America’s Choice Right Now is a Life or Death Issue

Pieter_ClaeszYou can tell a person’s priorities by the choices they make. If the job is more important than the relationship, their choices will reflect in their lives, for example. Likewise, you can tell a society’s or a nation’s priorities by the choices they make or condone. These choices, if we’re honest, have little or nothing to do with party or even ideology. They come down to just two things: Life and Death.

A culture or society that nourishes Life and keeps Life as its priority will show this by looking out for its citizens’ well-being and happiness. Its choices will value and support children, the elderly, the vulnerable, and the disabled. It will seek to provide a healthy environment for its people by mitigating the pollution that modernity has brought. (Sweden has practically eliminated garbage, for example, and Germany’s solar program is enviable.) The air, waters, and soil of a Life-affirming nation will be as healthy and clean as possible.

The means and opportunity to provide for families and earn a living are of course a priority for those who value Life. Such nations would seek to reduce income inequality and provide opportunities up and down the latter, with the understanding that when everyone contributes and is active in the economy, the stronger the economy is. (Henry Ford wanted his workers to be able to afford his cars, after all.) Looking out for the poor and lower income people is not an act of charity in a Life-supporting society; it is an act of self-preservation and stability for the whole.

Happiness matters, too, if you value Life. Music, art, leisure, and just being able to have fun are all important. A sense of community matters, as does a sense of respect for differences within that community. Homogeneity is not required for a Life-affirming nation, but tolerance and appreciation are.

And of course, all societies who prioritize Life would also prioritize Peace to the extent that it remains possible. Diplomacy, understanding, and dialogue are always the first attempts.

Sometimes, unfortunately, societies choose to prioritize Death. History is full of examples of nations who have done so. These societies build up their military, frequently at the expense of their citizens and their most vulnerable. Their worldview is more insecure, more fearful. Authoritarianism is a natural outgrowth of Death cultures. It is the ultimate attempt to control that which cannot be controlled: the world around them.

Death cultures are restrictive and reductive: everything is reduced to a singular value within the ordered system. Citizens either further the state or threaten it. Something is useful or not useful. Anything that is deemed to be a threat, unusable, or defective loses its value in the system and is destroyed. Death is punishment, whether physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual. Annihilation is acceptable.

Art is not needed in a Death culture, because it is either a threat or provides no value for the chosen priorities, which are strength, obedience, and control. The health of citizens and the environment are irrelevant, except for the elite who run the system. The death of a river, the soil, a person does not matter because Death is not the enemy. Death is the choice.

Death cultures fear creative minds. Thoughts that are in disagreement with the Death culture must be extinguished, because the culture fears its own Death. Different opinions and ideas create instability, which makes Death feel like it’s not in control. And it isn’t.

Death cultures support the idea that not everyone will make it, that some people must inevitably fail and die. People in Death cultures understand that they must succeed by any means necessary, even if others suffer. There is no sense of shared good or of the beneficence and plenty of Life. It is a rat race, a struggle until the end, with only a handful of victors on top. Everything is a war, and wars come easily and often, because that’s how Death does things.

Life supports the spirit; Death destroys it.

We always have a choice, every day. As an individual. As a society. As a culture. As a nation. When will we ever learn?

The Myth of the White Race

children_holding_hands_iStock_000004544472SmallIn the past, I have tried to reach reasonable white people by writing about race. I know many wonderful white people who think they’re not racist, but they still have subconscious racism. (I deal with this in myself as well.) My hope was, that as “one of them,” maybe I could say something, anything, to help them acknowledge the reality that people of color face. I wrote specifically about racism here and here. I suspected I was preaching to the choir, but hey. It’s always worth a shot to win over hearts and minds.

In the age of Trump, however, I can see that a certain segment of the population is a lost cause, and that segment was larger than I originally thought. Indeed, there are many white people out there who are so delicate, so fragile, that a person of color cannot express their true feelings about their indifferent, thoughtless, or outright racist behavior without the white person feeling viciously attacked and provoked into responding with, “Reverse racism!” This response is the intellectual equivalent of, “I know you are, but what am I?”

Yes, it’s a clever little mind-fuck that the thin-skinned whites came up with to avoid ever having to deal with their own issues. A black person is clearly never supposed to even hint that a white person might be, a little, maybe, hurtful? rude? In the grown-up world, this is called being honest about your feelings. “When you do that, it hurts.” Healthy grown-ups can deal with this sort of dialogue when they’re on the receiving end. Interestingly, you know what kind of grown-up cannot deal with this at all, ever? A personality-disordered one. And when it comes to people of color, many whites respond narcissistically:  “Oh! How could you! I am SO not that, I am not a racist, I would never. I’m a very good person. Some of my best friends are…” This is what we call “blaming the victim” and “refusing to take responsibility for their actions.”

I have noticed, in my advocacy for people of color, that some whites love to tell me how sad it is that “I’ve turned against my own race” and other such bullshit. Yes, they reason, she must be a self-hating white person to take the wrong side on this issue. These people will argue that systemic racism is a figment, that no white person these days is ever racist, ever ever, and that the ONLY reason racial tension exists is because those uppity colored people just will not keep their place. Okay, they don’t put it that way, but in effect, that is what they mean. They should be quiet and suck it up, just like Elizabeth Warren. And yet they persist. Yes, there’s always an excuse ready to hand when a black person is unjustly and unlawfully killed.

So-called white people are extremely privileged in our society, but the mere act of saying that brings about the inevitable backlash: “Oh, you’re playing the race/privilege card.” If we claim it doesn’t exist, we don’t have to deal with it. The mental acrobatics involved with avoiding uncomfortable truths is an astonishing waste of energy, which belies the argument about being a “superior race.” Clearly, we are not.

But about this race thing. There is no “white race.” The (weird) term “Caucasian” that we check on questionnaires means “of European origin,” or more specificaully, “from the Caucasus.” The Caucasus lies between the Black and Caspian seas. In Asia. It includes Georgia and Azerbaijan. And that’s just a start.

English and most European languages are Indo-European. Finnish, Basque, and Hungarian are not; those languages are descended from the original European cultures who lived there before the Indo-Aryans came. The Picts occupied Scotland before the Celts arrived. The original inhabitants of Ireland are enshrined in myth as the Tuatha Dé Danan, who occupied the island before the Celts. The Indo-Aryans themselves came from, duh, the region of India. They interbred with the existing European tribes just as homo sapiens, as we know, interbred with Neanderthals. And it’s not like the mixing stopped there. Many a Spaniard has Moorish (African) blood, as does, no doubt, most of the population of the northern Mediterranean. The English are hardly “pure-blooded” anything. Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Norsemen, and the French have all inhabited the island. Were these all “white?” They had profound cultural differences, some more than others. It wasn’t that long ago that none of these peoples would have laid claim to being a “common race” with one another.

Nowadays, the definition seems to be expanding. Russians, now, are becoming “white.” But Russia is a very big place, and it contains many different ethnic groups, including some Indo-Europeans, real Caucasians, Siberians, and those of Turkic or Mongolic origin. And of course, they have Jews, who may bear white skin, but keep getting locked out of the “white club.” (Semitic, by the way, applies to Arabs as well as Jews, ironically.)

So what is “whiteness?” It’s a social construct, a belief, much like a belief in the Tooth Fairy. “If you look like me, you’re white.” Unless, of course, you have a drop of black blood, but can “pass” for white. An octoroon, a person who was 1/8 black, was still black because apparently the 7/8 of their genetic makeup didn’t matter at that point. These white race rules get kinda complicated.

The truth is, most African-Americans have white blood in their veins. And the corollary is, there are a lot of “white” people out there with black, Native American, and Latino blood in their veins, too. Do they know it? Probably not. Is Barack Obama half-black or half-white? Do “whites” know that their European ancestors may well have had fairly recent African, Asian, or Middle Eastern influence? Probably not. Are they aware that all of humanity originated in Africa? Probably not, although if they really believe in the Adam and Eve thing, humanity only had two parents. Which makes us all related.

We know, scientifically, that the concept of “race” doesn’t make sense, because we can do DNA testing. One individual’s DNA may have ties to peoples and cultures all over the world. To me, that’s beautiful. It’s wonderful. It’s indicative of our Oneness. I get that thousands of years ago, we lived in tight tribes, basically extended family groups, and “other” tribes could be in-laws, friends, or foes. There’s some wiring there. But we don’t live like that anymore. Or at least, we don’t have to. It’s time to recognize ourselves in one another and give up the ego-protecting defense mechanisms that make us okay with another’s suffering. We really are one race, the human race. Some people won’t see it. I’m sorry for them. But the rest of us need to move forward now.

Watch this fantastic video about DNA testing and what it tells us about ourselves.

The Gaslighting of America

A scene from "Gaslight" about a narcissist's sadistic manipulation of his wife

A scene from “Gaslight” about a narcissist’s sadistic manipulation of his wife

There were these two couples who liked to spend time together and had been doing so for many years. They were good friends. They never discussed politics. They just enjoyed each other’s company.

Then one weekend at the beach, one of the women says something a bit political. The other couple raised their eyebrows and silently communicated, “let’s not go there.” Then later in the weekend, the woman’s husband dropped a political comment into the conversation. They were fishing, the other couple realized, and they let it go.

A few weeks later, the political woman calls her friend and says something along the lines of, “You can’t have been happy these past few years with Obama.” To which the other woman says, “In fact, I have.” And her old friend says, “Oh, my dear, but Trump’s going to make us so safe. We really do have to keep those people out.”

Now the other woman is flustered and can’t believe she’s having this conversation. She responds, “But if you watch the news…” And her friend says, “Oh, my dear, that’s all fake news.”

Will this friendship survive? Time will tell. But the nation may not. In fact, it will almost certainly be forever changed.

What emboldened the couple to bring up politics after so many years? It’s very similar to what hardcore Christians do:  they were trying to save their friends. Not religiously, mind you, but socially. You’re one of us, they think, and we love you. We want to make sure you understand what’s best for you. At the end of the struggle, or after the Rapture for those who go for that sort of thing, they want their friends to be there, alongside them. Not in the gulag.

Okay, they don’t consciously foresee a gulag. But, you know. You should be on our side, because it will affirm to us that we’re not racists/bad people for thinking this way…

And there’s the crux. Somewhere in the back of their mind, Jiminy Cricket is trying to shout at them, but they’ve applied a gag. They don’t want to hear him. They don’t want to think that they’re wrongfully judging and condemning whole groups of people. Trump’s narrative is so soothing, so appealing. Why, of course we want to be safe. Of course we don’t want Americans to be killed by terrorist attacks. This is the substance of the gag, and the more external validation they can get for it (by having their friends and family agree with them), the stronger it becomes.

Germans during the Reich were no worse than we are, fundamentally. Yes, there were the hard-core Nazis who fervently believed. There were liberals (socialists, communists). And there were good people in the middle who were also easily gaslighted, led along the path to think, “Maybe they’re right about those people, after all.”

Those people.

The moment you have an “Other,” you have a problem. The Other can be dehumanized (they’re more like animals than people; they’re subhuman), delegitimized (Islam is not a religion; it’s a political system), and stigmatized (they want to destroy us; they’re lazy; they steal our jobs). If you are afraid of the Other, if your so-called “safety” is endangered by the Other, you are more likely to do terrible things to the Other in the name of “self-defense.” This happens over and over, and still, we have not learned.

The people who are actively congratulating Trump and howling for the blood of the Other, in any form, are lost. Trump’s narrative is affirming their prejudices, and they are grateful to him that they can now attempt to elevate their piteous selves over people who have done them no harm. Microaggressions are now macroaggressions, once again, with mostly white men and some white women confronting minorities everywhere. And they have the gall to proclaim that they are not racists. They do not see themselves, and they probably never will.

But the real danger lies from the middle, from those who would never berate a Muslim person in public, but who quietly nod their heads in growing agreement that, yes, these people are a problem, and we should keep them out. Today it’s the Muslims and the Mexicans (the only illegal immigrants that seem to matter in this conversation). Tomorrow, though, the question will become:  why not the gays? Why not the Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists? Why not the disabled, who will be plainly visible on the streets if the GOP undercuts their safety net much more. Anyone who is different from the specified norm will be at risk, because once people start looking for the Other as a scapegoat, the target list only grows.

The Trump administration is playing the hand of an authoritarian demagogue. In true gaslighting style, they will push their narrative with, “Who are you going to believe? Me or your lyin’ eyes?” And some people will believe that CNN is fake news, that real journalism cannot be trusted, that the Bowling Green Massacre really happened, and only Trump can keep them safe. Too many people have an insatiable need for a Messiah to save them, and Trump is happy to let them think he is The One.

The good news is that some Germans resisted. It is due to their efforts that some Jews and others escaped the Holocaust. Not every mind is easily gaslit. The would-be authoritarians know this, too, and dissent will be silenced as much as possible, either on social media, on the street, or on the floor of the Senate (hats off, Elizabeth Warren).

I don’t know what’s going to happen, but let those who have eyes to see and ears to hear take heart and stand firm. It’s going to be a rough few years, but perhaps we can birth something better at the end of it. The only way we can do that is to stick together as one and give no energy to the idea of an Other. Remember, the founding fathers chose this for our motto:  E pluribus unum — Out of many, One.

Sympathy for the Devil

By Alisdare Hickson from Canterbury, United Kingdom (Peter Tatchell at London's anti-Trump rally.) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Alisdare Hickson from Canterbury, United Kingdom (Peter Tatchell at London’s anti-Trump rally.) [CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I was in my mid-twenties, when I had a genius flash of insight about people:

Most people are not reasonable.

This insight explained a lot about my own sense of frustration and anger when dealing with anyone, whether at school, work, or at home. Appeals to logic and rationality, I realized, are largely fruitless, because this is not what people respond to. My modern-day corollary is:

People voted for Trump based on emotions, not facts or ideals.

Angry people voted for the angry man. It’s as simple as that.

I forgot my own insight at times over the years, hoping that, with the perfect set of words, I could sway uncompassionate or delusional people into being compassionate. And it just doesn’t work that way, sadly.

I tend to see people as falling into three primary “groups,” in terms of how they react to the world. There is the expansive group, which I fall into. This group is able to empathize with others, or at least make the attempt, and views resources as essentially unlimited, meaning that just because one person or group gets a benefit, that doesn’t mean it detracts personally from my benefits.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the limited group, which sees a finite pot of goodies, and any outsider who dips into that pot is perforce taking away from their own pile of goodies. This group is seldom empathetic, and can only identify with their own problems and needs, or at least, their immediate clan’s problems and needs.

Most of the population falls in the middle, being expansive sometimes and limited in others, depending on the circumstances and their own prejudices. I’ll call them centrists.

In an enlightened world, I believe everyone would be expansive, understanding that abundance is unlimited, although Miami beaches are (not everyone can live on one). But our world is not enlightened, so the centrists have good reason, at times, to be cautious.

As for the election, it appears that everyone on the limited spectrum voted for Trump:  “This should all belong to me and mine, and I don’t want to share it with you people who are different from me.” Here you will find your alt-right, white nationalists, KKK, what-have-you, and any person who claims they are not racist, but who would still prefer not to give any government aid to black or brown people. But a lot of centrists also voted for Trump. Some of them were convinced that the limited crowd had a point: I’m suffering, and maybe it really IS the fault of those immigrants, etc. Some of them were convinced because of their own misogynistic prejudices (“He’s not Hillary.”) Some of them were not convinced at all, but were largely ignorant of the policies and issues and naively considered that maybe Trump would “shake things up” enough that they would benefit. “He’s on our side,” they said to themselves, and believed it.

After the election, Hillary supporters say, well, we need to reach out to these hurting people. And we do, up to a point. Many of those centrists, while not reasonable per se, can be reached with an emotional connection. In other words, “I hear you, and I see your pain.” The entire middle and lower classes are suffering in the U.S., regardless of their color. The question is, can the white centrists work in their own best interests even if those interests align with the interests of minorities? I don’t know the answer to that, but I haven’t seen it yet.

As for the limited group, I think they are a lost cause in terms of dialogue. This group tends to go for simplistic, black-and-white (literally, in many cases) thinking. This group thinks, “If I’m okay, then I don’t care.” People could be dying all around them, and as long as their clan was doing well, they wouldn’t be too upset. The cognitive dissonance and abundant excuses kick in:  it’s because those other people fucked up, they deserve it, etc. But the moment their own interests are threatened (“Keep the government’s hands off my Medicare!”), they rise up in anger.

The limited group, and many centrists, has indeed risen up in anger. The 1% crashed the system, and while corporations and bankers recovered, they did not. Their anger was ripe for the shaping. In this, Trump was not stupid. He played them perfectly, and it will be awhile before they realize (if they do) that they’ve been had. But by then, what tragedy?

Can one have sympathy for a white nationalist? For Hitler? For anyone with such a narcissistic, me-first mindset? Of course. Compassion, like forgiveness, is not about erasing sins. It is about serving and nurturing your own soul, and preserving your own ongoing enlightenment. But compassion does not mean that you have to invite them to dinner or allow them to hurt others, either personally or on a national scale, which we are watching unfold.

Steve Bannon thinks our struggle is one of West vs East, Christianity vs Islam. He is wrong. All struggle occurs within the individual human heart. It is one of Love versus Fear. The limited group responds to and frequently lives in fear. Be sorry for them, because this is a great suffering. But do not succumb to it or put up with it, either. Love will win, because it is always does; nothing else exists, in reality. Yes, you can have sympathy for the Devil while you chase him out the door and say, “No more!”

Compassion For The Trump Persona

By Rolf Monzel (Private Sammlung - Rolf Monzel) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Rolf Monzel (Private Sammlung – Rolf Monzel) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I know someone who is a lot like Donald Trump, except he doesn’t have power or a lot of money. This person, whom I’ll call “Dave,” is bombastic, opinionated, and aggressive. His father divorced his mother when he was 8, and then Dave never heard from him again, until Dave sought him out shortly before his father died. Dave’s mother was difficult, the daughter of a narcissist, who was angry and abusive and generally frustrated with her life and limitations.

As he grew up, Dave’s mother remarried, and he gained a step-brother and two half-siblings. But Dave was insecure and had low self-esteem, in part due to years of emotional abuse from his hyper-critical mother. He entered the military, where he found a sense of family and belonging for the first time in his life. Dave didn’t have a lot of inborn identity, or sense of who he was, so he identified with the military and took that into his identity. He was a military man, a guardian of freedom and the American way. He was somebody now. An attack on the military was an attack on him.

Although his parents were solid Democrats, Dave became a Republican, because Republican ideals aligned more closely with military ideals. By extension then, a support for Republicans meant a support for the military, his family, his sense of identity. And from thenceforth, any attack on the Republican party was an attack on him.

Dave never went to college, couldn’t afford it, and had goofed off too much in high school to have good grades. But the military provided, sending him to technical schools so that he could learn to perform a highly specific job: build and maintain nuclear weapons. Dave was not stupid, inasmuch as his capacity for science and engineering went, and he thrived. He was proud of the specialized work that he did, and he felt that his ability to perform it meant that he was smarter than the average bear.

Dave secretly worried, inside, that maybe he wasn’t really smart enough or good enough to do anything—his mother had told him so repeatedly. So he latched on hard to anything that would prove otherwise, and an attack on anything he had latched hard onto was an attack on him.

The thing is, one did not have to actually attack any of the things that Dave had decided were central to his identity. One had only to disagree with Dave, and the attack would be thus perceived. I witnessed the father of a friend of mine casually mention politics to Dave; the man was a Democrat. In tone, speech, and body language, Dave made certain that this man knew how wrong he was. He was strident, boorish, and unkind. I wanted to hide under the table.

You see, Dave was my father, and I spent many years figuratively hiding under the table when he went on the attack. He had a peculiar talent for imparting icy, dripping, disdain for the other person. He behaved this way to my mother’s entire (very large) family, letting them know with certainty how far beneath him they were. They were country bumpkins; he was an intelligent person.

Dave’s personality was not only constructed by his military and political alliances; it was constructed with his own white, male privilege. This is incredibly common, particularly for those who do not have a strong sense of self. So even in the military, his black coworkers were beneath him, he condescended almost daily to my ignorant mother (which was unfair, since she had the common sense he lacked), and he had a clear idea of what was “women’s work” and what wasn’t. I was also acutely aware that it would have been better if I were a son instead of a daughter, but as I was the only child, I would have to do.

Dave was visiting us once while our carport was being rebuilt by the insurance company (that’s a long story). The men working on the roof were Hispanic. One of them came to the door with a question. Dave was, predictably, horrible, and humiliated him about his speech, or his accent, or whatever, before deigning to provide an answer. My wife was nearby, horrified. When the man left, Dave turned to her and said, “HE’S not doing a job an American wouldn’t do!” Ahnna relayed the story to me later, and I realized why my smiles and greetings to the workers went unreturned. We were all marked as racist assholes.

As a warrant officer in the military, Dave could order people around. He liked this. A lot. I once saw him go after a soldier who passed him on the sidewalk without saluting and dress him down. I was appalled. No getting lost in your own thoughts, soldier. At home, Dave tried to run things in much the same way, once yelling at me, “I not only want respect, but by God, I demand it!” As you might guess, I lost any respect I had left for him in that moment. Nevertheless, the way to get things done, in Dave’s view, was to scream a command. My mother, being the strong-willed narcissist that she is, was the only one who could cow him. The implicit threat that she might abandon him (as his father once had) was enough. Theirs was a pure love-hate relationship: he loved her codependently; she hated and tolerated him.

I could easily see my father as the boss on The Apprentice, barking at people, enjoying their suffering. My father often stated that if he were put in charge of this country, he’d have everything straightened out in two weeks. Because, you know, he’s a genius, and no one else is. Trump’s words at the Republican Convention, “Only I can fix it” reminded me of my father. Only dictators, tiny (in Dave’s case) or large (fill-in-the-blank), think like this.

For my father (and Trump), there exists only his suffering. If his needs are met, but other people are lacking in those needs, it doesn’t concern him. He is not affected, and if others suffer, it must be their own fault or stupidity. Trump operates much the same way. He has his; to heck with you. Whatever cements his power, feeds his ego, validates his self-perceived greatness and intellect—that is all that matters. Trump has millions of naïve people cheering him on, so he will continue whatever is necessary to keep winning that love. For Dave, his validation came with the arbitrary power of rank. After he retired from the military, that shield was no longer available, and he struggled to keep a job. (He was laid off three times.) While he was often competent to do the work, that had to be weighed against the pain of his bombastic attitude and condescension to his bosses. Trump, as his own boss, doesn’t have that problem.

I suspect that a number of the people who voted for Trump resemble my father a great deal. They are insecure, clinging to superficial identities, such as “whiteness,” a construct that is meaningless. They feel aggrieved, victimized somehow, but they aren’t sure whom to blame. Those brown people, maybe. Then along comes someone just like them, who says the same things, but from a position of power and wealth. This is how fascist dictatorships are made.

Of course, not all Trump voters are like my father. I think many of them are confused, but sure about one thing: something is wrong in our country. And something is wrong. The wealthy people running the show have been funneling money upward for years, to the detriment of our entire society. And yet, it’s easier to blame immigrants, poor blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, gay marriage, or what have you. These are the equivalent of gladiators in the ring: distractions from the real problems.

What’s the answer? I know I can’t reach people like my father. He’s as mentally ill as Trump so clearly is. You can’t negotiate with someone like that. But compassion, not just for those who are being hurt, but for those who do not see or cannot be reached, must figure in somehow. Attacks raise defenses. They don’t work. Resist? Yes. But continue to reach out, or at least be compassionate. It’s our only hope.

What’s Next for the Resistance?

Woman's March on Washington 2017

By Mark Dixon from Pittsburgh, PA, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Woman’s March on January 21, 2017 cheered me up tremendously. Many of us are alarmed, as we should be, and our voices were heard. So what’s next?

There are two agendas that we must address. In some cases, there is overlap. To be blunt, there is the Republican agenda, and there is the Donald Trump agenda. Both are dangerous, and both are, in some ways, on opposing sides.

The Trump Agenda

Trump’s agenda, as much as anyone can tell, involves these primary points:

  • American protectionism: punishing countries and businesses who are “not fair” to the U.S. Whatever that means.
  • Curtailing immigration of Muslims and nonwhites
  • Yes, the “wall” or border fence
  • Funding infrastructure spending in America by giving huge tax cuts to corporations, who will then be free to impose tolls and other fees
  • Increasing the military state: channeling more military-grade weaponry to police departments and overlooking or flat-out ignoring civil-rights violations by police (it’s reasonable to suggest that as a corollary, the surveillance state will also be increased)
  • Ignoring civil rights issues altogether (in the name of “safety”)
  • Infringing on civil rights of some groups (see: Hispanics, Muslims, possibly LGBTQ and Jews)
  • Increasing executive authority
  • Suppressing dissent as much as possible
  • Aiding and reinforcing right-wing, nationalist agendas in other countries, in collusion with Russia (see: Steve Bannon)
  • Putting a right-wing extremist on the Supreme Court (see: William Pryor, Jr)
  • Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (see: Republican agenda, below)
  • Increasing military spending and potentially allying with Russia (where? why?)
  • Abandon any pretense of helping or protecting our traditional allies in Europe (see: NATO comments, Vladimir Putin)
  • Reduce or eliminate federal support for education, placing a heavy burden on money-strapped states (see: Republican agenda. Also, Greek-style austerity may be coming to a state near you.)
  • Cut taxes, mostly for corporations and the higher brackets (see: Republican agenda since forever)
  • Completely dismantle any regulations that protect our environment or guard against climate change (see also: Republican agenda) and eliminate agencies such as:
    • Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
    • Office of Fossil Energy, which seeks to reduce CO emissions
  • Eliminating spending that does not serve the military state:
    • National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities
      (combined funding is less than .002% of the budget)
    • PBS and NPR (to be privatized)
    • Minority Business Development Agency and similar trade agencies
    • Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
    • Violence Against Women grants
    • Legal Services Corporation
    • Reduced funding for the Civil Rights and Environment and Natural Resources divisions

Much of this is bad enough. His penchant for authoritarian figures is already well documented. How much authority can he steal in the U.S.? That remains to be seen, although it was disturbing to watch Trump supporters boo Chuck Schumer for saying things like:

Whatever our race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, whether we are immigrant or native-born, whether we live with disabilities or do not, in wealth or in poverty, we are all exceptional in our commonly held, yet fierce devotion to our country, and in our willingness to sacrifice our time, energy, and even our lives to making it a more perfect union.

Today, we celebrate one of democracy’s core attributes, the peaceful transfer of power. And every day, we stand up for core democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution — the rule of law, equal protection for all under law, the freedom of speech, press, religion — the things that make America America.

Our institutions are fragile. They depend on the buy-in of the American public. It would seem that some of the American public does not agree. That’s not good.

The Republican Agenda

The GOP is positively giddy with glee that they have unfettered power now. Their silence and general lack of spine on matters Trumpian can be directly attributed to the fact that they need him to make sweeping changes to the very fabric of America, none of them good.

Some of the bullets above, as noted, are the same for Republicans in Congress, with a few differences, as noted below:

  • Repealing the Affordable Care Act
    Not so keen on replacing, though. What they propose is universal access, not coverage. Those with the wherewithal can continue their use of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), and they may raise the amount that you can put in during a year, but remember: that still comes out of your pretax income. It’s your money. Also, while the ACA specifies certain coverage that insurance must provide, their replacement will not. There will also be no limit on deductibles. So yes, your premiums might be cheaper, but your out-of-pocket expenses could be astronomical. And if you have a preexisting condition? Their answer is “high-risk pools,” which have already been proven to not work.
  • Kill Medicare and replace it with “vouchers,” which let you purchase your own insurance in the same unregulated market that the rest of the country has to suffer from.
  • Kill Social Security, suck up the money we all paid into it (they’ve already stolen, er, “borrowed,” a good deal, which is how they claim it’s insolvent), and give you… well, nothing. Happy retirement!
  • Kill SNAP benefits (food stamps), which, if you qualify gives a household of four $649 per month. Which is why, by the end of the month, a lot of people and children are hungry.
  • Kill WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) benefits, because you shouldn’t have an abortion, but so what if you want to feed your baby. (Note: I haven’t seen an actual proposal to do this, but given that they want to kill everything else… they will if they can.)
  • Reduce veteran’s benefits and possibly kill the VA (“vouchers” and “HSAs,” you know)
  • Open up everything to drilling and fracking, and ban local attempts to prevent them from doing so.
  • Cut funding for Planned Parenthood, because women’s health is unimportant.
  • Either a) Treat Russia as the global threat it is and back our western allies, or b) Follow Trump’s lead because they want to get reelected in two years (dependent on the person). I expect more of “b.”
  • Go along with all “discretionary” spending cuts that Trump/Pence propose, as long as it doesn’t affect the military budget, which is God.
  • As for civil rights, well… the GOP hasn’t been a fan of those in a long time.

While there is a fair bit of overlap in these agendas, Donald Trump has said he would preserve Medicare and Social Security. So there are areas of conflict. One thing to watch for:  the Republicans in Congress may try to do what they want anyway, and blame Trump. They could easily throw him under the bus if it suits them. We’ll see.

Donald Trump spoke of the “American carnage.” And it’s true that many people and places have lost their jobs and means of making a living. The great depression (which was not caused by Obama) of 2008 have made things worse for the average American. So I get the desire for a change. But the changes I’ve listed will decimate the social safety net, which millions of Americans need in order to live, not because they’re lazy or stupid, but because it’s incredibly difficult to get ahead in the economy that has evolved.  The phrase “the working poor” is apt because many poor people work two or three jobs, without benefits, just to get by. They are not lazy. And yet their children are hungry. This is not right. Automation is increasing, and more jobs will be lost. That’s a fact.

A better use of our tax money would be a Universal Basic Income, which some developed countries are experimenting with. It would provide a basic income for every adult citizen, enough to live on. Obviously, every citizen is also free to earn more as well, to increase their standard of living. I believe most people who could do so would. (Remember, some people are disabled or infirm and cannot work.) But obviously, at this point in time, the U.S. is not going to do that.

What we can do as we resist these wretched agendas is to educate people about the pain that is about to be inflicted on them. (Democrats: you’ve done a terrible job of this.) Liberals and progressives and even former Republicans have taken to the streets, but Trump voters will suffer with the rest of us, too. We cannot let Congress inflict this kind of pain on our country. We must stay in the streets, run for office, do whatever it takes. If we continue to hobble science and education, if we give into authoritarian voices because “safety” sounds good, this country will cease to be a world leader. It will cease to be a place of new ideas. It will likely even cease to be.

The Meritocracy Myth

homeless_man_during_morning_commute_iStock_000004136154XSmallMy father was an army officer, and my mother was a homemaker until I was 9. That’s when they bought property that required her to work. She was a receptionist. We were squarely lower middle class, doing well enough. It never occurred to me that we were underprivileged.

I ended up attending a ridiculously small, rural school (9 kids in my class) with few course offerings beyond the basics. I was Salutatorian of my class, but when I took the SAT and ACT, I felt that I had suffered in my math education, in particular. I made up for this lack by majoring in Liberal Arts and avoiding it entirely. My parents paid for my college. It was affordable then, and I’m grateful. My degree in English eventually led to a good career as a technical writer. I feel very fortunate.

My wife, Ahnna, by contrast, grew up in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Her father was an MIT professor who built the first working electron microscope on the continent. He worked with the likes of Francis Crick and James Watson on their research. Ahnna’s mom hated Francis, whose hands were always where they shouldn’t be at cocktail parties. Ahnna’s mom was a beautiful woman. Her professor father, though, was also an alcoholic and ended up being dismissed by MIT years later, some time after Ahnna’s parents divorced. He died of lung cancer in rural Arkansas, where he spent most of his last years alone.

Most of Ahnna’s secondary education was spent at a private ivy-league prep school in Connecticut. Due to failing finances, her mother and stepfather had to take them out of the fancy school to finish their education. As the disabled child of one in four kids, Ahnna had to pay her way through much of her college. Her father, in Arkansas, could occasionally be persuaded to send her a check, but mostly she got by with a long-term babysitting gig. She still considers those girls to be “her kids.”

The difference between Ahnna’s upbringing and mine is pretty vast. Her parents were mostly liberal and well educated. Mine were extremely conservative and largely ignorant. But then, I have always felt that I was an apple that fell a long way from the tree.

A few years ago, an old school friend of Ahnna’s came to stay with us awhile. He had the ivy-league prep school advantage, his father’s money behind him, and went on to Emory to pursue a degree in law, like his father. Their fellow classmates included people like Tracy Chapman, the daughter of Martin Luther King’s lawyer, Mary Travers’ daughter, and other children of celebrities and well-to-do or influential people. In contrast, my classmates were the children of simple farmers, machinists, and factory workers—mostly blue collar. No one you’ve ever heard of. Worlds apart.

After the old prep school friend had been with us awhile, he determined that a composter would be useful. Indeed, I’d thought of getting one for some time, but they can be expensive, and I had other priorities. So I was absolutely flabbergasted when he called up his old friend from school, who was president of a garden supply company, and asked him to send us one. For free. And he did.

This illuminated me on why so much of meritocracy is a lie. By virtue of his birth to a well-off lawyer in New England who could send him to a fancy prep school, this man had made contacts that would serve him for the rest of his life. Company presidents, bankers, people who knew people. People who would be willing to do him the favor of a free composter. And here’s another difference:  it would never have occurred to me to ask a friend for something free from their company. Ever. But when you move in elite circles, there is a certain quid pro quo. It’s like being part of a secret club, and the members help each other out, because they know that they might need the favor returned down the line. With a job. A contact. A loan. Who knows?

Meritocracy is the belief that an individual makes it in life solely on their own merits. In other words, if you work hard, you will be successful and get ahead. While it is certainly true that you won’t get far if you don’t work hard and put your best effort into things, that alone does not guarantee success.

I witnessed the rise and fall of the best damn coffee company in the world in Austin, Texas. They made their own unique drink, literally the best I’ve ever had or will have. But they were competing with Starbucks. They did develop their own following, though, largely based on the personality of the owner, who had a star-like quality. They even expanded to four stores at one point. I invested in them. But uncontrollable shit happened, like construction around their newly opened downtown store that cut into their traffic. That location had to close. A misstep on the books. Another store closed. And it’s not like they didn’t work hard. The owner had a cot in the back room of his main store and often worked from 7am until close at 10pm. He worked hard, all right. And still, after a number of years, the business failed. Why? Because there are a lot of variables that you cannot control. Sometimes it’s just pure bad luck.

If the owner of this coffee shop had had an investor with the vision to help make it happen, I think they’d still be around today. It’s damn hard to start if your resources are meager to begin with. He didn’t have ivy league buddies.

Now, I’m not trying to disparage prep school kids or ivy leaguers. But they have a built-in advantage that all but guarantees their success. George W. Bush got into Yale because his father did. He made Cs. He had contacts to get him into high-powered businesses. Politics. You know the rest. Candidates for president seldom come from public schools.

And yet, the meritocracy myth endures. These people succeeded on the basis of “their own hard work.” Well, that isn’t the whole truth. Likewise, this myth is used to disparage the lower classes, but particularly minorities: poor black kids, the myth goes, don’t get ahead because they’re lazy and would rather live off welfare. But the poor black kid from the impoverished areas doesn’t have prep school buddies to leverage. They don’t have easy access to money and the other markers of privilege. Of course, every now and then a black kid (or Latino, etc) does break out of poverty and becomes successful. People might point to Ben Carson, for example, as “proof” that any black kid could achieve that if they only bothered to try. But the rare exception does not make the rule. It’s like comparing a horse race between a well-maintained and well-trained horse and one that has been undernourished and weighed down with 100 pounds on its back. The latter horse may indeed cross the finish line. It may also collapse under the weight on its back.

There is one other strand that winds its way through the meritocracy myth, and that is the current Prosperity Theology espoused by many American evangelicals. According to Prosperity Theology, God wants to bless his believers with financial prosperity, and if you are wealthy, then it is a sign that you have been worthy of this blessing. If you are not wealthy or are struggling, then God has not favored you, and you have fucked up. This is a very convenient belief, because it validates evangelical ministers for being ridiculously, obscenely wealthy (they “kept faith”). It is also a convenience to believe that if someone is poor, sick, or struggling, then that’s just too bad for them, because it’s their own fault. In short:  “I can wash my hands of your problems.”

It is astonishing that a religion based on belief in a man who healed the sick and tended the poor and who owned practically nothing, who exhorted his followers repeatedly to give to the poor, has produced this very American evangelical view that you can ignore the poor completely and still excuse your conscience about it. This is the spiritual version of the meritocracy:  if you are struggling, not only are you not working hard enough, but you’re clearly morally lacking as well, because God would have blessed you if you deserved it. Wow.

The white classes are more likely to believe these than minority classes. And why not? Why feel guilt about the plight of others if you have a handy excuse? Of course, even white people struggle with sickness and poverty. This isn’t a racial problem; it’s a class problem. Making excuses on the basis of DNA will not change that.

We must change how we think if we want to move ahead and create a just society. Life cannot be about “us vs. them.” We have to stop the automatic judgments based on birth, class, race, income, and material possessions. None of these matter in the end. We must care for one another, not throw each other under the bus. I have observed that those who do not care for others beyond themselves often end their lives alone. Ahnna’s father was nearly dead on the floor of his cabin when a neighbor found him and took him to the hospital, where he died. With no one there to love him. I would not wish this on anyone. Caring about others, helping others, these are actually acts of self-care. They enrich us, they increase the love for us. The alternative is grim.

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
~Matthew 8:20

Neighbors, But Not Friends? A Dark Morning in America

So our hateful 2016 election is done. Those of us who believed that America was truly great have to concede that there is a darkness, a rot in the body of the republic. The man who has belittled every “other” you can think of (Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ, Hispanics, women, the disabled, members of his own party) will now hold the ultimate power as President of the United States, with the full backing of a GOP-majority Congress. Oh, yes, it is morning in America, all right. And it is dark.

kkkBut some are celebrating. The KKK (see photo) are out and open and having a ball. The White Nationalists, which embody the alt right, have inserted their propaganda into mainstream conservative media. Antisemitic tropes straight from the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” are openly spoken by our new president-elect. His voters wanted change. They’re about to get it.

Yes, there will be change, but not the kind that brings back the happy (white) middle-class days of the 1950s. That economy is gone, those days are gone, forever. All nonwhite nonChristian minorities are going to have it rough, but so will the Trump believers. Here’s a list of what you can expect from an empowered GOP:

  • Repealed/Degraded Environmental Protections
    Flint, Michigan’s crisis will be nothing compared with what happens next. Increased drilling, relaxed emissions standards, more fracking, more and bigger pipelines, with the inevitable degradation of land, air, and water and increased disasters induced by global warming.
  • Repealed/Degraded Equal Rights
    Muslims, LGBTQ, immigrants, and women, will lose rights in the name of the Evangelical right and “Homeland Security.” These communities will be harassed, and emboldened bigots of all kinds will feel free to set upon anyone they think doesn’t have a right to exist.
  • Obamacare Repealed and NOT Replaced
    Anyone who thinks the GOP has a plan to replace Obamacare is fooling themselves. God help anyone with a preexisting condition.
  • A Right-Tilting Supreme Court
    Don’t expect reasonable verdicts once the majority sympathizes with a conservative Christian viewpoint. The rights to abortion, gay marriage, and any number of privileges may well be revoked. Welcome to the theocracy.
  • A Recession
    That’s right. If Trump carries through with his trade battles, the world and the US in particular will likely fall into recession. This won’t be pretty, either. Remember 2008?
  • An Emboldened Russia
    The Russian government cheered at the news of Trump’s presidency. Why not? They worked hard for it. If Trump no longer sees America as a counterbalance, then Putin will likely “annex” the Baltic states. Will he stop there? Who the hell knows? The Ukraine is probably sweating bullets, though.
  • An Increase in Political Chaos Worldwide
    With the US turning inward, the rest of the world is on its own. That isn’t necessarily bad, but many democracies are facing the challenge of nationalist movements of their own. Which brings us to…
  • The Real Risk of Authoritarianism
    If a man keeps saying that he likes the way authoritarians do things, you should believe him. Trump has praised many dictators and despots. He has advocated for authoritarian changes, such as the right to make it easier to sue the press for libel. He is not in favor of a free press. He isn’t even in favor of due process, which is the belief that anyone charged of a crime should have the benefit of a legal process to prove or disprove the charge. How bad can this get? It depends on how much the feckless GOP in Congress are willing to collude or stand up to him. Given what we saw during the election, there isn’t a lot of spine there. And that’s scary.

This is all bad enough. But the primary reason Hillary supporters are scared to death isn’t because “our candidate lost.” It’s because Trump is, perhaps, a willing tool of the white nationalists who support him, and at whom he has winked in numerous speeches. Here are some of the things his nationalist supporters said of him (source: Mother Jones):

“Donald Trump’s campaign statements, if nothing else, have SHOWN that ‘our views’ are NOT so ‘unpopular’ as the Political Correctness crowd have told everyone they are!”
~ Rocky J. Suhayda, Chair of the American Nazi Party

“‘African-American’ is pretty for ‘jungle savage. We normal whites move away from these jungle creatures whenever we can. But the murderous hands of government, guided by Big Jew, again and again and again push us back in with the savages.” 
~ Alex Linder, 2005, The Aryan Alternative

“Hitler, of course, has been demonized because he lost.”
~ Don Black, KKK Grand Dragon, to Business Insider

“White people are realizing they are becoming strangers in their own country and they do not have a major political voice speaking for them. Trump is one example of the alternative-right candidate Knights Party members and supporters have been looking for.”
~ Rachel Pendergraft, national organizer for the KKK-affiliated Knights Party

“Just know that we three percent, we militiamen, are standing at the ready across our nation. And when you strike, we will strike back. We will level and demolish every mosque across this country.”
~ Jon Ritzheimer, Anti-Islam activist & participant in the Oregon occupation

It is not unreasonable to assume that Donald Trump is not simply unconsciously parroting White Nationalist propaganda, but that he really believes it. His father, Fred Trump, was arrested at a KKK riot in 1927. Donald Trump was not only sued for refusing to rent to minorities in the 1970s, he refused to cooperate with the investigation, destroyed files, and when he was finally forced to settle, he promptly resumed his practice of not renting to minorities. In short, it is not a reach to conclude that Donald Trump is a racist of the worst kind.

So yes, on this depressing morning after, those of us who did not vote for Trump are scared, sad, and disappointed in our country. If you voted for Donald Trump in spite of the encyclopedic documentation of his dislike for all “others” already mentioned above, then by all means, enjoy your victory. But I, as your neighbor, wonder why, if you were truly my friend, you would support a man who will only do harm to me and mine. A man who would nullify the legality of my marriage, which undermines my wife and children’s legal rights. A man who would preemptively classify an entire community as terrorists, guilty until proven innocent. A man who has no problem with “shoot first and ask questions later” when it comes to dealing with American citizens on the street. A man who has no problem denying people of color a fair chance at housing. A man who has no problem with sexually assaulting any woman he’s attracted to. You wanted change. Well, you got it. But it comes at a very high price. God help us all.

Our Empathy Divide

By Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25656324

By Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

As some of us gaze around at the world, scarcely believing the divisions and violence that are now a part of our everyday lives, we can’t help but ask, “How on earth did we get here?” On one side, there’s Donald Trump, who stokes fear and violence with apparent glee, his devotees all too happy to ride his coattails and attack all who oppose them. On the other side is Hillary Clinton, whose primary failings are being female and being wedded to establishment and corporate interests. Her supporters believe in her in part, but as many support her because she is not Him, The Donald, who demands deification in capital letters.

More than a few Hillary supporters and people in between are asking, “How?” How did we come to the edge of the abyss, the fate of our republic hanging in the balance? How did we get to the place where white nationalist, openly racist and xenophobic people feel empowered and mainstream again? Surely these things are all relics of our hateful past, not our civilized present? If only.

My parents embody some of these views. They are conservative, racist, and have (weirdly) become hyper-religious over the years. I spent most of my life in the southern US (mostly Texas and Alabama), and I understand the mindset pretty well. While we like to separate people into “liberals” and “conservatives,” another way to view this is to see them as either “empathic” or “nonempathic.” Now, that is a generalization, and the fact is that most people fall on a spectrum somewhere in between. George Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” was meant, I think, to be a nod toward empathy while furthering conservative values. Most people believe in helping others, while at the same time exercising fiscal restraint. Many traditional Republicans tend to fall on that end of the spectrum, to varying degrees.

What has people so flummoxed now with the Trump ascendancy is that his obvious lies, flip-flops, lack of clear policy, and open nods to racism, violence, and general “Brown Shirt” behavior has excited, not turned off, a key part of the electorate. The alt right, or formerly fringe GOP, contains the most extreme nonempathic people. What does that mean? It means that they are not willing or capable of putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. They cannot see any perspective but their own. No matter how good they have it, the prospect of some “other” doing as well or better makes them feel insecure and slighted. Emotionally, they are victims, and they long for ascendancy. They long to win. The Donald promises them that they will win, but there has to be a loser. The Mexicans, Muslims, and African-Americans must be the sacrifice, trampled under white, Christian feet.

Empathic people are more likely to understand the gray areas of life. They are more likely to know that you can be brought low by no fault of your own. Chance can deal a harsh hand, and empathic people are more likely to help without judgment. Nonempathic people, on the other hand, are far more likely to view a person in need through the lens of judgment:  they must have done something to fuck up. Maybe God doesn’t love them. Maybe they’re alcoholics or drug users. Maybe they’re just lazy. Maybe they’re racially inclined to fail. These views enable the nonempathic person to walk away from a person in need with their ego intact, feeling justified in not lending a hand. The nonempathic person prefers black-and-white thinking. It’s easier.

When Trump followers beat up protesters, flip off the media, or worse, they feel justified because they are in the right, and the perspective of their opponents does not matter. This is also a narcissistic and borderline trait:  the only viewpoint that matters is mine. Socially, this dynamic presents itself in ongoing systemic racism:  the only people whose voices matter are white and Christian.

I wrote in “Guns and Empathy” that empathy is the only solution to gun violence. It is also the only solution to our divisions, to hatred, to racism (I have tried to reach my white brothers and sisters for years on that subject), and even to corporate and environmental exploitation around the globe. If we cannot connect, for even a moment, with another point of view, then we are doomed. If we cannot feel or imagine the suffering of others, the suffering of our environment, the pain caused by our systems, then history shall indeed repeat itself, and we shall fall into chaos and dissolution, led by the bloodthirsty cries of the nonempathic aggrieved, who believe that eliminating those who oppose them is the only cure for their ills.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and I believe that the empathic far outnumber those who have no empathy. But this is no time to stand idle and wait for others to come to our rescue:  we must rescue ourselves. There is no Messiah, no Martin Luther King, Jr, no Gandhi, who will rescue us all. We must take a stand, and it must be a compassionate one. It serves no one to adopt the tactics of the nonempathic horde. Compassion is essential to our survival, and we must be compassionate even toward those who would offer us none in return.

We must vote. We must behave in a civilized manner. We must teach our children to be empathic and compassionate. We must seek out and appoint people who embody these values. We must choose entertainment that uplifts rather than demeans. We must show playground bullies the door, and let them know that their behavior will not be tolerated.

It’s true that we are a nation divided. But the divide has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with empathy. Or the lack thereof.

Hate is a Fire That Consumes

be_this_guyWhen my wife and I decided to adopt a new surname to cement our family, I had wanted to take a name that honored one of our spirit guides, who is Native American. This guide let us know that, while he appreciated the thought, we would do better to choose another name. I admit that my feelings were a little hurt, so I asked him why. He said it was because of what was coming, and that using his name would make our lives more difficult. That’s all he could say. I acquiesced, and we chose the name Hawkesworth, for completely geeky reasons that I won’t go into here. This was in 2004.

It is now 12 years later, and I understand why he told us this. Hawkesworth is a nice, English-sounding name. A white name. Navigating the world as a (white) Hawkesworth is undoubtedly easier, just as I could walk around Bavaria and blend in as a local with a strange German accent. Austrian border guards barely glanced at my passport. The darker-skinned Serbs were not so lucky…

When I was young, I remember learning about things like the Holocaust and wondering how they could come about. I never thought that Germans were simply evil; I have German ancestors, myself. No, it wasn’t that simple. Current events are now showing me how this happened there, and in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda…

I thought about a blog I wrote in 2013, about brainwashing. My father has always been an insecure blow-hard, probably suffering borderline personality, with a strong need to be right. And he has always been a staunch conservative of the black-and-white variety, in which “right” is very clear and obvious, and “wrong” is everything he disagrees with. (For example, all people who are homeless or on welfare are “lazy.” It’s very reassuring to not have to deal with any gray area, particularly when you absolutely have to be right.) My father’s innate insecurity and conservative thought processes primed him for the advent of Fox News, which did a fantastic job of reassuring him that he was indeed right about all of these things, while holding up those who disagreed (“liberals”) as people worthy only of complete contempt. While many media outlets have their own spin on events, most people agree that Fox News has been stunning in its ability to pound propaganda into the brains of people like my father. As a result, the Tea Party arose, with its mantra of “no compromise,” and the ability of government to accomplish anything ground to a halt.

Looking back, I realize how naïve I was. Fox propaganda now seems kind of quaint and harmless, like a rattlesnake with its fangs removed. (Or with its Roger Ailes removed.) While Fox spent many years playing on the very real fears, racism, sexism, and authoritarianism of its base, it did so in a more indirect fashion, with code words and assuring their mostly white audience of its natural superiority. Fox news aficionados like my father could safely follow along and believe themselves to be anything but racist, sexist, authoritarian, or fearful. Goebbels would have been proud. But then came Trump.

When you repeatedly sow a field with turnips, it shouldn’t surprise you when you start to reap turnips. Fox sowed its field, and now Trump is reaping the crop. Gone is the innuendo, the talking in circles, the code words. He is actively calling out the fear, racism, sexism, and desire for a (white) authority to “make America great again.” These elements always existed on the fringes, in the “alt-right” movement. Websites like breitbart.com and infowars.com have catered to these people for years. And now the head of Breitbart, Stephen Bannon, is running Trump’s campaign.

I suppose there is always a percentage of any population that is fearful, insecure, racist, sexist, whatever. It’s not like propaganda or speeches alone can invent that out of nothing. But people who exploit it for their own ends are dangerous. Starting a fire is easy; putting it out is hard.

My father has apparently moved on from Fox to the alt-right media outlets. I stumbled across his comments on such sites while googling to see if he was still alive (I cut off contact with my parents long ago, as I’ve documented). I was dismayed to discover that, if anything, my father had gotten worse, not better. More racist. More xenophobic. More sexist. More anti-LGBT. (The anti-gay comments, in particular, stung.) And I also saw that he was telling quite a few untruths about himself and his family in his comments. There was also a fair dose of what I consider crazy-talk, like calling liberals and Democrats “satanic.” I probably needed this confirmation, somewhere in myself, so that I would understand that, for me, my father is truly dead, obituary or no.

Hate poisons everything. It consumes everything that is good, leaving nothing but ruin and destruction behind it. Hate blinds you to the humanity of those who are “against” you. Hate makes you think terrible things. Eventually, it makes you do terrible things.

Jared Yates Sexton is a reporter who went undercover at a Trump rally recently. It’s worth reading his tweets from that time, because they will scare the pants off of you.

“I heard several people talking about wanting to hurt the press, several mentioning a civil war if Trump loses. This is building in a hurry.”

The rhetoric at these rallies has gotten worse:  the press are the enemy, Hillary Clinton is a criminal, Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization, immigrants are the cause of all your (white) problems. The list goes on. The message is reaching its intended target, which is undoubtedly a minority of the population, but then the Nazi party was a small, marginalized effort, too, one that the foolish Weimar government thought they could control. No doubt the Republican party thinks they can control this fire, as well.

All that is necessary for the forces of evil to take root in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.
~Edmund Burke

Personally, I think it’s a problem when hate groups like the Neo-Nazis and the KKK start to feel empowered and mainstream. Their fundamental purpose is the elevation of the white race over everyone else, and they don’t care who gets trod underfoot in the process. I am afraid for my Muslim neighbors. I am afraid for my Latino neighbors. I am afraid for my African-American neighbors. I am afraid for anyone who dares to look, behave, or think differently than what the alt-right thinks makes a “good American.” Those of us who believe in the power of Love must speak up. We must support each other. We must realize that there is no finite pool of goodies, and that if one group is lifted up, then that means other groups must be pushed down. This is a falsehood. There is enough for everyone. No one has to be diminished.

I get that this is a message that not everyone is able to hear. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” So I say to you, beloved friend and neighbor, speak out for the causes of Love and Justice. Do not let the words and actions of Hate go unnoticed. When it is appropriate, speak. When it is appropriate, act. When it is appropriate, be. Be the Love. Acknowledge the Hate, but do not sit idly by. For more than 200 years, we have lived in a (somewhat) civil society. We have weathered a great deal. It hasn’t been perfect. It may never be. But we are better than this. Let us not sink this low.