“(don’t worry) if there’s a hell below, we’re all going to go” – curtis mayfield (1970)

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Last month, when protestors took to the streets to march in solidarity for Black Lives Matter and demanding that local governments shrink police budgets, I was admittedly conflicted and dealing with personal guilt.  Not because of message of the protests.  I have stood firmly with that and will continue to do so.  Instead, I was nervous because of COVID-19.

On the evening of the first protests in Chicago, the night when the Emergency Alert System texts first went out enforcing a curfew, I was feeling conflicted. I scrolled through my social media feeds, looking at photos and watching videos of friends who had protested or who were sharing protest content from around the country. I wanted to be out there standing in solidarity elevating black voices and marching, but I was concerned about catching COVID-19 from being in a large group after spending months socially distancing.  Of course, I had seen posts online highlighting ways to show support for the message behind the protests from the safety of quarantine.  However, it did not feel the same.

Eventually, not long after, I did join my first protest.  Although, it was purely by chance.  I went for a walk after work through Uptown because I had heard businesses in the area were boarding up to discourage looting and vandalism.  Uptown is not far from me, but I had not walked through the area in a while. Instead I had been staying in my own neighborhood for afternoon walks.

I was making my way through Uptown in the direction of Boystown when I found myself facing the front of a protest that was making its way where I had just come from.  I later heard that a protest had been planned for this area, but it was such a surprise at the time.  I stood on the sidewalk, letting the people march through, and cheered from the sidelines.  Eventually, after working up the courage regarding my fears of catching COVID-19, I marched with them doing my best to socially distance.

During the whole time, I was anxious.  I could not hear the speakers well, so I moved towards the outskirts and observed.  I watched police silently observe the protests, various activists passionately and emotionally engaging with officers, people walking around handling supplies, and others who were their own part of this living, breathing community organism. It was fascinating to observe, and I found myself more at ease with thing. After the speeches, the protests moved to Lake Shore Drive where it ended peacefully and people dispersed.  I found myself walking a mile north on the southbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive feeling good about myself, and a bit thrilled that I was walking on Chicago’s signature coastal expressway with no cars in sight. While that was my first protest since the murder of George Floyd, it was not my last and I have joined others intentionally.  Albeit, with COVID-19 still a considerable concern.

Though, with all the new data tracking the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, it has been determined by experts and various health organizations that the protests did not contribute to the overall rise in cases.  Specifically, because protestors were largely masked and were marching outdoors.  Instead, the data shows that the drivers for the rise in cases is due to groups gatherings indoors, not wearing masks, and not socially distancing.  All factors that have stemmed from prematurely reopening businesses with few to no restrictions. Looking at the data, we have just as many new cases in mid-June as we did in March and we have seen the record for new cases recorded in a single day broken for five consecutive days. We have seemingly made no progress and despite everything we have experienced as a society, a lot of people do not seem to care.

As a result of this, states that had essentially reopened are now closing again as new reports come in tracking the rise in cases. States currently going through this issue have been largely conservative states like Texas and Florida.  However, I wonder when Illinois will be the next to tighten restrictions again.  Living in Chicago, there are restaurants with patio seating everywhere and, as we enter the fourth phase of the state’s five-phase plan, more businesses like movie theaters are slowly reopening.  All this makes me extremely uncomfortable for I have no plans to dine in restaurants or go to the cinema until I am confident COVID-19 is on its way out. However, it appears many Americans are not willing to sacrifice convenience and entertainment for a few months to ensure we all collectively get out of this alive and together.

Though the news media coverage has been recently focused on the rise of COVID-19 cases, protestors are still marching for racial justice and defunding police.  And I know they will continue to do so because we are actively witnessing a contemporary reflection of America’s inherent dichotomy. While unarmed black people are getting murdered by police, white people are throwing tantrums because they must wear a mask in Trader Joe’s or cannot get shredded cheese for their restaurant fajitas. While the mainstream news media shifts airtime away from the protests, I am still confident in the movement’s drive and passion.

This imbalance, where on one side people are fighting for the right not to be murdered and the other is demanding a haircut, has me thinking a lot about classic Curtis Mayfield song “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go.”  Released in 1970 to support his debut album Curtis, Mayfield’s first single as a solo-credited musician is a powerful declaration about racial injustice in America and the growing furor over it in America cities. Looking at the news 50 years after the song’s release, there is still that civil and social unrest over racial injustice in American cities.  And it seems those who do not care, the ones demanding for their right to brunch, largely reside in rural or suburban areas.  Two separate Americas with two sperate visions.

In the song, Mayfield sings about inaction as people pray for things to improve but who lay down when it is time to act.  While the original context of the song specifically refers to racial matters, I cannot help but think about those who talk about COVID-19 as if it is something that cannot be stopped.  Those who do not think about how their own selfish behavior has contributed to ongoing COVID-19 crisis, but instead attempt to find a scapegoat in the protestors they vilify.  The ones who are actually actively doing something to make the world a better place while also not driving the worsening the pandemic.

The people who do not care about COVID-19 or racial injustice take their direction from Trump.  The president is actively hindering the COVID-19 response because of the impact it is having on his reelection campaign.  He is moving to cease federal funding for testing, eliminate the federal unemployment bonus, and encouraging governors to open their state to boost the economy.  In the song, Mayfield chastises then President Richard Nixon quoting him saying “don’t worry” as a response to concerns about polluted water and lack of essential education.  That was 1970.  Now, in 2020, instead of “don’t worry,” it is Trump saying, “slow the testing down.”  Everything old is new again and history repeats itself. And unless we change things, we are all going to burn together.

“gaslighter” – dixie chicks (2020)

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The ongoing pandemic has almost 3 billion people globally under lockdown or stay-at-home orders.  I am, like everyone should be, no exception to this rule as we all try to do our part in flattening the curve of the outbreak.  While I do venture outside for a walk or two during the day for my own mental well-being, I am finding other ways to keep from going stir crazy. I have found the best way, at least for me, is to maintain variety with my daily activities.  I read a little, watch tv a little, and even play some video games, an activity I very rarely engage in.

If a global pandemic was going to eventually come during my lifetime, I can say it helps that it came during a time when telecommunications has advanced to the point where I can conduct video calls on my phone. Connecting with people, though FaceTime is not my preferred method, has significantly helped me not only to stay connected with people and continue meaningful relationships with them, it just makes me feel better during a time where I wake up daily with a lingering sense of existential dread.

A good thing that has come out of this is that I am re-connecting with people and truly engaging with them in ways I have not had before.  I’ve had multiple calls with distant friends that have lasted for hours and, despite the distance, involve a lot of intimacy, vulnerability, and trust.  And I find that to be so soothing.

I have had discussions with several friends about wrapping our brains around at watching a moment unfold where, in real-time, you know your life is changing and will never return to normal.  Life changes all the time, but in far more gradual and often unnoticeable ways.  Everyone’s life is filled with moments where everything changes for them, but they typically exist on a personal and individual level.  It is pheromonally rare to experience something like we are now all at the same time.

During these conversations, mainly with millennials, we talk about the 9/11 attacks and how that was the first time we lived through an experience where everything changed, and that change impacted nearly every human on the planet. From the rise of security theater to endless wars and from ongoing Islamophobia to increased government interference, it was hard to imagine we would live to see something that could, most likely, surpass the immediate and lingering effects of 9/11 the way that COVID-19 is proving it can do.

We talk about what life was like then versus now.  I also remember little things like my family being able to wait for me at the airport gate or not having to take off my shoes during an airport security check. It’s the little things, from an era that seems so far yet so close, that I forget about until it randomly pops into my head.

I remember how people came together during that time, sharing a simultaneous grief and determination to move on collectively. This was something that had impacted us all and we had to endure and progress together.

However, I also remember the aftermath.  The beginning of endless wars, increased institutional and governmental racism, and the threat of being outcasted if you offered any dissent.  And that did happen.  Bill Maher, for example lost his show Politically Incorrect for his critical comments about the pervasiveness of government after 9/11.  Such comments happened before the advent of social media where you cannot go a minute without seeing harsh criticism of a political leader or agency, and you only have to wait a few more before you stumble down the rabbit hole to find something event more sinister and uncouth like a veiled death threat.  When you view the arc of public discourse from the 9/11 attacks to now, it is astounding to see how it has devolved to be so toxic and soul killing.  It makes you wonder about cultural transgressions of the past and one example from my lifetime stands out larger than all the rest.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, the Dixie Chicks were huge.  For a band that originated from Dallas, Texas as a bluegrass and country band, they started to gain success on the pop charts when their 1998 album Wide Open Spaces hit #43 on the US Billboard 200 and was immediately followed by two #1 albums, 1999’s Fly and 2002’s Home. They were one of the pioneering acts that were bridging the gap between country and pop, along with their contemporaries such as Shania Twain and Faith Hill. It was a turning point for country music as it evolved and garnered incredible capital in mainstream culture.

While the Dixie Chicks were one of the biggest acts of the era, it all came crashing down in a post-9/11 world where dissent could cost you everything.  During a concert in London, on March 10th, 2003, Natalie Maines criticized president George W. Bush nine days before the United States was scheduled to invade Iraq.  Maines said, “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States if from Texas.”

Unlike the public discourse and criticisms you can find on Twitter today, Maines’ comments were peaceful and tame. However, the backlash was immediate, widespread, and devastating.  While the comments were positively received by the audience in London, it garnered vitriolic reactions back home.  There were boycotts of the bands.  Albums were discarded, and sometimes burned, during public protests.   And several media networks blacklisted the band during the remainder of the Bush presidency. While their post-boycott follow-up, 2006’s Taking the Long Way, was their third #1 on the Billboard 200, the Dixies Chicks went on a long hiatus only.

After 14 years, the Dixie Chicks are set to release their new studio album, Gaslighter, on May 1st.  The first single, also named “Gaslighter,” dropped this month and was described as a fiery and scathing anthem, not that we should expect anything less from the band.  The song’s lyrics calls out someone who does nothing but deny and will lie about anything to further their own interests, no matter how many times they make the same mistakes. The song seems to be about a former love who had left to make it big in Hollywood, leaving behind a woman who cared so much for the them only to be left behind and betrayed.

However, the song is easily applied to the current president and any shame the members of group may have. In fact, the video alludes to this with a montage of archival war footage mixed with vintage commercials and political campaign ads. And if that was not enough, that footage is a backdrop for the group who can be seen dressed in militaristic fascist flair and marching in formation.

While he may not be from Texas, but Trump is a disgrace to not only Americans but to people in general.  This is a man who had lied, cheated, and manipulated people throughout his entire life.  And now, as president, has bungled the act of a con man for so long that millions of lives are threatened by a deadly virus.  One that he, until recently, denied as a politically motivated hoax and has since directly and negatively exacerbated needlessly at the expense of so many lives.  Given how much has changed since the Dixie Chicks dominated the airwaves, both musically and politically, their voices of anger and dissent are much appreciated now.

“state of emergency” – stiff little fingers (1979)

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The world looks so much different now than it did a month ago, a week ago, and even since yesterday.  The global pandemic COVID-19 has grinded the daily life of people almost to a complete halt. Schools are closing. Events are being cancelled.  Restaurants and bars cannot allow dine-in customers. Social media is filled with posts of empty shelves at grocery stores. All symptoms of a society struggling to hold onto any kind of control as we continue to figure out what we are dealing with here.  And perhaps, after it is all over, it will look like an overreaction.  However, we will not know until then.

My life is currently a little different. Like most others, as recommended by our health officials, I have been drastically reducing my exposure to the public.  So, I would not have to go to the store for a few weeks, I bought a lot of fresh produce and cooked so much food.  Spent all weekend making soups and chilis in my crockpot, freezing them so I can avoid the store thus reducing my chance of encountering a COVID-19 carrier.

Like many workers, I am also working from home.  While I never really enjoy going into the office, this respite from my company’s corporate aesthetic, usually very welcomed under normal circumstances, makes me anxious during the pandemic.  The stock market is tanking.  How this indicates how the economy will play out, I do not know because I am not an economist, but all experts say things will get bad. Millions of jobs are at risk. Working from home, and not being seen by my boss, gives me anxiety that I will be assessed as expendable and laid off.  While I have actively been looking for work, this virus is making things difficult and uncertain when it comes to my livelihood.

I won’t be hanging out with friends much for a while.  Sure, I can text and call them but I am a very social person.  The album discussion group I help organize will be moving to a virtual space for the next few meetups. I’m staying inside more, which will mean more solitary activities like reading.  I don’t even really play video games anymore, but I ordered one this week just have something new and interactive to distract me.  There are a lot of jokes online about how this pandemic is creating an introvert’s paradise or making fun of how extroverts are having a hard time adjusting to spending their time still and alone.  It is not that I cannot be still and alone, but rather what this virus means to how people interact with each other, even when it passes.

Trump keeps calling COVID-19 a “foreign virus.” He even used that term when addressing the nation during a broadcast last week, announcing restricted travel to and from Europe.  Since then, he has also referred to COVID-19 as the “Wuhan virus” and the “Chinese virus,” primarily because the virus originates from the Wuhan area of China.  But these are racist dog whistles.  And they have real world effects.  There are reports that the China districts in various cities have seen sharp declines in tourism, couple with increases in racial rhetoric and violence.

My biggest worry is how this virus will be weaponized against immigrants.  History has many examples where pandemics and sicknesses were blamed on immigrants, people of color, and Jews.  I worry about the nasty things said to them when our president casually creates a false narrative about foreigners making Americans sick.  I worry about the violence they will experience.

I am currently reading a book documenting the sectarian violence of Northern Ireland during “The Troubles,” a 30-year period clash nationalist Catholics, those who wanted a united Ireland, and nationalist Protestants, people loyal to the crown of the United Kingdom.  The street skirmishes, forced disappearances, and gruesome murders, committed on all sides, documents the fine line between people who differentiate themselves by identity.  Whether it be class, nationality, ethnicity, or religious denomination, even the most minute thing can create a massive divide.  One with a chasm that no amount of bloodshed can fill.  I know that is quite a jump, going from panic buying toilet paper in supermarkets to sectarian and terroristic violence, but mass hysteria all starts somewhere.

I’ve seen people speculate whether this pandemic will unite or divide us.  The reality is it that it will do both.  Times like these bring out the worst in people, but it is also during our most difficult times that we see the best of humanity shine through.  I’ve seen people promote pledge drives for businesses that will be impacted by forced closures, calls for volunteers to deliver goods to those most at risk for infection, and denouncements of any hateful speech made against Chinese or other Asian people. Kindness knows no shame.  The moment is changing us and so we must let ourselves be changed.

It is currently St. Patrick’s Day. Given that there is currently a national emergency and I am reading a book on the Troubles, I thought of Stiff Little Fingers.  A punk rock group from Belfast, the heart of the Troubles, Stiff Little Fingers formed in 1977, roughly a decade into the region’s turbulence.   Released in 1979, their debut album Inflammable Material chronicle their experience with the Troubles and all the boredom, oppression, and violence that came with the ongoing classes between the Irish Republican Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The track that most spoke to me, given some of what has come about during this pandemic, was “State of Emergency.”  In the song, the band calls out that you cannot find a hero anywhere.  Look around yourself, they sing, and there’s nothing you can find.  They tell of solutions that are available, but they chastise the hatred that has made everyone blind.

The message of “State of Emergency” is simple.  IF you want things to change, don’t be racist and treat your neighbor with suspicion and doubt.  Any walls that divide us purely come from the imagination.  And if you ever want to break down that wall, you just have to use your mind.

“State of Emergency” makes clear references to the Troubles that had devastated the area over the last decade, but the symbolism behind the song’s messaging is applicable to the COVID-19 panic today in some respects.  Let’s not be terrible to each other.  Let’s not blame other races for what is happening and fueling the potential for violence. Let’s listen to reason, take the uncomfortable steps in our lives that will only be temporary, and just let is pass. Don’t look at me, the band sings, it’s an emergency. If you want your life to return to normal, you’re going to have to do your part and be kind.

“praise the lord and pass the ammunition” – kay kyser and his orchestra (1943)

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Last week, I returned from a trip to Barcelona. The trip was a way for me to escape the dreary cold of Chicago in February, where I could bask in in the warmth of a Catalonian sun shining off the Mediterranean and maybe enjoy a beer to two in the meantime. As well as a means of winter weather escape, my trip also allowed me to escape other aspects of my modern life such as my close observation of the news and current events.  In an effort for me to live more in the present and enjoy my temporary surroundings, I make sure I disconnect from media as much as possible when I travel. I don’t pay attention to the doom and gloom news landscape and I am all the much better for it. However, once I get back to my regular life, I dive right back in.  Like Michael Corleone, just when I thought I was out, CNN and NPR pull me back in!

The first book I read when I returned from my trip was Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy by Richard L. Hasen. Hasen is the Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political science at the University of California, Irvine as well as notable for being one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America according to the National Law Journal. He has also published several other books pertaining to voting rights and election law.  As the United States tries to keep things together as we continue through the 2020 election cycle, Hasen is certainly a voice worth paying attention to.

In his book, Hasen outlines four key issues Americans face leading up to the 2020 election. These include voter suppression tactics, incompetence in election administrations, legal dirty tricks both traditional and newer ones aided by technology, and incendiary rhetoric about “stolen” elections. Hasen identifies and explores case examples supporting these critical focus areas as well as outlining various medium and long-term solutions to maintaining and elevating the structural integrity and public faith in fair and free elections. Solutions include not perpetuating unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, not burdening the public with baseless voter restriction laws, removing election workers who repeatedly make mistakes, shift the responsibility of election and polling place maintenance from localities to the state and federal levels, protecting infrastructure by boosting cybersecurity, hold social media companies accountable for profiting off misinformation, tighten rules related to the handling of absentee ballots, and refrain from using rhetoric about “stolen” or “rigged” elections.

What critics could initially dismiss as a Trump hit job if they did not read beyond the title, Hasen actually does a great job by presenting partisan analyses when assessing the various threats against the 2020 presidential campaign.  He clearly outlines examples where Democrats and Republicans each have failed, while also providing solutions that can foster unity. Hasen takes a clam and measured stance on protecting our democratic institutions without sensationalizing any issue. That being said, Hasen does address some of the more extreme, and even violent, situations media outlets have theorized could happen should a vey narrow election outcome be challenged.

Hasen references a Mother Jones piece (and a quick Google search reveals several others like it) where the reporter expressed concern about violence at the polls.  Either through self-identified poll watchers harassing people of color in vain attempts to stop voter fraud or small militias arming themselves to challenge the results of the election. Hasen’s point in addressing these fears expressed in Mother Jones is that both Republicans and Democrats need to stop speaking with incendiary rhetoric concerning “stolen” or “rigged” elections.  The idea being that such baseless rhetoric, usually advanced by the losing party in a narrow election, furthers the delegitimization of elections as an institution which erodes public trust.  Theoretically, according to Mother Jones, this would be the basis for a violent reaction to election results.

While Hasen expresses some cautious optimism that 2020 election results may not result in sectarian violence, the threat of it is one of the many reasons why we should not be using divisive language that negatively impacts the integrity and public faith of our institutions.  This was, for me, one of the biggest takeaways from Hasen’s assessments of this year’s election. I have already been vocal about the onslaught of disinformation that has started to flood the campaign, and I try, sometimes in vain, to convince my friends and family that we need to watch what we say so as not to further the divide in this country.  And I apply this outlook to not just cover what we say about other Democrats, but also how we speak about Republicans or other political opponents. Understanding Hasen’s points of “stolen” rhetoric reinforces, at least for me, the need for people to find our commonalities for the sake of carrying out free and fair elections.

Here is the idea when applied to the presidential election in November. Let’s say Donald Trump wins by a very slim margin. Democrats must accept that and not abuse our electoral institutions by advocating for endless recounts or decrying the election as “stolen.” If we walk away as sore losers and suggest we were robbed of victory, it suggests that the results of an election do not matter.  Even if an election is in our favor with a victory. On the flip side, if Donald Trump loses by a narrow margin and uses all his presidential power to delegitimize the results by claiming voter fraud negatively impacted the election, Republicans have to put pressure on Trump and his administration to respect the results and begin a peaceful transition of power.

While the various Mother Jones pieces on the subject speak about a potential violent conservative uprising that could result if Trump is deemed the loser, the reality is that both the left and the right are contributing to this issue. While one may argue that a liberal uprising would present considerably less violent outcomes than a conservative one, both parties are culpable if they continue to use social media and new outlets to denounce election results should there be a narrow margin.  Any language that reinforces a “stolen” election narrative, whether expressed via Twitter or street protests, disrupts the public faith on all sides for any voter regardless of their party affiliation.

When I was in Barcelona, I had a conversation with some German guys who had rooms in the Airbnb where I was staying.  We discussed the 2020 election and they shared their outlook with me as Europeans looking in from the outside. We found quite a bit of common ground in our beliefs and attitudes.  However, they were unaware of the media narrative concerning the possibility that Trump may not leave office if the margin of defeat in the election is narrow.  I was a bit surprised by their thoughts. They felt that would never happen because America’s democracy is very strong and that they were optimistic about the country’s ability to uphold its traditions. Simply put, to them, America is worrying too much over nothing. Personally, I found it astounding that they would not recognize the pattern of incremental power grabs leading (potentially) to totalitarianism, especially as Europeans.

When I was reading about Hasen’s comments on the possibility of a violent uprising surrounding the election results, one song came to mind.  Written by Frank Loesser and published as sheet music in 1042, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” was an American patriotic response to the Pearl Harbor attack. In the song, a chaplain referred to as a “sky pilot” is on the frontlines along with some other Americans facing an attack from an unnamed enemy. The chaplain is then asked to say a prayer for the men fighting beyond the frontlines. Instead, the chaplain lays down his Bible before manning a gun turret saying, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” The version I am most familiar with is the 1943 recording by Kay Kyser and His Orchestra, a bandleader and radio personality popular during the 1930s and 1940s.

Published on August 28, 2018, Kevin Drum published a Mother Jones article with the headline “Trump Urges Evangelicals to Prep for Violence After They Lose Election.” Trump is quoted in the article saying “The level of hatred, the level of anger is unbelievable. Part of it is because of some of the things I’ve done for you and for me and for my family, but I’ve done them. … This Nov. 6 election is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion, it’s a referendum on free speech and the First Amendment.”  He continued saying that the Democrats “will overturn everything that we’ve done and they’ll do it quickly and violently, and violently. There’s violence. When you look at Antifa and you look at some of these groups — these are violent people.”

Fortunately, there was not a violent evangelical uprising that occurred following the Blue Wave when the House of Representatives turned power over to the Democrats. However, more is at stake in 2020 than there was in 2018. I don’t believe that armed militias will take to the streets should Trump lose and refuse to concede the election, but anything is possible if all Americans, whether they be Republicans or Democrats, continue to speak in rhetoric that instills distrust in our democratic institutions. If Trump fails to implement a peaceful transition of power, the last thing we need are the nuts putting down their Bibles and picking up arms in the name of the Lord.

“fdt” – yg feat. nipsey hussle (2016)

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It is an election year, and my mind is slowly coming to terms with that.  Try as I might to ignore that fact, the toxic landscape that is national politics is increasingly asserting itself to be front and center of everyone’s consciousness. Though the next presidential election is only 10 months away, it feels like the 2020 election cycle has been happening for years.  The 2016 election seems so long ago. With the ongoing dehumanization of large swaths of the American populace, the delegitimization of our institutions, and the dismantling of civil liberties, it feels like decades of progress have occurred over the last three years since Donald Trump’s election.

Even before the new year started, I was already over the 2020 election.  Many people are.  Sure, I’m fired up as well.  Especially considering that we are entering primary season, waiting to see which of the remaining Democratic candidates will rise and secure the nomination over the summer.  And while dedicated voters rally for their chosen primary candidate as the one who can beat Trump at the ballot box, often fighting within the party in what Barack Obama referred to as a circular firing squad, Trump is strengthening his position and defense to earn a second term.

I hate the fact that I am writing about Donald Trump.  Not just that I currently am, but have several times before, and will continue to write about him until he dies or gets booted out of office, either through the ballot box or Senate votes.  I don’t want to write about him, but it is an election year.

Since it is an election year, Trump will get worse throughout the year.  It is funny, though not really, to think that the recent violent tensions with Iran are only just the beginning.  That it could get worse seems so unfathomable.  And it is all because he relishes the entertainment.  Any outrage to anything he says in rallies, such denigrating Democrats for impeaching him, to the propaganda he posts on Twitter, such as Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi photoshopped wearing traditional Muslim attire, is all meant to elevate Donald Trump at the experience of the American people, our national and state institutions, and the Constitution, all for monetary and political gain in a self-served quest for absolute power.

I don’t know how low he’ll go during the election.  No one does.  But Donald Trump will sink so low that the only thing I’ll find surprising is how people manage to continue to be outraged and offended by him. I just don’t have the energy to be outraged by him anymore.  Any energy I have that I could use to express outrage at our deranged president is best reserved for supporting my chosen primary candidate, such as going to Iowa to knock on doors or work phone banks.

So, for now, the only energy I’ll reserve for our president is to simply say: Fuck Donald Trump.

Back in 2016, when Trump was still just a presidential candidate, YG released his studio album Still Brazy.  Included on the album is the brilliant protest song “FDT” where YG expresses his disdain for the candidate Trump.  Calling Trump out on his racism, such as ejecting black students from his rallies, and how he’ll use the office to make himself richer, YG is clear in his message; fuck Donald Trump.

In the spoken word opening, there is an interesting line that really stands out.  YG says that he, as well as his people, thought Trump was alright because of his status as a pop culture and business icon.  That is until he hit the campaign trail and proved just how much of a terrible human being he was.  This reminded me of something I read in the book Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency by Joshua Green, documenting Bannon’s influence during the Trump campaign and then eventually as the president White House Chief Strategist.

In the book, Green discusses the popularity of Trump’s reality show The Apprentice, especially among black and Latino men.  Trump, in the show, portrayed wealth, luxury, and glamor, things that appealed to a group of people, through generations of systemic oppression, were largely denied.  For people who wanted wealth as a sign of status worthy of admiration and suspect, the character Trump played on his reality show was an aspiring figure to look up to.

While YG does not go that deep into the introduction of “FDT,” that sentiment was there.  A lot of people thought of Trump as a joke or just another rich guy on television, with all the things that come with the life of a reality television star.  However, as Trump continued to dominate throughout the 2016 election, a lot of people woke up to the idea of who Trump really was.  But despite losing the popular vote by three million, not enough people woke up to that.

If it was not apparent in 2016 when YG released “FDT” that our president is a terrible human being, I hope his actions, behavior, and words since then have informed those and the fence and motivate them to go to the ballot box and in a proverbial “fuck you” to the president, vote for someone else.

I’m done debating and talking about Trump.  I’ve got my work to do, and so does everyone else who wants to see real change in November.  Until then, if you wanna come up to me and talk about how great the president is, all you’ll get from me is “Fuck Donald Trump.”

“the drums of war” – jackson browne (2008)

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Well, we have made it through our first week of 2020.  Though, with a considerably rocky, and potentially deadly, start.  If you’re a fan of the television show 30 Rock, or even knowledgeable about meme culture, I’m sure you’ve seen this gem floating around.  In the first panel, Tina Fey as the know-it-all Liz Lemon exasperatedly says to Jack Donaghy, Alec Baldwin’s controlling and senseless executive character, “What a year, huh?”  Jack, in the second panel, says “Lemon, it’s February.” While there are variations of this meme that changes the date and timing of Jack’s response, the point is that I’m feeling where Liz Lemon’s head is at.

Not even 72 hours into the new year, Donald Trump, without congressional approval, ordered a targeted drone strike on Qasem Soleimani’s convoy near Baghdad International Airport, killing the Iranian general. This action resulted in a massive public outcry against Trump from people all over the world including American citizens, allies, and, of course, the Iranian government itself. In a short period of time, global tensions spiked as the world waited to see how Iran would respond and how, most likely, Trump would escalate the issue.

So much has happened in the last week that it is hard to keep track of. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared the Trump administration had proof Soleimani had plans to attack various American targets without specific evidence. Iran said it would continue developing nuclear weapons. Trump took to Twitter to declare that Iranian retaliation would result in deliberate American attacks on 52 points of interest (a reference to the number of hostages captured by Iranian decades earlier), including cultural sites.  Iran launched a dozen missiles at a base in Iraq.  Trump promised further sanctions on Iran and declaring they would never go nuclear.  That is just a summary.

I have not had the time to really dive deep into every event and analyze the situation.  I’m trying to break free from the post-holiday slump and get back to my routine at work, dealing with personal and professional challenges, and trying to focus on other things that are important to me.  Regarding all the conflicts that have happened with Iran over the last week, I’m left with just a general feeling of confusion, fear, and dread.  I’ve been texting friends with vague ideas about escape plans out of Chicago should war be declared and come to American soil.  I bit paranoid for sure, but that’s the age we’re in.  Our volatile and unpredictable president, who thrives on fear, emboldens our enemies to the point where I just don’t feel as safe as a I used to.  And that is scary.

Though I haven’t done a deep dive into these stories to construct my own thoughts on the events and timelines, one thing is already certainly clear.  This recent conflict with Iran is a deflection from the impeachment.  Trump is so worried about impeachment that he is willing to get into a nuclear dick-measuring contest with hostile nations in order to get re-elected.  The election is ten months away and I am dreading everything that potentially could, and likely will, happen when Trump is so focused on winning a second term by any means necessary.

I’ve been listening to a lot of songs about war the last week.  A good chunk of them have been songs about the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a war that started when I was a teenager and has continued ever since.  It is getting increasingly harder to believe, but I do remember life before endless wars, social media disinformation, and mass surveillance and policing. And the music reflects that change I experienced.  Unlike the anti-war songs from the 60s and 70s, many of which sound so quaint and unrelatable, the ones from my generation address these topics in different ways.  Before, anti-war songs seemed cautionary or addressing a conflict that stands in the way of peace.  It is almost as if they were saying that once this conflict is over, we can heal the divide.

Now, the anti-war songs sound so different.  While still full of fiery condemnation, I sense some hopelessness as well.  Life in a post-9/11 world presented a new normal.  We can’t go back to the way things were and who knows what is coming next? There is seemingly no line on the horizon now.  Will things get better, or will they get worse?  Worse for some or for all?  Worse in ways we’ll be desensitized to?  I do not know the answer.

One song that came out of the post-2003 Iraq war creative output that was new to me until recently was Jackson Browne’s own contribution to the dreary malaise of endless wars.  From his 2008 studio album Time the Conqueror, which addresses a multitude of frustrations with the George W. Bush administration, “The Drums of War” condemns the United States government’s enthusiasm for war against Iraq.  In the song, Browne ask a series of rhetorical questions about the identities and roles that make up the many faces of war, and the need for those in power to blind people to true nature of those calling for war.

The conflict with Iran is still ongoing and I am unsure how things will play out.  I am exhausted by terrible news, especially now that we are in an election year.  I am doing my best to stay informed and engaged, but it gets really hard. However, it is more important now than ever to not let these crimes and injustices escalate.  It is key to hold our leaders accountable.  It is time to fight and vote Donald Trump out of office this November.  Because we cannot spiritually afford another war.

“impeach the president” – the honey drippers (1973)

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I really struggled with what this week’s song blog post would be like.  I initially wanted to write about other things, happy things like Sesame Street’s golden anniversary.  However, I couldn’t find the right words or narrative. Since I have been doing this blog every week for almost five years, some posts are better than others.  So, you’ll have to excuse the stream of consciousness based on what is happening in the world today.

The first public hearing in the Trump impeachment inquiry is currently happening.  I’ve been listening all morning, and I’ll likely be listening off and on throughout the day.  Listening to Ambassador Bill Taylor’s opening statement, I found myself thinking about how much the world has changed since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, and the impact Donald Trump has had on the United States, and ultimately the world, since he announce his presidential candidacy in 2015.

The latter was only four years ago, but it feels like ages.  So much has changed, mostly for the worst.  Whether it be the delegitimization of this country’s institutions, or the furthering divisions within its populace, everyone’s lives have been negatively impacted by Trump.  Even his most strident supporters, whether they want to admit it or not or even if they are aware, have been negatively impacted.

Though I know things have gotten worse, I still maintain hope that things will get better.  Things may become even worse than they are now, life will eventually get better and a balance will be restored.  I know that this kind of cautious optimism is not commonly shared.  A lot of systemic factors come together to keep us in fear, continuously anxious. Social media doesn’t help as it has been weaponized to further the divide between Americans, fueled by false and misleading information.

It is hard to maintain this cautious optimism because I see that no one wants to work together if you’re ideologically aligned.  I see both the left and the right vilify the other, blame the other for the current state of affairs.  And what I recognize from this is that the gap between Americans is widening and I do not see anyone recognizing that continuing in that direction only aims to undermine everyone.

I understand.  We’re all angry and we want it all right now.  In an age where information has moved faster than it ever has before, it fuels this need for instant gratification.  And as a result, we become unwilling to compromise.

What I tell my friends, family, and other people I talk with about politics or other social issues is this: if you truly care about achieving goals, and not just merely winning an argument, you’re going to have to work with people you don’t want to work with.

It is that philosophy that motivates me to communicate with people and to bridge the divide that is tearing this country apart.  I find myself increasingly becoming more focused on changing hearts and minds through communication, as opposed to tearing people down and making assumptions about their values.  This is a moderate philosophy. It is not centrism. It is about restoring a balance and then putting in the effort to mobilize people to become more progressive.  And the first step is understanding.

A lot of people are watching this impeachment inquiry. It is truly a defining moment.  As much as I believe that Trump, his family, and his administration should be in prison, I think about how the political powers will use this inquiry to further drive a wedge between Americans.  We need cooperation and support to get the results we want, especially from those who we believe or assume think the opposite of us. Trump should be removed from office, but I am concerned about the fallout.

When Nancy Pelosi made the announcement that the House would begin an impeachment inquiry over Trump asking a foreign power to investigate a political opponent, an obscure funk song by the Honey Drippers resurfaced with much fervor over the impending impeachment of Trump.  Released in 1973, “Impeach the President” was the Honey Drippers’ first single and protested Richard Nixon by advocating his removal from office.  The track has been sample dozens of times since its release and has become an unofficial anthem for Trump’s impeachment.

I hate Donald Trump and I struggle with why someone would find him appealing.  However, I cannot find it within me to belittle someone just for that. I want to understand them, show them empathy, and talk about how we have more in common than our leaders want us to believe.  It is hard work and requires a lot of patience, but I truly believe in the results.  I do not want this country further driven apart than it already has been.  And I’ll stand up to anyone about this belief; to the right and their bad ideas, and to the left for their self-righteousness.

I am a progressive and leftist beliefs.  However, I am also pragmatic.  And I do believe the change I want to see will come at the derision of others.  It is an old and played out adage, but it is true; you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

“the shores of normandy” – jim radford (2019)

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Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, an Allied invasion of Normandy as part of Operation Overload during World War II.  It is a defining battle during a defining war with effects that still reverberate to this day as the world recognizes veterans from the war, both living and dead, the millions of lives lost from the destruction.

During this time, President Trump has been visiting the United Kingdom and taking part in activities commemorating the anniversary of the battle which signified a major turning part in the war.  With such an occasion, tact and humility are needed to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.  That is not what we get with Trump.

Trump is a coward, as Senator Tammy Duckworth declared, and I have to agree. Trump received five deferments during the Vietnam War, two of which were allegedly for bone spurs.  Now, we have had presidents who have not served in the military and some who have even criticized American involvement with international conflicts.  However, we have not had one that has expressed such cowardice through their denigration of war heroes, false promises to veterans, and maligned understanding of the impact war has on families than Donald Trump.

In an interview with Pier Morgan, Trump discussed his Vietnam stating he “was never a fan” meaning that he did not support American intervention in the country.  While others felt the same way.  Trump also did not actively protest the war.  Others did not as well.  Where Trump’s cowardice comes through is how he is able to rationalize his deferment.

During this interview, Trump stated that his lack of service has been rectified by him being elected president.  Specifically, Trump said, about serving in Vietnam, “I would not have minded that at all. I would have been honored. But I think I make up for it now. I mean look, $700 billion I gave last year and then this year $716 billion and I think I’m making up for it rapidly because we are rebuilding our military at a level that it’s never seen before.”

In response, Senator Duckworth responded to Trump’s comments by saying “I don’t know anyone who has served in uniform, especially in combat, who would say they are a fan of war,” she said. “In fact, I opposed the Iraq war, but volunteered to go when my unit was deployed.”  Donald Trump, who has never been forced to be accountable about anything, is able to, over 40 years later after being issued five deferments, claim he would have proudly served in a war he opposed.

While the Vietnam War was, and remains, rather unpopular in American history, the way World War II has been depicted in popular culture has reflected an opposite, often rose-colored, reputation.  For many reasons, World War II has been revered as a defining moment in recent history, an epic battle of good versus evil, where America, and the Allied forces by extension, represent the last bastion of freedom against the existential threat to democracy by Hitler’s fanatical fascism and his commitment to racial purity enforced through systemic genocide. Even Trump echoes this simplistic understanding of the war with comments during the Piers Morgan interview saying, in conjunction with his view on Vietnam, “But, uh, nobody heard of Vietnam and then say well what are we doing. So many people dying. So I was never a fan of — this isn’t like I’m fighting against Nazi Germany. I’m fighting — we’re fighting against Hitler.”

Our society reveres our veterans, and rightfully so.  However, we cannot ignore the inherent problems within America before, during, and, unfortunately, after World War II.  Breaking down popular conception of the war, there are countless books and resources that document American debate about interfering in European conflicts. And, more disturbingly, there existed a contingent of Americans that championed Hitler’s ideals and leveraged them as a reason to not engage militarily with the dictator.  While high school courses and popular culture may paint such a complex war in simple terms of good versus evil, Americans were divided because of their racism and prejudice.

While fascism went out of style and stayed underground for several decades after World War II, it has come back in a big way.  Since the early 1990s, fascism and neo-Nazis in Europe have quietly garnered support.  And now, in 2019, we are in the middle of the first term of a president who has emboldened fascist contingencies within his base.  The extreme factions of Trump’s support base, consisting of white supremacists, American isolationists, and just plain Nazis, have now become organized, motivated, and vocal on social media, championing the president to continue sowing discord among Americans for beliefs that resulted in a global conflict in which upwards of 85 million people lost their lives.

This conflict is recent history.  There are people who were alive then, some of whom fought.  The idea that we can be so blind to the reality, or even nuance, of war, whittling it down to concepts of good versus bad or right versus wrong, is unsettling.  And even more disturbing is the fact that there are significant social and political movements that want to return to fascist order that resulted in the war.

I know it can be easy to be cynical and be all doom and gloom about the future. Trump certainly doesn’t make it easier.  However, fascism is on the rise in Europe, especially in eastern Europe.  I hope it can be quashed, but it has a strong momentum fueled by racism and political desires to disrupt global alliances and treaties.  As the world solemnly reflects on arguably the most significant of World War II’s defining moments, the idea that we could realistically be in the same position, but with nuclear weapons, is terrifying.

Jim Radford is the youngest known D-Day veteran having served as a ship’s galley boy during the Normandy invasion.  He helped construct a harbor and ran supplies on the beaches.  In 1969, being a fan of folk music, he wrote a song called “The Shores of Normandy.”  In 2019, 75 years after the Normandy invasion and 50 years since writing the song, Radford recorded a version of the song which has hit the number spot of Amazon’s singles chart.

In “The Shores of Normandy,” Radford sings about his experience in the invasion.  About the song and why he chose to record it in 2019, Radford said “It’s very important to me and other veterans that there should be a place like this where people can come and reflect because we’re not going to be around for much longer to tell the story, and the story needs to be told because people need to learn lessons from it.”

Profits from “The Shores of Normandy” will support the British Normandy Memorial.

“ship of fools” – world party (1987)

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In December, a GoFundMe campaign was initiated to fund Trump’s border wall.  Spearheaded by Brian Kolfage, a Purple Heart recipient and triple-amputee veteran, the goal was to raise $1 billion to build portions of the border for a “fraction of what it costs the government” and do so on private lands owned by a nonprofit launched by Kolfage.  Within just a few weeks, Kolfage raised over $20 million from thousands of donors.  These donors were people so desperate for their wall, a symbol of bigotry and white supremacy, that they would give their money away to a man like Kolfage who promised results during April 2019. Though the GoFundMe did not achieve the goal Kolfage set, the timeline to begin construction has started and his financial backers are no wondering what is happening with the wall.

Reports have been coming through alleging that Kolfage recently bought a $1 million yacht using the money intended for the border wall, and is described as living a “high-flying lifestyle” with the rest of the funds. During their reporting of Kolfage’s campaign to raise fund for the border wall, The Washington Post that alleged Kolfage has a long history of scamming people using sensationalist anti-liberal propaganda to generate revenue.  Investigations led by NBC and BuzzFeed have also provided examples of Kolfage using conspiracy theories and fake news articles to harvest, mine, and sell email address and other data from his supporters.  Kolfage has also been linked to other crowdsourcing efforts that scammed financial backers including projects mentoring wounded veterans.  While Kolfage has not been charged or convicted for any of these scams, he has certainly been linked to scams for quite some time.

I cannot imagine being so desperate for a symbol of isolationist bigotry, such as the border wall, that I would be willing to unquestioningly give my money to some clean-cut, conservative white guy in a pressed polo in the hopes he could make by nationalist, white supremacist ideals into a reality.  Frankly, it is a mentality that I do not understand, relate to, or empathize with because of the amount of putrid hate that goes into that kind of thinking.  I can generally find myself supportive of anyone taken advantage of, but I feel nothing for these dumbasses who sold their souls for a stupid wall.

While these reports have been coming through about Kolfage, I have been reading Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible obstruction of justice by Donald Trump.  As of the date this blog is published, I am just over the halfway point of reading through this report.

While much of what I have read in the report I already knew, I did learn some details that add some context to larger issues.  However, it all boils down to one consistent thought throughout and that is “why do people believe this man?”

Ultimately, the report suggests that Trump and his team were not knowledgeable that what they were doing was wrong and the inherent difficulty of assessing the value of the damage from that wrongdoing.  It is crystal clear Trump has lied, cheated, and stole throughout his life and that did not stop when he entered the White House, using the 2016 campaign as a big informercial to raise his brand awareness and profitability.  This is a conman who is scamming America, but he still manages to have a third of America enamored and defending his every move.

The reason why is that they are nationalists, racists, and white supremacists who have a very specific vision of America.  I’m not suggesting that every person who voted for Trump in 2016 adheres to any of those disgusting principles.  However, the fringe elements of Trump’s base have become so mobilized that they are helping drive national policy with Trump acting in their interests because they adore him.  These people want a wall built and Trump will do it because they love him.  As a result, the rest of America, people who don’t want a wall or are even ambivalent to it, are lumped in with those who are giving this country a bad name.  A name that suggests we are racist, hateful, bigoted, and uncaring to the rest of the world.  Those of us who oppose the wall are stuck on a burning ship set aflame by those who will distort America’s inherent vision and framework to align with their own to the point of altering America beyond recognition.  And It doesn’t matter if they get conned along the way, whether by Kolfage or trump, because they are always willing to throw in big bucks or put in long hours to get what they want.

“I don’t want to sail with this ship of fools” sung by Karl Wallinger, the producer and multi-instrumentalist behind World Party.  As World Party, Wallinger released “Ship of Fools” in 1987 from his studio album Private Revolution.  In the song, Wallinger is decrying the greed and avarice that defined the 1980s in favor of a more fair and inclusive direction.  This ship is travelling the world in search of no good, exploiting the work of galley slaves as the ship sails further away from the light towards darkness.  In a time when America faces an existential crisis on a level unheard of in our history, World Party’s “Ship of Fools” maintains a relevancy three decades after its initial release as a statement about the absurdity the majority endures at the hands of an extremist minority.

It is frustrating to know that a third of the country is being lied to but is still willing to give everything they have to secure a masturbatory fantasy regarding their bogus national identity.  It is important to fight against this at every step because we will not like what comes after America.

“communication” – the power station (1985)

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I have been feeling rather introspective lately about a lot of aspects in my life.  I’m sure I’ll cover each of those in the coming weeks but, for this blog entry, I wanted to share some recent insights I have gained about the widening divisions within our society.  Namely, the perpetuation of an Us versus Them culture.

Since Donald Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, and subsequently was elected president the following year, it seems that the divisions between people, no matter how small, are exaggerated and exacerbated to the point that we cannot communicate with eachother, recede within our own biases and likeminded groups, and react in ways that can foster extremism.  Basically, a sense of tribalism.

While now it seems like this communication breakdown is so prevalent in 2019, I had been feeling some inkling of dissatisfaction with public discourse for a while now.  Coincidentally, right around the time social media became an increasingly pervasive factor in all our lives.

Facebook was still rather exclusive when I started college in 2006, only allowing college students at the time, but it soon evolved to include everyone thus making it easy to collect and monetize data.  My use of social media is so much different now than how I used it then.  Throughout my collegiate years, it was commonplace to argue and debate with people writing whole dissertations that would get ignored.  All of it felt supremely unnatural and ineffective to me.  I couldn’t eloquently at the time explain why, but those kind of exchanges just felt empty.

Now, it is very rare that I’ll respond to a heated thread with an opinion.  It isn’t that I’m afraid of the reaction, but I do consider what could be misinterpreted or lost in translation, whether intentionally or not, and I just decide that it isn’t worth my time.  I no longer view social media as a soapbox as I had used It in college.  Now, it is a means for me to share with family and friends vacation photos, see how they are doing, and post book reviews.  All of this was a conscious decision to shape how I used various social media platforms as a member of the first generation to come of age with social media as a communal space.

The criticism to that viewpoint is that, as a white cisgender heterosexual male, I do not recognize the equalizing power that social media platforms offer.  To the more marginalized members of our society, it is said that social media has given a voice to the voiceless.  And with that, a sense of justice and a fair shot of contributing to and redirecting social dialogue.  It is one of the reasons why proponents of social media, oftentimes people who generate income through their interaction with it, say that social media offers more good than it does bad.  That everything can be utilized in both positive and negative ways.

All of that is true, in theory.  Social media is still a relatively new phenomenon and we have yet to understand the long-term impacts social media has on our society.  Though, that isn’t to say we have not seen immediate effects.  Ones that we are just now becoming aware of and taking time to truly understand.

During President Obama’s second term, I began to understand exactly the issue I had with social media.  I was reading articles about people who made off color or racist remarks and then would be publicly shamed online.  I don’t disagree with someone facing consequences for hate speech, but social media allowed even innocuous, or misunderstood comments, to be blown up resulting in these people’s lives being ruined.  I had read Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and he explained that social media was creating “virtual stockades,” environments where people could be shamed in ways unseen by civilization since actual stockades.  This seemed wrong to me to punish people for comments, while maybe inappropriate, that didn’t actually qualify as hate speech or directly communicated a call to action for violence.  I was trying to understand this changing landscape of activism and free speech and my questioning, or even criticism, of overreactions were deemed by my fellow liberals as me being an apologist for racists.

As Donald Trump was gaining momentum during the campaign, I would even get lambasted by my fellow liberals for engaging the situation that was more nuanced than just spewing vitriolic bile online or in crowds.  I remember telling a friend in December 2015 that the only way to defeat Trump was to ignore him.  I was told I was being complicit.  Complicit about what?  I don’t know.  However, the attitude at the time reflected this liberal bubble mindset that “if we cover everything he says and put it all over the news and social media, people will see how awful Trump is.”  That did not happen and since Trump’s election, media executives like Jeff Zucker and Les Moonves have said publicly that covering Trump meant more ratings and money.  And that’s when I realized the issue I had with social media.  I realized social media was a business that commoditized our outrage and profited off the proliferation of identity politics.

As part of my journey to understand why Donald Trump won the presidency, I had to understand how every side contributed.  I did not feel analyses blaming white people or racists or Russians were satisfactory at explaining his victory.  I began to think about how democrats and the left, my groups, contributed.  This led me to the realization that the left suffers from the narcissism of small differences, the idea that likeminded individuals are more likely to engage in feuds of minutiae. I found all of this so frustrating.  I kept thinking that since we are all on the same side, we should be more unified.  Instead, there were moments I received vitriolic feedback for have an opinion that was generally in the same ballpark, but still didn’t exactly align with the militancy that has been driving social activism.

I’ve been reading two books lately that have really opened my eyes on this subject.  Irshad Manji, a Muslim lesbian, wrote a book called Don’t Label Me, an analysis on how labels are weaponized in ways that dehumanize us and further the divide between Us and Them. She tackles modern social justice philosophies concerning privilege, power dynamics, multiculturism, and cultural appropriation and exposes the flaws inherent in each of those to showcase how people become isolated and gravitate towards extremes; places they can go and be reaffirmed for their beliefs by people who won’t berate and belittle them.

In the book, Manji is quite tough on leftist social activists for commoditizing marginalized people and using them as props to fulfill specific goals. She also stresses that people are more than their perceived labels, that we are plurals with unique backstories that defy the expectations or stereotypes of our labels.  I’m sure my fellow liberals have heard, or even conveyed, that people who voted for Trump are racists.  I have never believed that, though sometimes I found myself wavering when pressured or when Trump said something that really boiled my blood.  Yes, there are some truly vile people in his camp.  However, I have challenged this by telling people that all Trump voters are not bad.  The usual response is that they are complicit with Trump’s actions, or that I am.

Manji’s point is that in order to change hearts and minds, you must listen with the intent to understand as opposed with the intent to win.  As a result, you build a personal connection and are taken more seriously.  This potentially allows them to think on their own values and work on compromise that enforces a more unified outcome.  Telling someone they are wrong and stupid is only going to make them retreat which can develop into extremism.

The other book I have been reading is Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown.  The concept of emergent strategy comes from Octavia Butler, an African-American science fiction writer, and essentially means that large systemic changes can be made through simple interactions.  By developing personal relationships and, as Manji stated, listening with the intent to understand, we can bridge the gap between Us and Them.  It all boils down to building relationships with people with different views in order to achieve a mutually beneficial result.  We gain nothing from isolating people when we assume so much of them based on labels that restrict them and their individuality.

I am vocal about this because I do not Trump to win again in 2020.  And, the way I understand things as they are now, the left is doubling down on failed practices from 2016.  In essence, many of the left are acting exactly like Trump.  Trump claims he is a victim and mobilizes his base to attack the other.  The left, a lot of the times, victimizes themselves and acts in a way that is not proactive in achieving actual results.  In essence, we have look inward to facilitate change if we expect change within our problematic systems.  We cannot ask to be heard if we are not willing to hear.  Achieving honest diversity is about communication and dialogue.

The third single from the Power Station’s debut album, “Communication” is a fun pop rock song from 1985 about, obviously, the need to communicate.  In the song, Robert Palmer is asking someone to stay in touch though things are crazy hectic, and we are all on the move.  He’s urging this person to keep their lines open and exchanges facts through contact, but he just cannot get through.

I know it is a bit of a stretch to connect this song with the main thesis of this blog, but it adds to my point.  Remember when I was talking social media? Our interactions with people online are commoditized, and it shapes how we behave in the offline world. We’re being programmed to not have honest dialogue, but instead focus on whatever is quick and easy to consume because we’re always on the move looking for the next thing, the next click. We have to slow down and put emphasis on listening to each other and not become subjects to corporate mechanisms that generate revenue from our conflicts and anxiety.  Reach out.  I am here.  I will listen.