Patrick Swayze on a Pottery Wheel!

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According to our resident Delphic barnacle, Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has come “out of nowhere.”

Let’s talk about that.

We live our lives in an online environment characterized by hateful, ideologically violent ad hominem attacks, hit-and-run partisan rhetoric, and the guilt-free savaging of people we call friends. We have done for years. Day in and day out. And you are what you eat.

Women assume all men want to rape them. Whites assume all blacks want to rob them. Blacks assume all cops want to kill them. Americans assume all Muslims want to blow them up. And we all assume that anyone who disagrees with us in any way must be our enemy, and at the very least can never be our friend. And the kicker is, none of these are completely groundless assumptions.

We live in a world of exceptions proving rules.

When I walk across campus, I am nearly run down by people so absorbed in their iPhones that they forget other people exist. We carry on conversations with distant strangers (twits with tweets that we are), while our nearest neighbors are virtually unknown to us. And when I do happen to catch someone’s eye, it’s often hard to distinguish between latent fear and outright dismissal.

We are terrified of everyone and everything. We populate our world with ghosts and specters of threats and danger (we ain’t talkin’ Patrick Swayze here!), and we embody those spirits in the forms of all the Others we don’t know how to approach: Muslims are terrorists, the transgendered are perverts, Mexicans are rapists, and African-Americans are thugs and welfare queens. Full stop.

Then, to put the friggin’ cherry on top, we wrap all this bullshit up in a nice, neat bundle of jingoistic self-satisfaction: we are the U.S.A., dammit, and we’ve stopped by to save the day! Can we help it if the rest of the world is too blind to see how much it needs our “assistance”?

We are a nation of self-absorbed, narcissistic, multiphobic war hawks with a collective God-complex.

Donald Trump? Yeah…what a shocker!…

I Got 99 Problems, but to Bitch Ain’t One

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Learn to look, because compassion is understanding itself. 

– Thich Nhat Hanh

It occurs to me that I have nothing to complain about.

It also occurs to me that I don’t know from injustice. I mean, other than in theory, as it applies to other people, stuck in other lives. But in practice it is, for all practical purposes, foreign to me.

Black Lives Matter. Equal pay for equal work. A woman’s right to choose. The plight of the refugee. Gender discrimination. All these things speak to me. But I cannot speak to them.

What I can do–really, all I can do–is listen.

Because at the end of the day, the real professionals aren’t the “expert” talking heads on Fox or MSNBC, or the eggheads in the halls of academia, or the do-nothings in Congress. And it’s definitely not me. No, the real professionals are the people living these circumstances from day to day, the ones who can’t escape the situation simply because it is who they are, whether they like it or not.

I can watch, as I did yesterday, documentaries on the Holocaust; I can read books about slavery and Jim Crow; I can feel the weight of my own history, the white albatross of my existence, hung about my shoulders. But I cannot really comprehend the weight that my history has hung about the shoulders of these others.

So, I watch. And I listen. And I trust that my teachers, caught in a structure of real suffering, real injustice, know of what they speak. It is painful, to allow others to inform me of my complicity in matters that seem beyond my control, but these are words I must hear. I must yield to the experiences of those whose experiences can never be mine. Even if those experiences feature me in the role of antagonist.

This is not to say that I have no opinions on the subjects in question. But my opinions, however honestly considered, are also fatally flawed; they are based on feelings I cannot wholly feel, with which I can only sympathize, never empathize. And sympathy, while perhaps warm and fuzzy, is ultimately ineffectual. It is theater.

Racial theater is somehow the stand-in for actually confronting the problem. It lets us move on feeling like we’ve done something without challenging the order of things. And we tell ourselves after watching the special or listening to the conversation that we are all better people for doing so–that we are, at least, a bit less racist. But our racial habits remain completely intact. (Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.)

I don’t want to tell you not to take it personally. That’s the point: we never do. Not really. There is a difference between taking offense at something and taking that something personally. To take it personally is to make it our own, to the extent that we can. And we make it our own by recognizing that it is not, and making room for those to whom it really belongs.

It hurts, to be told you are ineluctably part of the very injustice you abhor. It hurts, but the truth often does. It stings, but it’s necessary. It is hard to step out of my own way, to stop listening to the sound of my own voice long enough to really hear someone else’s.

When you listen to someone, you should give up all your preconceived ideas and your subjective opinions; you should just listen to him, just observe what his way is. We put very little emphasis on right and wrong or good and bad. We just see things as they are with him, and accept them. This is how we communicate with each other. Usually when you listen to some statement, you hear it as a kind of echo of yourself. You are actually listening to your own opinion. If it agrees with your opinion you may accept it, but if it does not, you will reject it or you may not even really hear it. (Shunryu Suzuki)

Sure, I have problems. Everybody does. But are they really worth bitching about? My house drives me crazy…but I have a house. I really don’t like my job…but I have a job, and it pays well enough.

I don’t have to beg people to accept my marriage as valid “in the eyes of God.”

I don’t have to fear deportation or being turned away from a nation’s borders because I happen to resemble others who have done evil things, regardless of my innocence or guilt.

And unless I do something really, really stupid, I don’t have to worry about being stopped, frisked, Tasered, and/or shot by an officer of the “law.”

For some people, existence itself is a problem. For them, life is one long experience of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, because there is no “right” place for them to be. For no other reason than that they don’t look like me, or talk like me, or dress like me, or worship whichever deity I would prescribe.

Me? I’m white, straight, and male in the United States of America.

So who the hell am I to talk?

Terrapin Logic

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The American people elected a Republican Senate in the last election. Where the two parties can’t agree we’ve served as a check-and-balance to the president, but where the two parties can agree we’ve repeatedly sought common ground to get things done.

– Mitch McConnell

This man is a one-man advertising campaign for term limits.

Let me get this straight: the guy who’s on record (not to mention video) making it his party’s sole aim to limit Barack Obama to a one-term presidency, and then failing miserably even at that, has “repeatedly sought common ground to get things done.”

To quote Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

But take heart: McConnell’s attempts at obstructing Obama’s second term indicate that he isn’t any better at that than he is at interpreting his own inner logic.

So, meet Merrick Garland, the soon-to-be 113th justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Shell of a thing, isn’t it?

Show Me Something

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Out of the many, one…

I am a cynical man. But then, I was born in the Show Me State.

And now, we wait for Tuesday.

My fellow Missourians, a pale rider cometh, face streaked with the orange residue of FakeBake, hair askew, arms akimbo, wearing his hate on his sleeve, to tell you he can “Make America Great Again!”

Don’t fall for it. Be your proudly mulish selves, stubborn by birthright, and demand proof of life (and/or neural activity). Make him make a point, not an empty promise.

And when that point proves dull, turn around and kick him in the ass like the magnificent long-ears only you can be.

Do us a solid, Missouri…

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Send the jackass packing.

 

Careful What You Wish For…

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Even with my eyes wide open I can’t see a thing.

– Zatoichi

Dear Trump supporters,

You have rallied behind this man because you believe that he represents your viewpoints and feelings of frustration toward a broken system. And in that conviction, you are running blindly behind an individual who, the moment you find yourselves in disagreement with any detail of his approach (and we always do, even with presidents we admire greatly), will turn on you with the same venom he has directed toward those who counter him now.

Think about that. For the love of everything sweet and holy, think about that!

I am not one to jump willy-nilly aboard the “Hitler train”; it has always seemed to me that this sort of hyperbolic analogizing demonstrates a lack of nuance in thinking.

That being said, as I watch Mr. Trump call for the expulsion of any and all presence of protest or opposed opinion from his campaign events, while simultaneously deriding the act itself of protest;

As I listen to his repeated calls for virtual pogroms against the ethnic and religious minorities among us, making them scapegoats for all the problems facing us today as a nation;

As I witness continued advocacy of any form of torture that best suits his purposes for the extraction of information from anyone he deems “the enemy”;

It becomes clear to me that this man is a fascist, plain and simple. This is not hyperbole; it is the only label that fits. And if Americans are scared of socialism, they ought to be soiling themselves at the prospect of fascism.

Here’s why.

Fascism brooks no opposition, no difference of opinion, from either friend or enemy…and the line between the two is always shifting. A friend today is a silenced enemy tomorrow. This is in direct contravention of everything we stand for as a country, regardless of our political stance.

Fascism bases itself upon the mindless acquiescence and action of the herd, in the knowledge that thought and consideration run contrary to its authority. Which is why you hear Trump disparaging the caucus process: better a system in which the voting responsibility is quickly dispatched. Too much discussion is onerous; it also might reveal some of the chinks in a candidate’s armor, and we wouldn’t want that.

Fascism seeks a scapegoat. It establishes itself on the backs of the culpable category: we are not great because the Jews are corrupting our society (or the Muslims, or the Mexicans). Distract yourselves by turning on them, and you’ll not have a chance to turn on the man behind the curtain.

These are the ways in which fascists deal with their enemies. And fascists have no friends. Only sycophants.

So, when you tell me that you support Donald Trump because he stands for the American people, know this: fascists stand only for themselves. And anyone who gets in the way of that self-love is hastily swept aside, or worse.

Donald Trump is all about building a wall, and I don’t think you realize how easily you might find yourself on the wrong side of it.

Hold this thought:

Whenever you hear Mr. Trump coming down on his scapegoat of choice, the Mexicans, the Muslims, etc., etc., etc., just remember:

There, but for the grace of Donald, go I.

Four More Years (of the Same Damn Thing)

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Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!

– Thomas Gradgrind

I’m not gonna lie: I’m a little disappointed with Tuesday’s primary results.

The problem with the American electorate is that it suffers from a remarkable lack of imagination. And it has, once again, scared itself off just short of greatness.

Why are we, in this country, so afraid of big ideas? The Cold War ended 25 years ago; let the bogeyman go, people! In any case, no one is suggesting we go around calling each other “Comrade” and painting things red. And let’s be clear: Joseph Stalin was not a socialist, he was a dictator who used socialist rhetoric to consolidate and validate his rule. Not unlike certain other dictators (like Museveni in Uganda or al-Assad in Syria) who hide behind the rhetoric of democracy. Or xenophobic narcissists who build their movements on a platform of patriotic nationalism. Not that there are any of those around lately.

“Socialism,” as the younger generation of voters has responded to it over the last few months, is not (as has been condescendingly suggested by talking eggheads on news networks) just about “free college.” That’s part of it, but not remotely all of it…or even most of it.

The “New Socialism” is in many ways a restatement of Rawlsian “justice as fairness.” At its most basic, it’s about sharing. This is not a novel idea; most of us were taught to share as children. We just forget as we grow older. We’re not talking proletarian gray, here, either: no one’s calling for a complete leveling, just a little long overdue balancing in an effort to bring social divisions a bit closer to true.

It is not enough simply to preach faith in the American dream because the unpleasant truth is that not everyone is “created equal.” Donald Trump, for instance, did not earn his fortune. There were no bootstraps involved in his ascent; his is not an Alger-esque tale. Being born black is not the social equivalent of being born white; being born female is not the social equivalent of being born male; being born gay is not the social equivalent of being born straight. Not in practice. Doesn’t matter what the eyes of the law see; the eyes of prejudice are blindfolded.

What I advocate is not the abolition of success; it is the democratization of opportunity. Too many of our so-called entitlement programs are step-stools to nowhere. Even if all the unemployed were employed, the pay for “unskilled” labor will never amount to a living (never mind that our daily lives depend on this “unskilled” labor in almost every way). Why? Not because employers cannot afford to pay a living wage, but because doing so would cut into their profit margin. There is no will, so there is no way.

The only way to get past the “unskilled” jobs is to go to college, and increasingly, undertake some form of post-graduate study. But who can afford that? Working one’s way through college isn’t a feasible option anymore. So there’s the student loan. Which defeats its own purpose. These days, it’s a double whammy: not only will a college degree not net you a good job, but your unemployment will be complicated by debt payments people with jobs struggle to make.

This is the socialism of the Bernie Sanders supporter: Make America Fair Again. It’s not about free enterprise; it’s about freedom of movement. Freedom of access. Above all else, recognition of one another as interconnected. “Free college” is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end. It creates a ladder out of disadvantage to a career, and a living; it creates an educated electorate that knows the difference between a brain and a hairpiece; and it raises the bar for all of us by raising the level of public discourse in our communities.

The rationale behind reining in the banks and drafting the support of the über-rich is simple: wealth hoarded, in the vicinity of so much disadvantage, is immoral. It is also unsustainable. The idea that affluence is the ultimate expression of the American dream is ludicrous, especially if my dream fuels another man’s nightmare. When we have what we need, we don’t need any more; however, the capitalist impulse creates the impression that we can never have enough. Which makes us blind to all our fellow human beings who actually don’t.

We need leaders who both acknowledge these imbalances, and who are willing to try and rectify them. Even if by way of baby steps. I support Sanders the democratic socialist because at the end of the day, a small step is still a step in the right direction. And if that’s as far as he managed to go, at least the next guy or gal will have one less rung to climb.

Here’s the thing about Hillary Clinton: she could easily run as a moderate Republican. Bernie, on the other hand, represents the true progressives among us. True progressives are, by definition, ahead of the curve; they make change by tugging the narrative forward, not by pushing it from behind. Not that Clinton will do either. If her tack holds, she could win, take a four-year nap, and still deliver as promised.

It’s not enough just to get four more years. We need someone who will actually do something with them.

SooperToosday

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But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me. 

– Vizzini

The day is upon us.

Super Tuesday: the day on which we all get to decide whether it’s more important to win, or whether–perhaps–there is more to our voting choices than that.

At the end of the day, this election isn’t about ideology, it isn’t about conservative versus liberal. This one’s about basic human decency, about respect for one another and our political process. This one says something, profound and revelatory, about us as a nation and a people.

I’m not endorsing one party over another here. There are Republican candidates who have a lot to offer (well, candidate, anyway: Kasich–although I’ll take Rubio in a pinch). There are Democratic candidates who also promise at least some level of progress, and who have talked, not about the “evil Other,” but about the good we can do together as citizens of the United States.

And then there is the One.

The guy whose whole platform is built on putting down pretty much everyone, who has all but endorsed whatever form of torture serves him most conveniently, who has refused to distance himself from the KKK (with which historically inconspicuous organization he claims to be unfamiliar), and who has bullied his way through a series of debates without ever actually talking about anything, really, at all.

The guy whose plan is having one.

I’ve heard of several conservatives who, given a Trump nomination, are planning to abstain. Fine. But you could vote now, instead; vote, thoughtfully, for a more thoughtful option. Which is pretty much ANYBODY ELSE.

To my fellow Democrats, same goes for you: winning isn’t everything. In fact, in some cases, it isn’t anything. “Electability” is for the cynical and cowardly. Our problem, politically speaking, is that we’re not willing to swing for the fences. Everything is “strategery”: how do we get our guy (or gal) in, and then, how do we keep them there?

And we wonder why nothing ever changes.

We have one candidate who has told us what could be accomplished if we try, and we have another who has told us, consistently, that so little can be done that trying is a waste of time. Yoda is great, but I don’t really want him in the White House. Progressivism (real progressivism) is all about the “try.” Anything else is stagnation. And we’re all too familiar with that.

Let’s be clear: Hillary tells us that the root of “progressive” is “progress.” Fair enough. The root of “socialism” is “social.” And that has nothing to do with the Soviet Union, or Karl Marx, or bread lines and sovkhozy.

It’s not about the state at all, really. It’s about how we look at each other, about who our neighbors are, about what kind of neighbors we intend to be. The true socialist society is a reflection of its people. That the USSR got it backwards doesn’t mean it can never work. It just means that it hasn’t worked yet.

So, stop fearing the labels and catchphrases, and listen to what Bernie has to say about the things that are holding us back as a nation. Which is ourselves.

Every generation needs a “moonshot.” But that means embracing the big ideas, remembering that the moon is out there in the first place, waiting to be shot at.

So, two suggestions:

Democrats, let’s vote for the candidate who’s willing to shoot for the moon.

And Republicans…

For the love of Pete, don’t vote for the guy who might accidentally blow it up.

#FeelTheBern
#DumpTrump