The White House: America’s new reality tv show

Regardless of how you feel about Donald Trump, I will give him credit for consistently doing one thing that he is really good at doing. He grabs headlines. And he’s managed to be a top story (if not THE top story) in every major news outlet around the country since he took office. And even many other countries.

The White House has become America’s new favorite reality tv show.

You’re fired!

And you’re fired!

I didn’t do that.

Well maybe I did but it didn’t mean anything.

Maybe I said it did at the time.

You only know because someone leaked it! We have leaks!

Ok, maybe I said it!

But you weren’t supposed to write about it!

Look at Crooked Hillary!

Remember how bad Obama was!

You’re fired!

I don’t know if that makes America “great again” or not but we do seem to have become the leading source of the world’s entertainment.

I would love it if someone could go back and compare Trump’s first six-months in office with Obama’s and see who made more front page news. Who signed more executive orders. Even who tweeted more. (Sorry, I love data.)

There are still so many unfilled positions in the government but Trump can’t seem to fill them since he spends all his time shuffling his main staff around.

I’m willing to bet that if you worked for Trump and had that much turn over and lack of productivity on your staff (remember all those promises he hasn’t filled yet…….) he would have fired himself long ago.

Hands down, my favorite moment in this reality show was last week when he said he said he had consulted with “my Generals and military experts” on transgender troops.* Apparently “his” Generals and experts are not the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs…..you know….our Generals and military experts. Like most things, Trump has his own apparently.Our Generals and military experts seemed blindsided by it. I can only imagine the reaction Mattis had to this.

But Trump seems consistently pleased with himself. No matter what 24 hours news station he turns to, he is the top headline. And anytime he isn’t, he just takes to twitter and jumps right back up there.

We are only half way through Season 1. Three more seasons to go.

*Even the relatively conservative RAND corporation has said the the benefits of allowing people who are transgender to serve out weighs any additional accommodation issues. Oh, and you know, it’s the right fucking thing to do.

Shouting people down is not the same as free speech

I have watched it play out on campus after campus this past year. And it has begun to creep into off-campus protests and events as well including local government meetings and civic events. Somewhere along the way, we have confused shouting people down with free speech. When it is rather the opposite. It is suppression. I am specifically talking about the idea that free speech means being allowed to stand in someone’s face and scream at them or disrupt and shut down an event.

Let me set a ground rule before I start. I don’t believe all ideas are equally valid. I don’t even think all ideas are worth giving air time to or listening too. However, all people, have a right to their own ideas. They have a right to gather together and discuss their ideas with like minded people. And to a certain extent, the government should not be involved in suppressing those rights. In fact, this is the very thing the has built progressive America into what it is today. I have an even bigger concern when the legislatures start weighing in with free speech bills and legislation that are clearly punitive to one side or idea.

The majority of the context I am speaking about is with higher education. Let me begin by telling you a secret. [whispers] There are conservative students, faculty, and staff in higher education. And that’s okay. A certain vocal minority within the left has convinced themselves that higher education, particularly large, public, liberal arts colleges, are bubbles of pure untouched left wing thinkers whose only limitation is the moderately left leaning administration.

Then when some small conservative group (or any group with an idea they find questionable) gets together – regardless of cause – they immediately want to hound them, suppress them, shout them down, and drive them from campus. This is not freedom of speech nor the free exchange of ideas. This is mob mentality, intimidation, and suppression. This is not what we claim our institutions value.

Three years ago, at my nearby college, the largest campus religious group invited a nationally known anti-GLBT speaker. The speaker is a strong advocate of being able to “pray the gay away”. Almost no one noticed. This year, that same group, has noticeably limited their advertisements about who they are inviting and has actually started employing security for their meetings. The largest. campus. religious. group.

This sort of “majority rules” “mob-intimidation mentality” that forces people to think and act like the majority wants them to act is dangerous – be it left, right, up, or down. And the truth is that it isn’t really a majority. It is another minority (for now). But it is a minority to whom the largely left-of-center campus is sympathetic. And as such, few seem to perceive the danger in this and many are willing to tolerate it. Though few are around to actually watch when dozens of shouting people surround one or two lone people and scream them down. The intimidation and fear is real and intentional. But afterwards and beforehand, the crowd wants to label it “free speech.”

I worry about this as the military has previously been a target of visceral free speech. The Martin Niemöller statement of “First they came for the socialists….” sticks in my head. So now, me, a social liberal, religious progressive, and social justice advocate, has to say we’re going too far. (Maybe it’s not “too far,” maybe it is just the wrong direction?)

I was proud of our local college when they did not let an invited speaker get suppressed by those who proudly boasted of their intent to disrupt the event and shut it down. Even though some students, faculty, and locals made it cost a fortune and made it get ugly. Yes, I found myself being proud that we let a conservative speaker with some ideas that resound of racism and bias come speak. That part hurts I admit. I’m not proud that we invited him but I’m proud that our students who invited him were able to hear him. I was not proud that some in our community’s plan to protest it was to shut it down. Too often the majority has ruled by intimidation and suppression. We can’t allow this to be the way our emerging progressive majority acts if want to claim to be inclusive.

Permission to speak freely?

What is free speech? I mean, we use that term all the time. I’m sure there is some legal definition somewhere that almost nobody knows. In pop culture, we think it is some guy standing on a street corner protesting the nuclear bombs or the right to write whatever you want in a blog and post it on the internet. That’s free speech right?

Is free speech an action or a concept? Is it a social construct? Is it subject to change, interpretation, and more importantly – situational?

Is yelling “fire” in a crowded theater free speech? What about yelling “bomb” on a plane? If you have a gun in your hand and yell “I’m going to kill you!” at someone, is that free speech?

If you and I both have something to say that opposes each other, do we both have a right to say it? What if one of us intimidated the other into not speaking? Were someone’s rights infringed there? What if one of us just shouts over the other is that still free speech? If I bring my friends to help me shout over you?

Does free speech protect a minority opinion? Was it what protected the civil rights movement? Abolitionists? Does it protect the Klan and Neo-Nazis? How minority of an opinion can it be and still be protected?

If we say that we are open to all, and one of those all espouses an opinion we don’t agree with, are we open to all? Or are we only open to those whose speech doesn’t offend us? If we are only open to speech that doesn’t offend us, is that really free speech?

Does a group have a right to invite whoever they want to speak to the group? Is that free speech? Does religion matter? What if it is a religious view we totally disagree with? A political view we totally disagree with? If the group is threatened by those who want to shut down their opinions and views, do we as a community have a right to defend them and support them?

At what point does majority rule and over ride your freedom of speech?

 

Can straight white males be progressives?

It’s a question that as a straight white male, I have struggled with. Not to mention adding in the additional layers of being a parent, a veteran and a regular “church-goer” (to those outside UU, we are typical church). There are several lens with which to view this question. (Leave it to a philosopher to correct his own question.)

First, can I overcome my straight white maleness to see the issues of people that are historically marginalized by a society run by straight white males?

I think I’ve tried. I don’t know that I will ever be perfect at it. I don’t know that anyone is ever perfect at overcoming themselves and their own experiences. I read, watch, and listen to feminist, GLBT, and racial/ethnic minority perspectives as well as attempt to include them in my thinking. I agree with them most of the time. I’m historically literate and know that there is bias in history that leads to present-day issues.

Second, if I use my straight white male privilege to amplify the voices and perspectives of marginalized persons, am I not invoking the very privilege I’m trying to dissolve?

For instance, a couple years ago, a group of older white males were repeatedly dismissing the issues my twenty-something female colleague was bringing up in a patronizing sort of way. I fired off an emotionally charged email (rarely a good idea) about their unwillingness to deal with the problem because of who was voicing the concern. After some chastisement from my supervisors, the issue was immediately addressed and resolved. They have since listened to her repeatedly but at least initially, it was more out of fear. (They seem to listen now out of both habit and respect.) But often I don’t have the longevity to see if my use of my privilege has a lasting impact.

Third, and maybe the toughest, when it comes to employment, when I do I allow my career ambitions to take a back seat to the promotion of historically underrepresented persons?

It happens that I work in a field with a strong collection of women, racial minority, and GLBT persons. So when an opportunity for promotion comes open, there have always been candidates from these groups also applying. When I am selected over them, regardless of qualifications, I hear remarks about the persistence of the straight white males in positions of power and privilege and how it is a shame I was hired over an equally qualified person who was not a straight white male. At times, knowing a qualified colleague who was not a straight white male was putting in for a position, and wanting to support them, I have chosen to not apply and openly supported them. But how often do we expect, encourage, or accept, straight white males who are willing to do such a thing? Even when it means passing up a career opportunity or a financial incentive for a working-class family. And has mentioned in the previous question, how you do such things also has career ramifications.

Last, is the question of voice. Is my voice less valuable in the diversity conversation?

When I work with people from marginalized groups, I find I am often shunted into a role of limited agency. When I write about the history of women or African Americans, there is the inevitable question “Why is a white guy doing this work?” As if straight white male historians are limited to only straight white male history. Isn’t that the problem?

I don’t say this out of seeking some pity or “woah is me” attitude. I say it out of answering an earnest question from a colleague about why aren’t more straight white male allies of women and minorities.  There are still more straight white males in this country than any other single group. And as a whole, they are more conservative and hold more power than any other single group. It isn’t easy for a straight white male to try to offload some of that either philosophically, physically, or financially. Hence, the limits to what many are willing to do.

Liberal Americans suddenly amazed Archie Bunker is still alive and voting

As I sat through yet another funeral service for the Death of Progress, I again grew frustrated with my white liberal and progressive friends and neighbors. The majority of whom apparently live in a world of only inner-city hipster and college-campus blue bubbles surrounded by like minded people. Some of whom seem to have literally thought that Archie Bunkers only lived in reruns, museum pictures, and occasional internet posts. They suddenly found out there are many Archie Bunkers who are alive, well, and voting. You need to get out of your bubbles more!

Now certainly, some of it has to do with age. I’ll automatically forgive anyone under 30 who doesn’t know that Archie Bunkers exist (Here is link for you to explain this post. Read it before continuing.) If you are over 30, you probably met Archie, you just didn’t know that was his name. And if you are over 45 I can’t imagine that you haven’t met Archie. What blue rock are you living under?

We progressives joke about awkward Thanksgiving Dinners with family yet forget those family members vote. We try to avoid the crazy old guy who works in building maintenance and still believes Obama is “one of those Mussaleems” but forget that he votes. We rally to our social media to post memes and photos about racial injustice in the system and then forget that there are people who make up that system of racial injustice. People who vote. Speaking of social media….remember those family and high school friends you blocked or unfollowed for the “horrible uninformed things” they were posting. They vote.

Who do you think we are fighting against? Racism – in all its forms individual and institutional, intentional and unintentional, informed and uninformed – is not dead. Nor are its siblings, Homophobia, Nationalism, Sexism, and Religious Righteousness. They are all alive and well. They live just outside your blue bubble. Likely a little further out of town or further from campus. A neighborhood you would never be willing to live in. Probably a neighborhood you don’t feel all that comfortable in. The one with the beat up mobile home that has a Confederate flag on the front porch. Or the rural community with lots of tractors and John Deere hats. Or the small town of small houses and small manufacturing trying to hold on to their small piece of the American dream. These are not isolated places. They are literally just a ways away from where you live.

I continue to be amazed at how out of touch so many progressives have become given the advances of the last few years. There is still much much work to be done. There is reason to fear the coming repercussions for our social advancements. But there is as much reason now as there was in 2008 as there was in 1992 or 1976 to rally to the cause. Get off of your social media full of like-minded friends and actually go out and talk to Archie. Get to know him. If you don’t, you will never find a way to change his mind. We have been lulled into laziness by our recent progress. But America is advanced citizenship. You have to work for it.

I’ll end with two thoughts. First, a quote from one of my favorite movies The American President:

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”

As we go out there to that fight and advocate let us not get discouraged. As Theodore Parker said and Martin Luther King reminded us, that moral arc of the universe is long and it does bend towards justice. America is not an exception. But the work of bending it is constant. Find your Archie Bunker and start applying pressure to that moral arc. We have four years to bend it.