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Archive for 2020|Yearly archive page

THE DISUNITED STATES

In PeaceAble, Politics on December 12, 2020 at 10:46 am

Perhaps we should have seen it coming.  Maybe it was always inevitable.  Possibly the plan was fatally flawed from the very beginning.

America.  No, wait.  The United States of America.  Sure, we regularly use the shorthand, but the 50 states and 5 unincorporated, permanently inhabited territories are not America.  They are, in fact, not even most of America, which refers properly to two continents that comprise nearly all of the western hemisphere.

I bring this up because the 2020 presidential election, following four years of a presidency that has ripped the sheets off deep and abiding divisions and enflamed them nearly to the breaking point, has led to what may seem impossible-to-heal polarization.  On the left there is talk of never forgiving those who have so egregiously wounded the fundamental bonds of democracy; and on the right there is talk of a new civil war, of secession.  Each side is throwing around charges against the other of sedition and treason. 

How very “American” of us.

We call ourselves the “United States,” but a degree of disunity has always been there, has always lingered in the shadows, waiting for its chance to break things apart.

Each of the “united” states has individual sovereignty.  We have always been a federation of sovereign states, not a nation with a unitarian identity.  Our differences and divisions have been part of who we are since before the revolution, and have been codified by the Constitution and the courts since the 18th century.

The most obvious manifestations of this have always centered around racism and slavery, but have expanded to include all kinds of arguments involving every kind of human characteristic that distinguishes white men as the natural ruling class; wealth as the equivalence of superior intelligence and ability; nominally Puritan ideas about sex, gender, matrimony and general morality as normative; protestant Christianity (itself rife with internal division) as the institution of authority for all things called god; and Manifest Destiny as the final word on the United States’ proper place in the world.

We are, in other words, not really designed to be a nation at peace with itself, with a singularity of purpose or vision.

In some ways, this has been our strength.  We gave ourselves permission, whether the founders knew it or not, to become incredibly diverse, to become a melting pot, to become a home to so many who found themselves homeless in other nations. It gave us a foundation on which to build arguments of justice and freedom and fairness for non-whites, for immigrants, for the differently-abled, for LGBTQ+ individuals, for followers of a broad range of religious beliefs and doctrines or none at all, and all kinds of educational, economic, and cultural classes, communities, practices and personal choices.

But it has also allowed us to hang onto deeply rooted prejudices, and normalized discrimination.  It has allowed us to abuse, disenfranchise, dehumanize our own citizens.  It has allowed us to make self-aggrandizing claims of freedom, equality and justice while maintaining embedded exploitation, inequality, and injustice.  Freedom has come to mean a measure of anarchy; equality has come to embrace the idea that the false is equal to the true and the harmful equal to the healthy; and justice has been reimagined as the rule of authoritarian law.

This is the great dilemma that must ultimately be resolved.  Are we to be a single nation?  Will we embrace in reality our idealistic pledge of indivisibility?  Can we at last find a way to reconcile and repair our violent, bloody past and the long-festering, unhealed wounds of intolerance, bigotry, and human exploitation?  Can we, in the 21st century, use this moment of open – even honest in its own way – polarization to become what we have fantasized ourselves to be?

Have we, at last, hit bottom?

For the moment, the ball is in the Progressives’ court.  If meaningful change, lasting change, substantive change, is to happen, it will be because Progressives are able to seize this moment without rancor, without vengeance, without exacerbating the divisions that plague us, but by finding intelligent and effective solutions and advocating tirelessly for their implementation.  It will require perseverance, patience, and genuine adherence and fidelity to our most important principles, even when we have to apply them to people we have heretofore denigrated as deplorable and dismissed as irredeemable.

I sincerely hope that we are up to the task.

Thanksgiving in the Year When Nothing Good Happened

In PeaceAble on November 26, 2020 at 4:22 pm

(In response to a friend who asked on FB, “what are you thankful for in the year when nothing good happened?”)

Andrew was . . .

Annoyed.

It was Thanksgiving and he had been reading all day about how he should be thankful.  All day.  On social media.

But this was the Year When Nothing Good Happened.  And Andrew didn’t feel thankful.

Be thankful, the internet was insisting.  We know that this is the Year When Nothing Good Happened, but you . . . Andrew . . . should find something to be thankful about.

Find something.

To be thankful about.

So, Andrew tried.  He really did.  He opened up a fresh page in his word processor.  He made himself a cup of coffee.  He would have made himself a glass of bourbon, but it was still morning and Andrew never drank in the morning.  That was a good thing, but Andrew considered it and thought that perhaps it was not enough to be actually thankful for on the occasion of Thanksgiving in the Year When Nothing Good Happened.

First, he tried all the usual things people say they are thankful for on Thanksgiving.  He had his health (though there was that suspicious cough earlier in the week, which might have been merely allergies, or the dryness of the seasonal air, but which could also have been the start of some dread disease or chronic condition – he’d have to pay attention to that).  He was financially secure (as long as they didn’t start screwing around with his pension or his social security).  He had the love of his family (at least he was pretty sure they still loved him – he hadn’t actually talked to any of them since August, and they all lived so far away these days, and with families one never really knows – people drift apart – he’d have to call them later, when he was finished being thankful).  He was going to contemplate the beauty of the world, but it was raining and a little chilly.

Then, grasping at straws, he thought, “This has been the Year When Nothing Good Happened, and I have survived it – I can be thankful for that!”  (But the year wasn’t quite over yet, so who knew what might still happen and whether he would survive that.)

That clearly wasn’t working.

Andrew realized that he needed something more.  It didn’t seem right to waste perfectly good Thanksgiving thankfulness on the ordinary day-to-day things for which one might be occasionally consciously thankful.  This was a holiday, after all.  A special occasion.  One should try to find something worthy of the moment for thankfulness.  One should find something for which he could be literally full of thanks, not just kind of lightly thank-y.

But what?

So, Andrew tried being thankful for big things.  But he couldn’t seem to think of any big things without sounding to himself like he was answering a question in a beauty pageant about how he wanted to bring about world peace.

It seemed that the more he tried to be thankful, the more he despaired that there might actually be nothing to be thankful for.  Especially in the Year When Nothing Good Happened.

He was getting desperate now.  Surely there was SOMETHING for him to be thankful for.  SOMETHING worthy of this solemn occasion must be able to fill him with appropriate gratitude!

So closed his word processor, shut off his computer and his phone, pulled his shades down and sat in silence and darkness in his most comfortable chair.

And, as he sat there, he found himself awash in all the bad things that had been happening in this Year When Nothing Good Happened.  And he began to cry.  At first, softly – just a bit of wetness around the rim of one eye.  Then, a tear escaped, a small gasp of breath came from deep within him, the gasp became a sob, more tears began to flow, his chest heaved, his nose ran, and he was full on crying.

And he realized that he wasn’t crying because this had been the Year When Nothing Good Happened, but because he could feel something shifting, not just within himself, but in the universe.  This, too, he thought, will pass.  And he felt a great release.  His tears were a reminder that he could choose to breathe again, to feel what he had been afraid to feel, to let the Year When Nothing Good Happened fade into the past.  And, he thought, this is how I know that my humanity is intact.  I have not, his mind raced on, simply survived, I am beginning to fight back.  The Year When Nothing Good Happened hasn’t defeated me.

Or us.  Because he could feel that he had a kinship with the rest of the human race who were also emerging from the recent troubles with new hope and new purpose.  There would be work to be done, the struggle wouldn’t simply go away, the wounds wouldn’t simply heal, but that’s what life is supposed to be about – doing the work.  There was hope, he saw; there was possibility.

His mind tried, then, to fall back on the gloomier thoughts, tried to tell him that this was all Pollyanna thinking, that he – and the rest of humanity – wasn’t up to the task.  But it was too late for that.  The thankfulness had taken hold.

Andrew had found that the human spirit, hope, empathy, purpose – love – when bundled together, even in the Year When Nothing Good Happened, were big enough to fill him to the brim with thankfulness.

And the Year When Nothing Good Happened was no longer.  The Year When Good Things Began Again had arrived.

COMPARING RACISM

In Politics on October 23, 2020 at 10:45 am

It is, to put it plainly, ridiculous to argue over which of two white American men in their seventies is more racist.

Comparing degrees of racism is like comparing how much “special ingredient” Minny put in our pie.  I mean how much should we be okay with?

Now, if we accept the idea that it is nearly impossible to find an adult white American male who is completely free of racism, then we can begin to address the more complicated issue: what are we going to do about it?

And I say this as a white American man in my seventies.

From my admittedly privileged perspective on issues of race, I would argue that there are two kinds of institutional and systemic racism: white supremacist and white privileged.

White supremacist racism ranges from the overt acts of racism by proud white nationalists to the small daily doubts of people who grew up in overtly racist times and can’t quite free themselves of the occasional racist response.  It is the second group that needs to be helped.  The first group will need to eventually die out – or not.

A lot of the white privileged group are sincere, kind, honest, and loving people who have tried very hard to change, and may even be convinced that they are no longer or have never been racist.  They have lots of professional and social interactions with non-whites.  Their circles are broadly diverse.  They may even intermarry, or genuinely celebrate the inter-racial relationships of their friends and family.  They may even work very hard to advance social change around things like ghettoization, income and work inequality, unequal treatment in interactions with the legal system, hate speech and hate crime, and so on.

But.

Every once in a while, there is a moment when they wonder if “black on black crime” may be a fair point; or they have to fire up Google to fact-check whether Black communities really do have an “absent father” problem that white communities don’t.  Every once in a while, they may listen with a moment of sympathy or thoughtful intellectualism to a debate about whether the principal cause of the Civil War was rooted in slavery or in economics or in states’ rights, before it kicks in that the economic history of America is inseparable from slavery and the states’ right being fought about was the right to own slaves.  Every once in a while, they realize that they are far more aware of, and concerned with, in ways both small and large, the race of their non-white friends than their white ones.

Racism is part of our national character.  We have all been affected by it.  Even non-whites raised in America have internalized it. It’s a disease that lingers in us, and occasionally erupts into noticeable sores. We have learned to live with it, but we would be so much better off if we could find a cure.

What cure?

I don’t want to overstate it or give the wrong impression, but the current COVID-19 pandemic may provide a useful, though flawed, analogy.

We have to start by understanding that racism is highly contagious; can be debilitating or even fatal; requires us to assume for our own safety that everyone we come into contact with may be infected; and even asymptomatic carriers can transmit the disease.

To fight the disease, we will need to watch ourselves carefully.  Try to stay away from people and places where it is likely to be spread.  Especially avoid potential super-spreader events, like certain political gatherings.  Know who in your personal bubble is less likely to be putting themselves in harm’s way, and self-isolate within that bubble. When you must venture out, take precautions.  Sanitize regularly; every time you have had contact with anyone or anything that is suspect, wash your hands of it.  When your “crazy uncle” tells a “Mexican” joke, tell him it’s not funny and you won’t have any part of it.  When a white acquaintance tries to “whitesplain” the BLM movement. Refuse to cooperate.

And here’s what may be the hardest part.  Wear a mask to reduce the possibility of your inadvertently spreading the disease.  Think before you speak, before you act.  If you’re about to argue with a non-white person about their described experience of being non-white in America, stop yourself; and just listen instead.  Remind yourself regularly that even the smallest droplets of racism you might unconsciously breathe into your surroundings can spread the disease.

There won’t be any vaccine any time soon.  We aren’t going to discover any miracle cure.  Herd immunity is clearly not going to happen.  The disease will be with us for a long time.  It will continue to be a drag on our society, our economy, our lives in myriad ways.  We may need to shut some things down for a while.  Some radical surgery may be needed, such as tearing down memorials to racism or racists, such as cutting irredeemable racists out of our social and political and economic systems, such as cutting our own ties with those persons or institutions that are helping to spread the disease.

But the first, and most important step is to recognize both the severity and the inevitability of the disease itself, and to take responsibility for our own part in it.  The second step is to take whatever action we can to root it out and deal with it both within ourselves and within the culture.  The third step is to demand the kinds of systemic, institutionalized, and culturally normative changes that will be necessary to someday eradicate the disease.  And all of these steps need to be taken simultaneously.

Now let me reiterate.  I’m a white American male in my seventies.  I am, by definition, a carrier of the disease.  It is my responsibility to do whatever I can to treat the disease in myself, reduce the spread of it to others, and advocate for treatments now and a cure in the future.

I can’t be certain, of course, that I am speaking for anyone else, or reflecting a perspective that others will find useful, or even valid.  What I am certain of is that if I don’t say something, do something, try something, then I will never fully recover.  And if we, none of us, do, say, or try, then there is a real possibility that the disease will prove terminal for us all.

COULD WE END RACISM IF WE STOPPED BEING WHITE?

In PeaceAble on June 12, 2020 at 4:44 pm

If any of my fair-skinned friends wants to begin to understand racism as a systemic problem in American culture, a good place to start is with Tanehisi Coates’ book “Between the World and Me.”  You will barely get started in the first section of the book before you will be confronted with two revelatory ideas.

The first of these is that “race is the child of racism, not the father.”

Think about that for a moment.  We know that race is a social construct, that there is no biological basis for separating humans into races based on external physical features.  Claiming that a dark skin is evidence of a separate race is no more based in fact than claiming that detached earlobes are.  But the implications of the statement are more profound than that.

The statement tells us that humans did not see color, decide that races existed, and then became racist.  Rather, we needed a reason to justify de-humanizing those we would dominate, and the invention of race gave us that reason.  And by “we” I mean white people, for who else has benefitted more than we have from the invention of race?  We have used it to justify conquering and subjugation, colonialism, genocide, rape, and more – a very long list of atrocities that were easier to commit as long as the victims were not as human as we were.

Which then brings Coates, and his readers, to the second idea.  Being “white” is a myth, an illusion, what Coates refers to throughout the book as a “dream.”

We aren’t, after all, actually white.  We’re varying shades of a sort of pink beige, turning more brown or red with exposure to the summer sun, and more pale and yellow in the winter.  But being white has become such an immutable part of our identity; so fundamental to how we see not just ourselves, but the whole world and our place in it, that it is the beginning of how we relate to everything else.  The whole structure of the canon of western civilization, its art, literature, science, history, religion, philosophy depend on it.  We measure human progress by its relationship to our own whiteness.

If we weren’t white, what would we then use to determine who the “others” are?  What other characteristics of humankind have the breadth, the scope of race?  If “white” did not exist, would black, brown, yellow, or red also disappear?  After all, those colors are as inaccurate in describing other races as white is in describing us.

We might still divide up humankind by ethnicity, by nationality, by language, by culture; but wouldn’t those things first require us to recognize the fundamental humanity at the heart of those differences?  Once we have identified race as the controlling factor, once we have determined the inherent inferiority of the other on the basis of race, then we can judge their accomplishments, their civilizations as inferior by default.  But if we had to start by dealing with all those things that humans create, it would be more difficult to dismiss their creators as less than human.

Calling our whiteness a dream has other implications as well. 

Dreams are more than just fantasies or illusions.  They are, first of all, associated with sleep.  If the core of our racial identity is a dream, then we are asleep in our reality.  And what happens to our dreams when we awaken?  To be “woke” is to have roused ourselves from the dream; to have left it behind in the darkness.

A dream is also either an aspiration or a fear.  When our dreams become nightmares, they express those things we most fear.  We may wake from them sweating, our hearts pounding, confused and terrified.  Leaving them behind is difficult, the fear remains.  When our dreams are desires, they give us goals, and light our way.  But if we dream too big, the aspirations can become traps.  If we cannot become all that we dream we are or could be, how do we reconcile that, if the dream is of our innate superiority?

We find that we need the dream, because without it, all our fears and aspirations are merely the consequence of being no more or less human than those the dream does not include.

So, I think that I need to try to stop being white.

But how does one, especially in one’s seventies, shed one’s race?  I’m certainly not going to dye my skin, get plastic surgery, alter my birth.  And those things would be lies, anyway.  If I am to be something other than white, it has to be real.  And it has to come to terms with all those decades of whiteness that already live inside my skin.

Baby steps.

If whiteness is an illusion, how do I step outside of it?  If it is a dream, how do I wake up?

Another point that Coates makes, one that I already knew but the context is important, is that naming is an act of power.  I would also call it an act of creation.  We cannot name a thing until we have knowledge of its existence.  And when we name it, we say how it is to be perceived, judged, related to.  We define it.  We say what its fundamental characteristics are, and what connotations we are to draw from it.  We say what is our power over it, or its power over us.

To define something is to limit it, to enclose it in our perceptions; and to try to imprison it there.  Our words for things are the first steps in creating and controlling our reality.

So, the first step in changing our reality is to change the names we use for it.  This is an idea that has long existed in therapy.  Reframe the experience, name the feeling.  We do not need to be the victims of our lexicons, we can take control.

I am becoming more aware every day now of how much of my perceptions of the world and my place in it have been founded in my whiteness.  Many of my successes have been made easier because I am white, have been expected because I am white, assumed because I am white.  And my failures, my fears, my shortcomings have been amplified by those same privileges, expectations and assumptions.

So, what happens if I reframe my whiteness.

I have, for most of my adult life, played with the idea of the mongrel.  I have often joked that we are all mongrels.  I have bemoaned, in my humor, the lack of cultural or group identifiers for mongrels.  We have no traditions, no flag, no songs, no creed, no signs of belonging or loyalty, no natural gathering places.

But it turns out that it’s not really a joke.  None of us has a singular ancestry beyond a few generations, insignificant in the span of human existence.  We’re all mutts.

I’ll start small on my way to mongrelization.  From now on, when faced with some official form that asks me to say my race, I will respond not white, but other.  If required to explain, I will say that I am mongrel, or perhaps “mixed-blood.”  Didn’t we create laws that claimed a single drop of black blood made one black?  So, I will embrace all the drops within me.  I will be them all.

I think we should start a movement – an awakening, if you will – toward the end of the white race; and the rise of the mongrel. 

Anyone can join.  Anyone who wishes to shed the skin that whiteness has trapped them in can become a mongrel.  But it is most important that white people go first, because as long as there are white people, there will also be the others.  And as long as we continue to dream our own whiteness, we will never awaken to the full possibility of being simply human.

Thugs with Grievances and Very Fine People With Guns

In PeaceAble on May 29, 2020 at 12:16 pm

The question being asked by a lot of white people on social media this morning:

Why do these rioters destroy their own neighborhoods, loot and burn, and risk a violent, perhaps deadly response from the police?  Don’t they know that just makes them look bad and hurts their cause?

Now, let’s set aside for the moment the fact that these people were not asking a similar question of armed white people storming state capitols and threatening violence, talking about lynching and assassination and so forth.  Don’t they know that just makes then look bad and hurts their cause?

Although the answers to these questions are related in two ways.

I’ll start with the question that is being asked, then show how that question and the other non-question are related.

And I’ll begin by asking another question.

Why do prisoners, when they riot, destroy their prison: looting and burning, risking a violent response from the guards?

Because they don’t have much to lose.

And don’t try to say, “Oh, but that’s different,” because it is only different in degree, not in kind.

We used to call them ghettos, but they were always prisons.

We now call it the inner city, but it’s a prison just the same.

We call them the projects, or the neighborhoods, but they’re still prisons.

And the chances for a kid growing up in the inner city ever escaping from the systemic poverty, the institutionalized racism, the disastrously inadequate education, the oppressive living conditions, and the constant threats of violence from within and without are just about as few and far between as the chances of escape or release from prison.

And the chance that people living under those conditions have always been and will always be treated by major segments of society as less-than-human, even if they try to follow all the rules, do the “right” things, and manage to get out are pretty substantial.

So why not burn it down?  Why not burn down the physical manifestation of your imprisonment?  And why not, while you’re at it, take whatever you can get away with?  You’re unlikely to get it any other way.  And it’s going to burn, anyway, if you don’t take it.  And it’s a way of saying to those outside that the longer you deny us not just the basic, but even the least more than that which would make life more than just survival, that would liberate us even a little bit from the prisons you have put us in; the more our anger, our fear, our grief and our need will fester and grow until it again explodes into what makes you ask the question and not see the answer, just as you don’t see us.

And why should we risk violence, even death, at the hands of the police?  Hell, we do that every day, sometimes without even getting out of bed!

And how is that related to the second question?  I mean aside from fairly obvious racial and other issues of prejudice?

They both have to do with fear.  There is reasonable fear and unreasonable fear; and as a society we have routinely, historically, gotten them confused.

The people asking the question are afraid of the people doing the rioting.  They are afraid of them even if they are merely demonstrating.  They are afraid of them even if they are doing nothing.  They are afraid of them because our culture, our society has spent hundreds of years and enormous amount of resources convincing them, teaching them, to fear those other people.  Not to fear them because of what they have done, but because of what we have done to them.  To fear them because of who they simply are, which is the other.

After centuries during which white people took whatever they wanted, by whatever means they could, from other people, they are afraid that the others will take what they have – or take back what was taken.

And the culture has also spent those centuries teaching us all, convincing us all that when you are afraid, the appropriate response is to arm yourself, and the people with the most dangerous weaponry are to be admired and respected.  Corollary to that, we have been taught that those with the most destructive power have the right to use that power to do whatever they want, because if you don’t let them then they will use that power against us – and it will be our own fault for not properly respecting the people with the power.

We have, in other words, been told that the people without power are to be feared, and the people with power are to be respected.  Until the moment when the others realize that they, too, have power; at which point they are to be put down because that realization is all the evidence needed to prove that fear of them was warranted.

We have also been taught that when groups of white people take up arms against the authorities, and people are injured or killed as a result, it is the authorities who are to blame, not the groups of armed white people.  But when the others do it, the authorities are praised, not blamed. 

You do see how backwards all that is, right?  And how obviously true?  Because if you don’t see it, then you will never find the truth you claim to be seeking when you ask the question.

WAITING FOR THE PUNCHLINE – AND WANTING TO PUNCH SOMEONE

In Politics on March 29, 2020 at 11:01 am

We have relied, for the past several years, on the network and cable comedy shows to help keep us sane in these difficult times. Often, it seems as though John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, and the other late-night hosts have been a more reliable source of the truth about what’s happening in this country and the world than the main stream media.
And yet.
And yet.
Now that all the shows have been put online without audiences, I have been unable to bring myself to watch them. I see the Daily Show videos, the Colbert monologues, and I can’t bring myself to watch them.
I can no longer allow myself the luxury of relying on comedy to get me through this. It is too great a privilege.
I am a 72-year-old white male, retired, living at home with my wife, who is also retired. I can afford to sit at home and laugh through my anger and fear. I’m not being deprived of a wage that was already less than a living wage. I don’t have to figure out what to do about my children. I have books and television and radio and my cell phone and my computer. I can be isolated and not alone. I don’t have to go to work every day and risk my life. I don’t have to strip off my clothes before entering my house, then deny myself and my family even the simplest intimacies.
I am fortunate and I am privileged.
I even have reason to believe that even if I got sick I could afford testing and treatment.
My wife and I are social-distancing, self-isolating. We go out only to pick up a few things at the grocery store, where she goes in because she is younger than I and all the advisories say that I am more at risk if one of us gets infected. She is also required by family obligations to go out more than I. Of course, we must assume that if one of us were to become infected it is most likely that we both would.
Still, we follow the protocols. We clean everything that comes into the house. We leave groceries on the porch until we can sanitize the packages as best we can. We wipe down the mail. When we go for a walk outside with a friend, we stay 6 feet apart. We wash our hands frequently. We have reviewed all the guidelines. We live in a rural community where the virus has not yet been shown to be present, but assume it is only a matter of time.
We do this not simply because the government or the CDC or WHO or anyone else has required it, but because we want to be as safe as possible and we want others to be safe as well.
We worry about our sisters and brothers, our children and grandchildren, our friends and neighbors, many of whom may be more at risk than we are.
We live in ignorance of the facts. Like everyone else, we cannot really know the extent or location of the virus because testing is not being done as broadly or efficiently as it should. Was that dry cough a reaction to my blood pressure medicine or was I sick? Is there always a fever, or could I have been carrying the virus asymptomatically? Were our grandchildren infected before the schools were closed; before their soccer practice or games were suspended?
Will the measures now, finally, being taken mean that this crisis will be behind us by summer or still with us at Christmas?
How long? How much?
And that is why I cannot look right now at the comedy.
I’m too angry.
I can no longer laugh at Donald Trump. I can no longer see his daily displays of ignorance, pettiness, self-aggrandizement, lack of empathy or compassion, attacks on anyone and everyone who dares to suggest he might be wrong, might do better, might have some genuine responsibility to something other than himself, and not feel frightened for the future of our country, our democracy, our way of life.
I am way past the time to allow myself to believe that black humor, trench humor, can help us. These are dangerous times; not just because of the coronavirus, but because we are witnessing the willingness of the people in power openly and wantonly to destroy the Constitution in order to enrich themselves with both money and political power.
While we sit in our houses or suffer through our lives in the shadow of COVID-19, Our government is conspiring to stack the federal courts with unqualified, ideologically driven judges. They are arranging to give away hundreds of billions of taxpayer money to multi-billion-dollar corporations. They are stealing land and stealing the vote from the First Nations. They are carrying out petty vendettas. And they are dragging their feet on addressing the COVID-19 crisis because of unrelated, unimportant, fringe beliefs and issues. They are spinning lies and conspiracy theories and distortions rather than dealing directly with the very real issues of life and death.
And I want to go into the streets. I want all of us, by the millions to be in the streets. And we can’t be. The coronavirus has not just made us into hermits, it has robbed us of our most important power as citizens.
I expect I will get my sense of humor back. I do see some hopeful signs, good things swirling around in the chaos with everything else. I am, however, afraid that November may be too late for far too many of us. What will be left by then? And will we be able to come back from this?
We must stay engaged. We must stay afraid. We must stay angry. We must stay safe. When the doctors and the health experts tell us it is safe enough, we must go into the streets. And when the Fall does come around, we must take our fear and our anger to the voting booth in numbers that will make it loud and clear that we are not fooling around any longer.

Why the Democrats Could win this Election and Lose the Next

In Politics on March 20, 2020 at 11:19 am

I feel fortunate to live in a state that is extremely unlikely to give its electoral votes to Donald Trump in 2020. As a result, I could probably choose to vote third party and not change the outcome of the general election. Nonetheless, I am committed to voting for the Democrat in November, even if it is Joe Biden, whom I do not believe will be a strong effective President and whose policies both current and historically are nowhere near to what I can enthusiastically support. I will do so because I think that it is important that the Donald Trump presidency needs to be overwhelmingly rejected both in the electoral college and in the popular vote.
(If you are a Trump supporter please stop reading this now and do not respond with some sort of pro-Trump MAGA nonsense. This discussion is not for you and not about you.)
But if either of the old white men currently leading in the primaries is ultimately chosen as the candidate, and the party does not select a running mate who is significantly younger, progressive, FEMALE, and – as a bonus – non-white, the Democrats may win this election, but lose their majority going forward.
Let’s be honest. The Democratic Party of 2020 is a center-right party. The left wing of the party, represented at its extreme by Bernie Sanders, would be simply center-left if our major parties actually reflected the spectrum of the American people, their values, their priorities, and their needs.
And if we continue to be honest with ourselves, we need to recognize that the rightward drift of the Democrats is neither historically all that distant a drift. The Democrats are as stuck in the past as the Republicans; and though the Democratic party still offers a greater likelihood that the kinds of progressive policies I support may eventually be realized, they cannot count on that small likelihood to sustain them after 2020.
It’s comforting for some in the party to believe that the party’s rightward shift was politically necessary, that they needed to shift right because that’s where the country was going, so the shift was needed to win elections. What they don’t say out loud, however is that the party establishment actually believed that it was the correct direction for the party to go in ideologically. In other words, they thought that the Republicans weren’t entirely wrong.
The rightward movement of the American people was always a myth created by the media after Ronald Reagan was elected. It was a way of explaining both Reagan’s success and Carter’s rejection. A time magazine article at the time of Reagan’s election analyzed it as some kind of extreme rightward change in America. To prove it, they did a survey. They asked a lot of general questions designed to elicit expected responses that could be analyzed as conservative. But when they asked, in the same survey, more specific questions about support for abortion rights, gun regulations, civil rights, women’s rights, and so on, the results were almost entirely left of center by sixty to seventy percent or more. Their conclusion: the country is in a major conservative swing . . . but there is still some disagreement about the issues.
The Democrats have long counted on the left wing of the party having nowhere to go. Minor party voting has long carried a risk of electing regressive right wing politicians and slowing even the modest progress that was being made to address gender, race, religious, and economic inequalities and inequities and injustices that have persisted throughout American history. And this has encouraged the conservatives who control the party to keep moving to the right while promising slow, delayed, “eventual” progress on the issues important to progressives; then asserting that the left has to vote democrat.
2018 showed us that there is not only enough progressive enthusiasm and power to move the party back to the left, there is also enough to seriously suggest that it would be possible to create a new, left of center, Democratic Socialist party that would be a major party rather than a third party spoiler. If the center right Democrats win the White House in 2020, but fail to deliver on progressive issues for the next four years, they may forever lose the support of the progressives.
But here’s the thing. If that meant the practical demise of the Republican party as a major party in this 2-party system of ours, it might be a good thing. Poll after poll show that the political center of the country on issues such as women’s health and abortion access, on taxation of the very wealthy, on income equity and a living wage, on Social Security and Medicare, on LGBTQ issues, on universal health care, and so on, is significantly left of where the Democratic party’s “centrists” are.
If we are to be a system that depends on two major political parties, then those parties should offer more than just two choices on the same side of the political spectrum. One should be able to represent the right of center and the other the left, so that there is a balance between left and right that allows for progress to be made, but compromises, also.
So, I am somewhat torn. I would love to see the Democratic party move back toward the left, embrace the Democratic Socialists, start in 2020 to restore what we have lost, and begin to make real substantive progress beyond that. On the other hand, I would love to see the white supremacists, racists, oligarchs, religious zealots and exclusionists of the far right, and the current Republican party that embraces them reduced to fringe political existence; and the rise of a new, powerful, progressive party to replace them.
For that reason, I will vote blue in November even if the candidate is not even my fourth or fifth or worse choice among the primary contenders who started. And I will work to help elect genuine progressives at the local and state level and into both houses of Congress.

Gallivan’s Travels: The Choices We Make in the World We Live In

In Gallivan's Travels on January 18, 2020 at 7:36 pm

Sometimes you have a destination and you want to get there as quickly as possible. Other times you just want to travel, so you can take it slow and enjoy the scenery. And sometimes you want to reach as perfect as possible a compromise between the two.
And then there are the times you think you you know what you want, but life steps in and changes your plans.
I am not a big fan of the interstates. Most of the time I prefer to travel the secondary highways and less travelled roads. So, before we left Lums Pond State park, near St. Georges Delaware, I consulted my road atlas (much more useful for this kind of planning than a GPS app) and plotted a route south on US 301. We had a destination – a state park just outside of Richmond, VA. We wanted to get there at a reasonable hour, but didn’t want to rush. Also, we knew that we were likely to encounter some messy weather along the way.
US 301 is nice road to take south if you want to avoid the interstates. From St. Georges almost to the Maryland line it’s a well-maintained 4-lane with a wide, grassy media separating the north and south lanes, and relatively little civilization along the edges. I imagine the trees and fields must be gorgeous in the spring and summer. There was one toll just before the state line (I generally like to avoid tolls).
The scenery began to change a bit in Maryland, but the road still moved along well with little traffic. As son as we began to see signs for the Bay Bridge, however, the road expanded to 6 0r 8 lanes, and it got a little crowded. All in all, though, it was till preferable to the stress and pace of I95. Things stayed that way until we got within spitting distance of D.C., when we turned south again, and the road quieted down.
And the weather turned colder and wetter.
But we had our destination, we were still making good time, and we were looking forward to a relaxing evening in the campground and perhaps a short tour of Richmond tomorrow.
Then we got a phone call from someone back home in RI.
Be careful in Richmond, she said, the governor has declared a state of emergency ahead of the big gun rights rally planned next week. The FBI just arrested four men who were planning on bringing military-style rifles to the capitol. There have been weeks of online threats of violence, including white-supremacist sites calling for a “bugaloo,” the precursor to a race war.
Now, quite apart from the political and constitutional issues involved here, we are not the sort of people who feel comfortable driving deliberately into a place where there may be people with large guns thinking about actually shooting people.
Suddenly, Richmond was out as a tourist stop this week. And our campsite just outside the city seemed too close to the action, too. Who knew whether it might be filling up already with people plotting violence.
Now, before anyone starts talking about good guys with guns and police presence and “paranoia,” think about this. How many people might choose differently about going to a rally, or a concert, or a theater, or a church or a school if they knew that there might be even one person there, never mind possibly dozens, who was threatening violence and would bee heavily armed? The original planners of the Richmond event claim to have wanted peaceful protest, said they represent responsible gun ownership; but somewhere along the line, they lost control of the situation. It is (to put it mildly) ironic that a rally to protect the rights of responsible gun owners could turn so quickly into a display of the most dangerously irresponsible use of them.
But that is the world we live in now – not just around gun rights, but around a lot of issues. We have to make what used to be simple decisions about where we go and what precautions we take based on the unpredictable behavior of people who want us to be afraid.
Now, our original plan was to hurry up to Richmond tonight, take a stroll through the city tomorrow, then make a leisurely drive to visit family in Greenville, NC. We would arrive early enough for conversation, games, and a special dinner. We’d have time to adore and exclaim over our obviously talented and brilliant grandson, and then sleep in a real bed one night before going on our way.
Then the texts started coming and going. There were scheduling conflicts. Complicated family dynamics meant juggling different sets of parents and step-parents on the same day. How many nights did we want to stay, could we arrive this time rather than that time, and, oh yeah, there’s this other thing happening if you wanted to come that night instead of this one. So the leisurely trip became a destination, and the desire to avoid the interstates ringing Richmond meant going the long way around.
And that also is the way of the world right now. It’s harder to be spontaneous, even with family. We live far apart, and we have blended families and broken families and too many permutations of our relationships. We can’t just call up and say, hey, we’re ten minutes away, just passing through, and how about we bring you dinner or dessert, or a nice bottle of wine, and we hang out for a while.
Now everything has been sorted out, of course. One of the advantages of traveling in a small motor home and not having to get back to jobs or other responsibilities is that we can be flexible. We can adjust. Richmond will, I hope, still be there on our way back north in a few weeks. Family can be visited again when we might hope for a smoother connection. There will almost always be a way to choose the roads less travelled if we want to, or take the highway when we need to.
The complicated can usually be simplified.
And that, to, is the world we live in.

Escaping the Cold — Well, Almost.

In Gallivan's Travels on January 17, 2020 at 9:10 pm

It’s January in New England. Cold. Last night the temperatures dropped to fifteen degrees. So, today we headed south. It’s got to be warmer, right?
Well, sort of.
We stopped for the night is northern Delaware – Lums Pond State Park.
And the temperatures tonight will be in the 20s.
But first, let me talk a bit about the travels of the day.
We set out at a reasonable hour – 09:30 am. We knew that it would be a five or six hour trip, just driving time, to get as far as Delaware. We also knew that we would be traveling some of the time on I95. So, traffic. But our GPS mapping app took all of that into account, right?
Yes and no.
The first part of the trip went fairly easily. We drove down 395 to 95 and on toward the NY border. We got off onto 287 and across the Tappan zee bridge.
Then things gotg strange.
We generally map our trip to avoid tolls. So, the GPS took us off of 287, through several unnamed roads, then back onto 287. It was actually kind of enjoyable. Nice scenery, rural, but not difficult roads, easy driving, but the long way around.
The real trouble started when we got finally around near Philadelphia and back onto I95. Suddenly, there were delays – accidents, traffic, general slowdowns – every 5 to 10 miles, for 5 to 20 minutes at a time. An estimated arrival time of 5:30 became 5:45. 6:00, 6:15. And the scenery became long lines of cars in the dark – their taillights glowing and dimming ahead of us.
We finally arrived at a campsite in Lums Pond State Park at about 6:20. Dark. Cold.
Welcome.
One of the advantages of traveling in Gallivan is that we can stop anywhere and don’t have to stay long, however. We had a quick bite of lunch in New Jersey, then right back on the road. We stopped for gas once. We got coffee. And we almost never left Gallivan. Into the cold.
The cold we thought we were escaping.
Eventually, of course, we will reach some warmer days, but tonight we will have the heat on and the blankets drawn close.
Tomorrow, we will head down into Virginia, where daytime temps will be – gad! – in the 40s, and nighttime temps will drop into the 20s. By the beginning of the week, we will be in North Carolina, where temps will struggle into the 50s – better than Rhode Island, but not exactly warm.
It is, I suppose, a characteristic of New England thinking in the winter, that everywhere else, especially south, must be not just warmer, but warm. This is why so many New Englanders head for Florida in the winter. Warm weather. Sunshine. Summer all year.
So, we are disappointed when we get anywhere south of New Jersey and it’s still too cold.
But Gallivan is warm. We have lentil soup for supper. We have blankets and a heater and each other. Not that bad a deal, after all.

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