Unforgiven

Harry Enten over on FiveThirtyEight posted a piece yesterday about how registered Democratic-leaning voters did not vote and therefore cost Clinton the election. And I was like, oh right, I’m pissed at those guys, too. And I am. But who I’m really pissed at is conservative and Republican-leaning voters who should have known better.

I know several of these people. Erstwhile principled conservatives who, early in the electoral process, bemoaned Trump’s progress in the GOP primary but who, by the end, didn’t just decide to vote for him, they advocated others to do the same. These are people who know history. Who have nuanced and interesting political positions. Who claimed to believe in the special role the United States has in the post-WWII world.

And yet, they voted for Donald fucking Trump. A person who is so clearly unsuited for the job. Emotionally, experientially, intellectually — literally in every way. In this case, they didn’t do the principled, ethical thing and vote for Evan McMullin or write in Mickey Mouse or simply leave the box empty for lack of an acceptable choice. They either decided there was something that superseded their responsibility to put a reasonable person in the White House or that it didn’t really matter as long as there was an “R” after the guy’s name in the history books or, most horrifically of all, that they thought he’d be great at the job. That is simple self-delusion fueled by a blind and irrational hatred for his opponent.

There is absolutely nothing that’s happened since the election that has highlighted the complete shitshow Trump is going to be as president that wasn’t perfectly obvious prior to the vote. Not a thing.

So yeah, I’m pissed at feckless Democratic voters with sore fee-fees who sat on their thumbs on election day because they didn’t fall sufficiently in love with Hillary and, at the expense of vulnerable populations all over the country they claim to care about, allowed a monstrous orange manchild to take the highest office in the land. Those who had a reasonable if imperfect choice and decided to follow a course of action those who did not should have. But I am more angry at those who put their higher reasoning skills in neutral so they could check the Trump box. Those who should have fucking known better. Those who are likely now, as they lay in bed at night and the reality of what’s happened really starts to sinks in, feeling a deep and dreadful buyer’s remorse. My God, what have we done?

Voting is an affirmative action. You vote for someone. There should be no such thing as hate-voting. Voting for a person only to vote against someone else. That’s wrong. And because they did that, all of us — not just in America, but around the world — are stuck with the consequences. I’m embarrassed for them. I am ashamed of what they allowed to happen. The damage their affirmative choice has done and will continue to do to this country they claim to love. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive them.

Parsing Donald

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The above is from Donald Trump’s Facebook page.

We grieve for the officers killed in Baton Rouge today.

As do we all. Killing is killing and leads to more killing and distrust and fear.

How many law enforcement and people have to die because of lack of leadership in our country? (Emphasis added)

Who are the “and people” part? African Americans killed by police? General bystanders? Those killed daily by the incredible number of guns in the United States? This was probably a tweet before it was a Facebook post so Trump only had so many characters, but this (to me) odd “and people” inclusion leaves more questions than it answers. I can’t tell if he’s expressing empathy with victims of violent crime and/or police misconduct or trying to make those who aren’t feel as though they may as well be.

He then does the usual “if only someone strong was in charge” thing by saying people are dying due to lack of leadership. As if all we need to fix these issues in our culture is a leader…like Donald. Not a leader with answers (he has none other than platitudes), just a leader willing to face the obvious truth and lead.

We demand law and order.

So do a lot of people. African Americans who feel their disproportionate targeting for stop, arrest, and killing by police demand those things. As do the loved ones of deceased police officers killed in deranged race-based violence.

The notion that the solution to social turmoil is “a leader” who delivers “law and order” would, I imagine, sound very familiar to those in 1918 Russia and 1933 Germany. Law and order is a byproduct of justice, a feeling of shared community, and a sense of hope for the future. It doesn’t come easy and the answers won’t be found in 140 characters.

America the insane

It’s not easy for a mass murderer to get to the front of the news cycle nowadays. Just shooting a handful of innocent people isn’t enough. They have to do it in a really spectacular or public fashion. And then, like clockwork, the president comes out and sighs and shakes his head and tells us we choose to live (and die) like this and that we can do better. Then someone proposes something logical like stricter background checks or limits on magazine sizes or whatever and, invariably, those on the other side say…

“But that wouldn’t have stopped Sandy Hook / Colorado Springs / Charleston / Washington Navy Yards / San Bernardino / (pick your favorite from the ever-growing list).”

But that isn’t the damned point. As tragic and heartbreaking as these punctuation marks on the 2nd Amendment are, they aren’t the real tragedy. Since 2001, more than 400,000 Americans have lost their lives to gun violence. That comes in lots of flavors we rarely if ever hear about on TV. Random drive-bys, suicides, accidents, etc. The point of trying to pass what are really common sense checks on who can buy and own a gun is to try and make a dent in that massive pile of bodies, not necessarily stop the banner headline makers.

Today, twenty-four hours after 14 people were killed in San Bernardino, the Senate rejected a bill opposed by the NRA that would have expanded background checks and disallowed the mentally ill, felons, and those on the federal terror watch list from buying guns. How in the name of all that’s right in the world do you oppose that? Somehow, all but one Republican in the Senate (along with one Democrat) found a way.

That’s obscene. It’s repulsive. It’s nihilistic. It’s fucking un-American.

We used to be able to look at hard problems and find a way to fix them. We prided ourselves in doing the things nobody else could do. But that American resolve melts like butter in the face of this issue. The mighty NRA has weaponized the fear of Americans. Terrified them so much that they vote against anyone unwilling to tow the absolutist 2nd Amendment line. Not to defend the rights of Americans, but to defend the ability of gun manufacturers to sell their wares on the American market.

What in the hell will have to happen to change this? The killing of 20 little children didn’t do it. Dead cops and military members didn’t do it. The god-fearing shot down in their own church didn’t do it. What kind of horror will it take? How awful must things get before we do even the most simple and logical thing about firearms?

I have no honest idea. But whatever it is, we’ll deserve it for having done nothing before then.

Originally published on Medium.

Irreligious

I don’t believe in any religion. Note I didn’t say I didn’t believe in God. I don’t, but I think of them as separate issues. As someone who styles themselves a pragmatic empiricist, there’s just no way for me to know if there’s a supreme being or not. Maybe there is, but there’s no evidence that supports the premise. “Faith” is something I have a hard time with, especially when it comes to something as improbable as God, and I’ve never been willing to take someone’s word on the matter.

But I don’t have a problem with someone who wants to believe there is a God. That’s up to them. For me, the problems stem from groups of people believing all the same thing (more or less) about their version of God. Because that invariably leads to them looking askance at those in other groups who believe something different (even if only slightly). And that leads to the kind of bullshit we’re dealing with today.

From Vox:

On the Tuesday after the Paris terror attacks, a Virginia civil engineer named Samer Shalaby carried a few poster boards into Spotsylvania County’s small, low-ceilinged community forum room to present plans to replace Fredericksburg’s aging Islamic center. Shalaby’s presentation was meant to formalize his application for a zoning permit — the very dullest sort of dull civic meeting — but as a crowd filed in, filling every seat and standing shoulder to shoulder along the walls, it became clear that they were not there to discuss zoning.

“Nobody wants your evil cult in this town,” one of them shouted at Shalaby, pointing an outstretching finger. Many in the crowd clapped and cheered their affirmation.

“And I’ll tell you what,” he went on, “I will do everything in my power to make sure that this does not happen. Because you are terrorists. Every one of you are terrorists. I don’t care what you say. I don’t care what you think.” He later added, to cheers, “Every Muslim is a terrorist, period. Shut your mouth.”

As the crowd grew more hostile, a city official stepped in, first to ask them to calm down and, when they wouldn’t, to abruptly cancel the meeting.

You don’t need to be a crackpot to believe, as the owner of the outstretched finger does, that Muslims are inherently evil, violent, and seeking “our” destruction. I have friends (like, actual people I know) who feel the same way. Who say Islam is a religion that teaches hate and intolerance and is fundamentally incompatible with a free society. This boggles my mind, truly.

From where I sit, apart from both Muslims and Christians, both religions looks pretty much the same. Their acolytes profess theirs to be a religion of peace yet in both cases it’s not hard to find justification for deadly acts in their holy texts. Those books, like all works of men, are contradictory in places and teach love and acceptance alongside vengeance and violence. An unhinged individual could easily find a passage to hide their actions behind if they needed to.

Over on the Facebook, I posted a link to an article describing how a Christian evangelist named Joshua Feuerstein (whose Facebook page has nearly two million likes) called on fellow Christians to “punish Planned Parenthood” and make those who work for the organization fear for their lives. This is after Robert Dear killed three and wounded nine at a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs. I asked if Feuerstein should be considered a “radical Christian” and why moderate Christians hadn’t “cleaned house” the way Muslims all over the world are called to do each time someone commits an atrocity in the name of their religion.

A friend of mine who identifies as Christian and whom I respect very much said Feuerstein “gets a little fired up sometimes and ends up putting his foot in his mouth.” Apparently, that he shouldn’t be taken seriously because his emotions get the better of him and we should expect another statement recanting his call to violence. Great, but what if that never happens? Or, if it does, that some unhinged person allows his first words to radicalize them into terrible action? We are to let this go without response because…? He’s a fellow Christian? That’s all?

Even in our own media, we seem to have a blind spot regarding people like Dear. I’ve yet to see The New York Times refer to him as a terrorist. Critics like to call out the president for refusing to say we’re battling “radical Islam” but there’s no criticism from those same people when the nation’s paper of record won’t call a spade a spade and use the president’s preferred term, “religious extremists.” Why won’t The Times call Dear and all the others who firebomb and vandalize and shoot up clinics what they are? Is it perhaps because we live in an overwhelmingly Christian nation and therefore have an understanding of the gradations of tolerance that exist within that faith? That few Christians (in fact, the vast majority) are like Feuerstien or Dear or would take up arms against innocent law-abiding health care workers or incite others to do the same?

There are 1.7 billion Muslims in the world and the overwhelming majority totally reject the actions of the religious extremists who claim to act in the name of their religion. They say Daesh is not following the tenets of Islam when they kill the innocent. Ironically, on the subject of Robert Dear who, by all accounts considered himself to be a devout Christian, my Christian friend says Dear was not one. That Christians don’t do such heinous things. That he would not defend or condemn anyone since Christianity “needs no defense.” In other words, he sounded like nearly all the Muslims on the face of the planet who disown those who would wrap their actions in faith.

Less than one percent of Americans are Muslim. Chances are, you know few if any unless you live in a large, non-Southern city. To vast numbers of Americans, Muslims are “those people” who do terrible things and hate us. They have no other frame of reference besides what they see on the TV or read on the web (and, if they’re religious conservatives, that information pool is small and shallow and invariably negative regarding Islam). It’s all too easy to demonize them as “the other.” In the exact same way radical Muslims demonize Christians and all those in the decadent, irreligious, and secular West. And it works for exactly the same reasons, only in many Muslim countries and communities poverty and hopelessness allows the hate to fester and concentrate until it lashes out explosively.

To me, Christians and Muslims are nearly identical. Untrusting of the other, scared, and in a constant crouch. All because of a mutual ignorance and unwillingness to see the other as a human first and a potential enemy second due to the other having learned about God from a different book written by different men.

And this is why I don’t believe in religion. And I never will.

Originally published on Medium.

Nothing will be done

I am, by nature, an optimistic person. I feel like intractable issues can be solved with enough information, education, and dedication by honest people who want to find solutions in the spirit of pragmatic compromise. I wholeheartedly believe in the promise of representative democracy. But I feel nothing but a nihilistic fatalism when it comes to the issue of gun violence in the United States.

Many of my friends in social media are calling for nothing less than the eradication of guns in our society. Several others refuse to acknowledge we even have a gun problem. Our problem is with violence and insanity, they assert, not firearms. 

Everything against nothing. There is no middle ground. 

Just five days ago, Hillary Clinton said, “We are smart enough, we are compassionate enough, to figure out how to balance the legitimate Second Amendment rights with preventative measures, and control measures, so that…we will not see more deaths.” I do believe we’re smart and I do believe we’re compassionate, but more than anything else we are distrustful of ourselves. And that distrust eats our intelligence and blots out our compassion so that nothing ever happens. 

The closest analog I can think of regarding an issue so divisive and seemingly immune to reasoned discussion was the discord over slavery in the 1850’s leading up to Abraham Lincoln’s election. Just the election of someone who felt slavery was wrong was enough to drive southern states from the Union. Even before he was inaugurated and before he could advocate any action at all, and in the face of his specific statements to the contrary of their fears, pro-slavery advocates assumed the very worst, gave up on democracy, and took the most drastic action.

Try having a conversation with someone on either extreme of the gun issue and see how far you’ll get. There is no common ground and those who might have it are either not willing to speak or are shouted down while trying to make their point. As I read my Civil War history, I see many parallels. 

I don’t think guns will lead to a civil war, but I also don’t think anything of real significance will be allowed to transpire. Not in this generation and probably not the next. All the greatness of our nation and all the grand ideals we supposedly represent are balanced by this poison in our soul. The guns themselves are not the poison. Our unwillingness or inability to talk and compromise and find a way forward is. It’s as though we are required to make this regular payment of innocent blood in exchange for being who we are. 

We will do nothing about gun violence until we can do something about our fundamental mistrust and unwillingness to empathize with those with whom we disagree. Our media and our politics conspire to ensure that will never happen. 

Nothing will be done. It will happen again and again. And I hate that I feel this way about it.