File Under “The More Things Change”: Weird Sh*t

Yesterday, President Trump gave what was generously described as a “bizarre” one-minute press briefing in which he refused to answer any question from the press.

The hastily-called event was his first since the election and one of the few times he has appeared in public since then, preferring to conduct the majority of his temper-tantrum via tweet. He congratulated himself (aka “everybody”) on the fact that the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached 30,000 (a “sacred number”) and seeming to take credit for recent positive developments on the Covid vaccine front. He then turned and walked away.

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Don’t Hedge: Worst President. Ever

Why do people describe Donald Trump as the “worst President in modern American history”? Why the qualifier? Why not come out and say “worst President in American history”?

True, news in the Trump era flies fast an furious. For four-plus years, reporters and analysts have been whip-sawed from one horror to the next. They’ve barely had time to dip their toe into one scandal before they’re pulled away to the next, and there’s not a lot of time for in-depth research of the type which might be necessary when making comparisons that span thousands of years or hundreds of administrations.

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Ghosting the Orange Menace

Yesterday someone made the totally obvious yet utterly profound observation that Trump never wanted to be The President. What they meant was that he didn’t have any interest in leading our nation or in governing in the true sense of the word. Most people seek the highest office because they have a profound desire to serve the public, or out of a sense that they are uniquely qualified to lead the country at a pivotal time in our history, or because they want to move the country in a certain direction. But Trump had no such desire. He has never had a political philosophy or any meaningful agenda beyond Make America Great Again, which isn’t so much a presidential agenda as it is an advertising slogan, one about as meaningful as “Where’s the Beef?” What Trump wanted was to be the most talked-about person on the planet. And for the last four years, that’s exactly what he’s been.

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BLM: This Time There’s Real Hope

One of the most striking things about the images of Black Lives Matter protests is the number of white people in the crowds. In every city in the country and all over the world, white people are marching and protesting alongside Black people: they’re holding Black Lives Matter signs, wearing I Can’t Breathe t-shirts, covering their faces with Stop Killing Black People masks. And they’re out there with the same passion and urgency as the Black community.

I think it’s this unique quality, even more than the intensity and the continuing duration of the protests, that seems to give this moment a different feeling than recent BLM protests or previous cries for racial justice in America. I’m not the only one who’s noticed that this time feels different. And I think that this unfamiliar thing we’re feeling is hope.

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File Under “The More Things Change”: Demonstrations

Today I came across these words:

“You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in [this city]. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being. I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. I would not hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations are taking place in [this city] at this time, but I would say in more emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate that the white power structure of this city left the Black community with no other alternative.”

They rocked me back in my chair.

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Has the NFL Seen the Light?

The NFL has issued a statement saying it was wrong to censure players who protested police violence. “We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.”

The NFL: “We were wrong.”

Well, better late than never, I suppose. And I suppose the protests are having at least some small part of their desired effect if they are causing individuals and organizations to re-think their actions, their words, and their beliefs. It wasn’t a spontaneous awakening. The NFL’s statement came as a response to a video made by NFL players about racial inequity and asking the NFL to publicly make the statement that they were wrong, and that Black lives matter. But racial inequity is deeply ingrained in our national zeitgeist and it isn’t going to disappear overnight. So any steps in the direction of awareness and growth, even small ones, should be welcomed for what they are. For now, I’m going to set aside the sarcasm and the skepticism and just say: “Good on you, NFL.” For now.

Several years ago, when Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the playing of the national anthem at the start of NFL games, he did so in protest against the mass incarceration of and the police brutality against African-Americans. Some other (mostly, but not exclusively, African-American) players began to kneel too. And America lost its collective mind. They called these peaceful protests “treason” and said that they “disrespected our flag and our troops.” Colin Kaepernick’s football career was over. Donald Trump called for protesters to be fired (for exercising their First Amendment rights). Vice President Mike Pence walked out of a game when players knelt. Conservatives called for a boycott of the games. And the NFL threatened to fine players who knelt and said that they could only do so in the locker rooms, but not on the field.

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File Under “Deflection”: Stupid Questions

I don’t condone the violence or the rioting. It’s wrong and it’s terrible and it’s gut-wrenching to watch my country descend into chaos.

I simply made an ill-advised attempt to re-direct certain people’s attention away from the rioting and back to the source of the protests. (Don’t ask me why I did it. I’d made myself a promise only yesterday that I would NOT engage on this issue. Oh, who was I kidding, of course I’m going to engage.)

I tried to remind someone that there is undeniable, systemic racism in our country and that’s what we should be focused on. “Let’s not let ourselves get sidetracked here,” I said. “The continued, systematic denial of human rights is the real problem. Let’s direct our outrage there.”

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Douse the Flames

Your concern is quite touching. Truly. Your words of concern for all those small business owners whose shops are being looted and businesses being burned to the ground in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities all across the US during the riots sparked by the killing of George Floyd touch my heart. These people are just trying to make a living. They haven’t done anything wrong. These thugs must be brought to justice!

I know you’re not a racist. I know, because you said so. And I know that you’re moved by the plight of the oppressed and by the tragedy of Floyd’s death, (although he might have — no, probably did — deserve the treatment at the hands of the police officer — it’s impossible to tell from the video footage what came before — and after all if he could say “I can’t breathe,” then obviously he could breathe), but when the looting starts . . . well then that’s surely when things have gone too far. That’s real evil.

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Memorial Day: Reflections on Sacrifice

Today is Memorial Day.

Today we honor and mourn the more than one million Americans who died while serving in the US armed forces. Today we pause to reflect on them and their service. They remind us that sometimes the welfare of our nation requires sacrifice. Sometimes, it requires the ultimate sacrifice.

It’s a fact that as members of a society we are sometimes called on to make sacrifices for the good of our fellow citizens. And doing so is noble noble and patriotic. That’s the reason for this holiday; that’s the reason for the parades and the flag waving. And that’s the reason that (under normal circumstances) we have this day off from work: to allow us to pause and reflect on the sacrifices made by others on our behalf.

Because that’s the American way. And not only during times of war, but always. Surely so: after every national tragedy or natural disaster, we’re fed hours of news footage of Americans pitching in and helping one another: filling sandbags, making donations, digging out, coming together.

And now, millions of Americans across the country are being asked to make a similar sacrifice to protect and defend their fellow citizens. We are being asked to stay home. To forego the BBQ or a day at the beach. And an extreme sacrifice: to wear a piece of cloth over our nose and mouth when we go out in public.

It’s hard to fathom the audacity of a society that would ask so much of its citizens.

Indeed, in an upending of everything we’ve been taught about what is required of us as Americans, we are now being told that in being asked to wear a mask out of concern for our neighbors, our rights are being irretrievably infringed upon. Can one think of anything more infringing than a face mask? Certainly not being asked to button on a uniform, strap on a weapon, and fight and die in a foreign land.

Remember when Americans believed that with rights come responsibilities? That Freedom isn’t Free? How did the Republican party (and for sure, this pre-dates the Trump Republican party) manage to make such a mockery of the concept of shared sacrifice? of caring for our neighbors and putting others ahead of ourselves? When did thinking about the welfare of our fellow Americans become such an infringement on our God-given rights? When did looking out for others become so un-patriotic?

On this day of reflection, I’m reflecting on what seems to be a new era of selfishness that I see growing in this country. It’s a sad day indeed.

File Under “Dishonesty”: Presidential Love

Last week we learned that world leaders all think that Donald Trump is doing a great job handling this pandemic. “I spoke with Angela Merkel today, I spoke with Prime Minister Abe of Japan; I spoke with many of the leaders over the last four or five days. And so many of them, almost all of them — I would say all of them, not everyone would want to admit it — but they all view us as the world leader, and they’re following us.” That was a bit of a surprise to a lot of people, including the world leaders themselves. Because they don’t actually think that.

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