Tag Archives: politics

Not sure America had a mind to lose…

In a long article in this week’s Atlantic, Kurt Andersen builds the argument that America’s teetering march toward extreme individualism and non-rational thinking were pushed over the edge by the relativism of the 60s, and here we are now as a result.
“How America Lost Its Mind” (The Atlantic)

“In America nowadays, those more exciting parts of the Enlightenment idea have swamped the sober, rational, empirical parts. Little by little for centuries, then more and more and faster and faster during the past half century, we Americans have given ourselves over to all kinds of magical thinking, anything-goes relativism, and belief in fanciful explanation—small and large fantasies that console or thrill or terrify us. And most of us haven’t realized how far-reaching our strange new normal has become.”

I always raise an eyebrow at arguments like this. For every Thomas Jefferson who was cutting the miracles out of his Bible because they didn’t make sense to his rational mind, weren’t there a ton of other 1700s-era Americans who got off the boat and headed straight into the wild Appalachians so they could get away from the long arm of the law and being told what to do in a structured, reasoned society?

Andersen seems to argue that the 60s injected a dose of relativism so extreme that the American experiment hasn’t been able to recover. Coupled with the rise of the Internet to amplify the craziness, we now find ourselves in a “post-truth” society.

While the breakdown of our political discourse seems to be new compared to the past 75 years, should we forget McCarthyism and the Red Scare that threw America into a frenzy in the 50s? I’m reading a biography of Oppenheimer which discusses how one of the greatest physicists who ever lived was destroyed and defamed based on zero evidence and a lot of terror about Communists taking over. The rhetoric of his trial could easily fill a Trump speech; just swap out some of the names.

I’m more and more convinced that the vitriol and racism and lack of compromise that we’re seeing isn’t new. It’s not like we’ve regressed to lower life forms in the past 24 months from a state of enlightenment. As a people, we never really changed. Certain legislation drags us forward into being less ugly about it (e.g.: Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Brown vs Board of Education) but Americans have been like this in many ways since our founding. We’ve always been about “doing our own thing,” though perhaps more people agreed on what “that thing” should be on the national scale at certain times more than others.

Andersen seems to write from the center-left position but he does so smugly, in a way that grates on me a bit.  Most of the time, I feel like he’s grinding an axe and proud of himself for letting you tag along.

I did appreciate this part of his critique of the GOP:

Another way the GOP got loopy was by overdoing libertarianism. I have some libertarian tendencies, but at full-strength purity it’s an ideology most boys grow out of. On the American right since the ’80s, however, they have not. Republicans are very selective, cherry-picking libertarians: Let business do whatever it wants and don’t spoil poor people with government handouts; let individuals have gun arsenals but not abortions or recreational drugs or marriage with whomever they wish; and don’t mention Ayn Rand’s atheism. Libertarianism, remember, is an ideology whose most widely read and influential texts are explicitly fiction.

Perhaps our politicians were better men at one time, but I don’t think history is going to support that thesis either, really. Corruption comes and goes at all levels of government; I think at times it’s more obnoxious than others, but there’s no way to escape the truth that money is power, and power is the key currency within politics.

I’m not a pessimist; I do think our nation can choose to be better than this. But it’s not just a political discussion. Many of the fears driving people to support men like Trump (even when Trump’s policies work against the best interests of poor and middle-class whites) stem from a coming economic disaster that will hit the less-educated very hard, especially men who have formed the bulk of the blue-collar work force.  Very few people are writing enough about this.

It would help if our pulpits emphasized loving God and neighbor above pursuing culture wars in Jesus’ name.  But that’s a rant I’ll leave for another day.

On Civic Trust: “Teach Us (How) to Trust” | Comment Magazine

Wise words from one of my favorite authors:

When suspicion is the water in which we swim, then power, might, and tyranny start to look like lifeboats.

Closer to home, though, the source of mistrust might be more quotidian and bottom-up. In some ways, our distrust is the outcome of our own perceived cleverness. We’re so smart and “in the know” that we end up not trusting anyone who isn’t us. We see through everything, cultivating a knowing distance above the fray, deflating any manifestations of passion and sincerity as scams and facades. So the enlightened posture of the hipster has more social consequences than we might realize. The cause in this case is subjective: a corrosive individualism swells our self-interest, with ripple effects of suspicion. Our loneliness—”bowling alone”—is not a result of mistrust, but a cause. Where cynicism and irony are the last virtues, the web of trust is torn. It’s lonely in the cage of wink-and-nod “authenticity.”

Source: Editorial: Teach Us (How) to Trust | Comment Magazine

How to contact your Congressman … and be heard

From this Tweet:

Came these images, which outline how to contact your representatives and be heard (whatever party you side with):

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[the list each day]

I hate making phone calls like this…. but I think I’m going to start.

Approaching the “Can’t Even”

I’ve been largely silent for most of the past several months both here and in much of social media. One part of that reticence flows from my growing feeling that I don’t have anything to say that’s worth taking your time and attention to read. That’s a complex set of feelings and thoughts which I will not take time to unpack here.

But for the past 2 months or so, the pall of the 2016 election has hung over my mind and contributed to my unwillingness to write.

The last time I gave much of a damn about politics, it was 1988 and I was a middle schooler fascinated by the race between HW Bush and Dukakis. I wrote a fun ditty making fun of some of Dukakis’s positions and mailed it to Vice President Bush. Probably because I was a kid, his office nicely responded on official White House stationery to thank me for the letter, and I stored the signed letter in my photo album for safekeeping. I followed politics voraciously from 1987-1988, then dropped it. I’m not really sure if it was just adolescent ADD or a wise-beyond-my-years intuition that politics is primarily bullshit and power-mongering, two things I hate more than nearly anything else.

I grew up in a household of former Democrats who found themselves voting Republican due to social issues, where soft racism was de rigueur but not supported by an ideology of hate to give it root. The Gulf War was good, for it was a show of American might; Bill Clinton was a lying scoundrel. As I moved into college, where Republican policy was equivalent to God’s own morality, Bill Clinton advanced to the status of Anti-Christ and “God’s judgment on America.” I remember Dr Bob in chapel exhorting us on the eve of the 1996 election to beseech God to spare America from having to endure four more years of that heathen in charge. God apparently didn’t see fit to intervene, or maybe He too was bored to tears by Bob Dole and decided to just let things run their course. Either way, the economy prospered during Clinton’s second term, Clinton shocked everyone with brazen denial of oral sex in the Oval Office (I really hope they fumigate those rooms before the next President moves in, you know?), and America survived to endure the 2000 “hanging chad” election debacle. Regardless, I’d moved on.

I’ve spent my life in education, not politics, on purpose. I feel like i can get somewhere in education; maybe not in the realm of policy (who the hell thought this assessment-driven disaster was a good direction for public education?!) but at least in individual lives.

For years I’ve avoided the political news cycle other than to stay informed as a citizen. I’ve written the occasional email to my representatives, usually for local or state issues, and watched the national circus from the sidelines. If America were to follow Britain’s example and limit the campaign season to 3 months, I’d cry with joy. This circus is shameful, self-aggrandizing. It’s everything that’s the worst of America’s adolescent age.

But Trump? this is a new level of horror. To watch a boorish, rude, egocentric, power-hungry narcissist step into the office of President and thrash about with his base appeals to the lowest common denominator of American culture … I can’t even.

I literally. can’t. even.

How do we live in the era of “Can’t Even”? That’s been the thought simmering in the back of my mind these past several weeks. A friend on Facebook added me to his “Resist45” Facebook group for local community organization and resistance to destructive Trumpism. Other than standing on a corner with a sign, nobody there has brought forward a concrete plan for change, for taking those baby steps out of my comfortable house into my neighborhood to “work for change.”

But this posture of fear and disgust and indifference is ultimately a lack of faith on my part. I was thinking today, on this day when we celebrate the legacy of MLK Jr and his fearless pursuit of justice at a time when the prevailing culture had little stomach for it, that the people of God have usually lived in the Time Of Can’t Even. A remnant of godly Israelites wept by the shores of Babylon and sang David’s psalms with little hope of seeing their homeland again. The Romans, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Philistines all stomped through the land where the believers in Yahweh lived, and God’s counsel to them was never to despair. How dare I simmer in my own discontent?

Jesus came preaching that His Kingdom is not of this world. But understand: The heavenly reality of God’s rule does not absolve us from earthly work. Instead, it grounds us in a deeper foundation of Justice whose name is also Yahweh-Yireh, the God Who Provides. We serve El – Roi, the God Who Sees both Hagar, tormented and neglected by the man and woman who should have cared for her, as well as those whom we allow by our apathy to be eaten up by the powerful of this world in their pursuit of riches and glory.

There are no neutral decisions. Whether I get paper or plastic at BiLo affects the mountain of non-degradable trash sickening our planet. The choice forces me to consider the consequences of living in America’s “disposable” culture. I’m wasteful; I’m complacent. I buy more than I need. I buy clothes that could not be so cheap unless they were sewn in a sweatshop in Indonesia by people who’s lives are marked by misery and hunger and oppression.

And why am I even buying clothes? My closet is full, while my grandparents (and parents, when they were children) owned a mere handful of garments – so little that everything could fit in a “wardrobe” (if they owned one) with space for maybe 10 hangers and a few drawers. This consumption and capitalism of ours is foolishness, a chasing after wind. Go read Ecclesiastes. Even the king dies. What happens to everything he owns? A fool inherits it. It does him no good in Sheol, where he’s going.

I don’t know how I’m going to live in “Trump’s America.” The thought still turns my stomach, honestly. But to disengage, to indulge myself in the “can’t evens,” is faithless and cowardly.

A dear friend once commented that the Holy Spirit was challenging her on her addiction to peace, peace for herself at any cost. She was facing a difficult period with her sons and every day was a horrible battle of wills full of anger and fear and pain. In that context, no one could blame her for just trying to “keep the peace.” But that is where the Spirit pressed her. Doing what is best for others and for the Kingdom often requires sacrificing our peace, the longing we have to remain where things are comfortable and safe.

I do not know what it will look like for me to live in Trump’s America, but I’m confident that “loving my neighbor” will be more important than ever. And since “Grace always costs the giver,” I pray that I will have the courage to love. I invite you to challenge me, friends, to embody that sentiment in action, not mere words.

the-ultimate-measure-of-a-man

An #Election2016 Afterthought

I was stunned to see states fall to Trump one after another…. but not surprised. The working-class rage and the palpable fear of white (especially Christians) drove voters far more than any rational discussion could.

I did not want to get out of bed this morning in Trump’s America. But here we are. And I’ll have none of this #notmypresident bullshit. Trump is your President come January 20. That’s how democracy works. Take your lumps, recognize where things need to change, and work for the good of the whole country.

The difficult work of community development always happens on the local level. The working class / poor of America said last night, “That’s it, we’re done, break the system, make it work for us because right now it isn’t.” ….Except that the federal government isn’t a magic wand. Neither is the state government.

NO government is a magic spell. Good gvernments restrain wicked men and support social structures that (hopefully) promote and enable human flourishing. Government is a powerful tool of Grace. (Don’t believe that? Spend November reading the major/minor prophets.)  One of the most toxic narratives ever to emerge from the alt-right and ultra-conservative edges of the Republicans and Libertarians is this idea that government is evil. That’s a dangerous idea and it needs to be confronted and disarmed. We can argue over “how much” government is a good or bad thing, but we should not dismantle the structures that restrain humans from acting out every desire or that provide incentive to act against our selfish individual interests for the good of the whole.

Regardless of who could have won the election, the poor/working class who are marginalized by the power-holders will likely not benefit from that power. The poverty of rural America emerges from global forces none of us can stop – not even Trump via blustery rhetoric of how he’s going to challenge global free trade. (Good luck with that, when Americans realize how high the prices go when we don’t participate in the global economy.) Neither Trump nor Hillary can make life in a poor, rural area much less bad than it is right now.

Who can? You can. I can. Our churches can. Civic organizations. Non-profits. And local governments (and state) working close to the issues, in conjunction with concerned citizens.

Stop being a once-every-four-years American. It takes 2 seconds to find out your state and national representatives’ phone numbers and email addresses, and save them to your address book. Contact them. Tell them what’s important to you and how you think your community’s needs can be met.

And get off your butt and go help the organizations in your community who bear the brunt of the work to make life better for people. Loving your neighbor is hard work much of the time. Put up or shut up.

In the meantime, the past year was one of the ugliest things I’ve ever seen. If you read that sentence and thought, “Yeah! Those jerks!” then you’ve missed my point. We all need a dose of civility and grace, and it can begin today with some honest soul-searching about how I am called to love my neighbor – especially the ones I disagree with – and how to season truth-speaking with grace so it can be heard (for the racism and misogyny and xenophobia I’ve seen this year breaks my heart).

My vote for a better election process

As we wrap up the worst election season in my life, I think it’s time to stop talking about the inefficiency of our voting process and actually fix it.

I’m standing in line at my precinct right now, typing this until they make me put away my phone. Here goes:

Let’s make the next election better

  • We need more media coverage of issues and less coverage of “scandals.” I’d like to see an agreement among journalists to responsible election coverage. Commit to spending no less than 50% of words or minutes reporting candidates’ words and documents on policy issues.  When the press just chases a “good story,” we get skewed news. And journalists are doing a terrible job of actually pushing issues to the forefront of the conversation, something only the media has the power to do, really.
  • Campaign finance reform: I want Congress to pass new legislation to address the Citizens United verdict, and making all political campaign contributions above $5,000 (cumulative, by donor or business) to be public ally recorded and the information available during the election cycle. If you want to invest money in politics, go ahead, but you can’t do it in secret.  Or if you don’t  like that solution, go pick one of the many others that have been suggested. I think we need to do something.
  • Shorten the election cycle via law or regulation. No campaigning may begin for a race until the previous cycle’s November contest has been settled and the vote tallies confirmed. (There’s a petition you can sign if you agree that election cycles need to be shortened.)
  • By law or regulation, no reporting on exit polls on Election Day until at least 50% of the polls have closed. I realize Slate disagrees with me, and you can read their argument for why they are dumping real-time information onto the electorate. But I don’t buy the argument that as a voter, I need the same information that the campaigns gather about who’s winning. Maybe it’s irrational, I dunno; but I think this kind of information overload is exactly why the last 12 months have been a living hell.
  • Reinstate the full measures of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, barring states from making it more difficult for minirities to get to the polls. The NYT has a Voter Suppression Trail game you can play to experience the frustration. “See if you can make it to the polls!”
  • Clarify voter ID restrictions. I want plenty of state flexibility but also to ensure that poor, minority, immigrant or other groups with less likelihood of a photo ID can still get the necessary credentials to vote.  I want the feds to lean on states to enforce their already existing laws. It’s not unrealistic for people in certain subgroups to lack some of the documentation necessary to have a photo ID.  (And if you’ve ever filed for a passport, you know how frustrating and difficult it is to get a certified copy of your original birth certificate.)
  • Extend voting privileges to college students for the state where they attend school, if they choose to forfeit their right to vote in their home town and state. This should be a choice any full-time college student can make if they desire. I realize absentee balloting isn’t too difficult — if you’re already somewhat good at navigating government websites — but some students identify strongly with the area where they’re attending school, and wish to vote there, even though their legal address remains at their parents’ house (perhaps to enjoy the tax benefits of being a dependent – and who can blame them?).
  • Encourage states to adopt voting registration laws that provide pre-registration rather than making citizens initiate and maintain the process themselves. For people who are already on the margins of the system, it’s just another set of barriers they don’t know how to navigate.
  • Offer federal grant money to states to improve their websites and especially mobile-friendly information about the ballot, candidates, and elections. It’s stupidly hard to get real information about the local races. I saw 3 on the ballot this morning that didn’t turn up in my research, plus one Anderson County referendum that I saw for the first time standing at the voting machine. That’s not good. By the way, I would tie the federal money to requirements that states make their voting registration and polling processes simpler and more transparent.

I realize none of this will wash the horrible taste of Trump vs Hillary out of my mouth, and tomorrow the screaming will just intensify (especially if Hillary wins), but maybe that’ll just push us Americans to implement our legendary ingenuity to fix the damn mess before 2020.

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.