Tagged: News Reporting

Going After the Poor

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Now that we’re past the embarrassing Presidential world tour where the headlines seemed most focused on Melania’s brushing off Donald’s attempts to hold her hand, the Pope’s dour facial expressions, handshake duels, bogus arms deals, and GolfCartGate, but before we all become engulfed in memos detailing Trump’s attempts to force high-ranking national security officials to ignore potentially treasonous acts; everyone needs to devote at least a little attention to the budget the White House proposed to Congress right before Trump left the country.  As the details of this recommendation become clearer, so does the Republican party’s fundamental priority, philosophy, belief, or however you’d like to label their mantra:  If you have resources, you can buy whatever you want; if you don’t, too bad.  We all need to recognize just what kind of country the Republican party envisions—at least the Republican party with Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell at its head.  While everyone is understandably distracted from this reality with Trump leading a seemingly endless parade of foolish acts and inane tweets, in one area Donald, Paul, and Mitch have been pretty consistent:  Rather than proposing anything new or trying to improve current programs, they are dedicated to the “good old days” when wealthy people had an even greater share of this country’s resources and power than they do now.  And from health care to withdrawing from the Paris climate accord to huge investments in weapons (all of which, conveniently, can be manipulated by Washington to profit friends and family), every position they stake out screws over those who don’t have very much to begin with.

Naturally, it’s no different with education.  The foundation of public schools for many years has been what is basically a socialist construct:  We all contribute so that every kid in America can learn the basics every citizen should know.  No, that’s hardly an absolute standard since every state legislature or local school board can interpret what those “basics” are in a variety of ways, but at least the cost of however that ideal comes out is shared by all.  And yes, the system of paying for education has also been significantly corrupted since it is generally financed through local funding (property taxes here in Illinois) which has created huge differences in how much any one school district spends per pupil.  But the Trump administration as led by Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos (a billionaire in her own right), is now proposing an even more dramatic shift in resources which will allow parents more “choice” over the schools that receive their tax dollars.  Many rich people already send their children to private schools at their own expense, but DeVos believes they should be able to direct any money they pay in taxes for education to whichever school they wish.  In effect, these vouchers would take money originally going to public schools and redirect it to the schools parents select (which would include private and parochial institutions), robbing public schools of crucial revenue when they can ill-afford any decreases whatsoever.

Schools would thus compete with each other to attract parents and their money, with institutions already struggling being left even further behind.  And the children whose parents don’t have the resources to get their children out of those impoverished schools?  Well, they’re just stuck with an under-funded, second-rate education forever.  This is social Darwinism at its worst with those already well-off being subsidized at the expense of the poor who stay trapped and powerless with little hope of their future being any different.  That theme plays over and over again in the proposals in Trump’s budget, which is entitled “A New Foundation for American Greatness” (another ready-made lesson in irony).  Budgets for health, welfare, education, art, and social service programs are slashed with funding for some sixty-six programs ended entirely.

There are dozens of other sources which can give you more specific details on the ramifications of Trump’s budget, including many which document how directly some of Trump’s staunchest supporters—working class whites—will be hurt by his draconian spending cuts, the better to benefit the wealthy.  But it’s crucial for everyone to acknowledge exactly what’s going on here:  The gap between the haves and the have-nots in the U.S. has increased significantly in recent years, and Republicans are doing everything they can to encourage, magnify, and accelerate both the gap’s size and the pace at which it widens.

Now, many are pointing out that this budget, like the horrific health care act which came out of the House on May 4, will never be enacted as currently written, that both are “DOA” in the Senate.  And let’s all hope that is true.  But regardless, this document shows exactly how Trump and his cronies view their constituents.  Of course they hide behind the claim that they are cutting ineffective, wasteful programs, but the clear good which comes from things like Planned Parenthood, the National Endowment for the Arts, or Meals on Wheels has been evident for many years.  Eliminating or reducing the government’s support for these programs in order to buy more weapons can’t be explained any other way than a preference for getting rid of things which help people so our military can obtain more things which kill them.

I understand that some Republicans would respond to my views with the argument that there are better ways to achieve the goals of the cut programs, but merely repeating that endlessly offers little solace to those who need help.  What ideas, programs, or approaches do Trump, Ryan, McConnell and the rest of the Republican Party offer as better alternatives?  It seems that they have nothing but “glittering generalities” rather than any concrete, workable solutions.  For those of you who have forgotten the propaganda techniques you learned about in high school, a glittering generality is something that sounds good, but has no substance or validity behind it.  The most glaring example of this comes from Trump as he was campaigning for the Presidency and regularly characterizing Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) as a “disaster” (it isn’t).  His alternative was that he would replace it with “something terrific.”  Now that we’ve actually seen his replacement, we know what a ridiculous scam his campaign rhetoric was, unless by “terrific” he meant “awful for anyone who isn’t already a millionaire.”  Then there are the flat-out lies he told: His terrific plan would cost less, cover everybody in the country, and make no cuts to Medicare.  The reality, though, is that the Trump plan would increase rates for low-income seniors by as much as $12,000 per year, lead to over 20,000,000 Americans losing their coverage, and include some $800 billion in Medicare cuts.  Ryan has been the cheerleader for this monstrosity, and we’ll see how McConnell handles the Senate revisions of the highly unpopular proposal in the weeks to come.

That’s not to say that the Democrats are perfect or have all the answers to the many problems which our country faces.  But no matter how you try to spin it, Democratic proposals have generally tried to improve things for those less well off—Obamacare, environmental legislation, and a host of other programs now under attack all provided benefits for the poor.  You can argue about the effectiveness, sincerity, or cost efficiency of these initiatives, of course, but there can be no denying the fundamental humanity on which the intent of the programs is based.  That is in sharp contrast to the callous indifference Republican initiatives show toward anyone who is struggling.  From immigrants to decaying urban neighborhoods to senior citizens barely scraping by on social security, the Trump/Ryan/McConnell vision for America works to shift resources away from the neediest to those already well off.

Let’s hope the brazenness and crudity of Trump’s approach will finally help everyone to recognize this key difference and vote accordingly.  Many of us are praying that the Trump administration will be short-lived, ending in impeachment (my prediction is he will resign long before the Russian investigation proves how corrupt he is so that President Pence—which sounds almost as bad to me as “President Trump”—can immediately pardon him), but wishing for an end to Trump is hardly much of a strategy to minimize the damage Republican leadership could still do.

Instead, we have to recognize that Donald is not the source of this heartless approach to governing, but merely the loudest symptom of that which has taken over the Republican Party.  As someone who spent his younger days criticizing the eight years of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency, I can’t believe how wonderfully progressive his policies seem today.  Some have argued that this saint of conservatism would never be even seriously considered in today’s Republican party given that he cooperated with liberal Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, approved tax increases (his two bills passed in 1982 and 1984 together constituted the biggest tax increases ever enacted during peacetime), instituted an amnesty program for undocumented workers, and even lobbied on behalf of stricter gun regulation (all these and more can be found here).  That the Republican Party leadership has moved so far from what most Americans (and, I think, Republicans) believe is really quite shocking, and I still don’t understand how we Americans allowed them to take over.  Regardless, that needs to be changed as quickly as possible.

Although the circus surrounding Trump’s ignorance and self-absorption will continue unabated for as long as he inhabits the White House, we have to recognize that it’s not just him, that Republican leaders are supporting and enabling him every step of the way.  Regardless of what happens with His Orangeness, we have to recognize that the Republican Party is being taken to extremes by others as well.

Thus, every election from now on provides us with the opportunity to alter this tilt toward heartlessness.  We need reasonable people to run for office who, regardless of party affiliation, will represent the interests of all of us and who will oppose those who would appeal only to our fears and prejudices.  That applies to all parties:  While many current Republicans will have to answer for backing Trump/Ryan/Mitchell, I would hope that voters will be astute enough to listen to any candidate—Democrat, Republican, or Independent—to assess her/his level of opposition to our current directions. From the air we breathe to the helpless we protect, nothing about the current heads of our executive or legislative branches represents the best humanity has to offer.  We are capable of so much more, and through our actions—especially in voting—we must take steps to make sure our leaders are too.

Staying Focused on What’s Most Important

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We’re just a couple of days from inauguration, and then we will have President Trump.  No, I still don’t like that fact any better than I did back in November and have seen little in the cabinet selections or policy promises to make me happier about our new executive branch leader or those he is bringing in with him.  From an adviser who ran a racially biased, religiously intolerant, and misogynistic web site to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency who doesn’t accept the reality of climate change to an ex-Dancing with the Stars contestant as Energy Secretary—and don’t get me started on what could happen to the Supreme Court—there will much to worry about in the coming four years.  Foreign relations, trade wars, cyber espionage, health care, and the resurrection of failed economic policies/tax breaks are all important areas where I do not believe Trump will lead us in the best direction. (And that’s not even taking into account the actions taken so far by the Republican-controlled Senate and House.)  But my biggest concern right now is that we will lose our focus and waste our energy going after the embarrassing, foolish, but ultimately not very important distractions of which we will now have an unending supply, when we should be directing time and effort to resisting that which will make our country worse.

It’s happened again and again over the past year:  The substantial gets lost in the commotion surrounding a late-night tweet storm, some inappropriate remark at a rally, the revelation of a past interview filled with insensitive/sexist/racist comments, and/or clear evidence that a current position stands in complete opposition to the stand emphatically stated years ago.  The important issues get dropped in the click-appeal of a new post, and then we’re all discussing how Donald met with Kanye.  During the campaign when all we were doing was choosing who would be the next most powerful person in the world, this was bad enough; but now this powerful person will be taking all kinds of actions that matter to the world.  We have to be able to differentiate between that which is just tacky, crass, and idiotic from those things which will impact our lives.  Donald and his group are going to get away with way too much unless we learn not to allow our focus to be diverted from the significant by the stupid.

It is little solace that in our previous world of politics—just a few years ago—any one of those stupid things we now have to dismiss as frivolous would have probably gotten the politician who committed the sin immediately ejected from his position and party.  Clearly that standard no longer applies: Instead, these stories now consume everyone’s attention for several days, flat denials (which everyone knows are lies) are aggressively pushed, statements are spun as meaning something other than what they clearly meant (and we’re asked to understand what’s in his heart rather than what he actually says), panels on news shows discuss the issue (always including at least one pro-Trump person on who tries to dominate the air time), and significant issues get scant attention.  Suddenly, we all realize that those significant things have been resolved with little discussion, beneficial revision, or opportunity to challenge them.  Whether this obfuscation is the product of evil genius or idiotic luck no longer matters.  We all know what’s happening, and we must do a better job of sifting through low priority garbage to force adequate debate and opposition to coalesce against those things which could hurt people rather than that which hurts our image of how our country’s leaders should conduct themselves.

Of course how our leaders conduct themselves does matter, and the messages this prime example of America will send to our kids and the world will be problematic, probably for many years.  Any time racism, intolerance, or misogyny appear, they set us all back and we have to confront them whenever we see or hear them.  But we need to conserve our outrage for real instances of that which is divisive, mean-spirited, and cowardly, rather than go to the walls every time Donald reveals how impulsive and overly sensitive he is by lashing out.  No matter what you think of him as a person, we can’t spend too much time worrying about his character flaws when his programs will have much larger, more harmful effects.

That Trump’s version of governance will be challenging to navigate is quite the understatement.  But we have to hold him and his allies accountable for improving that which they have so vehemently attacked and obstructed for the past eight years.  I’m not sure how much agreement and love is shared by the various wings of the Republican party—it now appears that Mike Pence will be the “calming” influence on getting established leaders like House Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell to play nice with Trump.  That will take some effort, I would assume, and even that might not stop others in the GOP from rebelling against much of what Trump will push.  He’s already shown a willingness to shift positions, and his discipline-by-tweet approach which got the Republicans to back away from significant restrictions on any Senate/House oversight by anti-corruption governmental investigators was both heartening and hysterical.  That he will be able to exert influence through tweeting is another new thing we have to deal with—it sure doesn’t seem like he’s going to stop anytime soon.  That, however, also plays into the hands of those who would prefer not to have their actions or decisions too closely examined or debated.

This week has been a good example of the focus shift we permit regularly.  Top cabinet member nominees were to be questioned by Senate committees, as is the Senate’s responsibility under our Constitution.  There is much which needed to be discussed with these potential appointees—with the leaders of departments such as Justice, Transportation, and State to be confirmed or rejected.  Others are more qualified to comment on the problematic baggage most of Trump’s selections carry, but I did discuss my areas of concern for one of them, Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, based on my experience teaching for thirty-three years.  But just as these dates approached, Meryl Streep made a moving speech at the Golden Globe Awards ceremony, which was broadcast to millions.  In it, she condemned Trump’s intolerance and urged everyone to reject it as well.  I’m betting 99.9% of the people reading this know what happened next:  Trump responded with tweets of how “over-rated” Streep is as an actress and that she was basically just a sore loser.  He also criticized her in an interview with the New York Times.  Suddenly the confirmation hearings were no longer being discussed as we all held our collective bated breath to hear what would happen next between Meryl and Donald!

It’s important to state emphatically that I’m not suggesting that Meryl Streep shouldn’t have said what she said.  She had an important message and the forum to present it to a large audience.  Those who claim that an awards show wasn’t the “appropriate venue” for such comments fail to understand how infrequently anyone gets that kind of chance to communicate with a bunch of people.  If you believe what you have to say matters to lots of people, of course you go for it.  And the better response from Trump would have been silence or at most an acknowledgement that he had heard Streep’s remarks and believed she would change her tune once she saw how “great” America would become under his rule.  That, of course, would still have gotten a ton of coverage, but not the deluge that their supposed “feud” did.  But anyone who’s been following how he’s operated over the years would have known that he would fire back with criticisms of his own, especially his opinion of his challenger’s worth and popularity.  And, sadly, anyone who’s been following Trump coverage over the past two years would also know that once he fired back, those exchanges would suck the air of anything else’s importance, for 24-48 hours, time enough for the confirmation hearings to sneak up on everyone.

Yes, the Democrats also know how to put on a show, so you knew there’d be quite a few sparks to fly during those hearings; but they have to compete with who’s performing at the inauguration, the debate on how many quality inauguration ball gowns are still available (Trump claimed they were sold out while retailers pointed to plentiful stocks), and the inevitable new tweet feud based on an unflattering picture, Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of him on SNL, or how unfair he thinks the media is in its treatment of him.  None of that, though, matters one scintilla as much as allowing a climate-change denier to be put in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency.  We’re all going to have to be much better at ignoring the smoke in our quest to put out the fires this administration will keep lighting.  The aforementioned Vice President Pence allied with Paul Ryan will be able to run rampant will little accountability over many programs and repeal rights which have positively impacted millions of people unless we can keep their actions squarely in the public eye.

And even if you agree 100% with the directions Pence and Ryan want to take the country, I would hope that you believe their arguments and evidence should be on full display for all to understand and analyze.  If Republican ideas are better, then they should be examined openly with the goal of making these gems shine even brighter, if at all possible.  Everyone has an interest in transparency and the power of reason as the driving forces of a thriving democracy.  Present your proposal, debate it, modify it, debate it some more, and put it to a vote—that’s what we should demand.  Not tweet something outrageous, counter attack with even more bizarre remarks when the press over-reacts to the initial comment, all while you enact reactionary laws that damage poor people’s lives or scratch the backs of your rich friends with little scrutiny under the cover of that public furor over your silly comments.

I can’t say I’m optimistic about our ability to downplay the stupid while forcing our Republican majorities to explain just how cutting taxes for the most wealthy in the belief that it will trickle down to the poor—a policy pushed since Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, and one which has been failing since that time—will somehow be successful in its current iteration.  But we have to ferret out these real issues lest our air and water get dirtier, our individual rights (whether they be sexual orientation, birth control, voting, racial, or religious) vanish, or public education is starved of funding so already privileged parents can use their tax dollars to support private schools which won’t accept students with special needs.  At the very least, minimize the time you give to the Trump sideshows so that you can devote more energy to the vital things.  Above all—and this is the most important point—you absolutely have to…wait! I gotta go—Trump just called CNN “fake news” and is accused of being with Russian prostitutes!  OMG, can you believe it?  See ya…

Trumped III: Gearing Up

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Okay, the next President will be Donald Trump.  No, I haven’t come any closer to liking that fact than when I wrote about why it happened or his approach to the Presidency in my last two essays.  It is some solace, although more tragic and ironic than satisfying and useful, to know that more Americans actually voted for Hillary, the fifth time in our history the popular vote winner has lost the Presidency.  But no matter what mental machinations we try to fool ourselves with, come January 20, the 45th President of the United States will be Trump.  So what’s somebody who opposes almost all of what Trump stands for, has proposed, and will endeavor to enact supposed to do?

First and foremost, I would suggest that we anti-Trumpers stop with the meaningless rhetoric.  The two extremes are, “We all need to come together and give him a chance/fresh start,” contrasted with, “He’s not my President!”  I can understand the thought processes behind both these pronouncements, but they do nothing but illustrate how little we care about how our representative democracy works in the first case or show the same petulant whining we so often chastised Donald for during the campaign, not to mention those who weren’t happy with President Obama for the past eight years, in the second.  Our electoral process has determined that Trump will be President; “giving him a chance” is simply a rationalization for withdrawing from the fray: “Hey, I don’t know what he’s doing, but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt for now.”  Sorry to tell you, but you don’t have the power or influence to determine whether or not the President, duly elected by our system, gets to take over.  It’s nice of you to grant Trump your official permission, but whether or not you do makes absolutely no difference—sadly, he gets a chance no matter what.  And no, it’s not okay for you to sit by while he dismantles any progress we’ve made in the country over the past fifty years because it was easier to wash your hands of the whole thing rather than get involved to oppose the bad things he will push for.

Nor does acting like a child help the situation.  “He’s not my President” is another mind game designed to separate people from any issues that arise during Trump’s reign.  Yeah, it’s embarrassing as hell to have this guy as President, but denying Trump as “yours” (even if limited to an internal denial) does nothing to change what’s happening.  Just because I’m a die-hard White Sox fan and do not care for the Cubs won’t make my “The Cubs are not my World Series champions” statement any less ridiculous.  Not only does it achieve nothing except the same satisfaction toddlers get from pitching a fit, but it hardens those who voted for him, making it more difficult to get them to abandon Donald quickly once they see how he will operate.  Deal with reality, please, not knee-jerk negativity.  Unless you can state, “Donald Trump is President of the United States,” you won’t be able to move to the next phase of dealing with him.  By all means, drop the possessive, personal, obsessive “my” from your description of ANY national figure.  If you like the person in question, the most reasonable and positive term would be “our” (as in “Our Obama”).  And if you don’t, “the” will do just fine.  But accept it—he won, and denying that or insisting that you are somehow divorced from that reality only serves as a rallying point for his supporters who will have a point in claiming you sound like a crybaby.  If all our accolades to Michelle Obama’s, “When they go low, we go high,” had any sincerity at all, we should avoid any reliance on the “But they did it too!” plaint as justification for mocking everything he does.  Donald Trump will be the next Commander in Chief.  (Yes, I was testing you by using the most grandiose term for President possible because we all know Donald eats up that kind of stuff, and you have to maintain your cool despite the awfulness of having a President who will probably be mostly in love with the pomp and circumstance which will surround him, while the snakes he brings on board have a field day repealing anything demonstrating fundamental fairness and/or humanity at the same time they’re striving to add to the riches those already ridiculously wealthy, all in the name of the only “true” faith, Christianity.  Yeah, this is going to be a long four years.)

But that in no way implies that we should passively accept this future for America.  Actually, the chief problem with both of the above utterances is that they play right into the hands of those who are happy to work with Trump and plan to take as much advantage of his term as possible.  We can, should, and must oppose any and all parts of his initiatives that allow intolerance, reduce fundamental rights, increase world tension, and perpetuate unfair distribution of wealth.  The “give him a chance” folks need to be reminded that this is the man who in announcing his candidacy characterized Mexicans as rapists, and then went on to encourage people to shoot Hillary Clinton, bragged about sexually assaulting women, retweeted Klan propaganda, and proposed banning all Muslims from entering the country.  His “make America great again” agenda includes building a ridiculous wall, repealing gay rights, outlawing abortions, restricting minority voter access, and enriching his billionaire class.  I was through giving him chances after the attack on Mexicans, personally, but even if you hung around longer than that, he’s had plenty of opportunities to veer away from hatred, sexism, and greed.  He’s not going to, and even if by some miracle he some day will, it would be extremely dumb to assume he’s changed until he’s proved it for a long, long time, at the very least.

Many of his supporters will realize soon enough that they voted against their own interests with Trump, but that isn’t any reason for the rest of us to gloat, regardless of the level of gloating they are engaging in right now.  It will be tough enough for them to accept what we’ve always known:  We’re all screwed with this guy as President.  We need to welcome, galvanize, and organize anyone who understands the dangers of this man and the deplorables he is bringing into our government, no matter how late they come to that understanding.  Yes, Hillary was wrong to characterize half his supporters with that word, but we can never accept the bigotry, racism, and religious intolerance that many of his appointees and advisors have historically espoused.  Bannon and his ilk must be faced down each and every time they try to attack women, Muslims, blacks, gays, Jews, and the press.  Liberals’ nice speeches and essays (like this one, I’ll be the first to admit) might make us feel better and allow us our smug superiority, but holding a protest or two and snorting indignantly won’t mean a damn thing unless we follow that up with action, because the stakes are pretty high.

Voter repression, wasteful spending on ill-conceived projects, tax-breaks for the 1%, repeals of reproductive and minority rights, and huge increases in military spending are just a few of the significant areas that Trump has proposed.  And that’s where the real work begins—without voter interest and participation, the Republican President, Congress, and (very soon) Supreme Court majorities will work together to enact substantial changes to much of the progress which has been so painstakingly achieved in our lifetimes.  It is small comfort right now that history has always arced toward progress when it comes to social issues, at least.  During my time on this Earth (I was born in 1957), there have been laws in this country making it illegal for a white to marry a black  and denying any rights (legal or sexual, if you can imagine) for gay couples.  Yes, it seems absurd that we allowed the government to discriminate to that degree, just as future generations will be amazed that a U.S. President could be in favor of much advertised to be in Trump’s first 100-day plan.  History will show how wrong many of the Republican goals are, and eventually, right will triumph and become the norm.

In the meantime, though, we’ll have to do what we can to resist rollbacks in areas crucial to everybody, like climate change.  No, I’m not optimistic Donald will be able to prove it’s a Chinese hoax, but we can expect many regulations loosened or repealed which will lead to more damaging fuel usage, especially coal, in the near future.  The Keystone Pipeline might come barreling through from Canada.  Drilling will be permitted in more national parks than before.  Climate clean-up pacts made with most of the developed world might be torn up.  Clean air and water regulations could be diluted, as could restraints on fracking.  All of these things will affect everybody in both the short and the long term; it is in all our best interests to provide input to our legislators to help them understand that there is no future in pollution, and burning carbon produces pollution. (In addition, we should contribute when we can to non-profit groups dedicated to fighting for the climate.)  Unfortunately, Mother Nature couldn’t care less who’s in office, and the significant, negative weather changes many parts of the country have already begun to experience will only spread, not to mention more frequent, more severe storms à la Katrina and Sandy will slap us hard upside the head.  Making these disasters even worse, lower income groups will be disproportionately hurt by these events.  Trump is totally wrong on his approach to the environment.

And that’s just one issue of dozens that will begin to impact people, especially those lacking high wages as a shield to the outcomes of a Trump Presidency.  When that disillusion sets in for those who reluctantly voted for Trump in the belief that he was the lesser of two evils, those poor souls need to be welcomed with ideas and leaders who can explain clearly how their programs will benefit everybody.  There is very little in Trump’s stated plans which will help many working people.  Sure, he’ll be able to pressure some business moguls not to move the occasional factory, but he’ll also foster laws which weaken collective bargaining and anything else which help unions organize or negotiate on behalf of employees effectively.  That union people actually voted for Trump boggles my mind, but somehow many were convinced that he has answers.  When that facade is swept away, the Democrats need to be up-beat and concrete with ways to combat Trump’s direction.  We need for them to get their acts together quickly to unite in ways that will offer shelter to those battered by the Trumpocalypse.  Whether it be Bernie, Elizabeth, or rising stars like Corey Booker and Julián Castro; it’s important for disappointed people to have something besides a smug, “I told ya so,” to turn to post-Trump.  (Speaking of Corey and Julián, anybody besides me think we might have had a different election outcome had Hillary picked someone for Vice President with a bit more pizazz than Tim?)

And so it’s vital to do battle with the Trumpians.  But given the number of different areas for which Trump and his Republican legislators/judges have plans to repeal any recent progress and to revert to that which is more oppressive, unhealthier, and more monetarily unfair; you’ll have to limit your focus.  Time and money are extremely valuable resources, and for us middle-class people, there’s only so much of either that we have to give.  Any help you can give to combat poor choices which are proposed under Trump (including issues such as race relations, economic inequity, voting rights, tax codes, climate change, pollution, education, religious freedom, LGBT rights, international relations, veterans services, deficit spending, defense department increases, renewable energy, Supreme Court nominees, and the next hundred or so things you could list) would be a hugely positive step—the magnitude of all those things will cause most to abandon the quest before even trying, but we will all be impacted by the decisions, de-funding, laws, and wars these people try to push through.  Steve Bannon is his senior advisor; that sentence alone should motivate every one of us.  So find a cause that interests/motivates you, and at least give money to its champions.  I understand—we’re bombarded with requests for our money and time constantly, so I won’t belabor that which is likely to alienate my audience—just give it some thought, okay? Instead, I’ll cut to the real chase and get to the one thing that absolutely has to change in order to repel that which is Trump as quickly as possible.

Any discussion of working to oppose what Trump wants to impose has to begin and end with voting.  And in our instant-information (not particularly accurate or well-researched information, but, hey, at least we can get the biased nonsense fast, right?), there has to be some way for social media to exert more pressure on those who do not vote.  Again, it might take some time for many to understand how foolish it was to accept the false equivalency propaganda which portrayed this election as a choice between two poor candidates and allowed the experienced, qualified, knowledgeable person to be defeated by the new, unqualified, ignorant guy.  Sadder still, is the extent to which many allowed themselves to buy the-two-equally-bad-candidates garbage to the point of not voting at all.  Even a meager amount of effort would have convinced those fence sitters that like her or not, Hillary was the demonstrably, significantly, unquestionably better choice; and that regardless of what the polls predicted, a millionth of a percentage chance that some idiotic FBI investigation of Anthony Weiner’s computer might open the door to the remotest possibility of Trump’s winning was risk enough to make sure to vote for Clinton.  But almost half of eligible voters did not cast a ballot.  That’s probably the most awful part about this whole thing—just how easily we could be preparing for an historic first woman’s inauguration as President instead of stocking up on doomsday supplies or checking into the process on becoming a Canadian citizen.  All it would have taken would have been for some of us to have voted in a few key states—Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina all could have been won by Hillary if more had turned out.  And had the results in those states have changed; Hillary would have won the Electoral College 312-226.   Everybody needs to vote, and we need to put pressure and lay more guilt on those who don’t.

And that could be a great public service project to get involved in.  Voter ID, false reports of election fraud, and other attempts to suppress opposition voters need to be stamped out.  We should make voting easier, not harder, with a national holiday for elections, on-line voting becoming common-place, and automatic voter registration—based on driver’s licenses and the like.  The anti-Republican tide is swelling in this country, and it’s just a matter of time before the outdated, tinged with racism policies this party advocates are yesterday’s horror.  Who knows?  As a union activist in my teachers association for thirty years, I learned that one of the most galvanizing factors to increase member participation (which, like voter participation, is also hard to generate) was a terrible school board member or three to roil the waters.  In the case of Donald, we’ve got perhaps the greatest motivator for progressive programs ever.  I know it’s hard to imagine right now, but one day, we might even see Donald Trump’s election as President as the single biggest cause of a renaissance in human development, not because of the idiotic agenda Donald is advancing, but because of how many people were disgusted by his plans and joined together to defeat him.  Now is not the time for despair or withdrawal.  Trump will soon be the President, so we’d better get busy.

Trumped II: What to Watch For

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Last time, we went over a few theories on how Donald Trump was able to overcome all the negative energy which swirled around his campaign to become the 45th President of the United States.  It still seems surreal to write that, two weeks later.  Regardless of my shock and horror, however (not to mention a spike in suicide hotline calls), Trump will take office in a couple of months, displacing the style and grace of the White House’s previous occupants with arrogance and vulgarity.  Sorry about that—the goal here isn’t to heap insults on his personality or take cheap shots at his personal life, but to understand what’s going on now as he prepares to take over the most powerful country in the world.

He really hasn’t been all that specific; “great” covers a pretty wide range of possibilities, especially when your definition includes things like deporting eleven-million people, waterboarding prisoners, erecting thirty-to-forty-foot walls around our borders, and targeting the families of our enemies for death.  In other words, all the analysis about his psychology and ego don’t matter in comparison to even the fiftieth most important issue for America which should be on his agenda, or just as importantly, not on it.  The wild tweets and paranoid ramblings about everything being “rigged” were great fun for many, apparently, but now our boy has quite a bit of work to do.  Is he up for it?

Obviously the answer is no, and that’s where the first and most ominous characteristic of the Trump Presidency will come into play.  Trump has little interest in the minutiae of governing, and his personality is even more at odds with taking on its challenges.  Turns out, he had no idea how big a task the transition from one administration to another would be, so now poor Obama will have to spend extra time with him to bring him up to speed.  When others tried to brief him on the monumental challenge of appointing/hiring some 4,000 staff members in the months prior to his election, he refused to discuss it for fear that doing so would jinx his chances of winning.  Nobody, apparently, tells Donald what to do; but besides getting attention and living a life of luxury, Donald doesn’t really care too much about the details which get him those things.  His stiffing employees, his inability to admit mistakes, his constant lying, his sensitivity to perceived slights all point to somebody not all that concerned with anything that doesn’t directly impact himself.  So this is the man to stay up all night in a heated discussion on the best ways to use U.S. foreign aid in Afghanistan to stop the Taliban from barring girls from schools?  Not bloody likely, I’d say.

So all the crucial, day-to-day operations will fall to others.  That’s not especially unusual since our government has become way too complex and large for any one individual to be involved in everything.  The question, of course, will be the degree to which Donald stays detached from what’s really going on.  The first clue as to Trump’s disinterest in the nuts-and-bolts of running America’s Executive branch came right after he secured the Republican nomination and was screening Vice Presidential candidates.

His pitch to potential running mates, according to his first choice, Ohio governor John Kasich, was that the Vice President would largely be in charge of domestic and foreign policy. Since that sums up the job description of the President neatly, Kasich naturally asked then what would Trump be doing.  “Making America great again,” is what Donald Trump, Jr., is reported to have told a Kasich’s aide.  Unfortunately Kasich, who I see as a pretty reasonable, decent man, chose not to take that offer.  Instead, we got Mike Pence, an extremist even by conservative standards. (You can check out a plethora of his positions at Vote Smart, On the Issues.org, and The Patch, for starters—there are hundreds of other websites on which you could find similar lists.)  From abortion to guns, but especially on the LBGT community, Pence advocates positions at odds with the majority of Americans.  His most infamous proposal was when he was trying to legislate counseling designed to “help” homosexuals learn to be straight, belying all current psychological proof that sexual orientation is an innate trait humans have at birth. (The exact quote, which to be fair has been exaggerated by many, is as follows, according to Snopes: “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”)  More recently, Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an Indiana law which allowed discrimination against gays, but the backlash was so swift and severe that subsequent legislation muted some of the worst parts of the law.

Next you have Steve Bannon, of the Alt-Right website, Breitbart, who will be Trump’s chief policy advisor.  Controversial would be an understatement in describing both the stories that appear on this site as well as many Bannon quotes.  The less said about this person, the better as far as I’m concerned, but the reality is that Donald will delegate all the vital day-to-day duties of his office—since he will be much too busy basking in the glory of being King of America to be bothered with work—to the people he brings in.  And Pence and Bannon will be his two most influential advisors, outside of those other highly qualified experts, his kids and his son-in-law.

This scenario sounds familiar: A leader inexperienced with how our government works takes the Presidency in a very close election where his opponent actually wins the popular vote.  To help him with all the Washington workings which he doesn’t understand, he brings in a seasoned pol and an advisor skilled at manipulating public opinion, at least among his “believers.”  Yeah, 2016 reminds me a lot of how Dick Cheney and Karl Rove essentially steered George W. Bush’s ship of state back in 2000.  But this time, two of the three players are significantly more extreme—Trump (who has no government experience unlike W who had been governor of Texas and came from a pretty well-connected political family) and Bannon (Rove was part of the Republican hierarchy before he became W’s architect and did play well with other Republicans).  Cheney as compared to Pence is a closer match, but that’s only because of how extreme Cheney was, not that Pence is more reasonable.  Cheney and Rove did have the advantage of playing for the same team, while Pence and Bannon do not.  Pence is definitely an “establishment” Republican, which means he’ll be leaning on familiar faces.  Reince Priebus, who has been appointed Trump’s chief of staff, shows the Pence influence since Priebus has been chairman of the Republican National Committee.  Bannon favors elimination of what we would consider the mainstream of the party (although I’m not really sure with whom he would replace them):  He has no love for key party members like House Speaker Paul Ryan, and has openly rooted for the destruction of the party in favor of his Alt-Right, whatever that may be.  He really scares most politicians, which given the favorability ratings of most politicians, doesn’t bother a lot of people, especially those who support Trump. So Trump’s key decision will be which side he listens to most or with whom he has been in agreement this whole time.

My belief is that Donald has been pretty much making it up as he goes along; just as Mr. Garrison of South Park has.  (Yes, I love South Park , and this season has had a major strand in its plot where a disgruntled ex-school teacher has morphed into a foul-mouthed populist running for President—with Caitlyn Jenner as his running mate—who is swept into office despite his being, by his own admission, unqualified for the job.  And I realize I’m destroying what little credibility I might have in stating this, but SP has been phenomenal its last two seasons!) We’ll see based on key appointments which side is holding the most sway.

However, neither side is progressive in the slightest—Bannon and Brietbart are famously popular with white nationalists and the Klan.  If you’ve read any of their articles (or even just headlines), you will see an anti-woman, Jew, black, and Muslim slant in many articles.  And Pence and his allies see Planned Parenthood as evil; the human impact on climate change as unproven; Roe v. Wade as something to be overturned; stricter voter identification laws as positives; minimum wage as something that must not be raised, gay marriage as an abomination, and deportation as the best path for immigration reform.

The wild card in all this, of course, is Donald himself.  His petulance when he attacks people at his rallies or via Twitter show no signs of abating—he just slammed the cast of Hamilton—but he has seemed more conciliatory and gracious when he has appeared in public since being elected.  He said the Clintons and President Obama are “good” people, in two different situations.  When he traveled to Mexico during the campaign, his meeting with Mexico’s President was hardly confrontational.  I have read stories where his foes testify to his likeability in one-on-one situations (just men, of course).  His female employees have on occasion praised him for how well they all worked together.  So which Donald will we get as President?  Has his “evil” side just been a scam to attract angry voters into believing he could be an agent for change?  Has our political system devolved so totally that our leaders now have to voice propaganda nonsense (e.g., “Create a Muslim registry!” or “Lock her up!” as Middle Eastern politicians have been required to adhere to a “Death to America” stance in public even while they are seeking U.S. aid through back channels) to fire up and/or placate the masses while pursuing much more reasonable policies in practice?  Will we ever be able to trust Donald with the nuclear codes?

Even if Trump turns out to be more moderate and reasonable than we could have hoped, he has surrounded himself with people who have a history of intolerance, far-right policies, and disproved economic theories (How can anyone still believe that “trickle down” is anything other than a description of water seeping into a house?).  And we have scant evidence to support the “moderate” Trump theory at this point.  Which leaves us with the final question in this new order analysis:  What should we who are horrified at the prospect of all the damage Donald might do to the environment, human rights, economic equality, and freedom of expression do?  Stay tuned for some ideas on that next time.

Trumped I: Why?

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Like just about everybody in the country, I certainly didn’t see Donald Trump’s victory on November 8th coming.  Although the never-ending email investigation and the FBI’s questionable behavior just before the election seemed to have tightened the race, I felt confident since all the polls and experts assured us Hillary would win, relatively easily, if not as convincingly as we would have liked.  Then came Tuesday night—Virginia was closer than it should have been, North Carolina slipped away, Florida, and then with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, it was all over.  It’s a week later, but I’m still having a hard time accepting the idea of President Trump and am trying to figure it out.

No, I’m not an expert or someone with especially brilliant insights, absolutely not.  (I am happy to let you delude yourself into believing that if you want to, however.)  But as I’ve watched and read many of the autopsies on how this happened, a few things stood out to me.  You may have heard many of them already, so feel free to abandon this essay anytime it starts to seem repetitive or inane to you.  If you’re up for it though, here we go with my analysis on why Donald won and why it seemed to come out of nowhere.

Polls and Pundits Can’t Know Everything:  This seems pretty obvious, although it is easy to fall prey to the seductive confidence of those providing us with information that seems so scientific and logical.  But humans defy easy categorizations and predictions, so we need to keep reminding ourselves that our sources can only provide educated guesses.  Trump was such a polarizing candidate in so many ways that we should have suspected many of those polled were reluctant to state for the record they were going to vote for him.  Hey, I’m totally abashed to have voted for Rod Blagojevich, twice, so I can appreciate that many kept their support of Trump hidden. (To be fair, though, we didn’t realize how awful Rod was until after he was elected—that was not the case with Trump.)  Then too, turnout wasn’t great, although we were told we were getting information based on “likely” voters.    I do believe that the pollsters and experts did their utmost to provide us with the best data they could, but the public has to understand just how limited any sample or analysis can be.  Forecasting how people are going to behave is way too difficult to accept anyone’s guess as gospel or, most importantly, to let those guesses alter our behavior in any significant way.

Ridicule Can Push People to Dig in their Heels:  Now don’t for a minute think that I’m criticizing all those who made this election cycle much more enjoyable for me by satirizing Donald Trump.  Seth Meyers, Samantha Bee, Bill Maher, Trevor Noah, John Oliver, Saturday Night Live, Steven Colbert, and Larry Wilmore are my heroes; I probably spent way too much time laughing with them the last year.  But now that Trump has won, I do understand why some who saw merit in Trump’s candidacy might have been put off by how much ridicule was heaped on the Donald.  I thought he deserved each and every shot (and would have added more if I could have); but this satiric tsunami probably did drive some of Trump’s supporters underground (see the above paragraph) or made them angry enough to shut out any possible doubts which might have led them to changing their minds.  I think this is especially true when many anti-Trumpers were also ridiculing those who were going to vote for him.  There’s no question that Trump bullied others as much or more than the media made fun of him, but non-Trump folks shouldn’t have been so quick to pile on in attacking his supporters (some of whom are our family members and friends) as being blithering idiots if they were going to vote for him.

We All Need to Be Better Informed:  Having just chastised some of us for over-doing how mean we were, I still believe that all citizens have a responsibility to find as much factual information as we can and to do better at evaluating the credibility of what we see on the Internet.  It was discouraging to this former teacher how wide-spread the horrific techniques of false equivalencies were used in the Donald/Hillary comparisons.  Too many people rationalized their poor Trump choice as being the lesser of two evils, based on many inaccurate characterizations and bad side-by-side evaluations. While we can rail at the crushingly relentless barrage of misinformation and try to blame the media for its existence, ultimately individuals have to understand we need to work harder to find good sources, especially since we can tailor that to which we are exposed and censor out anything with which we might disagree, facts be damned.  This laziness on our parts coupled with the myriad of choices available made it possible for people to rationalize that somehow Hillary’s behaviors were just as bad as Donald’s—a conclusion not borne out by reality.  But as we’ll see next, reality had little to do with much that came from Trump.

Lying Doesn’t Matter Anymore:  There has never been a candidate, at least during my fifty-nine years on Earth, who has lied as often, as blatantly, or as bigly as Donald Trump. There are so many which are documented many, many times that’s it’s truly unprecedented.  In helping to solve the problem listed in the previous paragraph, I will let you find them for yourselves; you could also compare them to Hillary’s lies pretty easily too—except there’s no comparison when it comes to numbers: Trump lied much, much more than Hillary, by any measure.  But no matter how many times he lied, he had his minions on all the media channels “explaining” what he really meant; his supporters obviously accepted these convoluted, stammering, nonsense answers or chose to overlook all the lies.  Again, the false equivalency cancer helped here since Donald would often (as did his minions) ignore questions about his own lies by diverting attention to some alleged issue (often another lie) he leveled at the Democrats—be it Hillary, Obama, or Bill.  If you want to believe in a candidate rather than evaluating his actions based on their merits, I guess you can vote for someone capable of making fun of a disabled person in front of a large live audience and on national TV, and claim that’s not what he was doing.  Steven Colbert coined the term, “Truthiness” to stand for how people believe what they feel to be true rather than considering the facts.  Judging a choice with your gut rather than your head does not lead to choosing the best candidate, but instead the most visceral, the one who makes your pulse race, not the nerd who understands policy and can hold forth on the intricacies of trade pacts.  Lying leads to more conflict, which leads to better teases for news networks, which leads to more eyeballs, which leads to more revenue.  Donald Trump was excellent content for the media, just as he was when he hosted his reality series—he was just firing politicians this time rather than fledgling business moguls.  And we, whether we voted for him or not, ate it up.  Again, this is not the media’s fault; they just gave us what their ratings told them we wanted.

Endorsements Don’t Make Much Difference:  Without a doubt, Hillary got many more significant endorsements than Donald.  Newspapers which hadn’t backed a Democrat in centuries—or ever—came out for her or explained why they wouldn’t support Trump.  About the only print media that put its seal of approval on Donald was the Ku Klux Klan’s Crusader, not exactly a prestigious get for him.  Celebrities also preferred Clinton, and the contrast was hysterical: Gary Bussey, Scott Baio, and Ted Nugent versus Oprah, George Clooney, Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, Magic Johnson, Katy Perry, and on and on.  And that’s not even taking into account all the prominent Republicans who wouldn’t endorse Trump either—Mitt Romney, George H.W. Bush, Condi Rice, and George W. Bush to name a couple.  Then there were the back-and-forth Republicans who vacillated frequently and never were completely clear on their stands—Paul Ryan and John McCain, for example.  Hillary had the Democrats lined up and out working for her—Barak Obama, Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders all made impassioned pleas for voters to get “with” her.  In the end, it clearly wasn’t enough as turnout was so-so, and Trump was able to win, despite not getting more votes than the last two losing Republican nominees, Romney and McCain.  Apparently, voters couldn’t care less what the experts and the famous have to say about who should be President.  And with all the negativity and trash of this election cycle, large numbers chose the Mercutio credo of “A plague o’ both your houses!” and chose not to vote at all.

Sexism Is Still a Huge Problem in America:  By now, you will probably have come across many analyses which blame Hillary in some way, shape, or form for the loss.  Fair enough, the buck has to stop somewhere, and Hillary was not the perfect candidate.  She has never been noted for her ability to work a room or rally a crowd, and she can be secretive about mistakes that, in retrospect, seem foolish to conceal—the concealment then becoming another issue on top of the somewhat embarrassing thing she tried to conceal in the first place.  (Samantha Bee’s “Let Hillary Be Hillary” gives a superior analysis of how this came to be—be warned, though, that Samantha doesn’t mince words and does know how to swear.) So these minor flaws along with her vast experience in all aspects of government somehow make her a worse choice than an unqualified mass of (pick at least three of the following) racism, religious intolerance, homophobia, sexism, tax-evasion, flip-flopping, and ignorance that is Trump?  I don’t understand how anybody can come to that conclusion, unless there’s an underlying bias Hillary could do nothing about.  Just as Barak Obama was often attacked simply for the sin of “being President while black,” I believe a healthy dose of the fear and anger of those “fearful-angry” white men we heard so much about during this campaign was anxiety and resentment at the idea of women in positions of authority.  Remember how many dismissed racism as a thing of the past after Obama’s election? The same smug complacency which generally leads to significant regression in the opposite direction followed Hillary’s Democratic nomination, which was seen as a sign that equality of the sexes had now been achieved.  And if ever there was a candidate who made it clear that he knew how to keep women in their place, it was Donald Trump.  It seems like Hillary’s “bold” assertion of feminine achievement threatened many people, especially white men in areas where technological advances and greater access to cheap labor in other countries had reduced their standard of living.  Change is exactly what has cost these people so dearly, so you can imagine their reaction to change over which they could have a say; “Make America Great Again” was sweet music to their sexist ears.  Add in how Trumpers labored mightily to link this woman to every other change factor in the country that can be perceived as scary to conservative, white, older people—immigrants, Muslims, blacks, and gays.  Purée at maximum demagogue speed, and can you say “President-elect Trump”?  Which leads finally to,

It’s a Horrible, Frightening World Out There:  Some of the very tactics Trump’s campaign exploited will now loom large in shifting from running for office to running the country.  If you saw any of his Republican nomination acceptance speech, you know how dark a picture he painted of our country’s direction.  That the United States isn’t nearly that bad made little difference to those who voted for him; the veiled (and not so veiled) racism, sexism, religious intolerance, and homophobia (more so by his awful, awful running mate) allowed many of his supporters to choose their own boogie people on whom to blame whatever they imagined was wrong with their lives, safe in the knowledge that Donald agreed with them.  And that makes the future even more frightening:  Now not only do recently empowered Trump supporters believe their fears have been justified, but all black, Hispanic, Muslim, Jewish, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and female people have real reasons to fear Trump and his supporters. It didn’t take long for stories of harassment and violence from the “winners” of the election toward minorities to appear; naturally, one of them was a fabrication since both sides have learned the truth is no longer necessary when making accusations or hurling charges.

I’m sure there are many other plausible explanations for Trump’s win, but these are the ones that make the most sense to me.  I did briefly think about blaming it on the Cub victory—the two events did happen a week apart—but goats have suffered long enough.  (I will snidely point out how when we had a die-hard White Sox fan run for President in 2008 and 2012, the superior candidate won; but when a Cub fan tried to follow, well…)  So, that’s how Trump won, as I see it.  Now what happens?  Next time we’ll take a guess at how this will play out in the near future.  I’m hearing it’ll be huge; everybody says so.

The Death of Persuasion

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“The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”Edwin Schlossberg (Designer, author, artist)

As someone who has been writing blog entries for several years now, I’m disheartened by how little room there seems to be in everyone’s gestalt for opinion modification.  Increasingly, it seems that we pour our cherished beliefs into our minds as one might pour concrete into a mold, let them set, and then refuse to contemplate the slightest adjustments, regardless of evidence to the contrary.  Given humanity’s creative reasoning powers, we have the ability to evaluate subjective things from a variety of perspectives, but it seems we have exchanged rational thought for rationalization, using our minds mainly to reassure ourselves that our positions are the only ones worth having.  Looking at a variety of views and understanding how someone might come to a different conclusion is at the heart of open-mindedness and nuanced thought.  But most importantly, it’s the path to getting things done; once you grasp other perspectives, you can seek ways to blend them with your own in the hopes of finding the compromises required for progress.  Rather than contemplate such subtle shadings for the greater good, however, more and more people freeze their ideas and only listen to those with the same shaped ice cubes.

You just have to take a look at your own Facebook page to recognize the truth of this:  Any major event in our world will be sifted through the filters of your viewing history so that your “suggested” posts reflect opinions with which you already agree.  That your friends also tilt in the same direction as you and thus share more friendly ideas is hardly earth-shattering, but it’s becoming easier and easier to avoid any and all counterpoints to our hardened ideas.  Recent events illustrate this clearly.

Hillary’s emails were a hot topic for months, but once the FBI and Justice Department determined not to prosecute her, the propaganda machines for both sides shifted into high gear with hyperbolic pronouncements:  Either, she’s a bald-faced liar or an unfairly persecuted leader who did nothing differently than Colin Powell.  Or, she got away with traitorous security breaches, unless none of the emails were actually classified and this is just another trumped up (get it?) attack.  FBI head, James Comey, should be characterized as a pillar of non-partisanship and integrity, but he’s also a political hack who sold out for continued employment under the next Clinton administration.  And then there’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch who betrayed America when she spoke to Bill Clinton just prior to the FBI’s decision although she left the decision totally in Comey’s hands and has been a paragon of impartiality.  It’s enough to confuse anyone.  Belay that, nobody’s confused in the least because we read nothing but things which support our predispositions.

Even areas that supposedly show a variety of opinions fail to provide much help.  When you look at the comments accompanying the stories covering these events, each contributor writes with definitive certainty on Clinton’s guilt or innocence.  Evidence is scant or non-existent; even the links provided as “proof” come from sources perceived as biased and/or public relations fluff.  Party affiliation has always played a role in how the truth is perceived, but today how you identify yourself (liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, red, blue, or whatever) dictates your stance before you’ve even considered what few facts can be ferreted out from the tidal wave of opinions stated as absolute truth. If it comes from MSNBC, you know as you’re reading the headline what stance will be taken; just as you don’t even have to waste time scanning anything to know how Fox will be shading the issue.  Actually, you don’t have to see or hear much at all to know how various supposedly “fair and objective” news outlets will be spinning a particular story.  When reporters identify their employers, you anticipate their bias to such an intense degree that you barely listen to the partiality you know is coming.  And should you accidentally happen upon something that clashes with your bubble world, you can immediately find the opposite tact from one of your more “reliable” sources.

Police are evil, racist executioners because several black men have been shot with little justification; police are heroic saints who are the only ones standing between us and anarchy after eight are killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge.  Guns must be better controlled since unbalanced people are able to obtain them with ease; we need fewer gun laws since if more citizens were armed, these tragedies could be prevented by sharp-shooting regular folks.  Black Lives Matter; Blue Lives Matter; All Lives Matter. I could write the lead stories for just about anything as long as you tell me for which audience I will be manipulating the facts; objectivity has become only as objective as any specific target audience will tolerate.  I’d be willing to bet that somewhere there is a lone reporter making a lucrative living writing under different names for both right and left wing groups. If ISIS has taught us nothing else, it’s that no matter how pernicious and evil your message is, there are some angry, deranged people out there who will buy into it.

Which makes it hard for anyone to persuade others to any position except the extremes.  And when you’re preaching to your particular choir, it’s no more difficult to sway your altos than it is to get your mom to say the scribble you colored when you were three is a work of art.  Once you have a detail or two about the author (political affiliation, for example), you are freed from having to consider his ideas—you know that the limited-government columnist will be some “right-wing nut job” and the progressive essayist can be dismissed as some “Kool-Aid-drinking libtard,” depending which way the wind blows you.  Everything has become prepackaged and pre-thought out for us to minimize distracting ourselves with having to forage through the jungle of competing ideas which might force us to reconsider the wall we have built around our prejudices.  (Mexico will be forced to pay for that wall, of course.)

The danger is how easily manipulated we have become.  That prospective wall builder has capitalized on playing to specific aspects of his constituency to become a Presidential candidate of one of the two major parties.  That would have been impossible twelve…no, four years ago, given the amazingly inappropriate comments and stances he has taken.  But with that media wall built solidly around our preferred websites and news channels, it’s child’s play to tailor your current events consumption as specifically as you wish, ignoring or dismissing any conflicting evaluations as easily as you determine which version of CSI or Law and Order you won’t watch.

We are now in the most significant political season I can remember at the Presidential level—McGovern vs. Nixon might be the second largest divide between two candidates (followed closely by Johnson vs. Goldwater).  But this time, we plow ahead without any sense of balance or interest in determining positions and approaches.  Objectivity is in short supply, which might be why both candidates are setting records when it comes to unfavorable ratings from voters. (Here’s one poll that has Trump and Clinton each with almost 60% negative views from voters.  And then there’s my favorite: 13% of these people would prefer a meteor to destroy the Earth rather than either nominee’s becoming President.  It can make you nostalgic for the days when “Deez Nuts” was polling at almost 10% in Minnesota and North Carolina as a Presidential candidate.  At least that seemed funny at the time.)

With important events being controlled by our next President (Supreme Court nominees, international relations, various “police” actions around the world, and trying to work with a very partisan Congress, to name a few), it would make sense for all of us to study the positions of these two carefully and objectively, weighing their past accomplishments, experiences, temperaments, and (if you must) pants suits or hair before deciding.  The same holds true for the less glamorous but more important state and local elections.  You’ll have to work much harder to get information on your town mayor or councilperson as they get hardly any coverage, especially when we have Donald Trump’s university or Hillary Clinton’s embassies to obsess over, not to mention the aforementioned barriers we’ve built within our information sources to keep such unsexy races away.

If I can’t persuade you to do anything else pertaining to your accessing information, I would suggest that you force yourself to read the opposite of what you think at least one-quarter of the time.  Go to Google news, for example, type the subject of your story, and then scan the leads to find all the ways various “experts” and sources are reporting the story.  (Yes, you can watch videos in addition to reading, for those of you less thrilled with one of the best mental activity humans can do.)  Taking the email story, for example, you could read “House Republicans Should Focus on Solving Problems, Not Hillary Clinton”  followed by “Hillary’s Dirty Emails: A Guide” to get you started.  If your reaction is to wonder how both those stories can exist at the same time without the threat of anti-matter coming in contact with matter which would lead to a galaxy-destroying explosion, as Scotty often warned Kirk, then you’re old like me (“Captain!  She can’ae take any more…she’s gonna blow!”).  But you also might be catching on to the scam of our “click-like-comment” world where attracting attention to justify advertising costs has become more important than reporting truth.

Yeah, you’ll probably have to sort through more material to find enough facts to come to your own, more-informed conclusions, but it’s time for all of us to reclaim the challenging yet significantly better habit of thinking for ourselves after we have considered many different ideas. It takes longer to do that, but we all might wind up in a better world for the effort.