It’s America vs. the World—and Everyone Loses

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I’m guessing they don’t mean that they’re down with the United States of America, as in cool with us? (Photo Credit: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

When President Donald Trump announced his intention to back the United States out of participation in the Paris climate accord, what was most startling was not the potential negative ramifications this move might have for climate change on Earth—which are not to be merely undersold, mind you—but the tone this set in terms of America’s relationship to the rest of the globe. As was largely established in his espousal of an “America First” ideology during his Inauguration speech and throughout his campaign, Trump’s abdication of the U.S.’s environmental responsibilities was essentially a “f**k you” to anyone who was not the U-S-of-A. What made Trump’s announcement particularly galling was the idea the Paris agreement is a voluntary, non-binding treaty. That is, if any signatory nation violates the terms of the accord, it is not as if the rest of the nations in the form of some super big army would come in and, say, force the violator to use hybrid cars.

In fact, prior to Pres. Trump indicating he was opting to pull out—cue salacious wink—the U.S. has been by far the worst offender when it comes to carbon emissions, and has further hampered international efforts to effect a set of environmental standards with some teeth, thanks in large part to opposition on the part of Republican leaders and lawmakers who have refuted the science on climate change, or simply have favored weakening regulations as part of their vague conservative pro-business agenda. Climate change—pshaw! It’s ISIS we should be worried about! They want to take over the world and force us all to live under sharia law! I’m sure as shit not giving up pork! Hell, no, we won’t go!

The United States of America has long viewed itself a cut above the rest, something special. To a certain extent, those who feel this way are right—in terms of its history as a fabled melting pot and as a haven for democratic values, not to mention one of the world’s richest countries, the home of the red, white, and blue has a unique place in the international community. Then again, we are long since removed from the days of the American Revolution and Ellis Island serving as a major hub for entry in the United States. Besides, regardless of what era we’re living in, it’s seemingly a fine line between a proclamation of national pride and individuality, and patriotism to the point of stubbornness. Metric system? Forget that! Why would we want a system based on the number 10 which makes all kinds of sense? Better to have some mess of measurements based on the British imperial system that you either have to memorize or constantly look up! And while we’re at it, screw soccer! Football is way better—because you use your hands—which makes it strange that it’s called “football”—but screw it some more! Because America!

Attitudes like those set forth by Donald Trump which would place America first and all others second—presumably this includes Russia, but you are free to draw your own conclusions in this regard—by their nature appeal to the ultra-conservatives and nationalists among his base. Of course, this is Donald Trump we’re talking about here, so his positions on this dimension have been anything but consistent. For all his bluster about keeping out of other countries’ affairs, especially in the Middle East, it certainly knocked the alt-righters who bought a four-year pass on the Trump Train for a loop when he went and authorized the use of the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan. As enthusiasts of the military-industrial complex instead would be concerned, America under #45 has already seen its fair share of meddling and flex of military might.

Soon after his Trump’s tenure began, the administration proceeded with an operation in Yemen, the success of which is very much debatable. For all the supposedly “helpful intelligence” that was gathered and despite 14 al-Qaeda militants being killed, according to U.S. officials, the Yemen raid also resulted in the death of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, the destruction of a $90 million aircraft, and the deaths of 23 civilians. John McCain, a man who, ahem, knows something about serving his country, even went so far as to label the mission a “failure.” Once we dispense with the usual self-serving talk from Trump, Sean Spicer, and other flatterers within the administration, we are presented with a case where—surprise!—our President’s judgment and flippant approach to foreign policy can and should be scrutinized.

It’s not just in Yemen, however, that we as a country collectively have blood on our hands under Donald Trump, and as with the botched raid on high-ranking al-Qaeda members in Yemen, the collateral damage and overall questionable utility of certain operations merits more attention than it otherwise has received by the mainstream media. In April, multiple reports confirmed that the United States bombed a mosque in Syria, killing 40 civilians and wounding dozens more, a notion which flew directly in the face of U.S. officials’ accounts that it had targeted an al-Qaeda stronghold. This incident fits in with a disturbing pattern of the use of military force under #45: lower insistence on safeguarding civilians in Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere; spikes in the number of civilian casualties disproportionate to the actual number of airstrikes being carried out; and general lack of oversight by the Commander-in-Chief and leadership by the Armed Forces in general. And this is before we even get to the matter of spending and cost overruns, which have been an issue with the Department of Defense even prior to Trump’s tenure. Just recently, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) published a report which found that the DoD blew upwards of $28 million on uniforms for the Afghan Army that not only were inappropriate fits for camouflage given the surroundings (roughly only about 2% of Afghanistan is forest), but were much more expensive than comparable options. Again, whether it’s human lives or millions or dollars, that these are not larger concerns or more publicized is disconcerting. Oh, well. Just put it on our tab. What’s that? A bunch of brown people died in the Middle East? No biggie. They were only Muslims—no big deal.

America First—but just for kicks, let’s bomb the shit out of ISIS and al-Qaeda. Sure, we have tons of things to fix right here at home, but let’s focus on who can and can’t come into the country. President Trump’s professed inclination toward isolationism alongside his apparent hard-on for upping our defense spending and bolstering our nuclear capabilities only hints at an administration of which its foreign policy direction in any given area or region is marked by maddening inconsistency and positions that are far from fully-formed. Trump entertains a call from Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen—and then goes ahead and agrees to uphold the “One China” policy that has existed in America for decades. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggests Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states overstepped in their blockade of Qatar—and then Trump commends the use of that same blockade. Trump derides NATO as “obsolete”—then backpedals on that assertion. It’s one thing to use the “keep them guessing” strategy so as to try to bolster your position in negotiations or to ward off your enemies. Heck, North Korea relies on this as its default way of interaction with the rest of the world. Do we have nuclear capabilities? Can we fire a missile and obliterate you as you’re sitting and sipping on your latte? Not sure? Guess you better watch out! It’s another, however, when you confuse your allies and members of your own Cabinet with your remarks. The administration is already hampered by inefficiency owing to the number of positions Mr. President has yet to fill or for which to even provide a nominee. Add the inability of Trump and Co. to effectively communicate within their own circle, and it’s no wonder this presidency has been characterized as, as the kids would say, a “hot mess.”

More recently, two overt policy shifts with respect to specific nations have drawn widespread attention, and though they are very different, one begins to wonder whether they are both motivated by a legitimate belief that they are the best option, or perhaps more likely, that they are concessions to his supporters and/or deliberate attempts to do the exact opposite of what Barack Obama did, especially toward the end of his second term. The first is Cuba. Marking a 180 from the previous administration’s renewal of bilateral relations, Pres. Donald Trump’s restrictions on travel and business with the island nation are intended expressly to cripple its Communist-led government—as well as to appeal to the portion of the Cuban-American delegation resentful of decades of rule under the Castros and a voting bloc that has generally and traditionally opted red (though there is evidence that tendency is eroding). Moreover, in the demand for the extradition of Assata Shakur/Joanne Chesimard—who escaped prison after being convicted for the murder of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster, fled to Cuba, and has remained there as a political asylee ever since—Trump is looking to solidify his support from the men and women who wear the badge.

You may agree with Trump that Cuba’s government is not an ideal arrangement. You may yourself favor Shakur/Chesimard being “brought to justice.” Even noting these may be principled stances, though, whether or not to engage in a reversal of America’s course to renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba deserves to be talked about. David E. Wade, former Chief of Staff of the State Department, penned an opinion piece critical of this change. Calling the move “the wrong policy in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Wade, noting the odd juxtaposition of lashing out at Cuba despite Trump’s apparent affection for the likes of Vladimir Putin and Rodrigo Duterte, first questions the utility of taking a hardline stance with Raul Castro set to step down next year and the Cuban government becoming increasingly unpopular with its own people. But that’s our Donald—a man who seems pathologically incapable of thinking about the long term as opposed to what’s directly in front of his face or what he watches on FOX News.

Secondly, Wade argues, this hurts the Cuban people and does little to disadvantage the regime in power; the spike in tourism from the United States experienced since President Obama effected a thawing of diplomatic relations between the two nations has benefited everyday Cubans, since Americans stay predominantly using Airbnb, while other foreign visitors use government-controlled resorts. Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, this move is bad for American economic and diplomatic interests. According to a study cited by Mr. Wade, over $6 billion and 10,000 jobs stand to be lost in Trump’s policy shift, and aside from this, there has been improvement in agreements between Cuba and the U.S. on how to handle drug trafficking, environmental disasters, human trafficking, and other issues of a human rights tint. Not to mention our loss may well be China’s or Russia’s gain. Unless that’s really the whole point—particularly on the side of the latter.

The other big bugaboo is Iran, which was already on the GOP hit list because of the nuclear deal orchestrated with its government, a perhaps imperfect but viable framework for bilateral relations between the two nations. Amidst fighting ISIS in Syria, U.S. forces, which have long advocated removing Bashar al-Assad from power, and Iranian forces, which have lent support to the Assad regime, have found themselves on opposing sides when not trying to root out extremism. Donald Trump, for his part, has thus far only insisted on spewing anti-Iran rhetoric and being buddy-buddy with Saudi Arabia, also notably, ahem, not a big fan of Iran (something we would believe is not-so-coincidental given his business interests there). And while he hasn’t dismantled said nuclear deal yet, Trump’s comments have made it evident where he thinks Iran stands, relatively speaking: he equates the nation with ISIS and al-Qaeda in terms of its danger to the rest of the world. Apparently, all those “Death to America!” chants are not exactly endearing to Iran’s cause—shocking.

This political posturing exhibited by the Trump administration bereft of a concrete strategy in the Middle East, coupled with competing interests that seem difficult, if not unlikely, to reconcile, makes various outside onlookers concerned that an all-out conflict with Iran is not only possible, but probable. In a recent piece which appeared in Politico, Dennis Ross, an experienced U.S.-Middle East negotiator, accedes to as much from the jump by stating that “Trump is on a collision course with Iran.” In laying out the state of affairs in the region which concern both the United States and Iran, Ross goes into depth about the forces and motivations behind what has happened and potentially will happen. Admittedly, much of it is beyond my ken as a humble blogger, but a significant point in his analysis involves the notion that Iran is seeking to create a land corridor to Lebanon through Iraq and Syria. Ross is not the only one to suggest this direction for Iran as an extension of its foreign policy, but regardless of who is supplying this intelligence, if you will, this adds a bit of a wrinkle to American aims in this region. While there clearly is no love lost for Iran within the United States, nor is Assad a popular figure (rightfully so), the U.S.’s priority is ISIS and al-Qaeda. Add Iran’s interference and the presence of the Russians, and we’ve got quite the situation on our hands. On one hand, we want to fight jihadists and don’t want to go looking for trouble with Iran or Russia. On the other hand, though, by letting Iran operate unchecked, this could make it harder for us to fight extremism in and around Syria.

Simply put, and as Dennis Ross elaborates, things are not so simple in this neck of the woods. The YPG, a group of mostly Kurdish fighters who has been most effective alongside the U.S. Armed Forces in fighting ISIS, also has ties to Assad’s government, and there is the risk that clearing militants out of certain areas within Syria will be an immediate boon to the regime and will lead to the kind of oppressive conditions for Sunnis that helped produce ISIS in the first place. The powers-that-be in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Gulf states, while certainly concerned with the fate of Syria and ISIS’s influence, are presently more absorbed by the blockade of Qatar, with the Saudis in particular making demands of Qatar to cut ties to Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, to close a Turkish military base stationed there, and to disband al-Jazeera, among other things, as well as making unspecified threats should its leadership not comply within a short span. Meanwhile, Iran and Turkey are helping Qatar weather the blockade with food supplies. Each country seemingly has its own agenda, if not multiple reasons for its behavior, at that.

In light of this, as Ross explains in closing, the United States is tasked with trying to navigate the morass of conflicts and clashes of worldviews in the Levant and surrounding areas in forming a strategy moving forward. Saudi Arabia and the UAE need to be convinced to help reshape Syria given a defeat of ISIS and an end to the Assad regime. Turkey has to work with, as opposed to against, the anti-ISIS coalition, and has to be assuaged about its concerns about the growing Kurdish/YPG presence at the Turkish border. And Qatar has to stop supporting extremist groups and giving voices to, for instances, those who condone violence against Israelis by Palestinians—even if there are legitimate issues with the relationship between Israel and Palestine, including our own blanket support for Israel despite the proliferation of West Bank settlements. As Dennis Ross puts this succinctly: “In a confusing landscape, the administration must leave little doubt about its objectives and priorities.” And yet, there are so many doubts about our objectives and priorities, chief among them whether the presidency, for Donald Trump, is merely a vanity project and means by which to enrich himself. Or to try to gain access to certain resources in the region. Just saying what many of us were thinking.

Pres. Trump’s tough talk on Cuba and Iran—and for that matter, Mexico or the Paris agreement—may play well with specific segments of the American electorate. Let’s build a wall! Let’s put a boot in the ass of those who don’t like freedom, baseball, apple pie, and the rest of ‘Murica! Where it doesn’t go over so well is in those countries at which Trump is pointing his freakishly small fingers. In response to Trump’s announced policy shift, Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez referred to it as a “grotesque spectacle,” vowing his country will “never negotiate under pressure or under threat,” and scoffing about Trump and America lecturing them on their human rights records—of all countries. Ali Akbar Salehi, Iranian vice president and head of the country’s atomic energy organization, has similarly warned the U.S. about siding with Saudi Arabia, selling them guns, and threatening to upset the balance of power in the region while ignoring its security concerns. In other words, these countries are not cowed by Trump’s rhetoric, nor would we expect them to be particularly jazzed up about being all but coerced into behaving a certain way. Donald Trump’s brand of “diplomacy,” as a subset of his professed ability as the consummate deal-maker, seems to be little more than a combination of transactional stick-and-carrot appeals and vague militaristic threats, as if a simple token of appreciation or show of chutzpah will be enough to get the other side to acquiesce. Whether it’s because the United States has lost its standing somewhat, whether other leaders believe #45 is only interested in idle gestures, or both, however, they appear more than willing to stick by their principles. Especially when, you know, they’re in the right.

Donald Trump’s vision of America is one of the greatest country in the world continuously being taken advantage of for our riches and generosity. This coming from a man who wears designer suits and claims to speak for the downtrodden among us, and who experiences delusions of persecution in his own life, imagining himself as the subject of the greatest witch hunt in our history. You mean, more so than the actual Salem Witch Trials, Donald? Although that was before we were technically a country, and you’re only getting off with a technicality with this sort of logic. It doesn’t take long before Trump’s claims, unsupported by verifiable evidence, fall apart like a flaky French pastry, and either way, you figure it would behoove him to act with a little more dignity. Though America is great for the ideals on which it was founded, it is not without its excesses and hypocrisies, the likes of which are surely not lost on its critics around the world. As such, it is arguably worth very little to cry about being a victim when we have and continue to throw our weight around economically and militarily.

Alas, Mr. Trump can only pout and stamp his feet, and work to squander, in record time, the credibility and goodwill Barack Obama, the imperfect President that he was, worked to foster. In a framed conflict of America vs. the world, we all lose. What’s more, if prevailing trends in international relations continue as they are, we evidently have much more to lose in the coming days, weeks, and years.

Lies, Misdirection, and Pacing: Media Manipulation from Trump and the GOP

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“No, Donald, I don’t think the American people have any idea just how bad we’re trying to f**k them.” (Photo Credit: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Months ago, before the election, I saw that Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip Dilbert, was trending on social media. As I’m sure you can speak to this phenomenon, the first thing I thought when reading his name was this: “Oh, shit—he didn’t die, did he?” As it turns out, no, it was not his death being reported, nor even false rumors of his death, but news of him switching his allegiance from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. At first glance, this seemed like an immediate and egregious betrayal of principles. How could someone switch from one extreme to the other like that? Et tu, Scott? As a supporter of neither Clinton nor Trump, however, and as someone who doesn’t read Dilbert religiously but has enjoyed it on occasion, I figured I would give Adams the benefit of the doubt. Adams explained his reversal of support in an open letter on his blog back in September. He had a number of different reasons for flipping his endorsement, which I would argue varied in their merit. At any rate, here they are, in summation:

1. “Things I Don’t Know”: Scott Adams begins by saying he doesn’t know much about politics, including how to defeat ISIS, how to negotiate trade policies, and what tax policy would be most effective, and on the subject of abortion, he feels men should “follow the lead of women on that topic.” In this respect, he doesn’t know enough to make a decision—and argues that neither do you. To this end, he can’t claim either would make the better president, and thus, based solely on matters of domestic and foreign policy, Adams is effectively neutral on who is, was, or will be the better choice for President of the United States.

2. “Confiscation of Property”: Given his neutrality on large-scale issues, where Adams does seem to possess a particular ax to grind is the estate tax. Scott Adams hates the estate tax, and he particularly disagreed with Clinton’s stance on it as well as her representation of the issue, which he characterized as worse than Trump’s because, rather than offering no details, as he claims, it intentionally tried to mislead people based on outmoded or manipulated data. Essentially, Adams argues, the estate tax is a “confiscation” tax because it taxes payers on income that already has been taxed. He explains further:

You can argue whether an estate tax is fair or unfair, but fairness is an argument for idiots and children. Fairness isn’t an objective quality of the universe. I oppose the estate tax because I was born to modest means and worked 7-days a week for most of my life to be in my current position. (I’m working today, Sunday, as per usual.) And I don’t want to give 75% of my earnings to the government. (Would you?)

3. “Party or Wake”: #3 and #4 in Scott Adams’ list, if you ask me, are his weakest reasons, as they seem highly capricious. With Number Three, he opines that he’d rather ride the Trump Train and plan for a party; in other words; he wants to be “invited to the event that doesn’t involve crying and moving to Canada.” Adams admits straight-up this is not his biggest reason, but regardless, even in jest, it assumes a pre-determined outcome, when prior to the election, the final result seemed like a toss-up at best.

4. “Clinton’s Health”: I’ll let Adams explain himself here:

To my untrained eyes and ears, Hillary Clinton doesn’t look sufficiently healthy – mentally or otherwise – to be leading the country. If you disagree, take a look at the now-famous “Why aren’t I 50 points ahead?” video clip. Likewise, Bill Clinton seems to be in bad shape too, and Hillary wouldn’t be much use to the country if she is taking care of a dying husband on the side.

OK, I’m just going to call it out here—this is a stupid argument. If Hillary Clinton, like any number of establishment Democrats, is deluded and out of touch with voters on important issues, this is not a sign of mental illness, and it’s vaguely insulting to the millions of Americans who do suffer from mental illness, at that. It’s like with amateur psychoanalysis of Donald Trump in the early days of his presidency. Forget his being emotionally or mentally ill-equipped to handle the job of President. Forget any diagnosis of “narcissistic personality disorder” or referring to him as “unhinged.” The major issues with Trump is that he is deficient in policy knowledge, he is severely ethically compromised, and he is—and these are technical terms—an idiot and a jerk. He shouldn’t have been a legitimate presidential candidate, but he was elected, and here we are. But yes, he has the capacity to lead, even if we don’t like his executive orders, and what’s more, he has the likes of Stephen Bannon the Skeleton King to advise him. Unfortunately.

5. “Pacing and Leading”: Back to the better arguments for switching sides, IMHO. Scott Adams explains in great detail why he thinks Donald Trump isn’t nearly as dangerous as so many of his critics, including myself, feel he is:

Trump always takes the extreme position on matters of safety and security for the country, even if those positions are unconstitutional, impractical, evil, or something that the military would refuse to do. Normal people see this as a dangerous situation. Trained persuaders like me see this as something called pacing and leading. Trump “paces” the public – meaning he matches them in their emotional state, and then some. He does that with his extreme responses on immigration, fighting ISIS, stop-and-frisk, etc. Once Trump has established himself as the biggest bad-ass on the topic, he is free to “lead,” which we see him do by softening his deportation stand, limiting his stop-and-frisk comment to Chicago, reversing his first answer on penalties for abortion, and so on. If you are not trained in persuasion, Trump looks scary. If you understand pacing and leading, you might see him as the safest candidate who has ever gotten this close to the presidency. That’s how I see him.

Adams’ notion is buoyed by the notion that Trump’s stance on Vladimir Putin is one of intended closeness, while Clinton’s approach to Putin was/is one of “insult[ing] Putin into doing what we want.” The latter, in his view, is patently more dangerous. Ol’ Vladdy aside, Scott Adams’ point is that Trump doesn’t really believe all the crazy things he says, but says them to set a tone and to make the actual policies he intends to effect seem more palatable by comparison. Let’s just assume Adams is correct in this respect, because his final bit of reasoning is highly related to this one which precedes it.

6. “Persuasion”: Even if his logic seems flawed, especially noting his earlier admission that he doesn’t know much about politics, Adams has a logic regarding the power of persuasion, and why Donald Trump’s identity as a “trained persuader” makes him superior to Clinton on this dimension. From the man himself:

Economies are driven by psychology. If you expect things to go well tomorrow, you invest today, which causes things to go well tomorrow, as long as others are doing the same. The best kind of president for managing the psychology of citizens – and therefore the economy – is a trained persuader. You can call that persuader a con man, a snake oil salesman, a carnival barker, or full of shit. It’s all persuasion. And Trump simply does it better than I have ever seen anyone do it.

The battle with ISIS is also a persuasion problem. The entire purpose of military action against ISIS is to persuade them to stop, not to kill every single one of them. We need military-grade persuasion to get at the root of the problem. Trump understands persuasion, so he is likely to put more emphasis in that area.

Most of the job of president is persuasion. Presidents don’t need to understand policy minutia. They need to listen to experts and then help sell the best expert solutions to the public. Trump sells better than anyone you have ever seen, even if you haven’t personally bought into him yet. You can’t deny his persuasion talents that have gotten him this far.

Again, I say his logic may be flawed. Economics based purely on confidence, I would submit, risks producing a bubble that will collapse when the realization comes that the economy doesn’t rest on sound fundamentals. As for ISIS, you can try persuading them to stop all you want, but for an organization that views its conflict as a prophesied war between good and evil, the time and avenue for persuasion may be all but closed, if it were ever open in the first place. All this notwithstanding, confidence and persuasion can have a positive effect on upward mobility, economic or otherwise, and as Adams would stress, Trump is not really as extreme or fascistic as he comes across. Clearly, if nothing else, Donald Trump convinced enough voters that he was the better choice, or that Hillary Clinton was a poorer one. Accordingly, if Scott Adams seems to be making these comments from his position way out in left field, nearly 63 million other Trump voters suggests his views were, to a large extent, shared by those casting their ballot in November.


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“Hey, April, you’re black…do you know Frederick Douglass?” (Image Source: MSNBC)

Why do I bring up an almost-five-month-old blog post by the creator of Dilbert about his endorsement of Donald Trump? Because I can—that’s why! OK—you’re looking for something more substantial than that. Scott Adams’ observations, especially the discussion of pacing and leading, are relevant to the larger discussion of President Trump’s leadership style and the evolution of his administration’s policymaking. One apparent strategy used by Trump and American politicians in general is leading with an extreme proposal to facilitate the acceptance of a slightly-less-extreme version of that proposal. It’s along the lines of what car dealerships and their sales representatives do, as detailed by Ben DeMeter in this post about common sales techniques on Investopedia. Referring to this method as the “discounted markup” technique, DeMeter explains it with the following:

Many times, a store will dramatically mark up the price of its merchandise just so it can offer a convincing discount when it comes time to make a sale. This occurs most commonly at car dealerships, where the sticker price on some vehicles can be more than $2,000 above the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP). This way, the dealership can allow customers to talk down the price of the car to the MSRP so that they think they’re getting a good deal when really they’re just paying exactly what the dealership had hoped for all along.

Let’s extend this metaphor to Donald Trump, viewed through the lens of the media’s attempts to reckon with the three-ring circus that is his White House. Jason Linkins, editor of Huffington Post’s “Eat the Press,” a feature section devoted to commentary and criticism about politics, the media, and culture, and co-host of HuffPost Politics’ podcast “So, That Happened,” recently penned an essay on the virtues of discretion, patience and refraining from overreacting for members of the media in the Trump era. The specific genesis for this article comes after a recent Associated Press report that it had obtained a memo suggesting the Department of Homeland Security was considering using the National Guard to round up undocumented immigrants across several states in deportation raids. The White House, of course, denied it, which you’d imagine they’d do even if it were true, but in this instance, as with other cited rush-to-judgment breaking news stories, Linkins points to a skittishness of the mainstream media, or as he terms it, a “primed for freakout” condition. By failing to recognize this phenomenon, members of the press not only give the White House ammunition and undermine their own credibility, but they risk the overall inability of their audience and of themselves to recognize bad policy when they see it. Here’s Linkins’ description of the situation:

The AP reported it attempted to get clarification from the White House several times before it went to press, affording the administration the opportunity to disown the policy entirely. That means the White House could have nipped this story in the bud, but opted not to. What does the White House gain from that? Well, additional ammunition to make the case that the media is being unfair, for a start. But even if this is what’s happening — and the White House says it’s definitely not — this game is not new. It’s basic as hell, and used in American politics all the time. Why does anyone propose a six-week abortion ban? To make it more palatable to pass a 20-week abortion ban.

Considering an extreme policy to make political room for a slightly less-extreme policy isn’t some crazy-new innovation that Trump and his cabal of super-geniuses came up with, nor is it something they’ve imported from the Kremlin. As much as it might feel right to believe that, the assumption that you are forever tunneling through a Twilight Zone is going to lead you to paint everything with a paranoid brush and make you more likely to equate the truly extreme ideas of Trump’s White House with every other trivial action the administration undertakes. All things cannot be equally momentous or pernicious. If you can’t make that differentiation, you’ll harm your readership ― training them to either panic at the drop of a hat, or to disregard the dire import of bad policy.

Politics as usual. Pacing and leading. “Discounted markup.” Whatever you call it, the idea is familiar: start incredibly high, move down to a more agreeable position, make the consumers think they got away with something, laugh to yourself when they leave because you really came out ahead in that you wanted to propose that less-extreme position in the first place. It’s sales and persuasion at its most elemental, and yet, it’s effective across contexts. The media may view itself as morally superior or highly informed and intelligent, but with tactics like these that play on our human emotions of dread and outrage, any of us are susceptible to the their trickery.

When not baiting and switching, if you will, President Trump and a largely sympathetic Republican Congress (“sympathetic” as in “sympathetic nervous system”; many Republican lawmakers seem devoid of sympathy and other genuine feelings) evidently like to engage in a bit of sleight-of-hand in terms of putting forth policy. Even if this is an unconscious force, though, the effect is very real. Donald Trump recently had a press conference announcing his pick of lawyer, dean of Florida International University School of Law, and former member of the National Labor Relations Board Alexander Acosta to replace Andrew Puzder as nominee for Secretary for Labor after the fast-food company CEO withdrew his name from consideration. You, um, may have heard about it. The press conference, in short, was baffling to those in attendance, as it was for much of the international community. Tessa Stuart details the shock value of the event with a recap entitled “18 WTF Moments from Trump’s Unhinged Press Conference.” (Here we go again with calling Donald Trump “unhinged.”) As Stuart explains, the press conference, at least in name, was meant to announce Acosta as the replacement risk, but quickly went off topic and off the rails as Pres. Trump went off-script, largely to attack the media, ever-embattled since the beginning of Trump’s tenure. Some of the moments of the press conference which produced a pronounced sense of wonderment from the onlookers:

  • Trump saying that the leaks leading to Michael Flynn’s resignation were real, but that “the news is fake because so much of the news is fake.” These two concepts should be mutually exclusive, and yet, this is Donald Trump.
  • Trump insisting the travel ban had a “smooth rollout,” despite it being very un-smooth and struck down by multiple courts of law.
  • Trump making it clear he’s a nice person, and that he gets good ratings—as if the latter proves the former.
  • Trump offering up this gem: “We’re becoming a drug-infested nation. Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy cars.” Clearly, I’ve been spending my money in the wrong places.
  • Trump trying to state that his electoral victory was the biggest since Ronald Reagan, though it wasn’t. Wait, he meant for Republicans. Um, nope—still not the biggest.
  • Trump bashing Hillary Clinton. You know, despite already winning the election over her more than three months ago. I guess it never gets old, huh?
  • Trump extolling the virtues of the First Lady, in that Melania feels “very, very strongly about women’s issues.” Like, um, lighter hair?
  • Trump berating Jewish reporter Jake Turx after a question about how to handle the rise in anti-Semitism in this country, and explaining that he is the least anti-Semitic and least racist person you will ever see in your life. On a related note, I have the power to fly and can move small objects with my mind. I mean, while we’re making outrageous claims and all.
  • Trump asking April Ryan, an African-American White House reporter, to set up a meeting between him and the Congressional Black Caucus. Because all black people are “tight” like that. And they all look alike. Because Trump.

The sum of this garbage is troubling for those of us with developed consciences, and besides, acting as if President Trump’s behavior is normal is a self-defeating principle. It becomes yet worse when we consider Trump’s Tweets the day after, particularly the one that reads as follows:

The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!

Needless to say, this is a dangerous position to take, and I’m not even necessarily talking about for Trump himself. To label certain news organizations as fake because they represent him in a critical light, and to paint the press as an adversary of the average American, is disturbing because it invites an escalation of the concept of the state of affairs in U.S. politics and culture beyond a mere “divide,” and into the realm of all-out “war.” For those who agree with Donald Trump’s sentiments, the very future of the country depends on their resistance to what they see as bastions of liberal fascism. “We” must resist. “They” must falter. This is an ideological conflict with huge implications for the United States of America, one with the makings of a civil war, not fought with bayonets, bullets and cannon fire, but with hashtags, live streams, and memes. Furthermore, like the American Civil War of our history books, the aftershocks of this seismic event stand to be felt for generations after. The resentment. The hate.


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Hey, remember Trump University? Remember how it has defrauded and swindled scores of people who invested in it based on Trump’s name and image? How come we’ve stopped talking about what a complete scam it is? (Image Credit: Trump University)

Pretty bad, huh? Wait—we’re still not done. Really. While we may poke fun at Trump’s outlandish statements and while labeling the press the enemy of the American people is a serious charge with potentially destructive consequences, to add another layer to this shit sandwich we’re being forced to digest, let’s also consider that the President’s wackiness may act as a smokescreen for other likely deleterious moves by members of his adopted party. While the lot of us were consumed with his antics at the Acosta announcement press conference, Trump’s GOP mates were at work unveiling a broad blueprint for a possible replacement to the Affordable Care Act, and it’s pretty terrible, if you ask me and other critics. Robert Pear and Thomas Kaplan, reporting for The New York Times, provide a synopsis of what this schematic entails—and what it does not. As Pear and Kaplan put forth, the yet-nameless theoretical successor to the ACA does not account for how many people may lose coverage that now have it under ObamaCare, nor does it explain how it all would be paid for. Details, shmetails, amirite?

As for what we know, for starters, Medicaid payments to the states as a function of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion would stand to be greatly reduced, in all likelihood putting a strain on state budgets and putting Americans at risk of losing coverage. Subsidies under the current law designed to help those with needs based on income would be supplanted by a fixed tax credit scheme which negates benefits based on income, instead increasing them with age. The new plan would eliminate tax penalties on those who fail to secure health coverage, and would also get rid of taxes and fees on the health insurance, pharmaceutical, and medical equipment industries, benefitting big corporations and reducing the funding pool for entitlement program benefits. Plus, there’s still nothing about preventing insurers from dropping people based on pre-existing conditions, an important and popular aspect of the Affordable Care Act. Figuratively and literally speaking, this all is, in a word, sketchy, such that average Americans—both Republican and Democrat, Trump supporters and not—stand to be hurt by a repeal. No wonder they went about this reveal relatively quietly.

There’s a word for this technique: misdirection. It’s commonly used in football, especially on trick plays. The defense keys in on the man with the ball—except he just tossed it to the wide receiver running in the backfield the opposite way! In case my analogy is unclear, Trump is the man with the ball, Republican lawmakers are the receiver who actually has the ball, and the ball is not actually a ball, but rather a deeply and intentionally flawed replacement for the ACA. Keeping with this theme, a “touchdown” is the Republican Party paying huge dividends to Big Pharma and other related industries who don’t need them, and shafting the little guy in the process. Um, yay, GO TEAM?

Conceiving of this tactic in a slightly different way, Donald Trump’s role is that of the distraction. He is free to tell obvious lies, boast about himself and his brand, and look tough as Commander-in-Chief—all while Paul Ryan and Republicans in Congress threaten to pull the proverbial rug out from under us. In a piece for ELLE Magazine, Rachel Sklar muses on this very subject, invoking the time Mike Pence went to see Hamilton on Broadway, the cast addressed him after the show, and Trump had a hissy-fit on Twitter saying those performers were being so gosh-darn mean to him. Amid this political kerfuffle which Pres. Trump himself to a considerable extent engineered, meanwhile, major shit was going on which suddenly became less visible and none the less important. Jeff “Black People Don’t Really Like to Vote, Do They?” Sessions was nominated as Attorney General. Michael “Islam Is the Devil” Flynn was appointed to be Trump’s National Security Advisor. And last but not least, the Trump Organization settled a fraud case against Trump University to the tune of $25 million. These were no small potatoes, and particular with respect to the settlement, raised serious concerns about Trump’s credibility and ethics. What a lot of people heard, however, was just the blather about Hamilton being overrated (it isn’t) and the cast being nasty to Mike Pence (they weren’t). Flash forward to today, and Sessions, despite serious concerns from Democrats about his judicial record, has been confirmed, Flynn, in light of serious concerns with his and the administration’s ties to Russia, has resigned, and talk of Trump University has been all but shelved. Are you upset yet? If not, you should be.

Lies. Misdirection. Pacing. All of this makes for a morass of manipulation on the part of President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, a reality made ten times more troubling by the White House’s attempts to demonize and delegitimize the press. If it seems like one big game, the real and potentially devastating fallout from what is decided but ultimately obscured by these sales techniques should convey the sense the sum of these things should not be taken as fun and light-hearted. So, what’s the takeaway from these thoughts, other than perhaps the newfound notion that the creator of Dilbert seems like kind of a dick?

Well, let me tell you what I take away from them. First, much as the media should do their part not to rush to judgment or rush to print in the interest of journalistic integrity, we should likewise do our part to examine what we see and hear is credible, and to correct the record when we know it to be demonstrably false. You know, lest we end up like Trump claiming to be the best thing since sliced Ronald Reagan, electorally speaking. Second, we should give Trump’s antics the attention they merit as a warning of his dictatorial aspirations, but not get lost in the GOP’s shell game of disastrous policymaking. Republican lawmakers should be held accountable, and as reports are growing of Republicans ducking their constituents at scheduled town halls and other forums, the demand that they not be let of the hook becomes that more serious accordingly. Lastly, and perhaps I am in the minority in thinking this way, but stop giving Trump and the Republicans so much g-d credit. As Jason Linkins and others suggest, their parlor tricks are nothing new, and are more evocative of snake oil salesmen than masters of the media. Anyone can lie, cheat, and steal their way through life—apparently right into the Oval Office, at that. They should be admonished for this, not commended.

From what I’ve seen, confidence in Donald Trump’s brand of leadership and his ability to elevate the position of working-class America is yet quite high. But don’t be deceived or distracted. Trump and the Republican lawmakers who aid and abet his hijinks are out to f**k you over at the behest and to the benefit of the industries and wealthy individuals who help fill their coffers, and if you still don’t believe it, then I’ve got some lovely beachfront property in Nebraska with your name on it.

On “Snowflakes,” #Winning, and Allegations of Voter Fraud: Sensitivity in the Era of Trump

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What’s the difference between President Trump and a crying infant child? Honestly, beyond the size and age differences, not a whole lot. (Photo Credit: Stacie Scott/AP).

Trump supporters have really been, as the kids would say, “popping off” since their esteemed leader was elected to be President of the United States and has since been sworn in to fill the vacancy left by Barack Obama’s departure. It’s been terrible—I know. Through my anecdotal research of social media, as I have seen, one hashtag which is particularly oft-used by Trump Train riders, alongside the ubiquitous #MAGA, short for Make America Great Again—a slogan which is vaguely insulting in the insinuation America is not great right now, and which any number of us would insist is already great, albeit not without its share of problems, namely President Trump—is that of #Winning. Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump promised that if he were to be the next President, we as a country would start winning so much we would, quite frankly, get tired of winning so much. The analogy which comes to mind for me, a seemingly apt one in its distinctly American flavor, is that of going to a buffet and eating all the delicious food on the menu, only to develop a serious case of indigestion afterwards. Trump reiterated these sentiments in his Inauguration speech: “America will start winning again, winning like never before.” All we’d do is win, win, win—no matter what—and as the likes of DJ Khaled, Ludacris, Rick Ross and T-Pain would have it, everybody’s hands would go up, and what’s more, they would stay there. You know, until our arms get tired, presumably.

#Winning. As is my tendency, I scrutinize trends related to President Trump and his followers. Mostly because they’re patently frightening, and like a rubbernecker on the freeway glancing at a burning wreck, I can’t help but look, but even so. This reference to “winning” without much consideration of context gets me wondering: if these supporters believe the amorphous “we” are winning, or that maybe just they are, who are the implied losers in this scenario, and at what cost might we/they be winning? This boast reminds me at least of the famous (or infamous) claim of Charlie Sheen’s from his 20/20 interview with Andrea Canning in 2011 that he was winning. Sorry, I mean, WINNING! His evidence of his winner status was in his accounts of being rich enough to buy stupid shit and to do stupid shit and get away with it, dating porn stars, and doing drugs, among other things. When it was revealed in 2015 and later confirmed by Sheen himself that he is HIV-positive, it seemed as something of a cruel and ironic twist of fate for the man who just a few years earlier had to make it painfully clear that he was—duh!—winning, and as still others might imagine, this news might just be proof karma is real. (Side note: I’m not sure how Charlie Sheen might have contracted HIV, but I submit maybe his reference to possessing “tiger blood” was more telling than we might otherwise have imagined. Maybe he got it from a literal blood transfusion that would have seen actual tiger blood enter his veins. These are the things about which I think.)

Enough about Charlie Sheen, though. Getting back to the topic of another self-destructive rich white asshole and his fans, if only they are truly #Winning, who isn’t? The key to their logic, twisted as it might appear, is in their use of a pejorative term which seems to have taken on a new and increased significance in the past year or so: that of “snowflake.” You may have even heard it directed at you if you subscribe to a more liberal political orientation and world view—certainly, it gets thrown around a lot. To what does it refer, though? Well, as much as the term is used in a political context, its exact definition is somewhat elusive. Rebecca Nicholson, writing for The Guardian, explores the use of the term and its origins as “the defining insult of 2016.” The term, despite its recent explosion, is not new, and as Nicholson notes, may be, in part, related to a line uttered by the character Tyler Durden in Fight Club: “You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.” A sobering sentiment, no? What may be yet more sobering is the very idea that snowflakes, themselves, are not necessarily unique, as researchers have been able to construct identical patterns within snowflakes within controlled environments. I know—mind blown, right?

We could do our own separate analysis of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club and the accompanying film, or the crystalline structure of precipitation, but let’s not get lost in the proverbial weeds. Rebecca Nicholson, in citing countless notable iterations of the term “snowflake,” outlines how its early use was characterized by perceived generational differences in attitudes, specifically coming from those espousing “traditional” values as a criticism of younger generations. Within this purview, “snowflake” as an insult is a rejection of the apparent inclination within American society and other developed countries toward hypersensitivity. The tone is one of condescension, depicting millennials/young adults as easily offended, entitled, narcissistic, thin-skinned crybabies who lack resiliency, are enemies of free speech, and constantly need attention. Accordingly, when it comes to discussions of things like “safe spaces” on college and university campuses, the self-identifying anti-snowflake segment of the population eschews such notions, much as conservatives and members of the alt-right online and on social media deride those who rail against discrimination and defend political correctness as “social justice warriors,” another pejorative designation  You can probably hear or see the comments in your mind along these lines. Get over it. Suck it up. Especially now that Donald Trump is President of the United States, here’s one that might sound familiar: “Don’t worry, snowflakes—the adults are in charge now.” Or: “There’s a new sheriff in town, kids!” As if Barack Obama somehow wasn’t or isn’t an adult or let lawlessness reign supreme.

Easily offended. Entitled. Narcissistic. Thin-skinned. Crybaby. Enemy of free speech. Constantly needs attention. Wait a minute—these traits sound familiar. If the revelation that Charlie Sheen is HIV-positive was ironic given that he trumpeted his exploits with adult entertainers and saw virtue in living with reckless abandon, it is seemingly as ironic, if not more so, that those pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps types among us who decry “snowflakes” as weak-willed thumb-suckers have gravitated toward a figure in Donald Trump who not only seems to embody these qualities, but is evidently an exemplar of these tendencies in their worst forms. Recently, ABC News anchor David Muir interviewed President Trump, the transcript of which is one of the most terrifying interviews I have ever read from a world leader in light of what it stands to mean for America—and this is no hyperbole. Feel free to read it for yourself, but I’ll try to spare you with a summary of the, ahem, finer points:

President Trump appreciates the magnitude of the job—tremendously bigly

The first question Muir asked Pres. Trump was, “Has the magnitude of this job hit you yet?” This was his response:

It has periodically hit me. And it is a tremendous magnitude. And where you really see it when you’re talking to the generals about problems in the world. And we do have problems in the world. Big problems. Business also hits because of the—the size of it. The size. I was with Ford yesterday, and with General Motors yesterday. The top representatives, great people. And they’re gonna do some tremendous work in the United States. They’re gonna build back plants in the United States. But when you see the size, even as a businessman, the size of the investment that these big companies are gonna make, it hits you even in that regard. But we’re gonna bring jobs back to America, like I promised on the campaign trail.

The size, indeed. Big, great, tremendous. Everything is of a superlative magnitude in Trump’s America. Including the problems. Oh, do we have problems, Mr. Trump? Oh, really? Gee, thanks! We had no idea, because we’re all a bunch of f**king morons. This interview is starting off on a great note.

Where there’s a wall, there’s a way 

Following the illuminating revelation that problems face the nation, David Muir got down to the more serious questions. His first real topic of discussion was that of the wall at the border with Mexico, construction of which has been authorized by the President by way of executive order. Muir asked Trump, point blank, if American taxpayers were going to be funding construction of the wall, and Trump replied by saying they would, but Mexico’s totally going to pay us back. This is in spite of the notion Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto has vowed Mexico will not pay for construction of the wall, a point Muir pressed him on. And Pres. Trump was all, like, yeah, but he has to make a show of it first. Of course they’re gonna reimburse us. Muir then labored on the notion of reimbursement further, commenting that the sense he (Trump) gave voters was that Mexico would be covering the construction costs from the onset. And President Trump was all, like, I never said they’d be paying from the start. But they will pay us back, and besides, I want to start building the wall. Muir then asked for specifics on when construction would begin, and Trump indicated it would start in months, as soon as physically possible, in fact. We’re drawing up the plans right now. Right freaking now.

In speaking about the wall and the payment plan, if you will, Pres. Trump also referenced needing to re-work NAFTA, because we’re “getting clobbered” on trade, and that we have a $60 billion trade deficit with Mexico. In the past, Trump has highlighted this deficit as a means of our neighbor to the south covering the costs of the wall’s construction, and it is evident from his insistence on this point that he doesn’t really understand how it works, which is why I’m making an aside here. President Trump treats the trade deficit as proof that Mexico is getting over on us, but it’s not as if the existence of the deficit means that Mexico has all this cash lying around, just waiting to be allocated for a project like the wall. In a piece which appeared on CNN back in October, Patrick Gillespie addressed the myths about trade that Trump himself helped feed. For one, Gillespie advances the idea that a trade deficit may be a good thing, for when a country exports to the U.S., for example, they also tend to invest more here, which helps create jobs, including in the field of manufacturing. In addition, Mexico is a major trade partner for the United States, with millions of jobs and many American businesses depending on business with Mexico. This bluster about the wall, therefore, risks damaging a critical trade relationship for our country, not to mention it likely puts average Americans on the hook for building and maintaining a structure that is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars and has been consistently criticized as something that would ultimately prove ineffective, if not counterproductive to its larger aims. Other than that, though, it’s a great idea. Tremendous, in fact.

Yes, the “dreamers” should be worried

Keeping with the subject of illegal immigration, David Muir next moved the conversation to so-called “dreamers,” or children who were brought to this country by their parents, also undocumented immigrants. Could President Trump assure them they would be allowed to stay? To which Trump replied, they shouldn’t be worried, because we’re going to have a strong border and because he has a “big heart.” Seriously, though—he said that shit. Muir pressed him on this issue, asking again more succinctly if they would be allowed to stay. Pres. Trump dodged, though, saying he’d let us know within the next four weeks, but that he and his administration are looking at the whole immigration situation, once more emphasizing how big his heart is, and then seguing into a diatribe about getting out those “criminals”—those “really bad people” who come here illegally and commit crimes—who are here. So, um, sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants: be afraid. Be very afraid.

So many “illegals,” so much fraud—so little evidence

Almost as liberally as the term “snowflake” is thrown around in mockery of liberals, allegations of fraud have been hurled about rather indiscriminately these days, and Donald Trump is a prime suspect in this regard. David Muir asked Trump directly about perhaps his most reckless claim to date: that some 3 to 5 million illegal votes were cast in Hillary Clinton’s favor, explaining why he lost the popular vote. As Muir noted, it would be the biggest fraud in American electoral history, so where, pray tell, was the evidence? Pres. Trump first deflected by saying that was supposed to be a confidential meeting, but Muir interjected by saying he had already Tweeted with these allegations. It was at this point, though, that the interview began to go off the rails a bit. Mostly because Trump kept interrupting David Muir. I would’ve gone to California and New York to campaign if I were trying to win the popular vote. By the way, if it weren’t for all that fraud, I would’ve won the popular vote. Handily. But there were dead people who voted. Dead people! Oh, yeah! And people registered in multiple states. So we’re going to do an investigation. You bet your ass we will.

When he could actually get a word in edgewise, Muir fired back by saying these claims have been debunked. Donald Trump was all, like, says who? I got a guy at the Pew Center who wrote a report. And Muir was all, like, no, he didn’t—I just talked to him last night. And Trump was all, like, then why did he write the report? This report, by the way, was published way back in 2012, and David Becker, the man referenced by Muir and Trump in their back-and-forth and director of the research, said Pew found instances of inaccurate voter registrations, including people registered in multiple states and dead voters still on voter rolls, but that these were not evidence of fraud. Though Becker did note these inaccuracies could be seen as an attempt at fraud—especially by someone who lost the popular vote by more than 2.5 million votes and has a serious axe to grind. What’s more, Trump said Becker was “groveling” when confronted with the idea that his organization’s research proved evidence of fraud. This is the same word, for the sake of another by the way, that Pres. Trump used to characterize Serge Kovaleski, the disabled reporter he mocked—even though he said he didn’t—and under similar circumstances, too. Recall when Trump made the blatantly false claim that thousands of Muslims were cheering in the streets of Jersey City on 9/11 after the Towers fell. Once again, Donald Trump is misremembering, misleading, and out-and-out lying.

David Muir wasn’t having it, though, advancing the notion that Paul Ryan and Lindsey Graham have also commented on the lack of evidence of widespread fraud, and trying to move the conversation to “something bigger.” To which President Trump said—and I am not making this up—”There’s nothing bigger.” Really? Really? People are about to lose their health insurance and pay for a wall they don’t want and refugees from seven countries are barred from entering the United States—and we’re here talking about whether or not a few dead people or “illegals” (nice way to make Hispanics feel particularly welcome, while we’re at it) voted in the election. It was at this point when Muir posed the question: “Do you think that your words matter more now?” Pres. Trump said yes, of course. To which Muir followed up by asking: “Do you think that talking about millions of illegal votes is dangerous to this country without presenting the evidence? You don’t think it undermines your credibility if there’s no evidence?”

And Trump? He said no, and then went off on a crazy tangent. All of these illegal votes were for Hillary Clinton. None were for me. I had one of the greatest victories in American history. Barack Obama didn’t do anything about this fraud—and he laughed about it! He laughed about it! We can’t downplay this! We have to investigate this! And perhaps the most salient point of all Muir barely managed to eke out over all Trump’s overtalking: “It does strike me that we’re re-litigating the presidential campaign and the election.” In other words: “You won, bruh! Give it a rest!” President Trump would not be assuaged on this point, though. Because he can’t be, and will concoct any evidence to try to prove his case, evidence his apologists will believe and defend. This man is our President, he muttered to himself, sighing deeply.

“My crowd was bigger than yours!”

David Muir, likely with great unspoken relish, pivoted to the kerfuffle about the size of Mr. Trump’s Inauguration Ceremony crowd size relative to that of Barack Obama’s attendance. As a reminder, the claims of Donald Trump, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, and that of the Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, are objectively false. Obama’s crowds easily surpassed those of the current President. Easily. With this in mind, Muir asked Pres. Trump when things like the crowd size at the inauguration, the size of his rallies during the campaign season, and being on the cover of TIME Magazine start to matter less, keeping with the theme of, “You won, bruh! Give it a rest!” And Donald Trump was all, like, David, bruh, don’t even. That speech was a home run. They gave me a standing ovation. I mean, it was Peyton Manning winning the Super Bowl good. And your little network tried to throw shade at me for it. I didn’t even want to talk about this whole crowd size business, but you made me, so there. I had to drop some truth bombs. Muir responded, though, by questioning the merits, whether or not Trump and his administration are right about the crowd sizes—which they’re not, let’s stress—of having Sean Spicer come out in his first press conference, talk about this junk, and not take any questions. Aren’t there more important issues facing the nation? And President Trump was all, like, how dare you and your network demean me and my crowd! No wonder you only have a 17% approval rating! (Side note: Trump’s approval rating, as of this writing, is at a scant 42%, and the 45% approval rating he experienced as of the Sunday following Inauguration is the lowest rate in Gallup’s polling history for an incoming President. Ever.)

So, in summary, guess there isn’t anything more important than Donald Trump and his manhood. Oh, well. Sorry, America.

How do you solve a problem like Chi-raq?

Easy answer: you call in the feds. David Muir tried to pin President Trump down on this comment he made regarding the murder rate in Chicago and how to fix it, the so-called “carnage” in America’s third-largest city. This is, however, and as we know, like trying to pin down a jellyfish in a kiddie pool full of baby oil. Trump suggested that maybe we have stop being so politically correct. When Muir pressed Pres. Trump on this issue, he demurred, saying that he wanted Chicago to fix the problem, and when Muir pressed him further, Trump resorted to his platitude of needing to get smarter and tougher—or else. And when Muir asked him what “or else” means, effectively pressing him on whether or not he would send in the feds for the fourth time, he simply replied, “I want them to straighten out the problem. It’s a big problem.” So, um, yeah, Chicago, better fix that shit before martial law is declared. I’m not saying—just saying.

It’s all fun and games until someone gets waterboarded

Is this interview still not scary enough for you? Wait—it gets better. And by “better,” I mean much worse. David Muir shifted to the contents of a report that stated Donald Trump was poised to lift the ban on “black sites,” locations which are not formally acknowledged by the U.S. government, but where torture and indefinite periods of detention of terrorism suspects were known to occur during President George W. Bush’s tenure. Trump, ever the coy one, said, “You’re gonna see in about two hours.” (Spoiler alert: he totally f**king did.) Muir then responded by asking, more or less, um, are you OK with torture? And Trump was all, like, sure I am! I mean, it gets results! Why shouldn’t I like it? I mean, for Christ’s sake, David, they’re chopping off our heads! Muir was all, like, even waterboarding? Trump was all, like, especially waterboarding. Just in case you thinking I’m making this up, here is an actual quote from the man:

Do I feel it works? Absolutely, I feel it works. Have I spoken to people at the top levels and people that have seen it work? I haven’t seen it work. But I think it works. Have I spoken to people that feel strongly about it? Absolutely.

Let this sink in for a moment. I feel it works. I think it works. Um, shouldn’t you know if it works, Mr. President? I could say I feel like veggie pizza is healthy, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. And on the subject of waterboarding, this is way more serious than pizza, although obviously nowhere as delicious. A 2014 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report found that waterboarding was not a credible means of saving American lives nor was it believed to be superior to other “enhanced interrogation techniques.” And where did the Committee gets its information? Oh, you know, only from the CI-f**king-A—that’s who. Waterboarding, in case you were unaware, involves putting a cloth or plastic wrap over a person’s face and pouring water over his or her mouth, as if to simulate the feeling of drowning. That’s right—you’re made to feel as if you are dying. This is torture. We cannot and should not bring waterboarding back as an interrogation technique. No, no, no, no, no.

The Muslims—they hatin’ on us

To the subject of refugees we go—and mind you, this was before the so-called “Muslim ban” took effect—David Muir asked Pres. Trump about his intended executive action to suspend immigration to the United States, as we now know from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. You know, the ones where he doesn’t have business interests, and from which nationals hadn’t killed an American on U.S. soil during the period from 1975 to 2015. Those ones. Muir was all, like, come on, dude, this is a Muslim ban, isn’t it? And Trump, he was all, like, no, it isn’t! It’s countries with tremendous levels of terror! Listen, I want America to be safe, OK? Barack and Hillary were letting all kinds of people into this country. Germany is a shit-show. We have enough problems here in the United States. We don’t need a bunch of people here trying to kill us. Muir then asked President Trump why certain countries were not on the list, namely Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, just for kicks. It’s because he has business interests there. I know it. You know it. And Trump—surprise!—didn’t answer. He talked about something called “extreme vetting,” despite the notion the vetting that’s currently in place is pretty damn extreme. Muir rightly asked in follow-up whether or not he was concerned this would just foment anger within the worldwide Muslim community. And the President was all, like, more anger? I don’t think that’s possible, because they’re pretty damn angry already. The world is a mess, David. What’s a little more anger?

David Muir then got up very slowly, went to the wall of the room where a samurai sword was strategically placed, and plunged it into his stomach. OK—Muir didn’t do that, but I’d like to imagine he was thinking about it, if for no other reason than to more quickly put an end to the interview. Instead, it continued. The next topic was Iraq, and the specific remark by Pres. Trump that, “We should’ve kept the oil, but OK, maybe we’ll have another chance.” Like, what the f**k was that supposed to mean? Trump, apparently, was totally serious on this point. Yeah, David, we should’ve kept the oil. It would’ve meant less money for ISIS. And Muir replied by suggesting that critics would say this would be sorta kinda a violation of international law. And Trump was all, like, who the f**k said that? Idiots. If we take the oil, that means more money for us. For schools. For infrastructure. How is that a bad thing? And Muir, likely trying to prevent his eye from twitching uncontrollably, moved to address the particular idea that “maybe we’ll have another chance.” That is, you might just start shit and risk American troops for that purpose? And Trump, likely with a smirk on his face, said thisfor real—”We’ll see what happens.”

What an asshole.

I could tell you what David Muir and President Donald Trump said about the Affordable Care Act, but it would be a waste of time

This is the end of the interview, and sorry to wrap things up so unceremoniously, but here’s the gist: Trump and the GOP hate “ObamaCare,” and say they will replace it with something better, but they have no g-d clue about a superior successor to President Obama’s hallmark legislation. What we need is single-payer or universal health care. Just listen to Bernie Sanders—he’ll tell you. Don’t listen to Pres. Trump. For, ahem, the sake of your health.


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Sure, there were no protests or off-color remarks made when Barack Obama was elected and re-elected President. Why do you ask? (Image retrieved from wbbh.images.worldnow.com.)

The start of Donald Trump’s tenure as President of the United States has been nothing short of hellacious. Renewed talk of building a wall at the Mexican border and mass deportations. Effecting a Muslim ban—on Holocaust Remembrance Day, no less. Allowing Steve Bannon to have as much power as he does, a trend which only seems to be on the incline. Bringing us back full circle, though, to Trump’s supporters, this amounts to little more than “sore loser” talk. We won. You lost. Democracy in action. Get over it. What is particularly striking about this attitude, aside from the notion it is really not in the spirit of sportsmanship or togetherness, is that it comes with the supposition on the part of those supporters taunting young adults and liberals/progressives as “snowflakes” that they are superior because “they” never protested when Obama was sworn in. How quickly or easily they forget, though—or just plain deny. As this video from the online publication Mic explains, protests at President Obama’s Inauguration featured some particularly hateful rhetoric, including references to Obama not being born in this country—the “birther” controversy Trump himself helped perpetuate—images evocative of lynching, and allusions to Obama being a secret Muslim. This same video notes Trump also asked his Twitter followers back in 2012 to “march on Washington” after Barack Obama’s re-election in protest of this “travesty.” It’s only fair, then, that we march in protest of President Trump, right?

Either way, the equivalency between the protests then and now, despite some acts of vandalism and violence this time around from a few bad actors, is a false one. Protests of Donald Trump as President are not a rejection of the political process, but of a man who has made exclusion, hate, prejudice and xenophobia his calling cards. By this token, marches like the Women’s March on Washington earlier this month and planned marches in the coming weeks and months are about solidarity, not about trying to divide a cultural wedge into the country’s center. Even at their worst, however, these demonstrations and endless social media chatter in resistance of Trump’s policies have nothing on the reactionary, thin-skinned ways of the Bully-in-Chief himself. As Rebecca Nicholson details in her above-referenced column, the left has taken to trying to reclaim the term “snowflake” by, in part, turning it around on Trump and his endless griping, and if this muddles the meaning of this phrase or neutralizes its effect, so be it. Otherwise, they might do well to claim it as a badge of honor. Jim Dale, senior meteorologist at British Weather Services, is quoted in Nicholson’s piece as understanding why the term “snowflake” is used, but that there is a hidden power within this designation:

On their own, snowflakes are lightweight. Whichever way the wind blows, they will just be taken with it. Collectively, though, it’s a different story. A lot of snowflakes together can make for a blizzard, or they can make for a very big dump of snow. In which case, people will start to look up.

I, for one, hope this is the case. So, for all of you out there #Winning because President Trump is “making America great again,” know that for all your jeering of people like me who would be called “snowflakes,” we stand to become more organized and prepared to fight for our preferred version of America than you might think or might otherwise have realized had your boy not won the election. And enjoy this feeling of exuberance while it lasts, but don’t look up now—we snowflakes might be ready to make a very big dump on you.

2017 Has to Be Better, Right? Reflections on the Dumpster Fire That Was 2016

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Go f**k yourself, 2016. (Image Credit: HBO)

When someone blows up a physical embodiment of the year “2016” and encourages people to tell that year to go f**k itself, you know it’s been an abnormally bad one. John Oliver took the opportunity to give 2016 this proper send-off (a report on this event was equally properly filed under the category “F**K 2016” by Aimée Lutkin and Jezebel), and that HBO agreed to afford Oliver the chance to explode something of that magnitude likewise speaks to the horror that was this past 366 days. That’s right—in case you had forgotten, 2016 was a leap year, so all-too-appropriately, we were given one extra day to protract the misery. The Julian and Gregorian calendars can eat a collective dick on that front.

I only started this blog in the middle of June of this year, so I missed the chance to comment on some things that happened earlier in 2016. With over 50 posts under my belt on United States of Joe, however, there’s still enough topics to revisit to make reflecting on the year that was worthwhile. Well, at least as far as I’m concerned. And since, despite my overall belief in fair and democratic principles, this blog is not a democracy but a Joe-ocracy, that’s the agenda for this session. You’re welcome. So, kick back. Get plenty of champagne ready—noting how awful the past year has been, it may take quite a bit of alcohol to get into the spirit. And get ready to count down to 2017. It’s time to give our own send-off to 2016, middle fingers in the air and all.

REFLECTIONS ON THE DUMPSTER FIRE THAT WAS 2016

Poké-mania runs wild (as written about in “Stop Harshing My Poké-Mellow”)

Well, before we take the plunge into the abjectly negative, let’s go back to the app-based sensation that was Pokémon Go. Since its initial breakthrough success which had critics saying the smartphone game had ushered in a new era of augmented reality and had fundamentally changed the way we look at mobile gaming, downloads and use of the title have understandably cooled. In light of the downward trend, members of the media are now looking at Pokémon Go altogether as a disappointment, especially in light of some updates which failed to impress. You need to walk 3 KM just for one stinking Charmander candy? I’m never going to get that Charizard! NEVER, I SAY!

Now that I’m done being dramatic, not only do I find these charges against the game and its maker Niantic overblown (although, seriously, those Buddy System ratios are pretty shitty), but expectations, buttressed by the app’s initial success, were probably always too high. Though Niantic did its part to make the game palatable to people of all ages and ability levels by making gameplay largely based around throwing Poké Balls and by simplifying battles, the players who are most likely to find the experience rewarding are fans of the original game, who are used to grinding for experience, completing the game as completely as possible, and overall, staying in it for the long haul. It’s not Angry Birds. It’s not Candy Crush Saga. It’s not Fruit freaking Ninja. You have to walk and work for your rewards. You know, when you can’t pay money for some of them. Either way, you still have to walk!

Bernie, you had a hell of a run (as written about in “If You ‘Felt the Bern,’ Then Hold Hillary’s Feet to the Fire”

When Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign in July and formally endorsed Hillary Clinton, it admittedly felt like a punch to the gut. For all the mental preparation made, when the moment actually arrived, it still hurt. What made Sanders’ decision and the associated feelings yet worse, though, was the reception his standing behind Clinton received and the accusations that got hurled around in the wake of the announcement. Con-man. Sell-out. Traitor. Looking at Bernie’s endorsement in a purely ideological vacuum, it is easy to assess this move as a betrayal of his principles and what he stands for. In this instance, however, context is everything, and with Donald Trump having sewn up the Republican Party nomination, Sanders saw greater merit in trying to unite Democrats and other prospective voters in an effort to defeat Trump. Ultimately, the orange one shocked the world and scored an electoral victory, but Bernie Sanders did his best to avoid this eventuality. That not enough Americans either came out to vote or otherwise didn’t buy what Hillary was selling is largely on her, not Bernie.

Of course, in the immediate aftermath of the suspension of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the remaining candidates looked to capitalize. Even with the bulk of Sanders supporters presumed to be going over to Hillary Clinton’s camp, Donald Trump himself made an instantaneous pitch to those “feeling the Bern,” trying to tap into their fervent and justifiable anger at the political establishment. Third-party candidates like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, too, though, made a play for these suddenly available votes, rationalizing that there was no better time than now than to tell the two major parties to shove it. In endorsing Clinton, Bernie repeatedly tried to communicate the danger and inadequacies of Trump as a presidential candidate first and foremost, even though he may have largely been preaching to the choir, as younger voters by and large detested “the Donald.” He also, meanwhile, cautioned against a “protest vote” for someone like Johnson, Stein, or even Harambe (and yes, he would’ve loved to follow this election), realizing, as did all these newfound suitors for Bernie backers’ affections, that the votes of his faithful could swing the election by helping to decide key swing states. To reiterate, it didn’t work all that well, but the effort on Sanders’ part was there.

Ultimately, as Bernie Sanders himself will insist, his run for President, while important, was always more concerned with starting a revolution and getting more Americans, especially younger voters and working-class individuals, involved with the political process, even at the local level. Whether the energy behind his campaign and the urge for progressive grass-roots activism is sustainable in the United States is yet to be seen, but either way, there is yet room for optimism that people will want to keep active and informed as a means of exerting greater control over their own destiny. Thus, you may call Bernie any name you want, but I choose to label him an inspiration, and I feel history will bear out this sentiment as well.

Shit, it’s either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, isn’t it? (as written about in “Do We Deserve Better Than Clinton and Trump? Maybe, Maybe Not”)

As we Bernie Sanders supporters worked our way through the Five Stages of Grief and Loss, eventually, we had to come to accept that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump was going to be our next President. In fact, even the non-Berners were forced to do the same, in all likelihood ensuring many who were on the fence—that is, on whether or not they would vote at all—would choose the latter option and just stay home. In my piece referenced in the title of this section, I mused about the notion that maybe we, as a collective electorate, did not deserve better than these choices that a significant portion of said electorate neither trusted nor cared for much. Ever since 2000, when Ralph Nader was accused of costing Al Gore the election (even though Gore lost that shit on his own, with an admitted probable helping from electoral shenanigans down in Florida), Americans have been highly critical of parties like the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, with the usual refrain being some combination of “they could play spoiler to a legitimate candidate” or “you’re throwing away your vote” if you opt for one of them.

However, to invoke the words of Mr. Nader himself, not only is this attitude politically bigoted, as it negates the will of the individual to make an informed choice in accordance with his or her conscience, but it nullifies our bargaining power with the two major parties. After all, if we blindly vote either Democratic or Republican, beyond losing the election, what motivation does either party have to institute reform that better reflects the needs and wants of the voting public? Especially for members of the working class, both Democrats and Republicans have seemed to take them for granted, which at least partially explains why the Dems lost this election and why Trump and Sanders achieved the levels of popularity they did this election cycle.

In the end, though, despite the increased visibility of Gary Johnson and Jill Stein in the lead-up to the election, most Americans who voted (and there was a good portion of the country who could’ve voted which didn’t) cast their ballots for either Hillary or Donald. As historically unfavorable as these two candidates were, and for all their flaws—Trump as an idiot and professional con-man stoking the flames of fear and hatred, Clinton as an out-of-touch elitist with a penchant for pandering and expensive Giorgio Armani jackets—better than nine-tenths of voters decided they had to pick one of the two, if for no other reason than to block the other candidate they liked even less. Which is pretty shitty, if you ask me. Personally, even with the knowledge that she wouldn’t win, I voted for Jill Stein, as I felt neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton had earned my vote. That relative few other Americans opted out of the two-party paradigm, however, signals to me that we, as a nation, are not ready to demand political change as strongly as we should. It’s either red and blue in these United States, and if you don’t like either color, the present message, unfortunately, is to get the f**k out.

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Oh, Bernie—you may not have been a perfect candidate, but you were damn sure better than who we ended up with. (Photo Credit: Jim Young/Reuters)

Holy f**k, Trump actually won (as written about in “American Horror Story: Presidential Election Edition”)

Holy f**k, indeed. In retrospect, I’m not sure why the pollsters were so surprised that Donald Trump scored the “upset” victory, or why we were so easily convinced that Hillary Clinton was such a strong favorite to win the presidency, when their models were consistently wrong or failed to predict the magnitudes of certain results throughout the primary season. At any rate, as must be reiterated for anyone who sees Trump’s win as a mandate, the man who considers himself a master of “The Art of the Deal” won the presidency on the strength of electoral votes, not because he had a resounding victory in the popular vote (in fact, he lost by more than 2 million votes, and it apparently tears him up inside)—and certainly not because he ran a stellar campaign.

So, how did Trump win? Looking at the exit poll data, certain trends do tend to stick out. Regionally, Donald Trump fared much better in the Midwest and the South, and of course, he carried key swing states, notably those in the Rust Belt (e.g. Ohio, Wisconsin). In terms of demographic data, Trump had an easy advantage among male voters and voters 45 and above, not to mention he held an appeal among less educated individuals and the wealthiest earners (a seeming paradox, though as evidenced by how they spend their money, rich people aren’t necessarily all that smart—look at Trump himself!), as well as evangelicals and married people, but perhaps most notable of all, whites voted at almost a 60% clip for Donald Trump, while close to three of four non-whites went for Hillary Clinton. CNN commentator Van Jones referred to this aspect of the results as a “white-lash”, as in “white backlash” after eight years of a black president the Republicans have characterized as a cause of America’s problems and someone with a secret Muslim agenda, and it’s hard to argue otherwise, really. When the former head of the Ku Klux Klan is cheering you on and citing you as an inspiration, you know white supremacist beliefs, racism and xenophobia helped you to victory.

On a somewhat related note, the thematic reasons why Trump voters chose the way did are also significant. Speaking of racism and xenophobia, supporters of Donald Trump rated immigration trends and terrorism the most important issues facing the United States. Screw the economy and foreign relations—let’s worry some more about brown people. As for the quality that best drew voters to Trump, it wasn’t whether the candidate cares about them, exhibits good judgment, or has the right experience—those voters tended to go for Clinton—but whether he or she could bring about “change.” Whatever the heck that means.

In a nutshell, that’s why Donald Trump is set to be our next President. As for who we can blame for this, besides the obvious in Trump himself and his supporters, there are three core enablers for the man’s political success. Certainly, the Republican Party let him waltz right in and secure the nomination after a barrage of similarly weak candidates failed to stand in his way, and after the GOP at large sowed the seeds of fear and hate he exploited. The media, too, acted irresponsibly and selfishly, chasing ratings while failing to challenge Trump on his lack of defined policy, his factual inaccuracies, his reckless language, or even his refusal to publish his tax returns. In addition, the Democratic Party, in its own right bears some responsibility. Among its most damning sins are its failure to stand up for the working class, its inability to protect jobs and wages, its support for disastrous trade deals like NAFTA and TPP, its complicity with corporations and wealthy donors, and its allowing antitrust laws to lapse or otherwise become weaker, thereby consolidating power into fewer and fewer hands. The failure to stop Donald Trump is a collective one, and though it probably won’t happen, these enablers should do some serious soul-searching for fear of endangering their long-term prospects.

Trump sucks, but his VP ain’t so hot either (as written about in “Mike Pence None the Richer”)

Should anything happen to Donald Trump, whether in terms of his health (not that I’m wishing for the man to pull a William Henry Harrison or anything) or impeachment, the next man in line may not be all that much of an improvement. Mike Pence, who has been governing the proud state of Indiana, has arguably made a number of shitty choices during his tenure. He vetoed a refund of a tax overcharge on the basis it would have cost too much to administer. Before he got too much (warranted) negative feedback, he proposed JustIN, a state-run news service some likened to Pravda in the Soviet era. He rejected Medicaid expansion in his state under the Affordable Care Act on principle, to the detriment of his constituents. He insisted on a ban against a needle exchange program that was effective in limiting the spread of HIV related to a particular drug injection, and later reversed his position, but refused to use state funding to provide for such exchanges. Perhaps most notably, he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, which allowed for discrimination against the LGBT community and cost Indiana some $60 million in revenue before its reversal. An opponent of gay marriage and women controlling their own reproductive rights, Mike Pence is one of a seemingly increasingly long line of conservative Republican leaders who puts evangelical beliefs ahead of his state’s and the nation’s best interests. He’s not Trump, but he’s no rose either.

Alt-right…more like alt-wrong (as written about in “The Alt-Right Isn’t Alright”)

In terms of what damage he may do in terms of signing legislation into law and what damage he likely already is doing in his appointees for key positions (Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy—are you f**king serious?), that Donald Trump has been thrust into a position of immense power is bad enough, but his association with the far-right and his inspiration to the likes of David Duke makes for some shitty ripple effects just the same, let me tell you. I said earlier that Trump’s electoral victory should not be seen as a mandate given how he lost the popular vote and in light of how divided we are as a nation. And yet, the Breitbart crowd and members of the so-called “alt-right” have taken it as such, viewing themselves as fighters in a culture war they are winning, standing against political correctness and other liberal “absurdities.” They also apparently like boycotting companies who don’t stand for their white supremacist agenda. You know, even though they probably don’t use their products anyway. But boycott it is! TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP!

When Hillary Clinton formally acknowledged the alt-right in a speech during the campaign, though I feel it needed to be said, it further legitimized this loosely-constructed movement that coincides with the likes of Gamergate’s sexist perpetuators. That Stephen Bannon has been given a prominent advisory role in Trump’s administration, though, should concern us more conscientious Americans. Donald Trump is not normal, and those who sanction his misdeeds and try to normalize his objectionable behavior are standing in the way of progress. Furthermore, the gang mentality with which many of them operate, encouraging online attacks on and/or death threats against individuals whose values clash with theirs, is troubling, as is the unwillingness of social media services to more aggressively pursue those accounts which violate their terms of service for fear of losing traffic. In short, the alt-right has arrived, as much as many of us might not like to dignify them with a response, and it is incumbent upon those of us who have respect for others—not just respect for white males who refuse to admit to their privilege—to speak out against their behavior and words as dangerous and wrong.

Brexit: the awful Trump presidency appetizer (as written about in “Brexit: Britain’s Wall at the Mexican Border”)

Before Donald Trump swooped in to save the day and stop the threat of taco trucks on every corner in the United States, the United Kingdom gave us a teaser trailer for the U.S. presidential election with a referendum vote on whether or not to remain in the European Union. As with the election in the States, the experts predicted voters would do the sensible thing; if this were an analogy in the vein of the old SATs: UNITED STATES: ELECT HILLARY CLINTON :: UNITED KINGDOM: VOTE REMAIN. And, as with the election in the States, voters did the exact opposite.

The parallels are uncanny. The decision to leave the EU was, as it was in the United States, mediated by a greater incidence of older voters opting to do the wrong thing. Like with Trump’s anti-immigrant appeals and vague notions of “making America great again,” Leave voters were swayed by visions of “securing the nation’s borders” and “taking back control” of the country’s economy, not to mention equally empty promises of the UK Independence Party. Additionally, voters seemed to be making choices that were a direct rejection of existing politics. Barack Obama, David Cameron—either way you slice it, the public clamored for change, no matter who would bring it or what it would entail. The fallout from both votes is still being assessed, but the discontentment of the working-class voter and upward trends in outspokenness among white nationalists worldwide suggest the U.S. and UK votes are not isolated incidents, and in turn, that the risk of other Brexit-like events occurring in the future in other countries is all-too-real. The winds of change are blowing, and one can only hope our houses don’t get knocked over when the gusts have subsided.

“Blue lives matter,” or, “Let’s find a way to blame black people for getting shot by the police and negate their ability to peaceably assemble” (as written about in “How Not to React to Stories about Police Shootings, from One White Person to Another”

Contrary to the apparent beliefs of some, black people don’t enjoy getting mowed down by police at routine traffic stops. While police shootings may not have been any more numerous in 2016 than in years past, through the advent of cellphones and other camera-based technologies, violence involving police certainly has become more visible. Whatever the precise rates of deaths related to encounters between civilians and police, it would seem as though we have a lot of progress to make regarding recognition of the disparity of treatment people of color receive at the hands of police and that which is received by whites, regardless of whether the person accosted by one or more officers has a gun or not.

A perfect illustration of the failure of much of white America to confront its privilege in this regard comes in arguments about the very name and nature of black activism in the United States which exists in large part due to documented police brutality. In response to hearing the moniker Black Lives Matter, or merely even the phrase “black lives matter,” some people are too quick to “correct” the original speaker with the phrase “all lives matter,” or counter with their own version (i.e. “blue lives matter”) that serves to negate the critical recognition of blackness inherent in the initial figure of speech. To me, however, this falls prey to a fairly obvious logical trap: if all lives matter, then black lives, as a subset of all lives, should matter too, and there should be no problem accepting that terminology. “Black lives matter” does not mean black lives should matter more than other lives, but simply that they should matter as much as white lives, blue lives, or any other color lives of which one can think. Clearly, though, they don’t, or else there wouldn’t be a need for organizations such as Black Lives Matter.

The need to scrutinize adherence by individual officers to specified protocol when engaging possible suspects, as well as the systems which serve to shield “rogue” cops from criticism and/or prosecution, is undermined by two key strategies of those who react to protests with knee-jerk defenses of our uniformed police. The first is to question the integrity of the victim—yes, victim—who, because he or she is labeled a “thug” or has a history with the law, evidently deserves to be effectively lynched by the police who intercede him or her. The second is to de-legitimize efforts of black activists wholesale, conflating them unfairly with those who loot and otherwise take advantage of violence and associated protests for their own gain, likening them to terrorists, or wrongly insisting they are advocating for the slaughter of police. In both cases, this is counterproductive, regressive thinking.

As some have argued, those cops who are too nervous not to shoot someone at a routine encounter shouldn’t be placed in such a highly leveraged situation, and either way, good police—which comprise the majority of forces around the nation, let’s be clear—should be appreciative of efforts to root out bad actors from their ranks. As for the protests against police brutality, this doesn’t equate to disrespect for the police, nor does kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem constitute an affront to our military, as Colin Kaepernick’s example reminds us. Black Lives Matter et al. don’t want to see law and order dissolved. They just want to see police officers and officials who wear the badge held accountable when they do wrong, and at a very basic level, not to be utterly afraid they might die when getting pulled over by a squad car. It’s 2016. We need to do better as a country in addressing racial inequality, especially within the purview of criminal justice.

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Oh, no! Black people are expressing themselves! Let’s get angry about it and throw a temper tantrum! (Photo Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images)

ISIS, America, and how hate begets hate (as written about in “ISIS, America, and Hate: Two Sides of the Same Coin”)

There have been too many mass shootings in the United States of late, but the Orlando nightclub shooting, in particular, was particularly devastating for many of us. Not only was it a tremendous loss of life, but that the LGBT community was apparently the specific target of the violence made this brutality that much worse for a population that regularly faces hatred and persecution. Speaking for myself, it is difficult to comprehend how someone could harbor such hate for themselves and others that they would wish to walk into a building and start firing indiscriminately. Perhaps this idea gets the tiniest bit easier to understand when we understand this hate works both ways. As jihadists would seek to inspire terror in the West through bombings and mass shootings, white nationalism encountered in Austria, France, Holland, the United Kingdom and the United States, among other nations, has created an environment that has often proved hostile to Muslims, and has made the prospect of accepting more refugees from war-torn countries like Syria decidedly poor. I mean, Donald Trump ran on a platform of which one of the key tenets was a temporary ban on travel to the U.S. for all Muslims. It’s incredible, and incredibly shameful, at that.

Never mind the idea that all this bluster about “bombing the shit out of ISIS” may actually be good for the Islamic State’s ability to recruit and strengthening its resolve. The jingoists among us would have everyone believe that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with the laws of the United States, that it is a “cancer” to be snuffed out, and that American Muslims who don’t do enough to help discover would-be terrorists in their midst (which, evidently, is quite easy) are guilty in their own right, and regardless, likely merit surveillance of their homes/places of worship and tests administered to gauge their love for and commitment to the U-S-of-A. This conflation of Islam, a religion which preaches peace at its core, and the bastardized religion ISIS and other jihadists/”radical Islamists” practice, is a patently false equivalency.

For the sake of an analogy—one for which I can’t take credit, let me stress—ISIS is to everyday Muslims what the Ku Klux Klan is to white people who aren’t unabashed racists. In both cases, the majority disavows the hate and violence these groups perpetuate. This is by no means saying we shouldn’t be vigilant against individuals who would wish to do us harm. As bad as the Orlando massacre was, though, and as unforgivable as the actions of an organization like ISIS/ISIL have proven, our responses and the negative feelings that accompany some of these reactions reveal an ugly side to our patriotism as well. In the demonization and the pursuit of “the other,” we run the clear risk of losing ourselves.

Miscellaneous events

  • I didn’t originally write about it, but the Chicago Cubs actually won the World Series. To wit, I have neither observed nor heard any stories about swarms of locusts descending on fields or rivers of blood forming, but I’m not ruling them out just yet. The apocalypse takes time to develop, you know?
  • Wells Fargo was forced to fire thousands of mid-level managers for directing employees to create fake accounts and sign up customers for services without their knowledge, essentially making them scapegoats for the company’s aggressive sales model. The company eventually apologized—sort of—and John Stumpf was eventually removed from the role of CEO, but the big bank largely closed the book on this sordid chapter of its history without really admitting wrongdoing, and Stumpf had a nice golden parachute on which to drift to security. Meanwhile, Wells Fargo has apparently learned absolutely nothing from this fiasco, as new CEO Tim Sloan has expressed the belief that the company and the banking industry as a whole could actually do with less regulation. Evidently, it’s all fun and games when you get to play with other people’s money.
  • FBI director James Comey, despite finding that Hillary Clinton and her aides were extremely careless in their handling of E-mail while Clinton was Secretary of State, that Clinton should’ve known certain E-mails were classified and didn’t belong on an unsecured server in the first place, that the State Department was generally lacking in security protocol for classified E-mails, and that Hillary used multiple unsecured devices in locations where American adversaries could have exploited this vulnerability, held a press conference to announce he was not recommending charges be filed against the Democratic Party nominee. Then, a week before the general election, he announced that the Bureau was looking anew into Clinton’s E-mails, which she and her campaign cite as a factor in why she lost. So, nice going, Director Comey! You’ve undermined confidence in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and perhaps swayed the election! Don’t pat yourself on the back too hard!
  • Chris Christie not only failed to capture the Republican Party nomination, but he was overlooked by Donald Trump for vice president despite being, more or less, his manservant. Oh, and Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority, and Bridget Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, two key figures in “Bridge-gate,” were found guilty on all counts in a trial related to the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, and a separate criminal trial is set to take place for Christie himself. Congratulations, Chris. You played yourself.
  • Puerto Rico defaulted on its debt, a result fueled by a combination of fiscal and economic factors, including the repeal of tax breaks for businesses, the creation and sale of triple tax-exempt municipal bonds, the inability of the commonwealth to declare for bankruptcy, exempting wealthy investors and businesses from paying capital gains taxes, “vulture” hedge funds buying up bonds and demanding a full payday, and institutions like UBS selling risky bonds they themselves underwrote to unsuspecting customers. Today, Puerto Rico’s financial future is yet in peril with individuals who are alleged to have helped the island along the path to crisis serving on its appointed oversight board, and with Donald Trump being a crazy mofo. Also, the U.S. Virgin Islands may be on the way to its own debt crisis. Um, huzzah?
  • In some good news, the Trans-Pacific Partnership seems to be all but dead, being disliked on both sides of the political aisle. Also, the Dakota Access Pipeline is on indefinite hold, as the Army Corps of Engineers found more research needed to be done regarding the environmental effects of its intended route through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Of course, supporters of these canceled or postponed initiatives may yet redouble their efforts, so we concerned progressives can’t really relax. At least we can enjoy a short breather before the ball drops, eh?

In the title of this piece (remember back that far?), I reference the notion that 2017 has to be better than 2016. I’m not sure it amounts to much, though, beyond wishful thinking. If the best qualification for improvement which comes to mind is that we won’t be electing Donald Trump, it’s cold comfort in light of the fact he’ll already be President. Going back to his appointees, if they are any evidence, the country is set upon a bumpy path for the next four years, or until the man gets impeached—whichever comes first. His Defense and National Security Cabinet leaders view Islam as a threat to America. His Education Secretary is an opponent of public schools, despite never having attended one. His Energy Secretary infamously once forgot the name of the department he has been tapped to helm. His Health and Human Services director wants to privatize everything and largely gut social programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. His HUD Secretary knows nothing about housing administration.

Wait, I’m not done yet! His head of the Justice Department failed to be confirmed as a federal judge once upon a time because he was an out-and-out racist. His Labor Secretary opposes raising the minimum wage. His Secretary of State has likely financial ties to Vladimir Putin. His Transportation Secretary is married to Mitch McConnell—and that’s evidence enough of poor judgment. His Treasury Secretary oversaw 50,000 or so foreclosures from his position within OneWest Bank, an entity which was accused of unethical practices and discrimination against minorities. His EPA head is a climate change denier. His Small Business Administration director is former CEO of a fake wrestling empire. And his United Nations representative has no foreign policy experience. Irresponsible does not begin to describe these selections, and fingers are crossed that one or more of them fail to get confirmed by the Senate.

So, yeah, I’m not incredibly optimistic about the United States’ prospects right now. The silver lining, as I see it, is that more and more Americans are waking up to the realization that our system is broken and that it doesn’t work for everyone, and with luck, that number will grow as the sheen wears off the shiny promises Trump has made and can’t hope to keep. I wouldn’t have wished for a Donald Trump presidency in a thousand years, but if this hastens the movement of the nation in a more progressive direction, so be it. For those of us who refuse to accept Trump and the America he has envisioned as normal, and who insist that we’ve come too far as a country to simply put the train in reverse, the resistance starts now. 2017, we look to you in strengthening our resolve. And 2016, once more, you can go f**k yourself.

President Obama, Stand Up for Standing Rock

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President Obama, you spared two turkeys for Thanksgiving. After a holiday in which many Americans looked past the brutal history which belies the narrative told by white America, don’t look past the people of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. (Image retrieved from stupiddope.com.)

As part of his presidential duties, Barack Obama pardoned, in time for Thanksgiving, the final turkeys of his tenure from the highest political office in the nation. As a lame duck president, if Obama wants more than the sparing of two birds to add to his legacy in his final days as POTUS, he should stand with the people of Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and their supporters—before it’s too late.

Let’s walk things back a bit, though. What exactly is President Obama’s legacy, and what do we make of all this business in Standing Rock? On the first count, well, it’s complicated. Ask five different people what they think about Barack Obama’s eight years in office, and you’ll likely get five different responses. According to the most recent Gallup polling, at any rate, on approval of the job President Obama is doing, from the period spanning November 14 to November 20, 2016, 56% give the man a thumbs-up. This figure is under the high watermark of 69%, the average set across the three-day period from January 22 to January 24, 2009, when Obama was just settling into his new role as leader of the free world, but significantly better than the 38% nadir he registered numerous times after that 69% zenith, most recently in September of 2014. To put this in historical perspective, Barack Obama’s 32nd-quarter rating is about four percentage points higher than that of U.S. presidents across history. It is roughly equivalent with the approval rating enjoyed by President Ronald Reagan at the same point in his presidency (57%), a few points behind that of Bill Clinton (63%), and, ahem, leaps and bounds ahead of George W. Bush (29%). So, per the vox populi, Pres. Barack Obama is in line with what we’d expect from a person of his stature, and even slightly better.

While public opinion can inform history’s larger judgment of a president’s impact on the country, perhaps it would prove more instructive to view Obama’s two terms through the lens of major events within them. Accordingly, let’s review his seven-plus years and change and see what stands out:

Stimulus package/Economic policy

Even the most hard-hearted Republican critics of Barack Obama as President of the United States would probably tend to acknowledge the guy was handed a pretty rough deal in light of economic happenings at the time. The country was reeling from the global financial crisis known here in the U.S. as the Great Recession, and in a move designed to prevent the American economy from complete collapse, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, which authorized $787 billion in spending to combat the negative effects of the recession. The Obama administration contended that the various measures enacted under ARRA were necessary to avoid an even worse fate for the nation. Of course, this argument seemed all but lost on GOP lawmakers; in an example of the kind of partisan conflict Barack Obama’s initiatives would experience throughout his time in office, ARRA would only make it to his desk to be signed on the strength of Democrats’ votes, with just three Republican senators voting yea as the bill worked its way through Congress. Emergency spending bills, threats of government shutdowns—Jesus, the GOP really likes to play chicken with the U.S. economy, don’t they?

The Obama administration lobbied for a second such “stimulus package” later in the year, but this would fail to pass. By this point, Republican assassination of the legacy of the ARRA was well under way, with the idea of a “stimulus” bill proving wildly unpopular with the public. Still, it is not as if President Obama’s policies didn’t make an impact even beyond the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Speaking of large cash infusions to institutions, Obama presided over a second auto bailout to the tune of $9.3 billion more. Pres. Obama also signed into law a federal minimum wage increase up to $7.25, which is great for the workers it affects but falls well short of the $12 minimum wage Barack Obama himself had sought and which Hillary Clinton had stressed as a part of her economic plan during her campaign.

As for post-recession trends during Obama’s two terms, median income has yet to rebound from its 2007 pre-recession rate, prompting fears those incomes will never return. GDP growth has been positive, but not overwhelming. Short-term interest rates only recently increased after staying near zero for most of the Obama presidency. Finally, unemployment has seen a decline from its 10% peak in 2009, and lately has been hovering around a rate of 5%, but this figure is somewhat misleading owing to things like comparisons between part-time and full-time workers as well as inability to account for those who have given up looking for work. Broadly speaking, one might judge Barack Obama’s presidency, in economic terms, as one which averted disaster, but otherwise has been uneven to minimal in the benefits it has promoted in these key areas.

Other economic policy stances

The political hot potato that it always seems to be, the national debt has also been a topic of considerable discussion during Obama’s tenure as POTUS. While other countries faced austerity measures related to the global financial crisis, U.S. government debt has grown under Barack Obama’s watch, paving the way for conflicts along politically ideological lines concerning whether or not spending should be slashed in key areas. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, or the Simpson-Bowles Commission, was commissioned in 2010 to address ways in which the United States might significantly lower its debt. Numerous individual measures were suggested as part of this report, though the analysis that resulted from the Commission was broadly encapsulated by calls for spending cuts (e.g. cutting into our bloated military spending) and tax increases. Of course, suggesting we spend less on the military and take more from wealthy Americans generally doesn’t sit well with the GOP, so perhaps unsurprisingly, these proposals never received a vote of approval in Congress. Oh, well. The academic exercise was fun, wasn’t it?

Even before Barack Obama took office in 2009, Republican lawmakers were primed to give him hell on matters of the nation’s debt ceiling. When the GOP, buoyed by surging popularity of Tea Party Republican politics, cleaned up in the 2010 mid-term elections, and their voice got that much louder in the House of Representatives, debates over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling and/or effect significant cuts in areas like entitlement programs and military spending grew that much more contentious. Obama, to his credit, tried to negotiate with John Boehner and the other House Republicans on these matters. Predictably, that didn’t work in terms of a “grand bargain.” Instead, we got the Budget Control Act of 2011, which raised the debt ceiling, kicking the proverbial can down the road as per the usual, as well as established the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which also didn’t work, and provided for budget sequestration, which would automatically take effect in case Democrats and Republicans couldn’t reach an agreement through the Committee. Which, of course, it did.

Later on in Obama’s presidency, in October 2013, there was a fun little government shutdown, again resulting from an impasse on concerns of a budgetary nature—this time, over whether or not to defund ObamaCare. The end result of that political kerfuffle was a resolution to end the shutdown, fund an omnibus spending bill, and raise the debt ceiling—again. The above conflicts, viewed out of context, can be viewed as a hallmark of a presidency helmed by a divisive leader. In reality, though, it takes two to tango, and since achieving a majority in the House and the Senate, Republicans have been every bit the stubborn obstructionists we might expect from lawmakers deferring to party politics. In other words, for all the griping about Batack Obama’s failure to reach across the political aisle, GOP lawmakers were awfully quick to slap at his hand on the occasions he did eke it out.

Foreign policy

There’s so much material here it’s difficult to know where to begin. We might have to look at some of the highlights within the highlights, so to speak. Here are just some of the areas that helped define Barack Obama’s time as the so-called leader of the free world:

1) Afghanistan and Iraq

Much as President Obama inherited an economic shit-storm with the advent of the Great Recession, the man inherited a veritable quagmire in the Middle East after George W. Bush plunged us headlong into armed conflict in not one, but two, countries. Noting the challenges presented by America’s continued involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama should be afforded some understanding with respect to the tough decisions he was forced to reckon with as Dubya’s successor. Of course, this is not to absolutely meant to exonerate him either. On one hand, Barack Obama, a vocal critic of the Iraq War during his initial campaign, was instrumental in the substantial drawing-down of troops stationed in Iraq, at least prior to the rise of ISIS.

On the other hand, as advised by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen, Obama authorized the expansion of American servicemen and servicewomen to a high mark of 100,000 in Afghanistan before signing an agreement to leave major combat operations to Afghan forces. If there’s one major criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the ongoing situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, from my perspective, it is that it has been too eager to spin a narrative of success and close the book on our efforts in these countries when the ever-present threat of al-Qaeda, ISIS, and, within the former, the Taliban, exists and causes unrest. By the same token, this is not to meant to overstate their danger, but only to consider that the way in which we fight wars is changing, and to put a timetable on completion when deep ideological divisions lie behind conflicts on international and national levels almost invites that schedule’s destruction.

2) China/East Asia

China has been a toughie for Barack Obama as President, no lie. While more recently, the emerging power has seen a slowing of its economy, its overall improvement in stature on the world’s stage has meant that President Xi Jinping and Co. have been eager to whip their dongs out and swing them around. In particular, the U.S. and China have shared a rather tentative relationship of late, with periodic spats over issues like arms sales to Taiwan, climate change, cyber-security, handling of North Korea, human rights, and territorial disputes. If nothing else, though, the apparent declining support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—an agreement meant, if nothing else, to assert American economic presence in Asia alongside the People’s Republic—seems to have saved Obama from a potential stain on his legacy.

Speaking of North Korea, by the way, um, it’s still there, and still working on nuclear weaponry. Sweet dreams.

3) Cuba

So, that whole thing about Cuba being on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list is done with. Also, recently, diplomatic relationships have been restored between Cuba and the United States, and economic restrictions have been loosened. Shit, Obama even went to see a baseball game down there! Cuban-American relations, in short, seem to be on the upswing. Then again, if Fidel Castro’s parting words before his recent passing are any indication, the U.S. would be wise to proceed with caution, and perhaps vice-versa. Castro wrote caustically that Cuba does not need any gifts from “the Empire,” and furthermore, that Barack Obama has not tried to understand Cuban politics. While it may seem as if everything is hunky-dory now, seeds of resentment toward America may yet exist in Cuba and elsewhere in lands touched by communism.

4) Drone strikes

Perhaps one of my biggest gripes with Barack Obama’s foreign policy stances over his tenure was that his administration saw an expansion of the drone warfare program set upon by George W. Bush. The predominant criticism with this bit of policy shift is that for all the terrorist figureheads “neutralized” by strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Middle East, numerous civilian casualties have resulted, including those of American citizens. A drone strike was even used to intentionally take out Anwar al-Aulaqi, an American citizen and Muslim cleric with ties to al-Qaeda, controversial in its own right for essentially being an extrajudicial killing OK’d by the Commander-in-Chief.

It seems more than vaguely hypocritical for the United States to police the world and portray itself as a white knight of sorts when it goes around bombing other countries, killing innocent people, and apologizing with a note saying “Oops!” We may not be terrorists per se, but indiscriminately flexing our military muscles with little regard for collateral damage is a sin in its own right. And Obama is guilty in his own right, to be sure.

5) Gitmo

The obstruction of Republicans notwithstanding, that President Obama has been unable to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay as intended—a goal he has reaffirmed year after year, at that—has got to feel like a disappointment for both he and human rights advocates. Sure, strides have been made in reducing the number of captives at the naval base there, as well as ending the practices of “enhanced” interrogation techniques and referring to those being held in detention as “enemy combatants,” but that detainees can still be held indefinitely without being charged is gross overreach on the part of the United States government. From where I’m sitting, Gitmo’s legacy is a stain on our national character, and potentially giving Donald Trump and his appointees broad access is deeply troubling.

6) Iran

Republicans tend to get all worked up about where we are in our relationship with Iran, with two main triggers in this regard. The first is America’s resolution with Iran concerning the latter’s agreement to limits on its nuclear program and access to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in return for reducing sanctions. To be fair, it doesn’t exactly warm the cockles of one’s heart to have to negotiate with a country that has more or less made “Death to America” a national slogan. Nonetheless, outside the realm of Congress and with no disrespect to Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu, it would seem as if there is high approval for such an accord, and I, for one, feel better about having some sort of understanding in place and approaching the situation with a greater sense of diplomacy than George W. Bush and his hawkish administration did.

The other issue that gets GOP politicians and conservative theorists alike all hot and bothered is a supposed $1.7 billion “ransom payment” (includes interest) to the Iranian government in return for the release of three American prisoners. The timing was suspicious, as I’m sure many on both the left and right can agree, but not merely to minimize this controversy, but I also don’t know what evidence there is that these monies were wired for the express purpose of hostage release. It’s bad optics, yes, but there is the possibility it is just that.

7) Libya

By now, most of America’s fixation on Libya seems to involve the events surrounding the attack on Benghazi. I remain critical of the Department of State’s handling of this situation, as I believe requests for more security and resources at the diplomatic mission were ignored by Hillary Clinton’s department, and suggesting she isn’t culpable because she wasn’t made aware of the deteriorating situation in Libya rings hollow when it can be argued that she should have been more aware, especially when she and others within the Obama administration were instrumental in pushing for Gaddafi’s deposition. While perhaps not the most egregious chapter in the book of Barack Obama’s presidency, America’s involvement in Libya during his two terms also doesn’t do much to allay concerns about our nation’s “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude when it comes to addressing international and national disputes.

8) Osama bin Laden

Oh, yeah. We killed that f**ker. Moving along.

9) Russia

Relations between the United States of America and the Russian Federation seemed to be moving in a positive direction, at least during Obama’s first term. Our president and their president signed a major nuclear arms control agreement. Russia joined the World Trade Organization, and the two countries were doing business again. The U.S. and Russia—Russia and the U.S.—we were like BFFs! And then Vladimir Putin took the reins again in Russia, and that got shot to shit. With actions such as the annexation of Crimea, repeated incursions into the Ukraine, and propping up the deadly regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Putin’s militarism has put his country on a course directly at odds with the “reset” Barack Obama had envisioned for U.S.-Russia relations. Most recently, probable interference of the Russians in American electoral affairs—needless to say, so not cool. Obama has caught a lot of flak for not meeting Putin’s shows of force with the same contentious spirit, but I applaud his administration’s levelheadedness, as too much fuel on the fire could lead to an escalation of any conflict, armed or otherwise. Sometimes, restraint is the best policy. Looking at you, President-Elect Trump.

10) Syria

Speaking of Syria, it’s a mess. Assad, insurgent forces, ISIS, Russia, and the U.S. launching airstrikes—and the proud people of a country with a rich history caught in between. It’s a devastating situation, and no doubt you’ve seen some of the photos of the carnage. In November of last year, Barack Obama announced a plan to resettle some 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States. If you ask me, the number should probably closer to 100,000—conservative Republican rhetoric be damned. Though the civil unrest is a conflict of a military nature, the suffering within Syria is a fundamentally human issue. Pres. Obama did not cause this war. He and Hillary Clinton did not give rise to ISIS. As such, he alone cannot solve the complex problems within the Syrian state. Alongside cooperation with neighboring countries, what we sorely need is compassion for the people affected by the fighting in Syria.

Social policy/domestic initiatives

Again, there’s a lot of ways we could go with topics under this heading, but seeing as we’ve already been through a lot of material, I’ll try to be briefer on this end. The domestic initiative most synonymous with Barack Obama’s presidency is, of course, the Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as ObamaCare. There are a lot of ObamaCare haters out there, and in light of this antipathy, even staunch Democrats have found themselves hard-pressed to defend the ACA. For my part, though the initial execution may have been flawed (recall all those early problems with Healthcare.gov), this initiative does put us closer to where we need to be in terms of universal healthcare—which is a right, mind you, or should be. The notion of any sort of mandate, be it required of employers or individuals, it would seem, really sticks in the craw of its detractors, but despite the hooting and hollering about government overreach from the right and railing about the burden on small businesses, having large numbers of uninsured Americans creates its own costs, and potentially larger ones at that down the road. ObamaCare is not perfect, but to label it an outright failure is more than a little misleading.

On other dimensions of domestic policy, Pres. Obama’s initiatives, if not particularly far-reaching, can be once more understood within the context of an obstructionist Congress. Barack Obama signed into law a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but only on the strength of support from Democratic lawmakers. Though the Obama administration saw a record number of deportations, Obama himself has been a vocal supporter of the DREAM Act, and signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy into law—even though he has been fought tooth-and-nail on both issues. Attempts to pass sensible gun law reform have been, in a word, cock-blocked by Republicans’ subservience to the NRA. And anyone thinking Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency would magically fix what ails the nation in terms of racial prejudice has full permission to go screw. As recent political events have brought to the forefront, there is a lot of deep-seated racism present in the United States, the likes of which Jesus Himself couldn’t hope to overcome. To those who would brand Barack Obama as a divider and not a uniter, I must express my doubts about how seriously you were willing to be united in the first place—that is, on terms other than your own.


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Mr. President, you shed tears for the victims of gun violence. Will you do the same for the people of Standing Rock Indian Reservation and the planet? (Photo Credit: AFP)

Full disclosure: I used and thank Wikipedia’s page on Barack Obama’s presidency for serving as a template for my personal opinions on his administration’s policies in light of the challenges he has faced. If you do check that link, you’ll notice I omitted two sections. One is science, technology, and the environment, a lot of which I found to be dry and uninteresting, quite frankly, and since this post is long enough already, I opted to scrap it, though environmental concerns are related to the discussion soon to follow. The other section, meanwhile, is ethics, and it is at this point which I’ll strive to make the connection to Standing Rock. Overall, I feel Barack Obama, who easily outpaces George W. Bush in leadership skills and sound foreign policy navigation (not exactly the most difficult achievement), if I may say so myself, has done a fairly good job at steering the nation along a path of incremental progress, a job made that much more difficult by the obstinacy of the GOP.

This notion of the virtue of incremental progress, however, in itself a limiting factor, and thus, in general terms, is at the same time a major criticism of the Obama occupancy of the White House—that his policies haven’t gone far enough, even noting Republican resistance. Don’t get me wrong—I like Barack Obama. As a person, I think he’s got a great personality, not to mention a beautiful family and a wife and First Lady in Michelle who may be as capable a leader as he, if not more so. Nevertheless, there are points where I disagree with the President, a notion some Democratic Party loyalists treat as tantamount to disrespect or even heresy. On an economic front, as alluded to earlier, I disapprove of Obama’s stubborn adherence to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As a true Bernie Sanders devotee, I also find fault with his administration’s seeming unwillingness to go beyond the provisions of Dodd-Frank, as many would agree is necessary to keep Wall Street in check, including but not limited to reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, not to mention his extension of the Bush-era tax cuts. Within the sphere of social policy, too, for all the reforms made in the intersection of the criminal justice system and drug laws, the war on drugs still rages on, and the DEA is still wont to equate marijuana with a drug like heroin, while substances like alcohol, opioids and tobacco are easily accessible.

Additionally, invoking again matters of ethics, for a president who vowed that lobbyists wouldn’t find a place in his White House and that his administration would be the most transparent in history, Barack Obama has waffled if not deliberately violated these precepts. If we add the revelation of the existence in 2013 by Edward Snowden of the PRISM mass electronic surveillance program as a function of the NSA, the willingness of the Obama administration to cross ethical lines, if not legal and constitutional lines, is all the more unsettling. If we bring contemplations of social and moral responsibility into the mix, meanwhile, while, again, Obama has fared significantly better than his predecessor, as regards the environment, it’s yet a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, Pres. Obama has identified climate change as the biggest threat the nation and world faces, and has set forth legislation on numerous occasions designed to cap carbon emissions and overall reduce the United States’ emissions footprint. On the other hand, Obama has only nixed domestic offshore drilling and other projects like the Keystone XL extension because they weren’t economically viable, not for strict adherence to environmental principles. Do as I say, not as I’d do if the money were better.

Enter the Dakota Access Pipeline and Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Some background information, first. Energy Transfer Partners, a Fortune 500 natural gas and propane firm, seeks to construct a pipeline that would run from the Bakken Oil Fields in North Dakota to a point in southern Illinois, going underneath the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and part of Lake Oahe near Standing Rock in the process. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the proposed pipeline would have little to no impact on the surrounding area. This assessment, however, has been judged by outside observers as being rather limited in scope, failing to analyze the situation in terms of a potential area-wide environmental impact, and since being asked to conduct a full-scale review by various related agencies, even the Corps has acknowledged it needs more time to make an adequate assessment on the impact the Dakota Access Pipeline could have.

That’s the good news, the delay. The bad news comes with how little attention the progress of the Dakota Access Pipeline project and the protests of its completion have received until recently, and just how severe the backlash has been against protestors from security guards contracted by those involved with the pipeline project as well as law enforcement siding with the corporate entity. There have been reports of guard dogs and pepper spray used on protestors, as well as concussion grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons in freezing conditions, not to mention the use of the criminal justice system to intimidate and silence journalists. Even if some protestors were being unruly, though, as North Dakota state police have alleged, this use of force appears disproportionate and harsh. What’s more, this treatment would seem to run at odds with how other superficially similar situations have unfolded. Making an allusion to the extended occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by armed militants, the coiner of the term Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza had this to say:

So let me get this correct. If you’re white, you can occupy federal property … and get found not guilty. No teargas, no tanks, no rubber bullets … If you’re indigenous and fighting to protect our earth, and the water we depend on to survive, you get tear gassed, media blackouts, tanks and all that.

The disparity seems pretty telling. In America, the sanctity of Indian lands and water sources evidently pales in comparison to the whims of the fossil fuel industry and white privilege. If you’re pumping vast sums of oil or you’re Caucasian and packing heat in vague protest of government overreach, you stand to fare better than a Dakota Access Pipeline protestor or, say, a black person stopped by the cops for a minor traffic violation.

Thankfully, in light of the apparent brutality shown toward these protestors, along with the sheer number of people who have stood with Standing Rock, not to mention several entertainers and other celebrities who have drawn attention to the plight of the reservation’s Sioux citizens and others who have suffered for the cause (for Christ’s sake, they arrested Shailene Woodley, of all people! Shailene Woodley!), average Joes like you and me are taking notice. One voice above all, though, would carry considerably more weight, and since I spent some 3,000 words talking about him just now, I think you know to whom I’m alluding. Barack Obama has been notably silent on matters of Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline, as were Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton once it became, for all intents and purposes, a heads-up contest for the presidency.

It’s not like his involvement hasn’t been sought, either. Chief Arvol Looking Horse, a spiritual leader and voice for the Great Sioux Nation, has pleaded with Pres. Obama to keep his word with recognition of treaties with native peoples and to act when they are violated. Bernie Sanders has spoken at a protest in front of the White House and personally appealed to the President to act against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and other senators have urged him and his administration to do a more thorough environmental assessment of the project’s impact, as well as consider consulting more directly and openly with tribal representatives. Obama himself has even acknowledged Standing Rock Reservation and the associated protests by name on more than occasion.

Acknowledgment of the problem helps, and I encourage those of you who support resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline to use the hashtag #NoDAPL in your social media posts and dialogs. But we need action—not just from people like you and I—but from our leaders, those with the most direct path and power to affect change. And Barack Obama is at the top of the list. As noted, Obama and Co. has killed offshore drilling projects and the Keystone XL extension—though not necessarily for the purported altruistic reasons. Going back to his legacy, though, if ever there were a time to stand for something on principle, it would be now, and standing with the people of Standing Rock and the future of the planet over the Dakota Access Pipeline and the fossil fuel industry. President Obama, if I may address you directly, sir—you are a lame duck president. Your political party just had its ass handed to it in the election, despite the results of the popular vote for the president, in part because people are fed up with politics as usual and the incremental progress paradigm of yesteryear. And while party loyalists and more moderate liberals may support you no matter what, those of us disenfranchised with the status quo are asking for more, and to boot, those on the extreme right are intent on destroying the best points of your legacy.

Which is why, Mr. President, now is the time to act. Stand with Standing Rock, because Donald Trump almost certainly won’t. Re-write the narrative. Leave one final meritorious page in the storybook of your presidency. I, concerned citizens around the world, and the planet itself will thank and remember you for it.

Democrats Could Take Back the Senate, and This Man Could Be Your Senate Budget Committee Chair

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Hi, everyone! Remember me? (Photo retrieved from laprogressive.com.)

We’re roughly two weeks away from the general election, and I, for one, can’t wait for it all to be over. I know—this could bring us closer to Donald Trump winning, and this would be my least preferable scenario. Still, the whole process has been an ugly one, no matter what side you support (or even if you support a side; I’m voting for Jill Stein, even if she has issues with understanding how quantitative easing works). I am, as a function of wanting to vote for Bernie Sanders in the New Jersey state Democratic Party primary, a registered Democrat, and have donated to Sanders’ campaign prior to its suspension, as well as his new fledgling progressive-minded organization Our Revolution.

Between my newfound party affiliation and Bernie lending his support to Hillary Clinton, I can only think it was between these two sources that Hillary, the Dems and her campaign got access to my E-mail address. The result? The other day, following the final presidential debate, I counted, out of my 50 most recent messages, how many were from HRC or HillaryClinton.com. There were 21 of them—42%. That’s approximately two of every five E-mails. Factor in pleas from Barack and Michelle Obama, and we’re over the 50% mark. If these messages were sent in any other context, and perhaps if there were not the perceived threat of the worst presidential candidate in modern history hanging over our heads, I would consider this harassment.

Speaking of the last presidential debate, if you follow me on Facebook (hint, hint, follow me on Facebook), you’ll know I didn’t watch it. It’s not even because I’m refusing to vote for either candidate—it’s because these affairs have been brutal to watch since the start of the whole presidential campaign, to be honest, and I’m sure many of you share this belief. Reading the transcript, here’s the briefest summary I can give (note: I am not know for my brevity) for the topics they discussed:

Supreme Court justice nomination

Wait, didn’t Barack Obama already nominate Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court? Oh, that’s right, Mitch McConnell and other douchebag Republicans have refused to hear him. So, Chris Wallace of Fox News fame posed the first round of questions for the night on this subject, and how the Constitution should be interpreted by the Court. Hillary Clinton, as is her style, more or less pandered to any group who would listen sympathetic to liberal/progressive causes, throwing in the decisions in Citizens United and Roe v. Wade in for effect. Donald Trump, meanwhile, after whining about Ruth Bader Ginsburg a.k.a. the Notorious RBG going in on him, affirmed his commitment to being a pro-life candidate and to upholding the sanctity of the Second Amendment.

In his follow-up, Wallace first asked Clinton to respond to this reference to guns and gun control, in doing so, invoking the 2008 Supreme Court ruling in District Columbia v. Heller which stated that Second Amendment protections apply to handgun ownership, including for the purpose of self-defense. HRC opined that she supports the Second Amendment, but that she favors restrictions on gun ownership. For our children. Cue the emotional-sounding music. As for Trump, Chris Wallace addressed his stance on abortion and reproductive rights, pressing the GOP nominee for specifics on how he would advocate the Supreme Court handles such matters and whether or not he would call for a reversal of Roe v. Wade. Taking a page out of his standard playbook concerning answering questions on concrete policy points, Donald Trump, unsurprisingly, deferred on this matter, saying if overturned, the matter would go to the states, and refusing to comment on whether or not he would like to see Roe v. Wade reversed. That’s right, Donald. Squirm like a fetus in the womb anytime someone tries to nail you down on substance.

Abortion

Ever opportunistic, Hillary Clinton seized on Trump’s past and present comments on women’s right to an abortion like an evangelical attacking a Planned Parenthood supporter. Without being asked, she criticized her opponent for suggesting he would de-fund PP and would punish women for terminating their presidencies. Chris Wallace then queried the Democratic Party nominee more pointedly on whether or not the fetus has constitutional rights and why she supports late-term partial birth abortions. And Hillary was all, like, BECAUSE IT’S 2016 AND IT’S A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE WHAT SHE DOES WITH HER OWN F**KING BODY. Except she was, um, more politically correct in her answer. That emphasis is mine. And I mean every word. Including the f**k part.

Donald Trump, by the by, when also prompted about this subject, in particular, late-term partial birth abortions, replied that he was absolutely not OK with tearing the baby out of the womb “in the ninth month, on the final day.” But this implies that ending pregnancies in the final trimester is a common practice, when statistics indicate this practice is more rare. To Clinton’s credit, she denounced Trump’s talk as “scare rhetoric” and “unfortunate.” Which it is. If there’s one thing Donald Trump likes, beside suing people, it’s scaring the hell out of them.

Immigration

And invariably, the candidates had to talk about immigration. Bleh. I bleh because we already know where there is going for Donald Trump. Amnesty is a disaster. We need strong borders. People are getting killed all over the country by illegal immigrants. Drugs are pouring in. The Border Patrol endorsed me. Talk about scaring the hell out of people. Although I might also bleh with respect to Hillary Clinton. Not because she favors amnesty. Or that she pointed out the idea “rounding up” undocumented immigrants and deporting them is unfeasible. Or that she vows to introduce comprehensive immigration reform in her first 100 days. It’s that she leads with a story about “Carla,” a woman from Las Vegas who’s worried her parents will be deported because they immigrated illegally. Do people actually get swayed by these personal stories brought up in the context of debates? What about my friend Emilio who immigrated illegally from Costa Rica, works three jobs, and once saved a school bus full of children from careening off a cliff? I just made him up, but how would you know for sure unless I told you?

The two candidates then squabbled about whether or not Donald Trump’s trip to Mexico was a success (it pretty much was a disaster), whether or not Hillary has supported border security or a wall (she supported a fence), and whether or not, under Clinton’s plan, you would have open borders or a continuation of Obama’s legacy of deportation (hard to say, but why weren’t the candidates asked more about this?). Also, Trump used the word “bigly.” I think. Or was it “big-league.” This is probably the biggest debate within the debate, and either way, the man who uttered it sounds like an idiot. Even if bigly is, apparently, a word.

Russia

This is where the debate started to veer off into the realm of the childish. The rancor between the two candidates was set off in this instance by Chris Wallace’s question about a quote from Hillary Clinton from a speech given to a Brazilian bank for which she was paid $225,000 and in which she uttered the line, “My dream is a hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders.” Clinton asserted she was talking about energy in that case, an excerpt from a speech which was made known through a Wikileaks release, and then quickly pivoted to the idea Russian hacks have made this information possible. Taking this line of discourse and running with it, she connected the dots, as many have, to Vladimir Putin deliberately trying to influence the results of the U.S. presidential election, and went on the offensive against Donald Trump, lambasting him for not condemning the attacks and actually encouraging hacks against her and the Democratic National Committee.

Because the name “Putin” out of HRC’s mouth is apparently a trigger word for him, this started Trump frothing at the mouth about how she, the “17 intelligence agencies” she cited, or anyone else in America could know for sure whether it was Russia, China, or Elliot Alderson behind the hacks. Then Hillary said she wasn’t quoting herself. Then Donald said she had no idea, and that she only hated Vladimir Putin because she had outsmarted her “every step of the way” in Syria. Then Chris Wallace tried to intervene and point out that, you know, it probably was the Russians who did it. Then Donald Trump said he and Putin were totes not friends, and that Russia is building warheads and we aren’t, and that is soooooo not cool. Then Hillary Clinton said it’s funny you talk about nuclear weapons, Donald, because you can’t be trusted with them. Then Trump was, like, nuh-uh, I have a bajillion generals who support me—Mr. Wallace, she’s lying! Then Clinton was, like, you said it. Then Trump was, like, did not! Then Clinton, was, like, did too! Then Wallace threatened to turn the car around and go back home if the candidates did not behave themselves, and that they wouldn’t get to go to McDonald’s if they kept fighting.

The economy

Conversation about how to “fix” the American economy between Democratic and Republican candidates tends to be a study in contrasts, and in the case of Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s competing plans, so holds the model. Clinton’s agenda, as she frames it, hits on the now-firmly-established progressive Democratic Party platform goals: more jobs in infrastructure and clean energy, raising the minimum wage, equal pay for women, debt-free college, raising the corporate tax rate, etc. Put more simply by her, though, her plan is better because it’s not Donald Trump’s plan. Trump, meanwhile, shot back by saying Clinton’s scheme would significantly raise taxes for the average American. And then he complained about NATO and NAFTA, claimed he would renegotiate trade deals, and vowed to cut taxes on businesses. Because America is “dying.” So, um, yeah.

Hillary rebutted by saying that Trump’s tax plan would only add to the national debt, and that trickle-down economics marked by cutting tax rates for the wealthy haven’t worked, both of which I believe is true. Of course, when she did, she invoked her husband presiding over an economy which saw the production of a surplus—even though any president’s direct positive influence over economic affairs tends to be minimal—and played the Barack Obama card, touting his success in the face of a terrible recession despite having nothing to do with it personally, and using his track record as an unconvincing answer to Chris Wallace’s question about how she would improve upon Obama’s efforts. Thankfully for HRC and her supporters, Donald Trump’s answer to the same question was even worse. Wallace directly confronted the Republican candidate about the lack of realism in his plan, and Trump countered by once again blaming NAFTA and talking about how his opponent called the Trans-Pacific Partnership the “gold standard” in trade deals. Which is true, but that doesn’t illuminate anything new or fundamentally sound about your economic goals.

The candidates said some more things about the economy, but it was mostly self-congratulatory bullshit. I, Hillary Clinton, came out strongly against the TPP—when it was convenient for me to do so. I, Donald Trump, built a tremendous company single-handedly—with my family’s name and a million dollars of Daddy’s money. At the end of the day, it’s vaguely insulting for either of these candidates to try to insinuate they care genuinely about the middle class in this country, because they are so far removed from it they seem to lack the ability to see things from the requisite perspective. Let’s move on to the next segment before I start to lose it here.

Fitness for President

If you ask me, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton is particularly fit for the office, but let’s give this its own recap anyhow. Trump claimed all those women who accused him of sexual advances were liars. Clinton said, “What? Not hot enough for you, Donald?” Trump said he never made disparaging comments about his accusers, and that no one has more respect for women than he does.

The audience laughed. As they should have.

Donald Trump then pivoted to Hillary’s scandals. Hillary Clinton, predictably, pivoted off Trump’s pivot, going after him for making fun of Serge Kovaleski and starting a war of words with Khizr and Ghizala Khan. Chris Wallace then steered the discussion back to alleged Clintonian misdeeds, specifically charges of “pay to play” within the Clinton Foundation while she was Secretary of State. Hillary said everything she did as Secretary of State was for the benefit of the American people. Trump and even Wallace called bullshit on that. Of course, Donald Trump tried to claim 100% of the donations to the Trump Foundation went to charitable purposes. Bullshit all over.

Hillary fired back by saying there’s no way we could know this for sure, because someone won’t release his tax returns. Trump fired back at this firing back by saying that if Clinton didn’t like him taking advantage of tax loopholes, she should have rewritten the laws. Chris Wallace then closed this round of questioning by asking Donald Trump about his claims that the election is “rigged” if he doesn’t win, and that he will accept the results of the voting regardless of the outcome.

And Trump wouldn’t. He said he’d keep us in suspense. The audience didn’t laugh. Because it’s not funny. Not at all.

Foreign “hotspots”

Ahem, no, we’re not talking about places outside the United States where Hillary Clinton can use Wi-Fi on unencrypted devices. Chris Wallace started the segment by asking Hillary about having a plan after the removal of ISIS from Iraq and other areas in which a “vacuum” may be created by tearing shit up. A pertinent question, if you ask me, for a woman who seemingly never met a regime change she didn’t like. Hillary threw out some vague details about Iraq and Syria that communicated to the audience she knows things about the Middle East and foreign policy. Mosul this. Raqqa that. More intelligence at home. No-fly zones. Sounds good, Hill. You did your homework.

Donald Trump—ugh. Do you really think he had anything constructive to say on this topic? Whatever the case, Hillary Clinton harped on his initial support for the Iraq War. Trump was all, like, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Clinton then literally told the audience to Google “Donald Trump Iraq.” Ugh, again. Donald Trump brought in Bernie Sanders’ criticisms of Clinton’s judgment from the primary season. Hillary Clinton was all, like, well, look who’s supporting me now. Trump was all, like, shut up. Clinton was all, like, make me.

Chris Wallace then threatened to put both of these children in “time out,” and quickly moved the conversation along to Aleppo. Wallace basically called Donald Trump a liar, liar, pants on fire about past remarks he’s made about the Syrian city. That it has not fallen. That the Russians have, in fact, been bombing resistance fighters and not ISIS. Trump talked about…Iran? Hillary was then asked about the potential perils of a no-fly zone. Which she answered by commenting on the vetting of refugees and that picture of the 4-year-old with blood pouring down his face. CAN SOMEONE PLEASE DIRECTLY ANSWER A F**KING QUESTION? YOU’RE RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT! YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO DEAL WITH THIS KIND OF SHIT IF YOU WIN!

National debt

Finally (read: mercifully), Moderator Wallace brought the debate to the final topic of the night: the national debt which looms over the head of the United States like a cheaply-made Chinese version of a guillotine. Donald Trump was queried about why he doesn’t seem to give much of a shit about matters of this nature, because his plan economic plan sucks eggs. Trump had some sort of answer about a “tremendous machine” and negotiating trade deals again. So, yeah, it sucks eggs. Hillary Clinton said she wouldn’t add a penny to the national debt, and how she would rebuild the middle class. For families. For America. And a gentle breeze blew through her hair, while over the arena, one lone bald eagle was heard cawing. It sounded like…freedom. Or maybe that was the sound of Susan Sarandon trying not to throw up in her own mouth.

Chris Wallace closed by asking both candidates about entitlements as drivers of the national debt. Donald Trump talked about cutting taxes. Wallace replied that this wouldn’t help with entitlements, dumbass. Well, he didn’t say “dumbass,” but he probably was thinking it. Trump replied to this reply with some junk about ObamaCare. Thunk, thunk, thunk. Sorry, that’s the sound of my head hitting the wall. Hillary Clinton answered by saying that we would put more money in the Social Security Trust fund—somehow. She also took a potshot at her rival by saying her Social Security payroll contribution would likely go up, and that his would too unless he found a way to get out of it, which prompted Trump to call her a “nasty woman.” Which, not for nothing, gives HRC’s feminist supporters ammunition, because they hear “nasty woman” and think over a century of patriarchal oppression. It’s probably not how Donald Trump meant it, let me note. After all, no one has more respect for women than he does. Seriously, though, he was in all likelihood just reacting like the petulant child he is deep down.

The candidates, even though they were not asked to prepare closing statements, were nonetheless entreated by Chris Wallace to indulge him with something off the cuff. Hillary reached out to Americans of all political affiliations, and vowed to stand with families against powerful interests and corporations. Yeah, sure, Hillary. Donald Trump said we are going to rebuild our military, take care of our veterans, respect the police, fix inner cities, lift up African-Americans and Latinos, and overall, Make America Great Again. Yeah, sure, Donald. On that inspiring note, the final presidential debate was concluded. May God have mercy on all our souls.


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The two major-party presidential candidates: Donald Trump (left) and Hillary Clinton (right), in a delightful suffragette white ensemble. Trump is animatedly speaking about something here. You can tell because he’s gesticulating with his hands. His tiny, infantile hands. (Photo Credit: Mark Ralston/AP).

The final presidential debate, seemingly, was focused a lot more substantively on the issues than previous forums. Unfortunately, that still didn’t necessarily mean the audience in attendance or at home got too much out of it. On one hand, you have a bloviating (good SAT word!) blockhead with few defined policy goals and little respect for other human beings. On the other hand, you have an arrogant panderer repeatedly trying to goad her opponent into personal attacks and seemingly content to take a victory lap three weeks before the general election. Indeed, from a media perspective, the three biggest takeaways from the event seemed to be: 1) “bigly,” 2) the “nasty woman” comment, and 3) that Donald Trump refused to commit to accepting the results of the election unless he won. On the third count, the liberal media was especially shocked and appalled, but at this stage, are we really that surprised? If the election is “rigged,” then you didn’t really lose, right? Except for the fact the mainstream media propped you up as your campaign gained traction for the sake of ratings, meaning you had an unfair advantage over a number of your Republican opponents during the primaries. But sure, the whole thing is rigged. Democracy is dead. Stick a fork in it.

Like I said, I’m, like, so over the presidential election, and chances are you are too. But that might not be such a bad thing. Roughly a fortnight away from the general election, I would like you to consider that come November 8, you stand to be voting on more than just the presidency, and these candidates and initiatives may have their own lasting consequences, perhaps more so than the executive office itself. First of all, let’s speak to the various referenda that will dot ballots across the United States. Numerous states this election are considering such issues as the death penalty, marijuana legalization, and the state minimum wage. These are important issues, and in the case of capital punishment, it’s quite literally a matter of life and death. And there are other referendum votes which, if you’re a liberal like myself, could be devastating if enough people don’t turn out to vote or otherwise don’t care enough to sift through the verbiage. Both Alabama and Virginia are weighing whether or not we should make unions weaker. Louisiana has a measure on the statewide ballot to decide if college boards for public colleges and universities should be able to establish tuition and fee rates without legislative approval. Going back to the idea of the minimum wage, South Dakota has a proposal for a youth “sub-minimum” wage for anyone employed under the age of 17. Not only am I against such a measure on principle, but logically speaking, how do you have something below the minimum? It’s like giving someone an F-minus. You’ve already f**king failed the person—now you’re just being a jackass on top of it.

And yes, there are implications for the U.S. Congress as well, particularly in terms of the Senate, where 34 of the 100 seats are being contested, 24 of them held by Republicans. If Democrats win enough seats—at the current breakdown of 54 Republican, 44 Democrat, and 2 independent, a net gain of six would guarantee it—they would take control. The implications of this? As Paul Ryan warned his supporters, this means the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, who is an independent and caucuses with Dems, would take the reins. In case you suffered amnesia or are too lazy to scroll to the beginning of this post, guess who that is. Yup, a guy named Bernard Sanders. As the Vox article linked above indicates, progressives have used Ryan’s warning as a rallying cry, and in the span of two days raised almost $2 million. That’s no small potatoes. While even I, as a Sanders supporter, would actually be nervous at such a situation because of Bernie’s lack of willingness to compromise at times, noting the GOP unabashedly promotes its agenda to the point it regularly plays chicken with government shutdowns, I am encouraged about having a strong voice for the American people in a position of prominence. Plus, if it pisses off Paul Ryan, I’m generally all for it.

So, yes, the presidential election is vitally important. Democrats who enthusiastically support Hillary Clinton, in particular, need to show up at the polls. Even if you hate both Clinton and Trump, though, don’t stay home. There’s more than just their names on the ballot. After all, you could always vote for a third-party candidate or write in the candidate of your choice. (Deez Nuts, anyone?) More than that, though, I’m talking about down-ticket candidates and critical ballot initiatives. Those lawmakers resisting positive change for the sake of their constituents and for the American people at large are counting on voters to be apathetic or uninformed, and to not protect their (the voters’) interests and rights. When you press the button in the voting booth on November 8, I encourage you to think of those “regressive” sorts. And when you do, use your middle finger—for me. It’s your vote. F**k ’em.

These Things Need Buzzers or Mute Buttons, and Other Observations from the First Presidential Debate

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Sure, they’re all smiles now, but belying their grins for the photo op is a shared unquenchable thirst for winning. And designer suits. They like expensive clothing. (Photo retrieved from foxnews.com.)

Well, the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton has come and gone and the results are in—people are curled up in the fetal position because one of these two will become our next President and they don’t really like either of them! OK, so maybe I’m not speaking for everyone watching, but I tend to wonder how much what was said in the debate will actually change people’s opinions on whom they plan to vote for come November. As for who won the debate, I’m not here to try to pass judgment. After all, I’ve watched boxing fights after which I was pretty sure one participant should emerge victorious because he seemed to dominate the other boxer, but left to the judges’ decision, the actual results were completely the other way around. If you ask the candidates and their campaigns, each side would definitely say they were the winners. For what it’s worth, early polling suggests the American audience thought Hillary won, though I’m more loath as the days go by to trust the veracity of some of these surveys, if I may say so.

But like I said, I’m not here to crown a winner. I seek only to provide commentary where I think it warranted, as well as to offer suggestions for how future presidential debates may be improved. With this behind us, let’s take a narrower look at what went down in the first presidential debate—you know, if we can stand it. Might I suggest some unhealthy snacks or some liquor to sustain you as you read through?

UNITED STATES OF JOE’S ENTIRELY UNNECESSARY COMMENTS ON THE FIRST PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

1. First of all, let me confess that I didn’t actually watch the debate, which was starting before I had even gotten home from class. To be fair, though, I probably would have been distracted by watching my Fantasy Football team’s hopes of a win go down in flames anyway. To the tandem of Devonta Freeman and Coby Fleener, who proved instrumental in my defeat, let me say that I hate you both with the passion of a thousand burning suns.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system (not really), since I didn’t see the event live, I can’t really comment on what kind of job Lester Holt did as moderator. The general response of viewers and pundits, though, seemed to be a positive appraisal of Holt’s handling of the affair. Although let’s be fair—next to the dumpster fire that was Matt Lauer’s presiding over the Commander-in-Chief Forum, pretty much anything halfway decent would feel like a great success. Kudos, Lester! You’re better at taking Donald Trump to task than Jimmy Fallon!

Achieving Prosperity

2. As you might already know/remember from viewing the debate on television, the opening segment was devoted to “Achieving Prosperity.” Sounds like something in Trump’s wheelhouse, doesn’t it? The candidates were first asked about what they would do to stimulate job creation. Hillary Clinton gave her familiar lines: the wealthy need to pay their fair share, let’s invest in infrastructure, raise the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, paid family leave, affordable child care, debt-free college, close tax loopholes, was there anything on the Democratic Party platform I didn’t check off? Donald Trump, meanwhile, railed about China and Mexico and vowed to cut taxes, and also said he was going to renegotiate a lot of trade deals. Because it’s just that simple.

When pressed specifically on how we get companies to bring jobs back to America, Trump was, well, largely incoherent, and pivoted to the notion NAFTA was a bad trade deal. Which may be true, but that doesn’t answer the question. The best the man of the orange and thin skin could come up with was that he wouldn’t let corporations leave, but whether this involves the threat of taxes should they relocate, or literally stopping them at the airport and barring them from getting aboard their overseas flights, Trump’s remedy is woefully impractical.

3. The candidates, under Lester Holt, moved swiftly onto the next question. Well, at least the moderator tried to make that happen. Holt attempted to segue into a discussion about taxes, but first, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had to argue about taxes before they could, well, argue about taxes. To be fair to Clinton, Trump started it, talking about how Clinton would jack up taxes and he would slash them and how wonderful that would be for the US of A. Hillary then countered by saying Donald’s loose semblance of an economic plan would jack up the national debt, while hers would reduce it. Then Donald Trump was all, like, nuh-uh. And Hillary Clinton was all, like, yuh-huh. And then Trump was all, like, whatever! When the dust was allowed to settle, Trump tried to suggest that the wealthy were going to create tremendous jobs. (Except they don’t.) He also—and give El Diablo his due—mentioned eliminating the carried interest loophole, by which wealthy hedge fund managers are allowed to claim a more favorable tax rate by classifying their income as capital gains, even though there is no legal basis for this, and even though President Obama could apparently totally f**king end this practice with little more than a phone call but hasn’t. Then Clinton was alleged to have been given two minutes to respond, but her opponent wouldn’t shut his big yap.

Eventually, what passed for a conversation moved to the subject of Donald Trump’s tax returns, which, as I’m sure you know, he still hasn’t gone and released. Once more, Trump claimed he couldn’t comply with this request because he is under audit. If there’s one thing I have stressed in this blog, perhaps other than the logical fallacy of saying “all lives matter” instead of “black lives matter,” it’s that THIS IS NOT A VIABLE EXCUSE FOR TRUMP NOT TO RELEASE HIS TAXES. THE IRS SAYS IT’S PERFECTLY OK. Trump’s stupid explanations and deflecting with mentions of private E-mail servers notwithstanding, Hillary Clinton brilliantly took the opportunity to insert possible reasons as to why Trump is dodging calls for his tax returns like he (allegedly) dodged the draft. Maybe he isn’t worth as much as he says he is. (Highly likely.) Maybe he isn’t as charitable as he would have us believe. (I can almost guarantee it.) Perhaps, quoth Hillary, it is his hundreds of millions of dollars of debt to Wall Street and foreign banks, or that he has paid little to nothing in taxes over the years.

Donald Trump spins this last notion as a virtue, that he’s a smart businessman. Not only isn’t it like he cleverly came up with the idea for any loopholes he exploits, however, but this also puts him at odds with average Americans who aren’t wealthy enough to be able to afford such preferential treatment. You’re not smart in this regard, Mr. Trump. You’re lucky you were born rich with a daddy who bailed you out when you made dumb decisions, and that you could file for bankruptcy (also not your invention) the rest of the time.

America’s Direction

4. The second of the first presidential debate’s triptych of topics was devoted to “America’s direction,” which, not for nothing, is a depressingly vague category. Not to mention it invites the retort from the peanut gallery at home that the country’s direction is headed straight to “the shitter.” But I digress. Lester Holt first confronted the candidates with the question of how the United States can heal its bitter racial divides. Hillary Clinton stuck to, ahem, her guns, by primarily calling for more comprehensive gun reform. She also spoke in broad strokes about the need to improve community relations between police and civilians, as well as the need to address systemic bias in the quality of education among different groups and to deal with glaring disparities in arrests and sentencing of people of color. Beyond the gun issue, I’m not so sure how convincing her answer was or should be, but as usual, it sounded good in a superficial way.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, spoke about how we need law and order—and he wasn’t talking about Special Victims Unit starring Mariska Hargitay. He also casually dropped the suggestion that stop-and-frisk is a good idea, even though it’s ineffective, unconstitutional, and unfairly targets African-Americans and Hispanics/Latinos. Hillary responded with more of how she opened the segment—essentially pandering to the minority vote. Next, when prompted by Holt to comment on implicit racism, Clinton correctly asserted that we all suffer from it to a degree, but you could tell she was framing it in a way so as to drive home the notion she respects police and, at the same time, try not to further alienate potential undecided voters who possess a great deal of respect for officers of the law and, perhaps, are OK with, you know, the occasional murdering of unarmed black citizens.

Then, Donald Trump—ugh. Look, I could try to parse through the gobbledygook that was his response for a coherent message, but let me just pick out the highlights. Trump gave a shout-out to the NRA. He made a quick, offhand remark about no-fly and watch lists. He, apropos of nothing, invoked Clinton’s use of the term “super-predator.” He argued about how crime was going up in New York City without his beloved stop-and-frisk in place—even though this is patently false. And at the end of all this, Lester Holt actually reminded the Republican Party nominee the conversation was supposed to be about “race.” If this isn’t an indictment of Donald Trump’s inability to provide consistent, coherent answers on topics that make him uncomfortable, I don’t know what is.

5. And then came the part when Lester Holt asked Donald Trump about all the times he pushed the narrative that Barack Obama was born in Africa and demanded he produce his birth certificate just to prove him and other conspiracy theorists wrong. Now, before we get to Trump’s part in the whole “birther” controversy, let’s acknowledge that there is a more complicated truth to Hillary Clinton’s side of the story to which the GOP nominee was referring. Once upon a time, in 2008, when HRC was running against Obama for the Democratic Party nomination, her campaign did help to spread this myth. Much as the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton 2016 campaign were apt to latch on to the idea that, say, Bernie Sanders is an atheist to help her chances with more religious voters, it should be no great surprise that Hillary and her handlers would try to gain any advantage to win.

The notion that Hillary Clinton, anyone who has worked on her campaign, or anyone currently serving such a function came up with birtherism, however, is decidedly untrue. The origins are indeed murky as to who or what exactly devised this whole delegitimizing strategy, but regardless, if there was one person who took this awful baton and ran with it, it’s Donald J. Trump. As Holt even noted in his initial question, Trump persisted with the birther train of thinking—even when most Americans were satisfied that Barack Obama was, in fact, born on American soil. That he “succeeded” in getting Obama to produce formal proof of the circumstances behind his coming into this world is an achievement of dubious distinction. Donald Trump should be as proud of his role in the birther movement as he should be of Trump Steaks. And you can’t even eat birtherism. Believe me—I’ve tried.

Securing America

6. Last but not least, Lester Holt moderated a segment called “Securing America”—between one candidate who issued E-mails on classified matters from one or more unsecured private servers and unencrypted devices, and another who suggested the Russians hack his opponent to find missing/deleted messages. (I hear you banging your head against the desk in frustration through the screen over there, and I second that notion.) Things being what they are, Hillary Clinton uttered something vague about “making it clear” to other nations, especially China, Iran and Russia, that we’re not going to take their hacking BS. Donald Trump, as usual, didn’t really answer the question, and implied that maybe it wasn’t Russia who was behind the hacks—even though it’s entirely f**king likely that it was Russia, amirite?

Clinton, in her rebuttal, quickly pivoted to talk of more air strikes against ISIS, because if there’s one thing HRC likes, it’s blowing up parts of other countries. Trump, in his rebuttal to the rebuttal, um, blamed Hillary again for causing ISIS—which indirectly may be partially true, but she sure had a lot of help. Then Hillary Clinton pointed out her opponent supported the Iraq War. Donald Trump said he didn’t—but he’s a big f**king liar. Clinton said we’re working with NATO. Trump effectively said NATO can kiss his ass, and invoked, of all people Sean Hannity in his self-defense about support for the Iraq War. After that, they argued about who has the better temperament of the two for the job. I don’t know—this was probably the low point of the debate for me personally, because I think both of them have shitty temperaments. Go ahead—argue about how you’re both going to help perpetuate our country’s involvement in unending wars in the Middle East in elsewhere, while I curl up into a ball underneath my bed, sobbing gently to myself.

7. In the second half of the “Sky is Falling” segment, as I like to call it, Lester Holt began with Donald Trump about President Obama’s considerations of changing America’s policy on first use of nuclear weapons (as in not using nukes first), asking Humpty Trumpty what he thought about the current policy. “The Donald” rambled on about not “taking anything off the table” and invoking China to help deal with North Korea, before launching into a tirade against our deal with Iran and our cash giveaway which has been likened to a ransom payment for American hostages. Hillary Clinton responded by acknowledging that problems do exist within our relationship with Iran, but that they involve more than just our nuclear deal, and furthermore, that there are other more global concerns to contemplate. She also fired back at Trump’s criticisms of the deal, saying he talked an awful lot about how bad it was without providing a suitable alternative.

As it apparently inevitably had to, the conversation was then steered to who had the right “temperament” and “stamina” to be President of the United States given the gravity of these matters, not to mention Holt’s probing about Donald Trump’s earlier statement that he didn’t think Hillary Clinton has “the presidential look.” Le sigh. Maybe this was the low point in the debate, because after all, much of this is shenanigans. Hillary doesn’t know how to negotiate. Donald can’t be trusted with weapons of mass destruction. Hillary is experienced, but it’s bad experience. Donald has repeatedly degraded women. Hillary has cooties. Donald not only smelt it, but dealt it as well. See what I mean? It’s disenfranchising hearing 60- and 70-year-olds talk like catty teenagers when they’re vying for the country’s top political office, but that’s really the vibe I, for one, get, at least.

The debate was brought to a close by Lester Holt asking both candidates if they would support their rival should he or she win. Hillary Clinton said she supports any democratic result—BUT PLEASE DON’T VOTE FOR THAT ASS-CLOWN TRUMP. Donald Trump said he would, sure, THOUGH THAT CLINTON BROAD DOESN’T HAVE THE CHOPS. Great. You don’t like each other, we don’t like you. Let’s bring on the shots of alcohol already, shall we?


2010 -- Randy Sager
If presidential debates were run like ESPN’s Around the Horn, Donald Trump would be muted ’til the cows come home. (Photo retrieved from espnmediazone.com.)

As noted earlier, I’m not going to get too caught up in who won or who lost, though I’m pretty sure you could tell from the tenor of my responses who had the better performance in the first presidential debate. Of course, all this focus on “winning” and “losing” only takes us so far anyway. First of all, while the winner may stand to get a bump in the polls, this effect may be temporary, not to mention polling data doesn’t always translate equivalently to votes (in fact, often enough, the actual results are significantly different from what even exit polls predict). More importantly, a large swath of the audience likely believes that no matter who wins the debates—or, for that matter, the election—America loses anyway. So, who won the debate? Who cares, that’s who.

From my point of view, aside from any morsels of substance I can find in all that has been said in these debates throughout the campaign season, my interest in this format for political discussions lies in how the whole process may be improved. The following suggestions are ones you and likely scores of others amateur political analysts have come up with, but nonetheless, bear stating or repeating for the sake of concreteness.

JOE IS STILL NOT DONE WRITING, AND HAS SOME IDEAS FOR MAKING PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES BETTER

If they won’t stop talking, mute ’em

The sports talk show Around the Horn on ESPN, in addition to using a subjective scoring system whereby host Tony Reali awards participants points based on the perceived strength of their arguments, is known for its inclusion of a mute button that cuts off a player’s mic for ten seconds when he or she says something disagreeable to Reali (self-promotion, in particular, tends to be rewarded with the silent treatment and a loss of points). I feel a similar sort of system could be employed with presidential debates. If one of the candidates, say, interrupts incessantly (cough, Donald Trump, cough), he or she can be zapped for 10-second increments, or even could be given a more prolonged time-out if he/she can’t behave in a more adult fashion. Not for nothing, but these presidential hopefuls are discussing topics that may affect millions, if not billions, of people, and billions, if not trillions, of dollars. They should be able to act with a certain amount of dignity if they’re going to be interacting with world leaders—and at the very least, make it easier for us average folks to watch on our televisions.

Throw the red flag

If there’s one thing that fans of different sports teams can agree upon, it’s that referees/umpires routinely blow calls. Some are more egregious than others, but to a certain extent, errors in judgment are understandable given the speed at which professional sports are played. Such is why sports like football have implemented a challenge system whereby coaches can throw a red challenge flag, request that the head referee examine video footage of the play in question of which the ruling is being challenged, and confirm, overturn or let the call stand accordingly.

As fast as human beings and spheroid objects move in sports contexts, lies and misleading statements are fast and furious in presidential debates. In light of this notion, I submit candidates should be afforded two or more fact-checking challenges to use at their discretion. If someone claims he or she never called the Trans-Pacific Partnership the “gold standard” in trade deals, or professes he or she never Tweeted that climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese, on-site fact-checkers can be consulted to catch candidates in obvious untruths. In fairness, this does run the risk of prolonging already laboriously-long presidential debates, but rather than rely on voters to do their own homework and sift through all of the garbage nominees speak, this could more easily bring the truth to light, as well as shame the prevaricator worse than Cersei Lannister being made to walk the streets of King’s Landing in her birthday suit while her subjects hurl epithets and vegetables at her. OK, maybe not that bad, but you get the point.

Wrap it up!

If you’ve seen any award show like the annual Oscars telecast, you know that when winners go up to accept their well-deserved tokens of appreciation, they tend to run long with their speeches. That’s when the orchestra hits them with the hurry-up music, signaling their allotted time has been spent and that they need to call it an acceptance speech. On a similar note, when candidates are about to go over their specified response time, they should first be given a visual warning like a red light, as stand-up comedians might get when performing in a comedy club, and then when they finally do exceed the given number of minutes, how about we hit ’em with a horn? At least some uptempo clarinet or something—the exact instrument can be negotiated. We should let these candidates for public office know when we say “two minutes,” we mean two minutes, gosh darn it! If you want to talk a bunch of nonsense to get around the fact you lack a strong intended policy, do it when millions of people aren’t watching.

PHYSICAL CHALLENGE!

Am I the only one who doesn’t think a Double Dare-esque physical challenge would be a welcome diversion during these debates? Let’s see Donald Trump talk about stamina when he tries to run through a 10-part obstacle course! Or Hillary Clinton wear designer suits when she knows she could get Slimed! Come on, fellow millennials—are you with me?


These are just some small tweaks that I, humbly speaking, believe would really make presidential debates more enjoyable to watch without making these events any less informative. Although judging by this first presidential debate, the proverbial bar to clear may be fairly low. And who knows—with the right changes and better candidates in the future, when we talk about winners of the debate, we can put the American audience in that category. Until then, we can all dream, right?