Saturday, July 30, 2016
After a tumultuous first couple of days, the Democratic National Convention settled down, drowned out the few remaining Bernie Sanders supporters, and got down to the job at hand: nominating Hillary Clinton and selling her to the American public. And while there will always be people who can't stand her, from her deceitful nature to her hectoring voice, the task was mostly well accomplished. After Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama gave strong, well received speeches, (and Bill Clinton gave a pleasant and slightly rambling one), Hillary herself gave what was the most important speech of her life, and she mostly nailed it. Managing to thread the needle by appealing to liberal Bernie Sanders supporters while also reaching out to fence leaning moderates by selling herself as the rational, experienced choice compared to Donald Trump's loose cannon candidacy.
When looked at, the two conventions are all about contrast; look at the sunny upbeat tone of the Democrats saying "America is already great, but could be better" and then remember the Republicans practically screaming "the US is a hell hole". Often, nonvoters dismiss both parties as being the same; that certainly couldn't be farther from the truth this year! Oddly enough, it was the Democrats who wrapped themselves in the flag and praised God and patriotism more than the Republicans; while it is normal for a party not in power to paint a negative picture of the other party's rule, the dour, almost apocalyptic tone of the Republican convention probably played well to their base, but may have turned off moderate voters.
In any event, with the conventions over, this historic election is now underway, and sadly, it will probably be extremely ugly and negative. Both candidates have over fifty percent negative ratings from the American public, meaning both sides will essentially be saying "don't vote for me because of who I am, vote for me because I'm not him/her."
The interesting thing for Hillary Clinton is that she seems to have come full circle: way back in 1992, she was perceived as a liberalizing influence on her moderate husband and president, and he put in her charge of his big attempt at health care reform. The result of that attempt was such a failure that in 1994 the Republican party retook the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952. That election was dubbed the year of the angry white male, and much of that anger was directed at Hillary herself. And now, here we are, 22 years later, with many of those same angry white men (especially blue collar ones) still lashing out at her and supporting Trump. But will Trump's alienation of nearly every group in America other than white men kill his chances, no matter how strongly they support him? The big question is, will this election bring a belated revenge for Hillary Clinton, or will it stand as one last blow landed by a raging, aging demographic that is slowly losing its influence in America? Only time will tell.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
The first night of the Democratic National Convention was a bit mind blowing. While some things were not surprising (Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker and Michelle Obama all gave well received, fiery speeches), the protests and booing of Hillary Clinton, coming just a week after similar protests against Donald Trump at the Republican party convention, reveals a fracturing of the two party system. So what happened? Aren't the Democrats the party of grown ups? Well, the shaky truce between Bernie Sanders supporters and Clinton supporters was thrown in disarray when thousands of hacked emails revealed a clear bias at the top of the Democratic party for Clinton over Sanders. Although Democratic chairman Debbie Wasserman Shultz stepped down over the controversy, the damage was done, and Bernie supporters were outraged, going so far as to boo Sanders himself when he endorsed Clinton.
Some pundits have compared these conventions to the infamously violent 1968 Democratic convention, but it should be pointed out that that anger was over the Viet Nam war; this anger is more generalized, more about the national mood.
There is a definite feeling on both sides that the poor and middle class have been shafted and unheard by both parties, making populist risings like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders possible. We shouldn't forget that the economic crisis of 2008 was literally the worst since the great depression of 1929, and that while economic recovery has occurred, in terms of job growth, wages have mostly stagnated. The interesting thing is that both sides are angry and lashing out, but at different targets. This is mostly because of the generational divide between Trump's people and Sanders's; Trump's are older white people who remember the days when a high school education could lead to a middle class factory job, and they blame companies sending jobs overseas and (sadly) undocumented immigrants. Sanders's are young people who graduated from college after the crash and entered a terrible starting job market with heavy student loans; they blame wall street and the big banks for the crash, and deride Clinton as a sell out for taking money from wall street and giving paid speeches at big banking firm Goldman Sachs.
While the anger on both sides is understandable, it sadly shows people reaching for candidates with easy sounding solutions that will be almost impossible to actually implement: sorry Trump fans, building a 1200 mile wall with Mexico and getting them to pay, along with deporting 11 million people, will not be as easy as your leader says it will. And while my sympathies lie more with Sanders people, let's face it, he would have faced the same brick wall resistance from Republicans in congress that Barack Obama did. Yes I want America to have universal health care like every other first world nation, but I also know that it won't happen overnight.
So to the Sanders supporters I would say this: I get your anger, but not voting for Hillary Clinton (or even turning to -gulp!- Trump) is not going to help the country. The next president will have at least one supreme court pick, and letting Trump make that choice should be a truly terrifying prospect to any right thinking progressive. Instead I would encourage them to channel that anger into opposing Trump and making sure that Clinton remains the progressive that she is currently claiming to be once she's elected. And of course the biggest problem with modern progressives is our failure to turn out in the mid term elections; remember that we have a definite separation of power in our country, and a president with a hostile congress can wind up in the same quagmire, as, well, Obama has since 2010. Support progressive congress people too!
Sunday, July 24, 2016
Donald Trump's speech at the Republican National Convention accepting the nomination for president was both surprising and unsurprising; on the one hand, it was free of the crazy conspiracy theories and childish insults that pepper his normal speeches. It appears that he mostly kept to his teleprompter and rarely went off script. And many of his early statements were typical political speech pronouncements about the importance of law and order. On the other hand, he still managed to stick to the message that has propelled him this far: that this country has fallen to hell, because of our weak president and his even weaker secretary of state. He painted a picture of a country beset by violent crime (even though violent crime rates are lower now than they were thirty years ago) and terrorist attacks and overrun by illegal immigrants (even though undocumented immigration has plateaued in recent years). And he claimed, ominously, that "the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored." As if his mere presence in office will magically end crime, because yelling about how tough you are solves everything!
Consciously or not, Trump was hitting the soft spot of his conservative base. Studies comparing conservative and progressive brain scans found that conservatives have a larger fear center, so it is no surprise that his fear mongering appeals to them. But will he also scare the moderates he needs into voting for him? I certainly hope not. Sadly, his speech, so enthusiastically cheered by the delegates, shows how hard compromise between conservatives and progressives is; I can't imagine most progressives today perceive America as the lawless hellhole that he and his party seem to. Truly, we do live in the same country but somehow in different worlds.
The most crucial line in the speech was when Trump announced that "I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order." There was no mention of working with congress or anyone else; it will be him, by himself, acting as more dictator than president, riding in on a white horse to save the country. He even eschewed the normal mentions of god or faith in his speech that every candidate usually makes; instead he held himself up as America's savior, encouraging worship of him and him alone. What an ego!
It 's that same ego that caused him to later call the convention "one of the best ever", ignoring the fact that it saw such highlights as pro and anti Trump delegates screaming at each other on the convention floor, his wife Melania being caught plagiarizing a speech by Michelle Obama, and Senator Ted Cruz refusing to endorse him openly and being booed for it. Hopefully, Hillary Clinton will be able to rally the country behind her by portraying herself at the Democratic Convention as the safe, sane and experienced alternative to Trump's Messianic view. Otherwise, I think the country is in serious trouble.
Monday, July 18, 2016
Just as the Republican convention begins, it's important to remember where the race for leader of the free world is: on July 5th. FBI director James B. Comey finally released the results of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails; while no criminal charges are going to be made against her, he did conclude that her behavior was "extremely careless", and he contradicted many of the public statements she had made concerning the emails.
The report confirms the public's image of Clinton and her husband as essentially dishonest people who always have some underhanded scam going on. Sometimes this image has been proven true (Bill Clinton's lying about his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky) and sometimes it is absurd (Hillary Clinton has been accused of murdering former white house aide Vince Foster). In any event, her cavalier attitude towards an issue of national security does call into question her judgement. If she were running against a normal candidate, it could become a major issue, making progressives like me write in Bernie Sanders or just stay home in disgust. But let's not kid ourselves, her opponent is no normal candidate.
As Donald Trump inevitably prepares to accept the Republican nomination, it is important to remember just what kind of man Trump is: he has never held any kind of elected office or served in the military. He was born into a wealthy family, went into the family business, and inherited an enormous amount of money, all while claiming to be a great real estate tycoon. Just how great a tycoon he is is questionable, seeing as he refuses to release his tax returns and shrugs his several bankruptcies off as no big deal. His desire to put his name on everything from steaks to bottled water displays his swelled ego, while some of his tie ins seem like outright scams, like the worthless, defunct Trump University.
And as a candidate, he's been far worse: he first announced his candidacy thirteen months ago, and since then he has said hateful things about Mexican immigrants, Muslims and women. His speeches are filled with lies, idle boasts and childish insults. He has encouraged violent responses to protestors at his rallies, endorsed torture and idly mentioned that the military should kill the families of terrorists, which is a war crime. He is the single most repulsive, hate mongering major party presidential candidate of the modern era. He has already done damage to America, because his hateful rhetoric against Muslims has been used as a recruiting tool for Isis. And despite all of that, he just might win.
I've already compared Trump to one time Ku Klux Klan member and former gubernatorial candidate David Duke, and sure enough, Duke recently raised his hideous head and endorsed Trump on his radio show, an endorsement that Trump eventually repudiated only in the softest terms. Let's look at the history of Duke's run for the governor: in 1991, after holding a Louisiana state house seat, he ran for governor of the state and lost, but, as he would so proudly point out, he won the majority of the white vote. I remember how I was stunned to think about how people could possibly vote for a man who had once freely admitted that he used to celebrate Adolf Hitler's birthday! At the time I just shrugged that off as southern state racism, but now here we are in 2016, where a Duke like demagogue is about to accept the nomination for president from a major party. While recent polls show Trump losing to Clinton, the fact that they are even close at all is disturbing. Even more upsetting is Trump's standing with white voters, who support him by narrow margins. While some of this can be chalked up to white republicans voting the party ticket and people voting against Clinton instead of for Trump, it still upsets me that a majority of white Americans support a candidate who has called Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers and who wants to ban all Muslim immigrants from entering the country. Are white Americans really so receptive to an openly bigoted candidate? Sadly, it appears so.
The silver lining in all this is that many Americans don't pay much attention to presidential campaigns until the conventions, and that Trump's inevitable bluster on national TV will wake people up to the horror of him being president, causing a turn around in the polls and a landslide for Clinton. Still, the mere fact that he has gotten this far and that he will probably win a few states in the election is depressing enough.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Recent stories in the New York Times tell a sad story about human rights violations in the Asian country of Myanmar; the Rohingya, a Muslim minority, have suffered greatly under a government whose discrimination towards them has been compared to the infamous Apartheid regime of South Africa. Even worse, religious leader Ashin Wirathu has spread hatred of the Rohingya, calling them “the enemy”, and saying “You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog.” This kind of hateful rhetoric has lead to lynch mobs killing hundreds of innocent people, and forcing thousands more from their homes. All of this is terrible enough, but the thing I find the most upsetting is that Ashin Wirathu is a Buddhist monk, and Myanmar is around ninety percent Buddhist.
Buddhism is, to my, eyes the most open minded and easy going of all the major world religions. In many ways, it resembles more of a philosophy than a religion, with some members of the faith actually calling themselves atheists(!). This is because Buddha himself is perceived in most sects of the faith as just a spiritual leader and not a god or the child of one. Although there are stories of him performing miracles like walking on air, there are practicing members of the faith who dismiss these tales as myths. Compare that to Christianity, which requires complete belief in the miracles of Christ.
Instead of prayer, Buddhism promotes the far more self reflective practice of meditation, instead of the ten commandments, Buddhism has five precepts that are far less commanding. They are: 1. Don't Kill. 2. Don't Steal. 3. No Sexual Misconduct. 4. Don't Lie 5. Don't Drink. (Many Buddhists ignore that last one). Instead of a pope Buddhism has the Dali Lama, who is not seen as infallible, and whose speeches are more about general goodness and kindness than faith.
So while Buddhism is seemingly the least puritanical of religions, the terrible situation in Myanmar would show that any religion, taken to an extreme, can lead to hatred and bigotry. Sadly, it's seems that part of human nature is that any large number of people having a strongly held belief system can lead to despising other people who do not hold that same belief. And while I don't believe in God personally, I also realize that even Atheists can practice the same kind of bigotry as the faithful when they hold the power to do so, like in Communist Russia. Really, the best that I think that humans can do on matters of faith is for us all to basically be agnostics who don't dwell on spiritual matters much. Many European countries (and Japan) are leading the way on this, and the fact that the number of non religious affiliated Americans is growing indicates that a global movement to move away from religion as a driving force in society may be underway. To my reckoning, this is a good thing, and downright evolutionary when you think about it. Science knows so much about the world around us now that religious answers are becoming less and less necessary.
Saturday, July 9, 2016
"We're hurting." Those are the simple, powerful words spoken by Dallas Police Chief David O Brown at the end of what was one of the worst weeks in recent American history for race relations. Times like these show just how far the country needs to go to heal the racial divide that still exists even as our first African American President steps down.
The sad events began when a video of an unarmed (and subdued) black man named Alton Sterling being shot by the police appeared, a tragically common appearance these days. Later this week a second video arrived, this one even more shocking as Philandro Castle, another black man. was shot by police in a car while his girl friend watched and grimly filmed and narrated the aftermath. (Even more shocking, a four year old girl was sitting in the back seat of the car at the time.)
These two violent tragedies were compounded when in Dallas, Micah X Johnson, an African American war veteran, opened fire on police officers at a peaceful rally, killing five of them and wounding others. To add more fuel to the fire, Johnson admitted that he wanted to kill white officers in retaliation for police brutality.
Obviously, Johnson's horrible actions are the result of insanity inspired by crazed violent anger, no matter how justified that anger may be. Tragically, all non violent members of the Black Lives Matter movement will be forever linked to what he has done even though Johnson was never officially connected to the group.
Is this connection fair? Of course not, and it should be noted that other recent acts of political violence have been treated differently. Last January a white man in Colorado opened fire on a Planned Parenthood building, killing three people. Would it be right for people who support abortion rights to say that all anti-abortionists agree with that man? No. There are fringe members of every movement, ones who go beyond peaceful protest; but that certainly won't stop conservative commentators of trying to discredit the Black Lives Matter group. As if one cannot both condemn the unwarranted use of deadly force by the police on citizens and not equally condemn violent attacks on the police!
The sad fact of the matter is that there are no easy answers to these problems. Racism was baked in the American cake before it was even officially a country. And I must admit, as a white man I don't understand the difficult gauntlet that black men must pass through everyday, when sometimes just walking down the street or being pulled over can be deadly. But we have to get better. We have to stop hurting.