary Cheney a ‘selfish hedonist’).”

One has to talk a lot of crazy to alienate the Cheney family. 11 years later, Keyes exists as a frightening, if somewhat humorous political footnote. I eagerly await Carson’s similar recession from the public consciousness.

Chicago Pride (June 26, 2011)

 

 

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For members of the LGBT community, their friends, partners and loved ones (so basically, everyone in America), this is a great weekend. Not only did the nation’s most populous state, New York, pass 11th hour legislation on Friday night that certified equal marriage rights for all of its citizens, but throughout the country, there was some serious partying already planned in the form of various Pride parades and festivals.

This morning Chicagoans awoke to the second day of a two-day reprieve from cool temperatures and consistent storms, and took to the streets for the City’s annual gay Pride parade. Even without a high of nearly 80 degrees, half-naked, beautiful, intoxicated bodies would have filled the roads and alleyways of Boys’ Town, but tolerable conditions promised to take the revelry up a notch. Locals and out of town visitors felt the enhanced giddiness in the air. Pride festivities in the town with the second highest concentration of gays by density, coming in third place in overall population, are never a dour affair. But New York’s bipartisan acknowledgement of the community’s civil rights, coupled with the waffling President’s “evolvement” make clear that momentum is finally on the right side.

As I booted up my laptop this morning and accessed the New York Times online, I was reduced to a puddle by a columnist with whom I was hitherto unfamiliar, a writer by the name of Frank Bruni. He wrote this touching piece, which cogently expresses the collective intuition that New York’s law might be on its way to becoming the national paradigm sooner than we might anticipate. Hell, even a right-wing ideologue like Rick Santorum has had to go easy on the gay bashing. It’s increasingly socially unacceptable for one thing, and for another, proponents of discrimination are becoming aware that they have a hard time publicly articulating a rational viewpoint. Homophobia is falling out of favor in the mainstream in supremely rapid fashion, and even those who sit on the fence share a discomfort with speaking about it while the cameras roll.

In 2011, the marketing acronym WIFM (What’s in It For Me?) fails the litmus test when politicians adopt an intolerant social stance. People want jobs, they want an end to staggering, endless defense spending overseas while things fall apart at home, they want to pay less at the pump. They don’t want to see their sister (like hockey player Sean Avery), daughter (I am looking at YOU Dick Cheney) or best friend (me) hamstrung from enjoying everything citizenship has to offer because of who they love. Where is the need to protect the “sanctity” of marriage while Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani walk down the aisle three times?

Yep, change is in the air. When you have professional athletes, a stereotypically homophobic bunch, publicly defending the right of gays and lesbians to marry, pay joint taxes and raise healthy families, I have to tell you Intolerance, your days are numbered.

Earlier this month, the state of Illinois took its own imperfect step forward by passing legislation that permits civil unions for same-sex couples. There’s more work to be done, locally and elsewhere. But we can do it after running wild through the streets today. We’ve earned it.