Friday, February 24, 2017

The Trump Tribe

A post by a pastor in Florida has gone viral.  In it, he describes the experience of taking his daughter to see President Trump in Florida. 
I felt like people were here to worship an ideology along with the man who was leading it. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't the song per se – it was this inexplicable movement that was happening in the room. It was a religious zeal....
and of course, the crowd responded appropriately. But then, some people held up signs of protest....and the True Believers became outraged.
The two angry, screaming ladies looked at me, both of them raised their middle finger at me in my face and repeatedly yelled, "F*#% YOU!" Repeatedly..... 
My daughter was shaking in fear as she clung to me. The one man behind the protesters shoved himself forward, grabbed the lady by the arm and screamed with multiple expletives, "I'm going to take you out! This is my president and nobody has the right to disrespect him and nobody has the right to keep me from hearing him!"....
There was palpable fear in the room. There was thick anger and vengeance. He was counting on it. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that it would not have taken very much for him to have called this group of people into some kind of riotous reaction.
I am sure I am not the only one who called up memories of these images:

And then, a man in Kansas decided to shoot two men because they were dark-skinned and he thought they were Muslim. (They were actually from India). One died.

This racism and white tribalism may be Trump's country, but it is not my America.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The knowledge divide

Shortly after the election, Nate Silver and the gang at FiveThirtyEight crunched the numbers to see what demographic characteristics separated the Trump supporter from the Clinton supporter, and they found that it wasn't income, or social class that correlated best.  Rather, the level of education was " the critical factor in predicting shifts in the vote between 2012 and 2016."

Why would this be?  They posit several reasons
  • Education levels may be a proxy for cultural hegemony....Trump’s campaign may have represented a backlash against these cultural elites.
  • Educational attainment may be a better indicator of long-term economic well-being than household incomes. ...
  • Education levels have strong relationships with media-consumption habits,...
  • Trump’s approach to the campaign — relying on emotional appeals while glossing over policy details — may have resonated more among people with lower education levels as compared with Clinton’s wonkier and more cerebral approach.
They conclude:
The education gap is carving up the American electorate and toppling political coalitions that had been in place for many years.
So, what has happened with the election of Trump to the White House?  Over at Foreign Policy, David Rothkopf invokes "The Shallow State" of ignorance that this uneducated, anti-intellectualism engenders.
Donald Trump, champion and avatar of the shallow state, has won power because his supporters are threatened by what they don’t understand, and what they don’t understand is almost everything. Indeed, from evolution to data about our economy to the science of vaccines to the threats we face in the world, they reject vast subjects rooted in fact in order to have reality conform to their worldviews. They don’t dig for truth; they skim the media for anything that makes them feel better about themselves. To many of them, knowledge is not a useful tool but a cunning barrier elites have created to keep power from the average man and woman. The same is true for experience, skills, and know-how. These things require time and work and study and often challenge our systems of belief. Truth is hard; shallowness is easy....
Trump & Co. are allergic to demonstrable, proven facts whether they be of the scientific, political, social, cultural, or economic variety. With leaders like these, the shallow state exists only on the surface, propelled only by emotion and reflex. Therefore, anything of factual weight or substance disturbs, disrupts, or obliterates it much as a rock does when dropped onto an image reflected in a pond. 
He highlights the antipathy to science and the arts expressed by the Trump administration as a further manifestation of this dumbing down of our institutions.

 This is the culmination of a long decline, that writer Thomas Nichols has highlighted as "The Death of Expertise".   He's written a book about this, but before that he wrote an article:
To reject the notion of expertise, and to replace it with a sanctimonious insistence that every person has a right to his or her own opinion, is silly.

Worse, it’s dangerous. The death of expertise is a rejection not only of knowledge, but of the ways in which we gain knowledge and learn about things. Fundamentally, it’s a rejection of science and rationality, which are the foundations of Western civilization itself....

This isn’t just about politics, which would be bad enough. No, it’s worse than that: the perverse effect of the death of expertise is that without real experts, everyone is an expert on everything. To take but one horrifying example, we live today in an advanced post-industrial country that is now fighting a resurgence of whooping cough — a scourge nearly eliminated a century ago — merely because otherwise intelligent people have been second-guessing their doctors and refusing to vaccinate their kids after reading stuff written by people who know exactly zip about medicine.
 So the real divide we see is those who are less educated and to some degree proud of their ignorance, and those who live in an empirical, fact-based world.

Is this related to Trump's immense support amongst the conservative Evangelicals?  We know they are wont to educate their children in home-schools, or religious colleges to keep them from Dangerous Ideas.   At Religion News Service, John Fea calls out his fellow evangelicals   for their deliberate anti-intellectualism.
Fear can easily be exacerbated by false information. And good information can often alleviate fear....These are facts. They are backed by statistics, data and evidence.

It is time for my fellow evangelicals to take seriously what the Founding Fathers of this nation called an “informed citizenry.” Better yet, it is time to counter fear with facts — a necessary starting point for worshiping God with our minds.
I don't know how to bridge this divide, because I live in the world of facts, science, art, and reality, and I am at a loss to explain these values to those who refuse to hear.   And meanwhile, the White House destroys data and makes up "alternative facts".

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Views on religion

Pew has published a new report showing that Americans' views on different religious groups have become warmer.  Strikingly, Muslims and Atheists are now viewed almost neutrally, rather than negatively.  (Wow, only 50% of Americans dislike people like me!  Score!)

Opinions on all religious groups moved higher with one spectacular exception.

The views of Evangelical Christians remained exactly the same.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Who should we fear?

The danger isn't from Islamic refugees.  No refugee from any of the recently targeted countries has committed any crime.

Indeed, more Americans have died at the hands of other Americans than at the hands of Islamic terrorists, since 2002. Yet One Republican Congressman explicitly says that attacks by whites are "different".
Left unmentioned during that speech and during any other public comment Trump has made is a January 29 mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec City that left six dead and was reportedly perpetrated by a white nationalist, anti-immigrant Trump fan. And Trump’s list of underreported attacks omits recent mass shootings in the U.S. like the murder of nine African American worshippers at the historically black Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston in June 2015 and the murder of three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs a few months later that were committed by white non-Muslim men linked to extremist ideologies.  Think PRogres

 Newsweek reports,
These Americans thrive on hate and conspiracy theories, many fed to them by politicians and commentators who blithely blather about government concentration camps and impending martial law and plans to seize guns and other dystopian gibberish, apparently unaware there are people listening who don’t know it’s all lies. These extremists turn to violence—against minorities, non-Christians, abortion providers, government officials—in what they believe is a fight to save America. And that potential for violence is escalating every day.
Especially because the GOP has deliberately stoked the fire, supporting hysterical suggestions about martial law in TX and lawlessness of Obama.
Republicans continued their drumbeat of conspiracy theories to bring out the base, capturing the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2012. And imagine what these right-wing extremists thought. Where were the impeachment proceedings? Why wasn’t Obama under arrest? The man was a murderer, a tyrant spitting on the Constitution, a fraud holding the presidency unlawfully. There were only two possible answers for the extremists: accepting that the Republicans had been lying to them, or deciding that these politicians had sold out the minute they won control.

And so, the far-right wing—including the violent militants—has turned on the Republican Party. The establishment Republicans now fumble about, trying to understand why their preferred candidates are being kicked aside in favor of Donald Trump, who rages about sellout politicians and makes promises to do things that radicals adore. Forums like Stormfront fulminate with praise and devotion to Trump, while all but spitting on the more traditional candidates.

The Republicans played a dangerous game by giving credence to all those conspiracy theories about Obama, a game that made them a target of the right-wing rage they engendered. They have been the author of the rise of the radicals, peaceful and violent, that in turn is tearing the party apart.  
The GOP is in danger of succumbing entirely to become a white nationalist party.   I hope that most Americans are revolted by that, but I'm not sure that's true.

There have been numerous attacks against Muslims--and others who are different including a Sikh Temple.  Dylan Roof killed nine in Charleston.  Alexandre Bissonnette killed six in Québec.  Jewish organizations are getting bomb threats. And despite the clear and present danger that white supremacist groups offer to our safety, the Trumpians have removed them from a list of potential terrorist organizations. 
 The Trump administration wants to revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism, five people briefed on the matter told Reuters.
The program, "Countering Violent Extremism," or CVE, would be changed to "Countering Islamic Extremism" or "Countering Radical Islamic Extremism," the sources said, and would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.
Nothing makes their white nationalist goal clearer.   Which is why the neo-Nazis are gloating.

I know who frightens me most, and it's not a refugee family from Sudan.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The separation of us

It's the vitriol I find chilling-- the vituperative name-calling and threats against those who disagree.   When did we lose sight of the fact that we are all in this together?  I disagree vehemently with Trump voters, but I am horrified at threatening people online, doxxing or swatting them.  This is particularly favored by a brand of right-winger (often alt-right winger) but there are some on the left as well.

We must stop this.

A favorite blogger Paul Kowaleswki at the Desert Retreat House writes,

I almost can’t bear looking at Facebook posts or Twitter feeds nowadays because the vitriol is so strong and the attacks against one another are so strident.

Buddhists teach that a primary cause of our human suffering is the false illusion that we are separated from one another. I embrace this wisdom as a basic truth about our human condition. Regardless of how many walls we may build or how tall we may build them, our borders are always artificial because as human beings we “are” a web of dynamic interdependent relationship.

Priest and author, Richard Rohr, puts it this way:

The problem is that we think we are separated from one another

Exactly—this is exactly what the problem is.
But we cannot re-join one another when one person refuses to listen.

How do we bridge the divide?  First, we stop namecalling, and of course threats of violence and online attacks have no place.  Those who engage in that level of behavior must be ostracized by all.

Next, we frame our discussion in each other's values. BP had me watch this effective  TED Talk, "How to have better political conversations" and I commend it to you highly.   Conservatives don't share my values.  How do I express my values in their framework so they "get" what I mean?

How do we reunite our fracture polis?


Friday, January 20, 2017

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
--WB Yeats

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A peculiar American Christianity

An article from a few years ago considers the glaring absence of the majority of white Southern Evangelicals from the Civil Rights movement, in contrast to mainline Protestants, Catholics, Jews and others.
What is it about southern evangelicalism that prevented those churches historically from seeing the plight of blacks as connected to the Gospel and the command to love God and neighbor? Maybe there is a real deep theological flaw in what is known as “evangelical theology?” Maybe the evangelicalism of the 1940s, 50s and 60s did not really understand the Gospel as clearly as many are lead to believe. I honestly do not have the answers to these questions but if evangelicals were so blinded by these issues during the Civil Rights Movement it makes me wonder what evangelicals might be missing today.

The Rev. Giles Fraser, writing today:   (Emphasis mine)
For his inauguration, Trump has chosen two proponents of what is called the prosperity gospel to say the prayers. Paula White – once investigated by the Senate finance committee for her business dealings – is a TV evangelist, noted for her belief that faith makes you rich. And Detroit bishop Wayne T Jackson, who holds that “Donald Trump is an example of someone who has been blessed by God. Look at his homes, businesses, his wife and his jet. You don’t get those things unless you have the favour of God.” Being “blessed” has become a moral alibi for America’s greed. It is a nauseating smile of faux-gratitude that says: God gave this to me so it’s not about me having too much. 
Even traditional evangelicals are angry about Trump’s prayer picks. But American popular religion has been sailing in these dangerous waters ever since it borrowed from the late 19th century New Thought philosophy, developing ideas about the power of the mind and its importance to success. Bringing together Christianity, capitalism and cod psychology, and transforming preachers into motivational speakers delivering their sales pitches, evangelicals such as Peale re-imagined the life of an itinerant Jew who thought you couldn’t serve God and money, to be that of a poster boy for the super-rich. And at Trump’s inauguration it is this false Jesus, this king of Mammon, that is to be worshiped and showered with gold.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

An old cat's dying soliloquy

Years saw me still Acasto’s mansion grace,
The gentlest, fondest of the tabby race;
Before him frisking through the garden glade,
Or at his feet in quiet slumber laid;
Praised for my glossy back of zebra streak,
And wreaths of jet encircling round my neck;
Soft paws that ne’er extend the clawing nail,
The snowy whisker and the sinuous tail;
Now feeble age each glazing eyeball dims,
And pain has stiffened these once supple limbs;
Fate of eight lives the forfeit gasp obtains,
And e’en the ninth creeps languid through my veins.
Much sure of good the future has in store,
When on my master’s hearth I bask no more,
In those blest climes, where fishes oft forsake
The winding river and the glassy lake;
There, as our silent-footed race behold
The crimson spots and fins of lucid gold,
Venturing without the shielding waves to play,
They gasp on shelving banks, our easy prey:
While birds unwinged hop careless o’er the ground,
And the plump mouse incessant trots around,
Near wells of cream that mortals never skim,
Warm marum creeping round their shallow brim;
Where green valerian tufts, luxuriant spread,
Cleanse the sleek hide and form the fragrant bed.
Yet, stern dispenser of the final blow,
Before thou lay’st an aged grimalkin low,
Bend to her last request a gracious ear,
Some days, some few short days, to linger here;
So to the guardian of his tabby’s weal
Shall softest purrs these tender truths reveal:
‘Ne’er shall thy now expiring puss forget
To thy kind care her long-enduring debt,
Nor shall the joys that painless realms decree
Efface the comforts once bestowed by thee;
To countless mice thy chicken-bones preferred,
Thy toast to golden fish and wingless bird;
O’er marum borders and valerian bed
Thy Selima shall bend her moping head,
Sigh that no more she climbs, with grateful glee,
Thy downy sofa and thy cradling knee;
Nay, e’en at founts of cream shall sullen swear,
Since thou, her more loved master, art not there.’

Anna Seward, 1792

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Dover Beach

Sums up my mood....

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in. 
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea. 
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world. 
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Oh, the irony!

Dontcha love it that the stallwart white voters who put Trump into office to effect change, managed to give the whole government over to the establishment Republicans? 

If they voted for Trump because he was anti-establishment, boy have they been conned. 
What Trump tapped into was their sense of powerlessness, that unseen forces are pulling the strings and manipulating “the system” for their own benefit. That “system” encompasses everything from politics to the economy to their local schools to culture. The system made that factory leave town. The system lets immigrants come in and speak a language other than English. Everywhere you look you’re being held down by the system. 
Yeah, but turns out that the System is exactly who won.  
The wealthy and powerful will have more wealth and power when he’s done, not less. There’s a lot that Trump will upend, but if you’re a little guy who thinks Trump was going to upend things on your behalf or in order to serve your interests, guess what: you got suckered. 
I wonder how many of those voters use Medicare?  Because thanks to their vote, Paul Ryan is now on track to eliminate it.
Republicans hope to repeal Medicare — the single-payer system that most seniors rely on to cover their health costs — and replace it with a voucher. This voucher will cover some of the cost of inferior coverage that will leave seniors with higher out-of-pocket costs than they would have paid under traditional Medicare. As a bonus, the total cost of paying for an individual senior’s care — that is, the government’s share of the costs plus the individual’s share — could rise as much as 40 percent.

Inferior coverage at a higher price — that’s the Republican health plan. And it will become law unless three of the 52 Republican senators who will come to Washington in January decide to stop it.
Ironically, it sounds a lot like Obamacare.

Expecting tax breaks?  Don't. Trump's  "commitment is to be of service to that most oppressed and forgotten group of Americans, the wealthy. Trump’s tax plan would give 47 percent of its benefits to the richest one percent of taxpayers."

I wonder how many of them use Obamacare?  Because the Republicans campaigned on its repeal and that's likely to happen, at least in parts.  The mandate and subsidies will go away, insurance rates will skyrocket, and "the changes could lead to the end of the individual health insurance market."  Yeah, that'll be helpful.

How about improved jobs and economic outcomes?  Not gonna happen for the working class.
....there is very little reason to think that any set of policies could meaningfully reverse the long-term decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs. That decline has been driven by a combination of globalization and automation — forces that aren’t likely to reverse any time soon. ...Trump had little to say about education, job training, entrepreneurship or other policy areas that might help workers in rural areas. And though Trump has said that lighter regulation will help the struggling coal industry, that will do nothing to change the low natural-gas prices that are coal’s biggest enemy. Indeed, Trump has also pledged to ease regulation of fracking, which will tend to boost oil and gas production, which will in turn tend to keep prices low. (Clinton, it is worth noting, had a detailed plan to help coal country, although many experts were skeptical about its effectiveness.)
 Yup, so all those things they supposedly cared about, aren't going to happen for them.

Perhaps its enough for them to think of registering Muslims   or reversing LGBT rights or deporting DACA children.

In the end, regardless of what they thought they were voting for, what they are going to get is a polarized, racist country that gives more tax breaks to the elites and puts the white working class further into the poorhouse. 

If we weren't all on the same sinking ship, I might enjoy a little schadenfreude at that.

Indeed, a further irony is that as a white latte-sipping coastal elitist with a decent job and income, I'm likely to do quite well under Trump, at least economically.  But I voted against him, and against the R's, because economically I'd rather pay more taxes and have a decent country that provides health insurance and free education, than one that's a game of  Survivor.  (That's not even considering the disaster he promises to be on social justice, or civil and reproductive  rights!)

Right now, it's all hands on deck to rescue the Republic from itself.  As David Frum tweets,
If you want to save the country, you have to work with people you disagree with on almost every ordinary political issue. 

SO let's get find the sensible Republicans and get to work.