Tag Archives: current affairs

I Don’t Wanna Be Anyone’s Wrapping Paper

This piece from Quillette Magazine hit home with me in so many ways, but more than anything it articulated why I’ve never registered with any political party: I simply don’t want to identified by the labels attached to the parties. Here are some excerpts that will, hopefully, outline what I mean:

Labels suck.

Conservative, liberal, progressive, libertarian, green. These words have come to mean nothing about the folk that embody them. In our era of career politicians, it would be like saying a quarterback drafted by the Oakland Raiders is irresistibly  —  unequivocally  —  a “Raider” in his style of play. He’s not; he’s just a guy throwing a ball whilst wearing their black jersey…

As a corollary, political labels seem not just irrelevant but also treacherous. The wrapping paper of your Christmas gift may delight you… it still doesn’t tell you what’s inside the box. And that, matter-of-factly, is the gift with which you’re bequeathed; the wrapping paper soon squeezed and discarded. To think, and vote, using labels grants us a false sense of security and prohibits the unmasking of (most) politicians for what they are: virtue-signalers to their base, peddling false and reductive narratives  —  often devoid of context and policy. It’s a cunning sleight of hand, abetted by the mainstream media, that leaves a great number of us agreeing with people with whom we would otherwise disagree. And the principal reason why this occurs is because of labels.

It’s not only the politicians  —  as a system  —  that are to blame for this upside-down world. It’s us all, callous bearers of that almost archaic duty: citizenship. Too often we favour the collective over the individual, group think over free thought, headlines over trends. We reflexively embrace our fellow [insert your label] without examining how we ever wound up ascribing to their “ideology” or “party.” In the practice of political faith, no matter the denomination, we are either fundamentalists or atheists. We subscribe to all the commandments or none at all. When is the last time you met a Democrat in favor of the Second Amendment or a Republican supporting abortion? Religion was once described by Christopher Hitchens as “a surrender of the mind.” Increasingly, so is political partisanship. Truth and sense, historical perspective and systemic thinking, matter less than jersey colour. We relish the chance to define and affirm our sense of self in proclaiming, say, our liberal credentials or conservative pedigree. Politics shifts from a practice (“what”) to an identity (“who”).

You don’t have to work hard to test this theory. Simply post a hot-button political story on your Facebook timeline and watch your friends react exactly as you’d expect them to based on their labels, i.e. their party affiliations. It’s truly remarkable.

kellyanne-conway-accused-of-disrespecting-the-oval-office-1

Picture linked from Piximus.net. Attributed to Brendan Smailowski/AFP

A silly non-consequential example that appeared on Facebook this week was related to the picture of Kellyanne Conway sitting on a couch in the Oval Office (see above) in what some people thought was an inappropriate way. Of course many “liberal” friends jumped all over it and then many “conservative” friends accused them of overreacting, and in the midst of that came this comment from a “conservative” that to me defined irony: “Why? Because liberals believe every photo/meme that they see on facebook is the gospel truth. That’s why.” This from a member of a group of people that spent eight years gleefully sharing every idiotic anti-Obama (including Michelle) meme you can imagine.

Here’s the thing: I have no idea if that particular “conservative” friend ever shared one of those anti-Obama memes, but she has identified herself as a member of that tribe so by default I’m assuming she did. That’s what happens when you identify yourself closely with a political party – you give people permission to assume that you believe whatever line that party is spouting. You can claim you’re an independent thinker all day long, but by raising your hand and saying “I’m a Republican” or “I’m a Democrat” you’re giving the world permission to assume that you believe everything that party espouses until you can prove otherwise. That’s why you’ll never see me join a party; I’m certain I’ll disagree with at least 25-50% of the policy positions that any party takes so I’m just not going to have my name associated with it.

As for the argument that people turn off their brains and just toe the party line, I’m pretty sure that if you asked anyone whether that’s true they would say, “Absolutely it’s true, especially with members of <insert opposite party name here>. Of course some members of <insert good guy party name here> do that too, but mostly the hard core nutjobs. Me and my friends aren’t like that.” Then they’ll fire up Facebook and start sharing idiotic memes as soon as your conversation is over.

Inauguration Got You Down? This Probably Won’t Help

Harper’s Weekly Review is usually a compilation of single sentence summaries of the previous weeks news made humorous by their juxtapositions to one another and usually totaling three or four long-ish paragraphs. This week’s was a single, very long, paragraph about Donald Trump titled Tower of Babble and it’s worth spending a couple of minutes reading it. Here’s a taste:

Donald J. Trump, a reality-television star erecting a mausoleum for himself behind the first-hole tee of a golf course he owns in New Jersey, first declared his candidacy for president of the United States in the atrium of Trump Tower, which he built in the 1980s with labor provided by hundreds of undocumented Polish workers and concrete purchased at an inflated price from the Gambino and Genovese crime families. “The American dream is dead,” Trump said to the audience members, each of whom he paid $50 to attend…

Trump said that his book The Art of the Deal was second in quality only to the Bible and that he never explicitly asked God for forgiveness. At a church in Iowa, he placed a few dollar bills into a bowl filled with sacramental bread, which he has referred to as “my little cracker.” Trump, who once dumped a glass of wine on a journalist who wrote a story he didn’t like, told his supporters that journalists were “liars,” the “lowest form of humanity,” and “enemies,” but that he did not approve of killing them. “I’m a very sane person,” said Trump, who once hosted a radio show in which he discussed the development of hair-cloning technology, the creation of a vaccine for obesity, the number of men a gay man thinks about having sex with on his morning commute, and the dangers of giving free Viagra to rapists…

Trump said that he doesn’t pay employees who don’t “do a good job,” after a review of the more than 3,500 lawsuits filed against Trump found that he has been accused of stiffing a painter and a dishwasher in Florida, a glass company in New Jersey, dozens of hourly hospitality workers, and some of the lawyers who represented him. “I’m a fighter,” said Trump, who body-slammed the WWE chairman at WrestleMania 23 in 2007, and who attended WrestleMania IV with Robert LiButti, an Atlantic City gambler with alleged mafia ties, who told Trump he’d “fucking pull your balls from your legs” if Trump didn’t stop trying to seduce his daughter. Trump, whose first wife, Ivana, accused him in divorce filings of rape, and whose special council later said rape within a marriage was not possible, said “no one respects women more than I do.”

There’s more. Much, much more. This piece should be considered a contribution to the public good and Harper’s is to be commended for running it.

A Letter to Some of My Recently Smug Conservative Friends

Dear Recently Smug Conservative Friends,

I get it. You’re feeling pretty satisfied. After eight years under the reign of progressive terror that defined the Obama era your time has come. The progressive agenda, what with its political correctness, high taxation, misguided health care reform and redistribution of wealth to the seemingly lazy and undeserving is finally being confronted by reality. Almost as importantly, those friends and family who for almost a decade have smugly derided your conservative values as antiquated and out of touch now have to face the reality that there are a LOT of people out there who think like you do. Together you’ve elected the most improbable candidate ever, Donald Trump, to the office of the President of the United States, and on top of that have returned a Republican House and Senate and an almost unbelievable number of state legislatures and governors office to the red side of the aisle. Yep, your side has spoken and loudly proclaimed that conservatism is thriving in these United States.

You’re elated and, yes, feeling a little smug. After suffering through ten years of liberal policies and holier-than-thou attitude, the place you call home suddenly feels more like your own neighborhood. And honestly how can the liberals seem so surprised that Trump would win after putting forward a candidate who lies, deceives and acts so,so, so pompous? Yes, I get it. In fact I’m more than sympathetic because I too got tired of being told by progressives that they knew better than me, that their policies were the One Way to make our country great. I can only imagine how tempting it must be to turn up your nose at them and declare that this country has spoken and it’s gonna be run your way and they can just stick their ideas where the sun don’t shine.

But here’s the problem. Many of you are making a grievous mistake by thinking that the election of a highly flawed, and I would argue dangerous, candidate is a free pass to completely dismiss the more liberal citizens in our midst. I’m not talking about your Facebook posts deriding liberals for backing “Killary” (which by the way is pretty juvenile), or your insistence that liberals just accept Clinton’s loss and stop whining about it after you spent eight years whining about Obama, or your calls to put protesters in jail. Those displays of public disagreement are as American as apple pie and a cherished right we should always defend.

What I’m talking about is your knee jerk reaction to those who voted for Clinton. You call them socialists, free loaders, hippies and idiots. You seem to think they all belong to some monochromatic blob of citizens incapable of critical thought or having nuanced belief systems. That argument would hold much more water if it weren’t for the fact that so many people DID vote for Clinton. There’s just no way that many people can hold the same worldviews; there just aren’t that many people who are card-carrying members of the ACLU or other rights groups, attend the same community organizations or read the same magazines. But, it’s safe to say that all of those people had one thing in common  and that is that they felt that, for whatever reason, electing Donald Trump was the worst choice they could make to better our country.

And there lies the rub for you, my smug conservative friends. You can’t come to terms with the fact that so many people probably voted for Clinton not because they liked her, but because they really thought Trump would be the ruin of this country. You can’t seem to understand that they truly believe his rhetoric is inflaming already tense relations between people of different races and creeds, that his stated policy positions could assault our civil rights in previously unimaginable ways and that his temperament could threaten our international relations, and that for those reasons and more he is not the change agent we need in Washington. And, tragically, you fail to empathize with those people and instead judge them in a way that you rightfully reject when liberals judge and label your and your fellow conservatives.

So my request of you, my conservative friends, is this. Please harness your smugness and glee and use that energy to work towards effecting change that truly helps our society. Rather than sitting and passing judgment on those who voted for Clinton, in part because they weren’t offered a better choice by your side, try to understand why they voted for her and how you can work with them to find ways to address those issues. Please note that I’m not talking about the fringe elements who aren’t interested in dialogue, but rather the group of people who likely live right next door or are related to you.

So why am I writing to your my conservative friends, and not my liberal friends? I have a whole other set of arguments for them which I will make in a separate letter. So feel free to enjoy your win at the polls, but please be the bigger person by refraining from sitting in judgment and find a way to bridge the divide with the liberals in your life. That will be the first step in curing what ails us.

Best regards,
Jon

A Letter to Some of My Pissed Off Liberal Friends

Dear Pissed Off Liberal Friend,

I get it. You can’t believe your fellow citizens have somehow managed to elect Donald Trump to the office of President of the United States. Sure, you’ve been disappointed by their misguided decisions and beliefs in the past, but nothing on this scale. How could they do it? How could they not see what a morally depraved, narcissistic and dangerous man he is? How could they possibly think it’s a good idea to elect him to the most powerful office in the world? Put simply, how could they be so wrong?

You’re angry and scared, and understandably so. You feel like your country has been taken from you, that the place you call home has become dangerous and no longer reflects your values. Yes, I get it. In fact I’m more than sympathetic because I too believe we’ve elected the most unqualified and dangerous man for the office in my lifetime and probably the history of the country, but since I’m not a historian I can’t say that confidently.

But here’s the problem. Many of you are actually making the problem worse by not exhibiting any understanding for the views of those who voted for Trump. I’m not talking about protesting outside of Trump’s buildings, or booing our VP-elect at a play, or shining a “F*&k Trump” display on the side of a building (although I do think that’s sophomoric and counterproductive). Those displays of public disagreement are as American as apple pie and a cherished right we should always defend.

What I’m talking about is your knee jerk reaction to those who voted for Trump. You call them racist, misogynistic, homophobic and idiotic. You seem to think they all belong to some monochromatic blob of citizens incapable of critical thought or having nuanced belief systems. That argument would hold much more water if it weren’t for the fact that so many people DID vote for Trump.There’s just no way that many people can hold the exact same worldviews; there just aren’t that many people who are card-carrying members of the KKK or other hate groups, attend the same churches, or read the same magazines. But, it’s safe to say that all of those people had one thing in common and that is that they felt that, for whatever reason, electing Donald Trump was the best choice they could make to better our country.

And there lies the rub for you, my pissed off liberal friends. You can’t come to terms with the fact that so many people probably voted for Trump not because they liked him, but because they felt that despite his deplorable behavior he still offered the best chance to change a system they see as not addressing their needs. You can’t seem to understand that they believe he, a nasty, thin-skinned purported billionaire, is the closest thing we have to a populist candidate who can begin addressing the needs of the middle class. You refuse to accept that someone who voted for Trump isn’t a knuckle-dragging-white-supremacist-wife-beater, but is actually someone who wants to shake up the powers-that-be enough that they might do something to help them. And, tragically, you fail to empathize with those people and instead judge them in a way that you rightfully reject when conservatives judge and label you and your fellow liberals/progressives.

So my request of you, my liberal friends, is this. Please harness your anger and use that energy to work towards effecting change that truly helps our society. Rather than sitting and passing judgment on those who voted for Trump, in part because they weren’t offered a better choice by your side, try to understand why they voted for him and how you can work with them to find ways to address those issues. Please note that I’m not talking about the deplorables who are certainly part of his base – the racists, fascists, anti-Semites who have latched onto his campaign – but rather the very large group of people who likely live right next door or are related to you.

So why am I writing to you my liberal friends, and not my conservative friends? Well, for one I have a whole other set of arguments for them which I will make in a separate letter. For another I have listened to you preach acceptance, open mindedness and civility and so I implore you to practice that preaching. Feel free to be angry, but be the bigger person by refraining from sitting in judgment and find a way to begin to bridge the divide with the conservatives in your life. That will be the first step in curing what ails us.

Best regards,
Jon

 

What Happens When News Anchors Don’t Listen

Things went awry for Headline News from the very beginning as they put together a piece on Edward Snowden. First, they contacted the wrong person to interview; they thought they were interviewing journalist John Hendren, but instead they were actually interviewing Jon Hendren. A simple mistake, but one that led to an embarrassing on-air interview (see below) that was exacerbated by the anchor’s inability to actually listen to Hendren’s answers. Had she listened she would have quickly figured out that he wasn’t talking about Edward Snowden, rather he was talking about Edward Scissorhands.

Oh, and one clue they might have had that they were interviewing the wrong guy was that his Twitter handle is @fart. Seriously.

The Race from Race and Guns

Speaking, or writing, about race in America is almost always an exercise fraught with risk and anxiety. Because we each bring our own racial identity to the table, our own experiences and perspectives, our own preconceptions and expectations of other races, we almost always struggle with overcoming our own obstacles to express our views. Maybe we’re afraid of offending so we salt our statements with ample disclaimers. Maybe we’re enraged so we salt our statements with hyperbolic adjectives. Maybe we’re confused and salt our statements with conflicting viewpoints. Maybe we’re so wrapped up in our own experience that we close our ears to the stories of those we’re trying to talk to. Likely we’re a combination of some or all of these things and as a result our attempts at talking about anything race-related are uncomfortable at best. The result? We do as much as we can to not talk about race in anything but the most generic terms.

Then we have something happen like the Charleston shootings of this week, or the events in Ferguson and Baltimore in the last few months, and race catapults to the top of our minds and the tip of our tongues. We can’t avoid addressing it and that’s when a great divide appears between us. That’s when we most need for people who can articulate the issues in a way that helps us better understand them. but unfortunately that’s when opportunists, the self-appointed leaders of their constituencies, appear on camera claiming they represent the whole of their race and instantly closing the ears of just about everyone. (How long do you think it will be before Al Sharpton shows up in Charleston?) That’s also when those who would like anything but reconciliation, the haters, step up with a megaphone and barf their venomous propaganda all over the rest of us.

Then there’s the matter of talking about guns in our country. The reaction to mass shootings like those in Charleston (and Connecticut, Virginia, Colorado, etc.) is depressingly predictable and divisive. It is near impossible to have a conversation about guns without it spiraling into a heated, virulent argument in which no one seems to think there’s some point between absolute freedom to own ANY weapon or a total ban on weapons.

In its own way gun control as a topic is as divisive as race and when you combine the two topics, as you most definitely are when you start to address the shootings in Charleston, you have the recipe for a witches brew of misunderstanding and divisive rhetoric.That’s why it’s so important that we DO have people who can say what’s needed in a way that we can all hear and understand. Once again the comedian shows us the way:

And then there’s this from David Remnick on President Obama’s reaction to the events in Charleston:

Obama is a flawed President, but his sense of historical perspective is well developed. He gives every sign of believing that his most important role in the American history of race was his election in November, 2008, and, nearly as important, his reëlection, four years later. For millions of Americans, that election was an inspiration. But, for some untold number of others, it remains a source of tremendous resentment, a kind of threat that is capable, in some, of arousing the basest prejudices.

Obama hates to talk about this. He allows himself so little latitude. Maybe that will change when he is an ex-President focussed on his memoirs. As a very young man he wrote a book about becoming, about identity, about finding community in a black church, about finding a sense of home—in his case, on the South Side of Chicago, with a young lawyer named Michelle Robinson. It will be beyond interesting to see what he’s willing to tell us—tell us with real freedom—about being the focus of so much hope, but also the subject of so much ambient and organized racial anger: the birther movement, the death threats, the voter-suppression attempts, the articles, books, and films that portray him as everything from an unreconstructed, drug-addled campus radical to a Kenyan post-colonial socialist. This has been the Age of Obama, but we have learned over and over that this has hardly meant the end of racism in America. Not remotely. Dylann Roof, tragically, seems to be yet another terrible reminder of that.

Nearly all of South Carolina was in mourning Thursday. Flags were at half-mast. Except the Confederate flag, of course, which flew high outside the building where Tillman still stands and the laws of the state are written.

I’m with Jon Stewart in feeling confident that nothing will change as a result of Charleston, or the dozens of similar events that have preceded it, or the dozens of similar events that are sure to follow. Why? Because change comes only when enough of us want it, and right now there just aren’t enough people who want it. Too many people benefit from the racial divide, from scaring the crap out of people – “They’ll take your guns, rape your women, steal your jobs… – and playing both sides to the middle for any real change to happen. The odds of that changing in my lifetime are minuscule and shrinking by the day, but my hope is that my children and their children can fix what the rest of us have so royally screwed up.

If You’re a Poor Kid in Forsyth County Then You’re Screwed

According to a recently released report Forsyth County, NC is the second worst county in the United States when it comes to income mobility for poor children. From the report in the New York Times:

Forsyth County is extremely bad for income mobility for children in poor families. It is among the worst counties in the U.S.

Location matters – enormously. If you’re poor and live in the Winston-Salem area, it’s better to be in Davie County than in Yadkin County or Forsyth County. Not only that, the younger you are when you move to Davie, the better you will do on average.

Every year a poor child spends in Davie County adds about $40 to his or her annual household income at age 26, compared with a childhood spent in the average American county. Over the course of a full childhood, which is up to age 20 for the purposes of this analysis, the difference adds up to about $800, or 3 percent, more in average income as a young adult…

It’s  among the worst counties in the U.S. in helping poor children up the income ladder. It ranks 2nd out of 2,478 counties, better than almost no county in the nation.

Take a look at this graphic and you can see that there’s a huge disparity between the prospects for poor kids and rich kids in the county:

Source NYtimes.com

Source NYtimes.com

Forsyth’s neighbor to the east, Guilford County, isn’t much better off:

It’s among the worst counties in the U.S. in helping poor children up the income ladder. It ranks 37th out of 2,478 counties, better than only about 1 percent of counties.

While it would be easy to say, “This should be a wake up call to the leaders of our community” I think that would be a cop out. This is the kind of thing that should concern us all because what do we think will eventually happen if we continue to allow a huge segment of our community to live in circumstances in which they perceive little chance of improving their lot in life? What do we think these young people will do when they lose hope?

So yeah, our elected leaders should view this as an early warning that they need to address these underlying causes of this disparity in opportunity, but this is bigger than them. All of us need to get engaged, through our schools, churches, civic groups, businesses and neighborhoods, in order to begin to make any progress in improving the prospects for our kids’ futures. The underlying issues are systemic – broken family structures, poor educational attainment, too many low wage jobs, etc. – and only a concerted effort by the entire community will be able to address them. If we don’t we will have much larger problems on our hands in years to come.

Winston-Salem and Forsyth County have made a great deal of progress in addressing the major economic challenges that were wrought by the declines of the local manufacturing industries, highlighted by the resurgence of downtown Winston-Salem, but now we need to make sure that the tide rises for everyone, not just those lucky enough to be born into well off families.