Islamophobia, by Any Other Name

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Hi! I’m Sam Harris! I think the Muslim ban was a bad idea but I also think Islam is a primitive and evil religion! Try to reconcile that! (Photo Credit: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr)

As I’m sure you’re aware, on the evening of January 29, in Quebec City, a 27-year-old man named Alexandre Bissonnette walked into the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec mosque and started firing. By the end, six men were killed, with others injured, and the next day, Bissonnette was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder with a restricted weapon. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was quick to condemn the attack as a terrorist act and one of cowardice on the part of the assailant, and authorities and Canadian citizens alike called for a spirit of inclusivity and togetherness in the wake of the violence. While mass shootings have become regrettably almost run-of-the-mill in America, mass shootings in Canada have been relatively sparse.

Within the United States, however, for a number of vocal Trump supporters during the early confusion of details filtering down from Quebec, the attack on the Centre Culturel Islamique was Exhibit A as to why the recently-enacted “Muslim ban” is not only advisable, but patently necessary. Initial reports identified two suspects in connection with the shooting, one of whom was Mohamed Belkhadir, a 29-year-old engineering student originally from Morocco. The jingoists among us, eager to fly the Stars and Stripes at first notice of an exclusionary narrative onto which to latch, were likely already foaming at the mouth at mention of the name “Mohamed,” and news of Belkhadir’s connection with the crime just sent them over the top. See, this is why we don’t want to let refugees from Muslim nations into the country! There’s too great a danger! You never know when ISIS might be lurking around the corner! Bear in mind Morocco isn’t one of the countries specified in President Trump’s ban on immigration, but let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good argument, shall we?

Except for the eventual revelation Mohamed Belkhadir was not actually a suspect in the mosque attack, but a witness. Oops! According to reports, Belkhadir was trying to administer first aid to a friend and fled to the cultural center’s parking lot when he saw someone with a gun, not knowing that person was a cop. Indeed, the search for a narrative and the desire to run with it led to a hasty presumption based on unconfirmed information and betrayed a series of arguments predicated on racial and xenophobic prejudice. What’s more, regarding the person of Alexandre Bissonnette, a synopsis of various media sources by Manisha Krishnan, writing for VICE, paints a picture of the Laval University student that might easily be recognized stateside as well as in Canada. According to these reports, he is a loner, a subscriber to right-wing views, a xenophobe, someone who displays misogynistic tendencies and trolls a Facebook group for refugees, is a white nationalist, and—to top it all off—is a fan of Donald Trump and his policies. Oops, again! While I personally might balk at the idea that Bissonnette is one of the Trump Train lot, as, ahem, not every Trump supporter is a mass murderer, that Bissonnette would seem to be an admirer of the President’s puts an almost ironic twist on the quick finger pointed at the Muslim world wholesale by those espousing similar right-wing views.

There are any number of striking things about this example of brutality. Certainly, the idea that Donald Trump’s influence translates into French Canada and abroad may startle, though the rise of white nationalism is certainly not limited to Trump; Alexandre Bissonnette is also said to be an admirer of France’s Marine Le Pen, whose National Front party has gained popularity by adopting a similar anti-immigrant stance. What also grabs the attention, however, at least for yours truly, is statistical information regarding all Canadians’ attitudes toward Muslims. Justin Trudeau, either because he’s being diplomatic, he truly believes it, or both, has, in the wake of the mosque attack, consistently preached the country’s support for the Canadian Muslim community and solidarity with the population. Personal views, meanwhile, tend to vary. Alyssa Favreau, a Montreal-based writer, connects the Quebec shooting to a rising sea of anti-Muslim sentiment.

As Favreau notes within the piece, police-reported hate crimes against Muslims more than doubled in Canada from 2012 to 2014, and the raw number (99) stands to be much larger because the majority of these crimes go unreported. What’s more, the attitudes of average Canadians toward Islam on the whole speak to a vague apprehension about the religion and its practitioners. A 2015 survey by the Quebec Human Rights Commission found that, despite about half of respondents having reservations about organized religions in general, a significantly higher percentage of those surveyed said they felt more uncomfortable about someone wearing a hijab as opposed to one wearing a cross. As for the Canadian population as a whole, based on a Forum Poll (Canada’s leading public opinion service) survey, more than a quarter of respondents had unfavorable feelings about Muslims. In other words, if Trudeau’s sentiments conveyed the sense some sort of love-fest exists in his country for followers of Islam, evidence points to the contrary.

In the United States, meanwhile, according to a report by Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and the director of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, just under half of respondents across a composite of four polls during the election year disapproved of Islam on the whole; the approval rate for Muslim people fared yet better, with 70% of respondents viewing this subset of the population in a positive light, as opposed to 28% surveyed viewing Muslims in a negative light as of October 2016. This actually marks an improvement on these ratings since November 2015, and in spite of the salience of events like the Orlando shooting. As Telhami instructs, the upward trend in pro-Muslim leanings is almost exclusively attributable to changing views among Democrats and independents, and may well be a reaction to Donald Trump’s divisive actions and rhetoric. While the direction of this trend may be surprising, the source seems less so. After all, we would expect more liberal-oriented respondents to more readily embrace Islam and those who practice the faith.

If American views of Islam and Muslims are on the upswing, and even though progressives would like to see improvement on the dimensions governed by the polls interpreted by Shibley Telhami and his associates, it is therefore somewhat troubling to have people who would more readily identify with the left espousing views that mischaracterize Islam. By and large, I appreciate the comedy of Bill Maher, and while I may not agree with all of his positions on key issues, I have a certain degree of respect for the man. His stances on Islam and Muslims, on the other hand, I patently disagree with, and his embrace of fringe theories about this religion is not only arguably counterproductive, but potentially dangerous as well.

On a recent airing of his show, Real Time with Bill Maher, the namesake host featured a conversation with Sam Harris, author, cognitive neuroscientist, and co-founder of Project Reason, on the nature of Islam. Harris, no stranger to the program and notable for being a leader within what has been coined the New Atheist movement, had some choice words for the Muslim world and those liberals who support them. According to Sam Harris, “the left has allied itself with Islamists and closet Islamists,” and while on one hand, he and Bill Maher reject the merits of the Muslim ban, he had this to say about criticisms from left-leaners of others possessing Islamophobic tendencies: “You don’t have to be a fascist or a racist or even a Trumpian to not want to import people into your society who think cartoonists should be killed for drawing the Prophet.” Maher was quick to chime in at one point on this broad subject, condemning comparisons made between Islamist terrorist groups and the Ku Klux Klan, saying dismissively, “The KKK is not seeking nuclear weapons.” Um, bully for them then?

Both Sam Harris and Bill Maher, in discussing Muslims and Islam in this way, appear to be making a fundamental error. Harris, making a sweeping generalization, evidently believes all Muslims and refugees from countries where the predominant faith is Islam think cartoonists should be killed for drawing the Prophet Muhammad or otherwise representing them in a less-than-holy light, when realistically, this is a hallmark of radical or ultra-conservative Muslims, and not necessarily your everyday followers. As for Maher, he makes the distinction between the Ku Klux Klan and various Islamist groups, as if to say, “See? What did I tell you about Islam!” If saying the KKK doesn’t want nukes is your primary defense of this group, though, it’s a bit of splitting proverbial hairs, no? It’s like saying Donald Trump isn’t Hitler because he hasn’t tried to exterminate the Jews. That’s really a cold comfort, and besides, dude’s still got ample time in his first 100 days and Stephen Bannon the Skeleton King pouring poison into his ear. In either case, Harris and Maher are conflating the work of jihadists with that of rank-and-file Muslims, and such discourse not only seems to be steeped in faulty logic, but potentially is dangerous given the national voice these figures possess.

Sadly, this is nothing new for either man. Though a bit dated by Internet standards, Salon in 2015 compiled a compendium of Bill Maher’s “greatest hits” on Islam, which includes references to Muslims’ beliefs as “pernicious,” the Koran as a “hate-filled holy book,” and to Islam itself not being a religion of peace. As for Sam Harris, Glenn Greenwald, perhaps the best journalist you’ve never heard of, penned a lengthy op-ed about Harris and other New Atheists on “anti-Muslim animus” back in 2013. I know—positively ancient, right? And yet, not much seems to have changed or evolved within Harris’s world view since. Greenwald acknowledges Sam Harris’s antipathy toward organized religion as a whole (Bill Maher, though not an avowed atheist, is like-minded in his distaste for organized religion and its more deleterious effects), but notes how Harris, for lack of better phrasing, has a hard-on for Islam and those that worship in accordance with its precepts. From the essay:

The key point is that Harris does far, far more than voice criticisms of Islam as part of a general critique of religion. He has repeatedly made clear that he thinks Islam is uniquely threatening: “While the other major world religions have been fertile sources of intolerance, it is clear that the doctrine of Islam poses unique problems for the emergence of a global civilization.” He has insisted that there are unique dangers from Muslims possessing nuclear weapons, as opposed to nice western Christians (the only ones to ever use them) or those kind Israeli Jews: “It should be of particular concern to us that the beliefs of devout Muslims pose a special problem for nuclear deterrence.” In his 2005 “End of Faith”, he claimed that “Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death.”

This is not a critique of religion generally; it is a relentless effort to depict Islam as the supreme threat. Based on that view, Harris, while depicting the Iraq war as a humanitarian endeavor, has proclaimed that “we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam.” He has also decreed that “this is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims, but we are absolutely at war with millions more than have any direct affiliation with Al Qaeda.” “We”—the civilized peoples of the west—are at war with “millions” of Muslims, he says. Indeed, he repeatedly posits a dichotomy between “civilized” people and Muslims: “All civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology that now threatens to destabilize much of the earth.”

This isn’t “quote-mining”, the term evidently favored by Harris and his defenders to dismiss the use of his own words to make this case. To the contrary, I’ve long ago read the full context of what he has written and did so again yesterday. […] Yes, he criticizes Christianity, but he reserves the most intense attacks and superlative condemnations for Islam, as well as unique policy prescriptions of aggression, violence and rights abridgments aimed only at Muslims. As the atheist scholar John L Perkins wrote about Harris’ 2005 anti-religion book: “Harris is particularly scathing about Islam.”

The larger significance of these kinds of attitudes, as Glenn Greenwald sees things, is that this thinking can be used to justify all sorts of aggression, human rights abuses, and violence against Muslims, the kinds of acts to which rights activists independent of political affiliation strongly object. They include anti-Muslim profiling, state violence (i.e. liberals are “soft” on terrorism), support for Israel even in the face of international criticism, and torture. What’s more, whereas defenders of divisive behavior and rhetoric on the right might view this as justified based on vague ideas of Christian righteousness or outright racism and xenophobia, the foundation of New Atheism’s anti-Muslim sentiments is feelings and notions of a moral superiority. Sure, Sam Harris and his confederates might view their objections to Islam as more correct because they are not based on strict adherence to religious doctrine, but viewed in the context of secular morality and a battle of good versus evil, they are equally as insidious, if not more so. “They know not what they do”? Hardly. Harris and Company know exactly what they do—and that’s the point.

As Glenn Greenwald frames his arguments, then, Bill Maher’s and Sam Harris’s wholesale character assassination of Islam fits in all-too-nicely with a generalized American and Western condemnation of the Muslim world, and a tendency to side with our own interests even when they may be seen as wrong. Greenwald describes the problem with Harris’s denigration of Muslims and Islam quite succinctly:

Harris’ self-loving mentality amounts to this: those primitive Muslims are so tribal for reflexively siding with their own kind, while I constantly tout the superiority of my own side and justify what We do against Them. […] He is at least as tribal, jingoistic, and provincial as those he condemns for those human failings, as he constantly hails the nobility of his side while demeaning those Others.

As Sam Harris and other New Atheists would have it, the end game of Islam is to convert everyone to the faith, politically subjugate those who don’t convert, or kill those who stand in the way. Otherwise, the assumptions they make about the way Muslims think are based not on factual observation or rational, intellectual inferences, but rather a spirit grounded in religious or “tribal” attitudes—and if we really want to get down to brass tacks, this liberal Islamophobia is pretty much a religion in of itself. So much for that whole “no religion” bit.


It’s one thing for educated folks like Bill Maher and Sam Harris to sneer at the section of right-wing America that, to paraphrase Barack Obama’s infamous quote, clings to its Bibles, its guns, and its resentment against the foreign and the unfamiliar. It’s quite another, however, for their likes to convey an elitist tone and deride the Muslim ban as an obvious poor choice while they, in the same breath, denigrate Muslims and what they believe. So, while Maher, Harris and other non-believers/agnostics may thumb their noses at those who get caught up in matters of sectarian conflict, looking down at the rigidity of organized religions from atop their high horses, by painting Islam and Muslims with broad, largely negative strokes, they are no better than the Americans who, say, argue Muslims are a danger to the United States because they want nothing more than to make sharia law the supreme law of the land and subvert our existing statutes in the name of Allah.

Speaking of which, on that last note, in another one of those quasi-ironic twists that I seem to love these days, if anything is liable to bring religiously-motivated laws into a position of greater influence and effect, it is not Muslims, but the man behind the ban himself, President Donald Trump. Alongside plotting a gutting of the Dodd-Frank Act, a piece of legislation crafted in direct response to the irresponsible banking, lending and other regulatory practices which led to the global financial crisis almost a decade ago, Trump vowed recently to destroy the Johnson Amendment, which effectively bars churches from making political contributions, and thus, is an important aspect of the separation of church and state in the United States. Evidently, and in short, Trump, his cronies, and Republicans who aid and abet him in terrible policy-making are content to let the financial industry and religious organizations alike run amok. As many of us may reason, they might as well. You know, after confirming the likes of Rex Tillerson, a man who has ties to Vladimir Putin and who until recently helmed a company that dealt with countries considered state sponsors of terrorism, and Betsy DeVos, whose millions of dollars of political contributions somehow are supposed to count for a complete lack of competence and experience, there’s almost nowhere to go but up. Almost.

What we don’t need, therefore, returning our focus to the topic of anti-Muslim sentiment, is more noise from individuals professing to uphold science and intellectualism but instead giving way to beliefs that smack of white ethnocentrism and are reliant on a warped understanding of a religion practiced by over a billion people worldwide. People like Sam Harris argue liberals are in bed with jihadists and others like Bill Maher feel political correctness holds us back from having an honest and open conversation about Islam and the Muslim world, and at worst, makes us “pussies.” Little do they realize, however, it is, to a considerable extent, their closed-mindedness which only fuels mutual misunderstanding between East and West and drives us all further apart.

“Let’s Give Trump a Chance.” Let’s Not and Say We Didn’t

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Donald Trump doesn’t even deserve to be President. So, why does he deserve to be given a chance? (Photo Credit: Gerald Herbert/AP)

“Prepared for the worst but still praying for the best.” This is a line from Lil Wayne’s “John” off Tha Carter IV. Fulfilling the stereotype about hip-hop music, Wayne proceeds to make sexual comments about women, and talk about money and guns in the next few lines, but in isolation, this sentiment likely holds true for the half of the electorate which did not vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, and is yet reeling from the news of his victory and is, to put it mildly, concerned about the direction of the United States of America moving forward.

Anecdotally, there are two more frequent responses I have encountered in engaging people about the election, when the default “I don’t want to talk about it” is not selected. The first is something to the effect of, “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now” or “It is what it is.” Which, if you ask me, is depressing, though as someone who suffers from both depression and anxiety, I might be predisposed to thinking this way anyhow. With respect to the notion that we “can’t do anything,” to throw up our hands and admit powerlessness seems like a complete admission of defeat. Democrats, in particular, need to get their shit together in preparation for the 2018 mid-terms, and we as discerning, dissenting voters need to be watchful of everything Trump does and says up until inauguration and through that date. As for the idea that “it is what it is,” let me just specify that this is one of the most overused and least useful phrases that exists in popular speech, because everything is what it is. A tree is a tree. A snail is a snail. This tells the listener absolutely nothing of value, and what’s more, it signifies the same sort of resigned attitude that accompanies the “can’t do anything” mindset. Shrug your shoulders. Sigh deeply. Get ready to binge-watch Orange Is the New Black on Netflix with a family-size bag of Cheetos—all for yourself.

The other response I’ve heard—and I commend the people who answer with this much optimism—is something along the lines of, “Maybe some good will come out of Trump’s presidency” or “we should give him a chance.” Prepared for the worst but still praying for the best. I am not cynical enough to say that wanting to put a positive spin on things is naïve, or that praying for a fortunate result is without merit. Though I am open to the possibility there is no God or force at work in our world, I tend to believe that something or someone guides or lives. Still, this wishful thinking of individuals who now have to come to grips with the unsettling reality of President-Elect Trump has all the reassurance of a Kansas homeowner suggesting that maybe his or her house might be OK despite just seeing the neighbor and his dog spirited away by a twister. Yes, in theory, Donald Trump, despite his best efforts, might be able to succeed as President of the United States, could bring the country unimaginable prosperity, and may single-handedly heal rifts between various demographic groups within his first four-year term. By this token, however, it is technically statistically possible that I could have a threesome with Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande. As improbable as that scenario is—for so many reasons—so too are the odds not particularly good that a Trump presidency leaves the country in a better state than when he takes office. Especially not if you are other than a rich white male like Donald Trump himself.

This second kind of response is at the crux of this piece. Even those of us possessing the sunniest of dispositions, if not suckered in by Donald Trump’s promises of lollipops, sunshine and kicking out “illegals,” know deep down that most likely, despite all our hoping and praying and wishing, that things will not turn out better than we expect. This is not a comforting thought, and by no means should it be. It’s especially unfortunate after an exhausting presidential campaign that saw, by many Democrats’ and independents’ estimation, two vastly superior candidates (namely Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders) fall by the wayside only to have someone with the attention span of a goldfish and roughly the same complexion instead garner the top political office in the country—without a lick of experience as an elected official, to boot. After weeks and months of mudslinging between the two major-party nominees, not to mention activism and donations on behalf of candidates and social causes by people who dedicated their blood, sweat, tears, time, money, and maybe even let someone use their phone once or twice, and after all the hard work and sacrifice—concepts completely foreign to Trump, mind you—many of those who gave their all to the electoral process are likely looking for a breather or a return to some sense of normalcy. I myself, a donor to the Sanders campaign and supporter of his cause, remarked on numerous occasions that I would just be glad when it all was over.

To be sure, the respite from the Clinton campaign E-mails asking for donations, and the Trump campaign attack ads all but putting loaded weapons in Hillary’s hand as the “Butcher of Benghazi” and the founder of ISIS, is appreciated. Of course, even if Hillary Clinton had won, the more progressive among us were wont to be on guard for the Democratic Party challenger’s commitment to the more newly adopted elements of the official party platform, notably her stated opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. With Donald Trump set to take the reins of the nation—or “grab it by the pussy,” in Trumpian vernacular—there is a yet stronger sense of urgency in organizing to defend against abrogation of our civil liberties. Again, Trump might soften on some of these more severe positions that won him the presidency, such as authorizing a temporary ban of Muslims entering the country, bombing the shit out of the Middle East, building a wall at the Mexican border, defying the Geneva Conventions, and other fun domestic and foreign public policy positions. But when his campaign starts—not even ends on, but starts, mind you—with the stated belief that Mexicans are crossing the border into the United States in vast numbers, many of them drug dealers, killers and rapists, one really should have no realistic expectation for a kinder, gentler President Donald J. Trump. Oh, sure, Trump has vowed to become “more presidential” after winning the election, but it’s not as easy as turning on a light switch. After all, to invoke, of all people, Judge Judy Sheindlin, “Beauty fades; dumb is forever.” In Trump’s case, the man is neither beautiful nor particularly smart, so why even pretend to have faith in his ability as a leader?

The obvious counterargument, besides the exceedingly dumb defense that he hasn’t started the job yet, is that even if Donald Trump lacks experience and defined policy goals, he can at least surround himself with capable advisers and appointees. As the saying goes, you judge a man by the company he keeps. Well, operating under this standard and noting the kind of people Trump has already enlisted to help him as part of his administration, um, we may very well be in for a bad time. Let’s review the cast of winners (note the sarcasm) President-Elect Trump has tapped to help him in his bid to “Make America Great Again”:

Stephen Bannon, Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to President Trump

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Image retrieved from diversityinc.com.

Wait, you’re saying, I’ve heard that name before. Well, I’ve talked about him before in my piece on the alt-right, but that likely doesn’t mean much—my readership is a small one, and even those who follow me on Facebook may have skipped over that one. To fully jog your memory, Stephen Bannon is the executive chairman of Breitbart, a self-professed extreme right-wing news service and media outlet. In other words, he’s an asshole. The kind of material and headlines that appear on Bannon’s site, I believe, speak for themselves; for some choice ones (note additional sarcasm), check the Raw Story post here.

If we bring personal matters into the discussion, meanwhile, additional questions about the kind of man Donald Trump is endorsing arise. Stephen Bannon has been married and divorced three times, which should not in it of itself disqualify him from serving the President, though it doesn’t exactly make him overqualified for his position, let’s be clear. Still, some of the allegations from one of his exes, Mary Louise Piccard, give the reader pause. Though dropped due to lack of cooperation from Piccard, Bannon was brought up on charges of battery, dissuading a witness, and misdemeanor domestic violence. During divorce proceedings, too, Piccard accused Bannon of anti-Semitic remarks, which may or may not be accurate, but the man’s association with Breitbart, a source of content numerous detractors have associated with virulent white nationalism, does not help protestations of innocence in this regard. Stephen Bannon is a bigot on a number of levels, and he shouldn’t be anywhere near the White House. As the kids say, “Facts.”

Michael Flynn, National Security Advisor

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Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Michael T. Flynn, retired Lieutenant General in the U.S. Army and formerly assigned to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, according to some, left his post early because he wanted to tell the truth about the situation in Syria but was effectively muzzled by the Obama administration and then forced out. According to others, meanwhile, including sources at the DIA, Flynn was something of a confrontational leader who had a “loose relationship with the facts.” Hmm, sound like someone we know?

Lt. Gen. Flynn, though a registered Democrat, has expressed some troubling opinions about Muslims and about how to combat extremism in the Middle East, and increasingly so since the beginning of his apparent involvement with Trump. He is apparently of the belief that Islam is a political ideology above all, and a “cancer,” and furthermore that fear of Muslims is rational. He, like Donald Trump, also eschews the insistence on political correctness that he believes is holding back our nation, and apparently believes waterboarding shouldn’t necessarily be off the table. So much for cooler heads prevailing, eh?

Mike Pompeo, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency

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Photo Credit: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Mike Pompeo, Republican Representative for Kansas’s 4th District, like Stephen Bannon, is a bit of a dick. By this I mean he takes a lot of positions on issues that stand to negatively affect people who are not him, and stands by them stubbornly. Just the kind of person you want in charge of the CIA, right? Pompeo’s less savory stances include:

  • Opposing abortion, even in cases of rape or incest
  • Rejecting the science on climate change
  • Having anything to do with the NRA
  • Opposing the Affordable Care Act, for no reason apparent other than fellow Republicans told him to oppose it
  • Supporting government shutdowns, to the possible detriment of the economy
  • Advocating the unnecessary gathering of metadata from the American people as part of normal surveillance (don’t pick that wedgie—they’re watching you!)
  • Supporting the death penalty for Edward Snowden, or for that matter, the death penalty at all
  • Opposing the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, or as I like to call it, “America’s House of Super Happy Fun Times”
  • Criticizing the Obama administration’s move away from secret CIA prisons and strict adherence to anti-torture laws (I mean, come on, they’re more like anti-torture “suggestions,” am I right?)

Mike Pompeo is appropriately named because he is a pompous asshole. His Tea Party politics arguably don’t belong in Congress, let alone in a position so vitally important as the Director of the CIA, but there you have Donald Trump and his appointees in a nutshell.

Jeff Sessions, Attorney General

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Photo Credit: Alex Brandon/AP Photo

If there’s one thing that’s evident with Donald Trump’s picks, it’s that he values loyalty in the form of sycophantic obeisance. Case in point Jeff Sessions, U.S. Senator from the state of Alabama and former Alabama Attorney General, who supported Trump early in his campaign and even advised the Republican Party nominee on matters such as immigration and national security. Sessions, as you might imagine, supports strong crackdowns on illegal immigration and opposes amnesty for undocumented immigrants in good standing. He unequivocally supported the Iraq War, and voted against measures that would outlaw certain forms of torture to be used by the U.S. government. He thinks civil forfeiture programs are a good idea, even if they encourage abuse and overreach on the part of law enforcement. He would have liked the Bush tax cuts to be permanent, even if they didn’t magically get rid of the national debt. He has criticized the use of federal funding to equip libraries with books related to Islam. He supports severe penalties for drug crimes and opposes the legalization of marijuana in whatever context. Sen. Sessions, like his ass-hat Republican cronies, has refused to hear President Obama’s Supreme Court pick.

In short, Jeff Sessions seems liable to undo progress the Obama administration and others have made with respect to drug law reform, immigration reform and racial understanding. He’s a bigot who appears intent to take us back to the days of Ronald Reagan. Well, let’s just break out the jelly beans, put on “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” and have ourselves an 80’s party, shall we? I’ll bring the Jordache jeans if you bring the Tab!


Yup, nothing says “progress” like tapping a bunch of Muslim-hating white dudes to prominent positions in the U.S. government. I alluded to this sentiment in my last post, but a number of people who supported/voted for Donald Trump, or otherwise favor Republicans in power, are crying foul about, well, all the crying foul about the reality of a Trump presidency from the left. For that matter, many voters who cast their ballots in hopes of preventing this sobering eventuality themselves see little virtue of belaboring the outcome. “The Donald” won fair and square. He will be the 45th President of the United States. Cue the “Deal with It” GIF with the sunglasses falling into place. In terms of respecting the democratic process, I acknowledge that Donald Trump won the election by securing enough electoral votes. I also accept the electors voting in exact accordance with the results of the Electoral College, though it is worth stressing that prevention of a demagogue such as Trump is one of the main reasons the Founding Fathers put a buffer between the general electorate and the presidency. After all, I wouldn’t want the reverse done should a Democratic candidate prevail. Then again, I think the popular vote should decide who wins and who loses, but that’s a whole ‘nother kit and caboodle.

Speaking of the Founding Fathers—who, mind you, might just be spinning in their graves right about now—an interesting thing happened on the way to the forum the other night, or rather, when Mike Pence attended a performance of Hamilton on Broadway. For one, Pence was booed mercilessly by other audience members throughout the show, necessitating pauses by the performers to accommodate the added ambient noise. Better yet, however, cast member Brandon Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr, had this message for the Vice-President-Elect following the show:

“Vice President-Elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us here at ‘Hamilton: An American Musical.’ We really do. We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”

This is no small potatoes. Broadway performers do not regularly address members of the audience, let alone future vice presidents, to remind them to uphold American values. This is not standard operating procedure for actors in musicals, though Hamilton, to be sure, is no ordinary musical. Meanwhile, Trump University just settled a lawsuit against it to the tune of $25 million. This likewise is the not the usual for incoming presidents. See, here’s the thing: Americans are behaving as if Donald Trump is just another in the line of conservative Republicans such as Reagan or Bush and Son, that this is just another election.

To espouse such beliefs, however, I submit, is to engage in some serious self-deception. As John Oliver and others have put it, Trump is not normal. Tweeting regularly to make disparaging comments about people who criticize them should not be a common practice for people about to inherit the responsibilities of an entire nation and much of the free world, at that. (Trump, by the by, railed against the cast of Hamilton for their supposed “harassment” of Mike Pence and suggested they apologize, and his supporters have since called for a boycott of the show. Not only is it incredibly ironic Donald Trump is lecturing anyone about harassment given his reputation, but calling for a boycott rings hollow, you know, when you probably can’t even get tickets in the first place.) Presidents-elect should not be receiving congratulations from former or current members of the Ku Klux Klan. Serious presidential candidates should not be able to list being honored in the WWE Hall of Fame as one of their primary qualifications for political office.

Donald Trump, to put it succinctly, is unlike any POTUS we’ve ever seen. To a large extent, this explains how he got elected; he is the self-professed antithesis of the “all talk, no action” politicians who have left the country in what I would agree is a sorry state. Still, the public’s desire for a change has put a dangerously unqualified and temperamental man in the Oval Office, and to merely accept the ripple effects of hate and prejudice that have been experienced in the wake of Trump’s victory/his supporters celebrating his win as some sort of “mandate” (hard to call it that when your candidate of choice didn’t even capture the popular vote) is to, putting it bluntly, be errant in one’s thinking. To remain silent while others encourage the trampling of the Constitution and our most cherished freedoms, morals and values, therefore, is not a virtue, but rather arguably unconscionable.

Coming back to the idea of “giving Donald Trump a chance,” as far as I’m concerned, the man has been given too many chances in life as a spoiled rich brat, including having the door to the White House opened to him by both major political parties and an irresponsible mainstream media. Respectful dissent like the kind witnessed at Hamilton recently is not only within the bounds of fairness, but is important to keeping the conversation going about standing up for what is right. Donald Trump will be our next President. He won the election. But that doesn’t mean we have to like it, nor does it mean we need to stand idly by while distrust, fear and hate predominate as part of his rhetoric. After all, this is our America, not his. No matter what Trump says or thinks.