Once more, after the breach

“I’m going to explain the Donald Trump phenomenon in three movies. And then some text.”   Source: How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind

Salty language in that article, but David Wong hits on a number of important themes that will need to be addressed after Nov. 7, regardless of who wins the election.

Actually, if Hillary wins, I think these become even more important.

You might assume that the Cracked article is just another rant at rednecks and “mouth-breathers” on the alt-right who wave around white supremacy code at Trump rallies….. but it isn’t. Wong grew up in rural America, and he knows that folks in the rural areas are caught in a devastating wave of poverty and unemployment.

Unless our local, state, and national leaders work to address the grinding poverty of rural America, the tsunami of hate and ugliness that drove so much of Trump’s voting block will crash on us all over again. The rural struggle is real, and we nee to be listening.

See, rural jobs used to be based around one big local business — a factory, a coal mine, etc. When it dies, the town dies. Where I grew up, it was an oil refinery closing that did us in. I was raised in the hollowed-out shell of what the town had once been. The roof of our high school leaked when it rained. Cities can make up for the loss of manufacturing jobs with service jobs — small towns cannot. That model doesn’t work below a certain population density.

If you don’t live in one of these small towns, you can’t understand the hopelessness. The vast majority of possible careers involve moving to the city, and around every city is now a hundred-foot wall called “Cost of Living.” …

In a city, you can plausibly aspire to start a band, or become an actor, or get a medical degree. You can actually have dreams. In a small town, there may be no venues for performing arts aside from country music bars and churches. There may only be two doctors in town — aspiring to that job means waiting for one of them to retire or die. You open the classifieds and all of the job listings will be for fast food or convenience stores. The “downtown” is just the corpses of mom and pop stores left shattered in Walmart’s blast crater, the “suburbs” are trailer parks. There are parts of these towns that look post-apocalyptic.

I’m telling you, the hopelessness eats you alive.

And if you dare complain, some liberal elite will pull out their iPad and type up a rant about your racist white privilege. Already, someone has replied to this with a comment saying, “You should try living in a ghetto as a minority!” Exactly. To them, it seems like the plight of poor minorities is only used as a club to bat away white cries for help. Meanwhile, the rate of rural white suicides and overdoses skyrockets. Shit, at least politicians act like they care about the inner cities.

I live in South Carolina, in the suburbs of a small city. Within 10 minutes, I can be driving a country road passing trailer parks, abandoned textile mills, and patch towns where no core business exists. People talk about trying to pull in industry to SC to provide jobs, and several governors have had success at this — BMW, Fuji, Boeing, Michelin, Bosch and many others drive a manufacturing economy that employs thousands and scrapes to find enough technically skilled workers to man their factory floors. You can build the shiny factories, but that doesn’t put those jobs in reach of someone living in a town of 1,000 people 70 minutes away.

America is doing a poor job of funding worker education, adult education and retraining, and relocation programs to help people get established in a new town where jobs exist.

This breach between rural and urban will continue to drive American politics until we can develop ways to address the deep, underlying problems. Unless we resign ourselves to going once more, into the breach of ugly political division.

We all need a little more John Milton right now

I first encountered Milton’s excellent treatise in support of free speech when I was teaching British Literature, and I’ve never forgotten his stunning prediction that Truth, in an open encounter with lies, will always win.

Given the nastiness of our civil discourse these days, perhaps Milton was too optimistic. The Enlightenment guys always were a bit under appreciative of just how bad humanity can get.

But at the core, I think Milton is right. The goal of thorny discussion is not to banish the ideas we hate – though indeed, racism and misogyny and xenophobia are ugly, horrible ideas that are driving elements of the 2016 election cycle. The solution is to shine more light on those ideas, to examine them, to teach adults as well as their children to discern critically the nature of ideas, to offer explanations of complicated concepts in ways nearly everyone can understand (YouTubers! Get on this!), to listen and respond rather than shouting and screaming and walking away.

We all need a dose of Milton right now. We need his dogged determination not to fear ideas we don’t agree with, and be willing to talk about them.

Freedom of thought, freedom to pursue knowledge, and freedom of speech is a societal good, I argue, not a threat. We need to embrace the battle of ideas, not seek its regulation in new-fangled licensing laws, the like of which I had hoped were going the same way as monarchy. ‘Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions’, I wrote. ‘For opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making.’ And further on, ‘Let [truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?’ You see, a free and open public sphere, in which people are able to say what they think, and print what they believe, is the best way to get at the truth of the matter. This is because the people, as free and reasoning individuals, will be able to judge for themselves the merits of opposing arguments. A bad argument is best corrected, in public, by a good argument.

Source: ‘Let Truth and Falsehood grapple’ | Free speech | spiked

Read the whole essay ^ – it’s worth your time.

In defense of Twitter

An acquaintance of mine has posted a good piece about his growing dislike of Twitter. Here – take a look.

I’ve grown to dislike Twitter. My recent experiment on Twitter even made me dislike me for a little while. I’d like to say it was the hack that did it to me. But it wasn’t. 

Source: Why Twitter Made Me Dislike it … and Me – Manhattan Minoan

[While you’re on his blog, hit the tab for Conversations – amazing vignettes of conversations he has with cabbies around the world. Some of my favorite reading.]

But, in response to Bob, I’d like to say a few words in defense of that little bird service that causes so much trouble:

I’m not here to defend Twitter; if it went away I wouldn’t really mourn, though there’s nothing quite like watching America watch something together on television via Twitter timeline. It has made the Oscars bearable (though I still question why I would devote 4 hours of my life to watching people congratulate themselves) and it’s unbeatable during the Super Bowl ad rush and these cringe-worthy presidential debates. In a world where we all scatter to our own screens to binge shows on Netflix, it’s nice to have the occasional joint viewing experience, now complete with brilliant snarky commentary crowdsourced via Twitter.

But for me, I use Twitter for these reasons:
1. It serves as a place where I can throw the hundred “oh that’s a good read! I should point this out to people!” articles that pass through my information flow each week. I don’t really care who is or isn’t watching; if I can take 30 seconds to hashtag the article appropriately, it remains a resource for anyone else doing a search on that topic (at least for the next few hours/days). And that, in turn, introduces me to other people on twitter who are reading and posting similar content.

2. It connects me with educators and thinkers in my fields of interest. I primarily focus on higher education, teaching and learning, creativity and design thinking, and consumer tech. Education is the focus of my life, and Twitter has connected educators like never before. Via hashtags like #edchat and #edreform and #edtech, those of us working on particular questions can stay informed, find comrades of mind, and toss out ideas for discussion. I don’t like trying to read or hold discussions on Twitter, but I’ve found several incredible education bloggers and writers thanks to Twitter hashtags in that field.

3. Conference commentary. Who ever looks at their notes once they come home from a conference? I always have good intentions, and then suffer a twang of guilt when I toss out that pretty conference booklet from Nashville in 2003. But I haven’t looked at it since, and few conference presentations are good enough to merit space on my permanent bookshelf. Excellent presenters make it onto my blogroll or bookshelf; the rest are nice encounters. So live-tweeting thoughts and quotes from a conference lets me feel a sense of camaraderie with the participants in the moment, and theoretically record valuable thoughts for “later” (which will never come, but at least I don’t feel guilty or anxious about it).

4. Real-time news. Nothing beats Twitter for news that’s so fresh, the journalists haven’t even gotten a chance to open a Word document and start typing. This is primarily valuable in moments of tragedy – the Paris bombing last fall, for example, or hurricane coverage. Or the Iran election a few years ago. But it’s unbeatable. You have to recognize that every eyewitness account is biased, but taken together this sea of voices from within an event, in real time, provides a view we’ve never had before. Ironically, it’s more nuanced than having a TV camera on the scene because it represents a plurality of viewpoints.

Twitter has deep problems. It’s difficult to find the content you’re looking for without more effort than the casual user is willing to invest, but without that investment Twitter can be a firehose of mediocrity, vacuous celebrity ego, and horrific racism and misogyny. It’s stunning how broken it can be — yet still provide a “public square” that exists nowhere else in our lives right now.

You can follow me on Twitter at @lorojoro where I mostly post links to whatever article caught my attention lately and retweet the best snarky comments that appear during the Super Bowl or Game of Thrones or whatever.

Civil Body Politic

Against my own good judgment, I’m going to offer a few thoughts sparked by this election cycle, which I don’t know whether to label a misery or a fascination. But a couple ideas have been nagging at me, and here they are.

1.   I’m not sure when and how voting became such a sacrament of the conscience, especially for Christians, but that perspective on selecting candidates or participating in democracy seems tailor-made to frustrate people who demand that their political candidates line up exactly with their personal ideological positions. This seems to be a new thing and it’s tying people in knots because they’re agonizing over whether to support someone they find reprehensible or throw their vote toward third-party candidates who will not win the general election. And no one feels very satisfied with a “protest vote.”

It’s not that other people feel this dilemma any less; I’m bothered though that for many conservative Christians, there’s an added weight of theological responsibility never to vote for someone who [fill in the blank with a position on an issue].  This is – to me – idealistic to the point of naiveté. Every politician who’s ever served has had to step away from his/her personal and public political standards in order to pass vital legislation that accomplishes something to benefit a genuinely greater good. Anyone who claims otherwise is an obstructionist.

I’m happy to “vote my conscience,” which I understand to mean “voting in a way that most aligns with my theological outlook, moral priorities and civic values.” I do not view voting through a theologically absolute lens — that is, I select candidates who (I believe) offer the best chance to act in ways I would consider righteous, just, and good for the community as a whole. I must consider their candidacy and platform as a whole, an outlook which pushes me away from single-issue voting or simplistic party allegiance as an outgrowth of an absolutist outlook on political values.

2. My vote represents my priorities, not my absolutes. I think that’s what’s missing in the discussion I’m seeing this cycle. Specifically, some are saying that because they hold a pro-life position as the highest absolute (for example), and because the President has significant influence over powerful positions and policies which potentially could affect abortion access, these folks are willing to vote for a misogynist, racist narcissist because he’s promised to uphold pro-life policies. I struggle to understand this. I don’t think changing laws about abortion on the federal level is worth the risk of a Trump presidency, or his horrible baggage of hatred toward immigrants, crony capitalism, or obvious ill-treatment of other humans. And if you didn’t believe that before Saturday’s evidence came to light, now I don’t really see how you have much excuse.

But even aside from that, Trump has been a terrible choice this entire time. He consistently talks as if being president is like being CEO of his company where he can make decisions and immediately implement them above the wishes or advice of anyone who works for him. Congress does not “work for” the President. The Supreme Court justices do not “work for” the President. He is supposed to be a servant of the American people, heading up the executive branch of a large government. We can argue over how large or powerful the federal government should be, but Trump clearly has zero understanding of how our government works in general, or how the actions of our chief executive can have profound repercussions across the world.

The man as an individual is reprehensible. But I’m tired of everyone just now deciding to be shocked and disgusted by what has been on display from him for years. As a candidate, at the very outset of the election cycle, he should have never been vetted for the ballot due to his total ignorance of government structures and policies, and his egotistical inability to accept that he cannot change those structures by force of his will. He could be a church saint and I wouldn’t vote for someone this uninformed about basic foreign and domestic policy.

3.  Let’s talk about this Supreme Court justices thing. It’s popular to call HRC “Killary” and then wax eloquent about how terrible she is and how both candidates are the same pile of crap and how the only thing that matters is who’s in office to appoint Supreme Court. There are too many logical fallacies in that last sentence to address so I’m going to focus on the Supreme Court argument. Yes, I care very much about those 9 justices. They do indeed “make law.” You can rail against it all you want, but the SCOTUS is never going to return to a strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution. That horse got out the barn decades ago during the Civil Rights movement and we’re not going to put him back in. As a woman who wasn’t even granted the right to vote until 100 years ago, I happen to support the approach that the Constitution must be interpreted in ways that acknowledge current realities, rather than shackling us to the ideas of rich white male Deists from the 1790s.

But that doesn’t mean that the Court should be stacked 6-3 in favor of either side. I believe that, given the checks and balances of Congress and the President working together to find justice candidates that both can agree on, we will end up with moderates on the Court. And I’m fine with that.

Obama’s pick for SCOTUS would have been an excellent choice for the Republicans to support had they not been such total assholes to Obama during the final year of his presidency. (Great job, guys. Way to show how you care about the nation above your own political obstructionism.)

Please do not crucify mankind on a cross of SCOTUS justices. Please do not sacrifice everything you know to be a moral priority in your life so that you can vote for a man as morally disgusting in his views as Donald Trump. Please do not feed his racist, homophobic, anti-immigrant, misogynist base any further.

And for the love of Christ, please do not defend your vote of either candidate as something you do as an act of obedience to Jesus.  I have no idea whom Jesus would vote for. Let’s not presume we’re on the winning side here. 

4. One last thing –  Being pro-choice isn’t the same as being a murderer.  It’s dangerous to collapse the chain of responsibility so that you can call Hillary Clinton “Killary” and label her a baby-killer who’s directly responsible for x million abortions per year. I’m glad pro-life people are passionate about babies’ lives. That’s a good impulse and I support it. But the people who choose to abort are the women themselves, not the lawmakers. Women were getting illegal abortions before Roe v Wade brought the procedure out of dark alleys into clean hospital rooms. There are legitimate pregnancies that need to be terminated (unless you take the hardline position that not even the life of a mother is more valuable than an unborn fetus, a position I cannot support).

I am pro-life in my sentiments but pro-choice when it comes to the law. What I mean is this: I would not overturn RvW, given the chance. I do not think prohibition solves problems. It usually drives the problem underground, making it harder to deal with in the long run.

Abortion is driven by complex social and economic factors, including poverty and a woman’s feeling of economic security; the disintegration of family units so that women or couples do not feel they have the support to raise a child; and the stigma (very strong in Christian circles, let’s be honest) that premarital pregnancy is one of the worst failures of morality a young person can fall into.  Further, adoption processes can be hard to understand and emotionally painful and not something we’re willing to discuss openly as a society outside of a crisis pregnancy clinic.

With all of these factors in play, attempting to stop abortions by simply making them illegal is short-sighted. It’s an idea born from privilege, because white middle-class people with good health care and stable family networks are able to work out ways to care for even an “oops!” pregnancy of one of their relatives. They can also afford the exorbitant fees necessary to adopt children. They can absorb another person into the household without forcing all the others to go hungry. I realize that “privilege” also drives abortions, for women who simply do not want to be bothered by a pregnancy. But those women have always had access to abortion, and even if it were illegal, do you really think they would lose it? No. An abortion ban affects primarily the poor and working class. Rich people will always have access to what they want.

For those reasons, I personally discourage women from terminating healthy pregnancies (please consider adoption!) yet refuse to make abortion law a factor in my voting. Christians have been whipped into a frenzy by this issue, and have lost sight of a balance of values that should represent someone who claims allegiance to the Kingdom.

I am not willing to crucify my conscience on the cross of abortion law, by using this weak defense as a reason to support the Republican nominee.  The party had a chance — many chances! — to select a reasonable candidate. Or at least one who, while politically unreasonable (*coughs* Ted Cruz *coughs*) not morally reprehensible. And the Republican party as a whole, both in its leadership and its membership, has utterly broken apart and failed to offer any moral or civic leadership.

This post is already too long, or I’d wade into the myth that government is bad (really? defend that from Scripture and/or history, please) or the ways in which the Republican Party sowed the seeds for this disaster through its race-bating campaigns from Nixon forward.

So I’ll end with this:  Evangelicalism has been duped into becoming a stooge to empower men who have no interest in the values Evangelicals claim as primary. This past weekend has been a chilling reminder that the loudest Evangelical (male) voices don’t represent even the most basic understanding of what sexual assault means, or why their only proper response to Trump’s disgusting rape-talk should be condemnation, if these leaders wish to maintain credibility.  But elections are never about credibility; they’re about power. And ever since Jerry Falwell sold the church a bunch of pottage about the Moral Majority in 1980, the Evangelical wing has been drunk on the idea of political power.  That was a foolish, dangerous mistake, and its consequences are about to come crashing home, regardless of who wins the election on November 7th.