Alex Jones isn’t crazy and Rush Limbaugh is a harmless, little fuzzball.

Navigating the world of words today is hazardous territory. As a writer, I deplore the erosion of subtlety of language, and the reduction of discourse to one hundred forty characters or less.

Worse, are the wars that erupt on the pages of Facebooks, Tinders, Twitters and Snapchats – metaphorically bloodied carcasses in the IGNORE / BLOCKED categories of our collective “Friends” lists.

There is a running argument between my wife and myself as to who, or to whom is, or are to blame for this Communications Breakdown.

My favorite bogey-men are the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Alex Jones. I imagine them writhing in their dark, greasy lairs, plotting how best to divide the American public, profiting on the concomitant culture wars of their devising. The mind of someone who writes fiction for a living would naturally conjure such an image – it’s a great story-line.

My wife believes they are merely manifestations of a division that already exists within the hearts and minds of men. They are merely cashing in on the sidelines of the battlefield; selling the t-shirts and coffee mugs for one’s particular team.

I have come to the realization that the truth is closer to the scenario my wife is suggesting. I came to this understanding because of a civil lawsuit that Info-Wars screamer-in-chief, Alex Jones, participated in this past summer.

story here.

His wife, Kelly Jones, is seeking sole or joint custody of their children, ages 14, 12 and 9. She claims that he is “not a stable person,” and is threatening to others. Further, she claims, he broadcasts from their home, and his incendiary programs are disturbing to the children.

Alex Jones’ lawyer argues that he is a “performance artist,” and that his persona is just an act:

Attorney Randall Wilhite said at a pretrial hearing in Austin last week that evaluating Jones based on his on-air comments is like judging Jack Nicholson based on his role as the Joker in “Batman.” (source: Chicago Tribune)

Considering the absurd content of his programs (that Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings were a hoax, 9/11 was an inside job, and that Hillary Clinton was operating a child pornography ring from a pizza shop), if he were a true believer – does it follow that he would WANT custody of his children?

Further, consider the numbers:

  • The Alex Jones YouTube channel has more than 2 million subscribers and more than 1.2 billion video views.
  • Quantcast ranked Infowars.com 387th among all U.S. websites, not far behind Texas.gov, MLB.com and PBS.org.
  • Infowars.com had 7.6 million global unique visitors from March 16 to April 14, according to Quantcast, which measures web audiences. (source: Chicago Tribune)

Being a flamethrower is a profitable business. It is highly probable, in my mind, that the courtroom Alex is the real Alex.

What about Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity?

Prior to their media success, both were college drop-outs (although, Hannity finally completed a degree in Communications from UC, Santa Barbara, where he was a volunteer radio host) and failed entrepreneurs. Both fell into the talk-show radio trend and built up followings among disaffected, white, male audiences who were looking for someone to blame for their lack of success, or to appease their guilt over white privilege as their non-white peers failed to catch hold of the American Dream, as relentlessly documented on the nightly news.

Both Hannity and Limbaugh have made millions of dollars in perpetuating the myth of the beleaguered, white, Christian male. This is the epitome of the so-called American Dream, and capitalism at its finest (or, worst, depending on your perspective).

Sure, like me, you are thinking; “how are they NOT culpable in the debasing of the American public discourse?”

It goes back to that argument I’ve had with my wife. She contends that these talk-show hucksters are selling a product that is in demand. For whatever reason, there is a segment of the population who believes that there is a vast, global conspiracy to eliminate “white culture” and “Christian values.” Limbaugh, Jones and Hannity didn’t create this notion, they’ve just exploited it for financial gain.

In reality, what we are experiencing is the blooming of multiple, diverse cultures – previously kept silent by an overwhelming white, Christian primacy – being absorbed into the collective social structure of America. For the first time in their lives, white Americans are having to compete for jobs, social status and the newsworthiness of their “plight.”

There have been eloquent tomes written (Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance) about the so-called forgotten man Donald Trump mentioned in his disturbing Inauguration speech this past January, and that seems to dominate his administration’s agenda.

While there is some legitimacy in these feelings of angst, it is imperative that we as a society have meaningful discussions on the subject rather than flame-throwing wars of words in cyber space. We are scaring the shit out of people of color, and new immigrants who were just beginning to emerge as equals in the American experience during the Obama era.

A starting point would be to tune out the purveyors of hatred that have made the talk-show personalities wealthy men and women, and dig deep into the reasons they have an audience at all.

 

 

 

 

The Least of These: Cavities and Preferred Vendors

I had an interesting conversation today with my dentist. He had just gotten off the phone with someone from a law enforcement agency that was checking up on a patient who had been visiting multiple health professionals to feed her prescription drug habit.

We both were struck by the seeming absurdity of the situation. Shouldn’t it be relatively easy to track drug abuse with electronic medical records?

I related an experience I had with the VA Hospital, which is notoriously far behind in adopting modern record keeping, and the conversation wound its way toward a discussion of the incoming 45th president, and his hopes that he would “do something” about government bureaucracy.

My anecdote involved a situation where a vendor had taken advantage of the cumbersome bureaucracy to sell them expensive equipment that they didn’t need, or wouldn’t solve the issue they hired the contractor to solve. I was then shown a room full of useless equipment that the hospital had purchased over the years by using the VA’s Preferred Vendor system.

“Because he’s a businessman, he wouldn’t put up with that crap,” my dentist assured me. He and the assistant continued to provide numerous similar examples of government waste that the incoming president will, presumably, eliminate.

Of course, by this time, we are fully engaged in dental reconstruction work inside of my mouth rendering my contribution to the discussion nil. So, I just listened, occasionally nodding my head as if in agreement, or to suggest I needed to rinse. One of the rare political discussions I’ve had little to input in recent months.

Interestingly, both my dentist and his assistant agreed that Trump is an awful, pig of a man, whose narcissism and self promotion are all too painfully obvious. Yet, government corruption and waste is so egregious that the second coming of Caligula is warranted if only he will put an end to the cronyism in Washington DC.

I have a different take on the wastefulness of government. I think that, as an institution, government is very intentional in its preference to be fair and inclusive – an idealistic motto echoed in the 4-Way Test of Rotary: 1-Is it the truth, 2-Will it be beneficial to all concerned, 3-Will it build good will and better friendships, and 4-Will it be fair to all concerned.

In the situation I described to my dentist, prior to my mouth becoming a hazardous waste site, I wasn’t so much lamenting the layers of bureaucracy that enabled the stacks of useless equipment, but rather; the behavior of the vendor that took advantage of the system to bilk the VA Hospital for money. To me, that is the egregious thing.

Early in the presidential campaign, during one of the televised debates, Donald Trump said something that resonated with me. He said that he had personally given money to many of the candidates standing around him in return for political favors. Yet, it is the government agent that is solely at fault. If there is no one (or, thanks to Citizen’s United; no corporation) bribing or seeking to gain influence – there is no corruption. It is a two-way street!

Government does a lot of things wrong, and it is probably way too big. There is no argument over that, and is something with which we can all agree.

But, government has a responsibility to protect those who would otherwise be marginalized like minorities and the poor. Many of the processes that would enable me, as a private vendor, to game the system for my selfish greed, exist to make sure that everyone has a shot at selling goods and services to government institutions – particularly those businesses and vendors who have been historically shut out of the system.

A populist revolution of angry citizens who are frustrated because they are no longer the preferred vendors should not be allowed to dismantle the progress our society has achieved in making the system fair to all concerned.

Donald Trump may have convinced a certain demographic that he has their back, but he should also be made aware that there is a segment of our society that is ever vigilant in looking out for what the Nazarene Reformer of the New Testament scriptures called “the least of these.”

 

Donald Dominae

The most benign thing about a Donald Trump presidency is that the man is uninformed, uneducated, and totally unconcerned about the minutiae of running a Republic.

The most dangerous thing about a Donald Trump presidency is that the man is uniformed, uneducated, and totally unconcerned about the minutiae of running a Republic.

My best guess as to why Trump even pursued the presidency is twofold:

First, I think he is financially struggling. Struggling, for someone like Donald Trump, means that it is increasingly difficult for him to maintain the veneer of opulence and luxury his finely tuned branding narrative demands (first articulated in The Art of the Deal) with diminishing sources of revenue.

Donald Trump does not really build things. He markets his name to anything and everything from steaks and bottled water to high rise office buildings and hotels that other people build.

The reality show, The Apprentice, and its spin-off, Celebrity Apprentice, continue to fade in popularity after too many seasons on network television. Serial dramas are regaining their place of prominence in prime time slots these days. Consequently, the monetary value of the Trump name has waned. When the steak is no longer sizzling, it’s difficult to charge top tier price for ten ounces of average. One night in a Trump hotel proves this point. Despite the garishly opulent visuals like gold plated bathroom fixtures, the service and experience is no more than what you would get at a more moderately priced stay at Holiday Inn Express.

The fact that Trump refuses to release his tax returns is evidence of this theory. Why else would someone who routinely brags about his tremendously, yuuuge wealth not want to have the evidence on display for all to see?

Secondly, I think Trump ran because of the humiliation he felt when President Obama justifiably teased him during the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. It was at the height of Trump’s “birther” campaign against him. Here’s what President Obama said to a room full of reporters and Washington elite:

 “I know that he’s taken some flak lately. No one is prouder to put this birth-certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to the issues that matter, like: did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?”

His famously thin skin is evident in those late-night tweets in response to Saturday Night Live comedy sketches, or any other casual observations he might perceive as an attack, which is why many believe this was the night Donald Trump made up his mind to run for president.

It was shortly after this event that Trump began appearing regularly on talk radio and their television counterparts like Fox and Friends, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly where he would weigh in – often; rather clumsily – on political matters of the day.

Is it possible that Donald Trump is so shallow that he would nurse a grudge for five long years, culminating in his preposterous run for the White House?

I don’t know for sure, but the evidence is convincing.

Couple that with a need to re-brand his stock and trade – his name – and, you have the most unusual presidential campaign in the history of the United States.

The good news in this possible scenario is that it means Donald Trump isn’t really that interested in ACTUALLY BEING the President of the United States – at least not on a daily, nose-to-the-grindstone manner. This means that he probably won’t “build that wall,” deport 14 million undocumented workers en-masse, ban all Muslims from entering the country, or bring back the coal mining industry.

The bad news is that he is letting other, more serious-minded demagogues do some of that for him.

Even before he takes the oath of office, Donald Trump is stoking fear in the hearts of many with his cabinet picks.

His Housing and Urban Development pick’s only qualification, it appears, is that he’s the one black guy. In Donald’s mind, this must mean he should be an expert on inner city housing, even though earlier, Dr. Ben Carson publicly decried his lack of qualification to run anything, because – well, because he’s a MEDICAL DOCTOR.

For Education Secretary, he selected a billionaire who would like nothing better than to dismantle public education in America; Besty, “can I sell you some cleaning products,” DeVos.

Rick Perry, who couldn’t even remember the name of the cabinet office he wished to abolish – the Department of Energy – is now set to run it.

For Secretary of Treasury; Steve Mnuchin – a Wall Street hedge fund manager nicknamed the “foreclosure king.”

Climate science denier, Scott Pruitt, is his selection to head the EPA.

Fast food business magnate (Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr.), Andrew Puzder, who thinks minimum wages are TOO HIGH, has been selected to run, you guessed it; the Labor Department.

Carl Icahn, activist investor and corporate raider, is his selection for Regulation Czar. Another billionaire, Icahn is famously anti-regulation where business is concerned, and despises the Securities and Exchange Commission. Those damn, pesky rules!

It seems that in every cabinet position, Donald Trump has positioned a person who is staunchly opposed to the very institution he or she has been put in charge, and in some cases; has publicly called for their elimination.

What could possibly go wrong?

The most disturbing, however, is who he selected as his Chief Strategist; Steve Bannon. Bannon was Donald Trump’s campaign manager (remember those circuses disguised as campaign rallies?), and former CEO of Breitbart, a fake news website that embraces and serves as propaganda minister to the White Supremacist movement in America, now euphemistically referred to as the “Alt-Right.”

Finally, the man who is a heartbeat away from the presidency, and who will take over when The Donald becomes bored with being president, Mike Pence, is a climate science denier, a homophobe who believes that gays can be “converted” to the straight and narrow, and a religious bigot who believes that Islam is fundamentally evil.

The sad truth about this whole thing is that we kind of deserve it. We didn’t take Donald Trump seriously in late 2015 and early 2016 when he could have been stopped. If real reporters and investigative journalists had awakened prior to the first televised debate, I don’t think he would have prevailed over more moderate, normal (read: sane) Republican candidates like Marco Rubio and John Kasich.

I’m not convinced that Vladimir Putin was as much FOR Donald Trump as a presidential candidate than he was AGAINST Hillary Clinton, who knows how much of a bad guy Putin really is.

I’m not sure Secretary Clinton would have survived the barrage of fake news and damning e-mail leaks even if she weren’t up against the fake-tan Wurlitzer of a man that is Donald Trump, what with the double standard we apply to powerful women in this country. But, had Clinton lost against a more normal politician, I don’t think there would be nearly as much angst as there is in the world today.

Will our Republic endure the next four years?

One can only hope that Donald Trump continues his Twitter war with Alec Baldwin instead of showing up to work.

Sincerely, Publius

I think that we are witnessing a test of our republican form of government.
There seems to be a populist movement afoot that is threatening to undermine the advances in the protections of our several, disparate minorities and progression in personal liberties and freedoms won of late.
The founders of our great nation were cognizant of this potential of a pure democracy to devolve into a tyranny of allied confederations of independent states. They convened in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 to compose a Constitution which described a unified, central Republic with proportional representation of its constituent members, inextricably linking the individual to the whole. It is a masterpiece of compromise.
It was not an easy task to form a union of diverse states, each of which contained a volatile populace of lobbied interests, that could conceivably form an insurrection against the others, perpetuating a continuous state of warring and conflict.
It was an even more monumental task to convince the individual states to ratify this
Constitution.
Toward that end, 85 articles and essays were written as letters to the Editor of The Independent Journal (under the pseudonym Publius) by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to lobby for it’s ratification.
In Article no. 10, the author, James Madison, argues that a republican form of government will
protect the whole from a populist uprising. I think this theory – once tested already during the
last Civil War – is in the Dock once again. I think there is a significant segment of our society who would like to deconstruct our Union into separate city-states, independent of the Republic, or who would want to establish a more democratic (in the pure, philosophical sense of the term), authoritarian state that subverts minority opinion and advancement, reigns in free trade with other countries, closes our borders to unwanted immigrants who hold ideas, religious beliefs and cultures which are perceived as threats.
I strongly believe that the Republic will survive, though severely wounded. Of course, I could be completely wrong, and this is much ado about nothing.
Here is Madison’s argument for the Republic:

Hippocratic Oath for the Religious

Religious practitioners of various types tout their religious views as the cure for the common man.

Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Taoism, Buddhism and others all proscribe actions, teachings, incantations, confessions and remedies for making us better human beings, or simply providing a get out of h-e-double-toothpicks free card.

Christians, for example, embrace the concept of Original Sin, Church Father St. Augustine of Hippo first popularized in 397-400 CE in a book entitled Confessions. It is a treatise dripping with descriptions of sinful, nasty thoughts (mostly of a sexual nature), deeds and contemplations that Augustine reasoned angered a “vengeful,” but forgiving, God.

The traditional, Abrahamic religions of Islam and Judaism require appeasing a “jealous” god, and heap mighty burdens of guilt on their faithful subjects. All forms of prostrating, denying pleasures, obeying commands and sacrificing are required to keep their impetuous deity at bay.

The Eastern religions bypass the guilt trip in favor of impossible goals of self-restraint and discipline as the price of admission to heavenly pleasures and oneness with his/her Holinesses. Those achieving the highest levels obnoxiously lord it over the rest of humanity.

Of course, those who adhere to their deity’s demands religiously are rewarded with Brownie Points by the Almighty that enable them to treat the rest of humanity with scorn, vitriol and, in some cases, violent punishment, retribution and even death (in the name of _____________).

This has caused a world of suffering for the poor slobs who either refuse to, or simply cannot believe, convert, genuflect, grovel or who willfully ignore the preaching and instruction of their gods’ words, predictions, proclamations, condemnations or commandments.

Even more violence and condemnation are meted out to those who act in ways that diverge from the holy proscriptions divined from the heavens or written in THE BOOK. Homosexuals, for example, are the favorite target of almost every patriarchal, ecclesiastical group on the planet.

It took mankind well into the second millennium of the Common Era before he realized that the holy words and proclamations of all the gods were just collected tales and moralistic stories written by lonely scribes who contemplated the wonders of the universe, and were looking for raison d’êtres. Later generations considered these contemplations, and turned them into dogma. Much, much later, these dogmas became doctrine, and religion was born. But by then, it was too late, because entire INSTITUTIONS were built around the deities – most particularly around the BIG THREE.

The Revolutionaries of 18th century France and America sought to relinquish themselves from the bond of religious dogma that dominated and restricted enlightened citizens. They forged secular societies that relegated religion to the privacy of individual confessions, while maintaining their traditions and philosophies, but took them out of the public square. Secularization brought an end to the Holy Wars of previous generations.

Every now and then, these old dogmas resurrect to condemn human behavior that doesn’t conform to the ways of old, or when encountering “The Others” who are different from “Those Whom the Deity Loves.”

Worse, “reformers” determine that we must get back to the purity of the original ways, thus obliterating thousands of years of progress.

The abuse of religion is its most heinous when it seeks to demonize those who are outside of the chosen faith. Radical fundamentalism is a dangerous and toxic brew that threatens the social order.

Toward that end, I propose the following Hippocratic Oath for Religious Practitioners:

 

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this Covenant: …

I will respect the hard-won scientific and cultural gains of our common society, and I will subsume such knowledge into my religious beliefs, and adjust my dogmas accordingly.

I will apply, for the benefit of humanity, all measures which are required to live happily among mankind, avoiding those twin traps of fundamentalism and dogmatism.

I will remember that there is art to religion, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the preacher’s wrath or the zealot’s fervor.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call on the collected wisdom of humanity and other faith-groups when the tenets of my own are wanting.

I will respect the privacy of my neighbors, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. Above all, I must not play at G-d.

I will remember that when I offer counsel, I do not counsel a demon possessed, or moral inferior, but a suffering human being, whose illness or issue may affect the person’s family and his or her personal stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for those within and outside of my faith.

I will prevent ignorance whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body, as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life, love of family and friends, and my faith; respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act to preserve the finest traditions of my religion and may I long experience the joy of helping those who seek my help without judgment or condemnation.

Is the American Experiment Over or Just Beginning?

Rush Limbaugh should be forever indebted to Bill and Hillary Clinton. No one  has profited more in this Country than him and his minions of like-minded imitators and provocateurs on the entire catalog of mythology based around the former President Bill, and now; candidate, Hillary Clinton.

I came under the Limbaugh spell in 1992 when I was still working as a Photojournalist which forced me to spend an inordinate amount of time in my vehicle – I think I had figured out that an average week put over 500 miles on the odometer.

I had lost out on numerous jobs with major newspapers to minority applicants, and I held a bit of a grudge, rather than correctly place the blame on my (at the time) less than stellar portfolio. The Grudge is the stock and trade of the radio and television talk show host. They exploit fear and irrational anger to drive ratings. Rush Limbaugh stoked that “white man’s rage” against minorities specifically, and “Liberals” in general. All things that are wrong with the world can be blamed on liberal philosophy / politics, and anti-discrimination laws.

Limbaugh, a college drop-out, and mediocre sports and radio disc jockey, one day started ranting about the unfairness – probably from his own experiences – of minorities getting an advantage on white, male, heterosexuals.

It struck a chord. It spawned institutions like Fox News and the countless regurgitations of his brand of hyperbole that wasn’t quite fabrication from whole cloth. It was cloaked around the mantle of fair and balanced as opposed to the Mainstream Media (broadcast news programs), who were perceived as leftward leaning. There would be a kernel of truth in each story, but surrounded by embellishment (spin) and the angry, white male character invented by Limbaugh and his clones.

This became a somewhat cult-ish genre of alternative “news” that allowed once bush-league broadcasters, like Bill O’Reilly, who was an anchor with daytime, tabloid television’s Inside Edition to build an empire of fist pounding, yelling-over-the-top-of-guests, style of punditry that dominates the cable TV infotainment channels on both the right and left sides of the political spectrum.

Infused into this maelstrom was the aforementioned grudge, and the anti-grudge rhetoric on the left. By the middle and late 90s, left and right pundits were yelling past each other in ever increasing crescendos of vitriol and exaggeration.

But, there is a more sinister and cynical thing at work in our body politic. It is the erosion of dialogue and debate. It is the demise of the original “News Media” – the “Lamestream Media” that another demagogue in a past election cycle harped on. Gone are the days of reading the local and national newspapers from cover to cover every morning over breakfast, or listening to the days news by trusted broadcast television news anchors we invited into our living rooms. Granted, this was primarily still a white, male, western democracy dominated presentation of the world.

With Social Media replacing cable news programming in the late 90s beginning with SixDegrees.com, and more recently; Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Twitter in the 2000s, “news” became consumed as posts taken from Blogs and stories linked from sources like Breitbart, Huffington Post and countless other web sites with names like Prager University (which isn’t a real university), Infowars.com, Buzzfeed, The Blaze, ConservativeTribune.com, Patriotupdate.com, Drudge Report and many, many more. There are even spoof news websites, like The Onion, New York Time’s Borowitz Report, and others that clearly label themselves as satirical, but still manage to be regurgitated as “real news” by unsuspecting Social Media warriors.

We are no longer intelligent consumers of news, but rather; news junkies who love to have our own worldviews reinforced and spit out in an endless non-conversation over social media and in tense, anger-infused personal confrontations with Uncle Bob and Aunt Mary during Thanksgiving dinner.

So, now we have Donald Trump as a real, bonafide presidential candidate.

For President.

Of the United States.

A Reality TV star who’s tag-line on his pretend business game show is “You’re Fired!”

Let that sink in for a moment.

I once had a friend – an acquaintance, really – who told me in all seriousness that he believed the “masses were asses,” and shouldn’t be trusted to vote in an open, and free election. I argued, to the contrary, that Americans are the most educated, intrinsically honest, rational beings in a modern Republic. I argued that we have access to a free press, where one can find out the truth of politicians’ claims if one look and research appropriately. I was enrolled at Kent State University at the time, studying Journalism. We were trained to write stories using facts, and to check the facts, not once, not twice, but THREE times before going to print with a story. I told him that we can trust our Media, who are taught to be as objective as possible. That their stock and trade is in reliability. If they get it wrong, as humans are sometimes prone; it must be corrected.

“No, no, no,” he said, “the Media is controlled by liberals who have a secret agenda to …” and he would continue to spout the most recent conspiracy theory he had heard from his little clique of listeners to a late night, AM radio talk-show host (pre-Rush) who was famous for tales of alien abductions and government conspiracies. He would rant on and on about how they had infiltrated the elementary schools, and were brainwashing children into forming a future, one-world government where Christianity was banned, businesses were controlled by the government, and women were forced to have abortions in order to keep the population down.

He said that Americans were already brainwashed, and that in the very near future, a liar, manipulator and demagogue would rise to power through a popular election by lies and deceit, and usher in the New World Order. This was in 1985.

Ironically, this same person is now an avid Donald Trump supporter, and I’m beginning to think he was right about the “masses.”

Hmm.

I still read brick and mortar produced newspapers and magazines (both printed and online) that provide balanced reporting from both sides of the political spectrum, and are actively striving to maintain a reputation of accurate news reporting. I no longer watch cable news programming, preferring instead to watch the local television news. It is a little frustrating that this programming still hasn’t evolved beyond the “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality, but they are doing better since they have to compete against cable news. And, I learn about important local issues and events that the cable programming misses. The one thing they DON’T do is report rumor and innuendo disguised as “breaking news” the way the cable news programs do. They will wait until they have something verifiable to use. I like that.

As far as social media, I try to sort the good from the bad. I appreciate humorous things and am always a sucker for inspirational postings. I will block posts from the absurd, muckraking websites from both my left and right leaning friends. In the past, I have tried to “correct” misinformation, but this is a fruitless endeavor. I suspect the folks forwarding these ridiculous stories know full well that it is pure BS, so my attempts to steer them down the path of virtue is vanity on my part. Thankfully, there is a way to block the junk without unfriending folks. I don’t believe in censorship, so I will gladly read well written, researched articles from any point of view.

We have many important and serious issues and problems in America that need intelligent, reasoned discussion if we are ever going to continue our evolution as a society. I think we need to start a dialogue that isn’t shouting and jockeying for our particular point of view. We are becoming a more diverse culture in faith, ethnicity, custom and orientation. This is a good thing, and is what makes the future of America something to be embraced rather than feared. We need to build common ground, not a more tremendous wall.

Making America Great?

When Donald Trump says that he “wants to make America great again,” I have to wonder just what in the hell he is talking about.

I have always considered it extremely fortunate for one to have been born in America. We have a robust economy, we have a greater than average quality of life, and we enjoy freedoms that many folks around the planet envy.

Geographically, we have a very diverse continent where we can avoid winter all year long if we so desire. We have fantastic mountain ranges, verdant plains, rolling hills and vast deserts bounded by miles and miles of warm or cold water beaches. “From sea to shining sea” the old song goes.

So, what is he talking about?

I think what Donald Trump means when he says that he wants to make America great again is two things.

First, he wants America to become a bully again around the world.

There was a time in our history prior to the world wars when we simply took what we wanted around the globe. Or, we would make offers that no one could refuse. After the wars, we inserted ourselves into deals that favored our growing lust for oil at the expense of those who lived on or near the vast petroleum reserves in far-flung areas of the Middle East. We set up puppet dictators who would do our bidding, and depose those who outgrew their usefulness, or who dared to rebel.

He wants America to have absolute power in the world so that he can simply annihilate any civilization, culture, religious groups or entities that do not conform to Western, Judeo-Christian ideals. He has said publicly that he would expand the use of torture and would even kill families of enemy combatants, ignoring the Geneva Convention prohibitions on such behavior.

He has hinted, when it was pointed out that military commanders would resist these efforts, that he would become America’s first dictator. “Oh, they will do exactly what I say,” he responded during a live, televised debate.

He wants to isolate America from the rest of the world when it comes to trade. He would cancel all of the free trade agreements of the last century that has allowed developing nations – our neighbor to the south in particular – to compete in a global economy that promises to lift all boats.

Secondly, when Donald Trump says that he wants to make America great again, I think he means that he wants America to look like him.

He wants America to be white again.

It’s not a new idea. This has been the harangue of the talk show hucksters like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the rest of the Fox News crew.

They have groomed Trump for this role by allowing him to dominate their airwaves, fawning over his ability to ignore the PC police. “He speaks his mind” they proclaim with a gleam in their eyes as he articulates the jealousy of the advancement of minority classes they don’t dare speak aloud.

There is nothing wrong with speaking your mind in the land of the free and the home of the brave. In fact, I think this is a good thing. It’s good to finally have someone say out loud what the Tea Party Conservatives have been thinking all along.

The beauty of a democracy is that, if we exercise our duty to vote, we can defeat what I think is a dwindling minority view in America. Donald Trump is the singular voice of this dying breed of racist, misogynistic, homophobic, white supremacist ideology.

It’s not enough to defeat Donald Trump. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee and a whole host of Tea Party darlings subscribe to the same ideology, but are smart enough (or, considering the Republican primary election results of late; dumb enough) to keep their language in line with politically correct speech.

For those on the Progressive side of the aisle, politically correct speech is not just hiding their real feelings, but a conscious choice. I think this is the thinking of an America that embraces all cultures and economic groups, and I think it is a mindset that is rapidly growing in numbers.

Trump is right when he says in his TV ads that there is “an assault on everything that we stand for.”

I pray to God that this assault will prevail.

The [Which] God of Their Fathers

The brother and sister were raised in a devout, religious home. Their parents and religious leaders in the community taught them everything they would need to know about [God] and how to live a righteous, pious life.

They read the scriptures every day before breakfast, and every evening before going to bed. They were encouraged to memorize particularly poignant passages and “keep them in their heart and mind” so that their very thoughts were aligned with the will of [God]. The children were proud of how well they knew the words of their [Holy Book], and would often quote relevant passages when discussing some issue or topic.

Their parents were pillars in the community. They were always kind to strangers and the first to volunteer when needed in the small town where they grew up. Father was a leader in the [Church], and Mother was known for her wisdom and fine character. Her pot roasts were legendary!

The [Church] they attended in town was very well respected in the community. They fed the hungry, helped the sick and came to the aid of those in need. They truly lived up to the high expectations of their religious training. They believed in their hearts that [God] had favored them with Truth lovingly written down for them in their [Holy Book]. Disputes over morality, civil behavior and how to live with one another were all decided with the wisdom contained within their scriptures. Sometimes they would argue over little details, but in the major issues; were of one mind.

One day, a preacher came to town who was considered to be well learned in their faith. The [Church] leaders were thrilled when he agreed to speak at their meeting. The preacher had devoted his entire lifetime to learning the words of the [Holy Scriptures] and the teachings of the faith. He spoke many languages, and had traveled the world defending his faith from those who would attack it as silly and superstitious. Many believed that he was a true prophet, blessed by [God]. But, the preacher was quick to put aside such notions of grandeur, emphasizing that he was only speaking the truth revealed to him by [God]. If anyone was persecuting him, or ridiculing him, it was because they were being deceived by the evil that was in the world. His humility was great, and the people of the [Church] and the community felt blessed to have him in their presence. The brother and sister were thrilled to learn that the preacher would spend his time in town as a guest in their home!

Around the supper table after their scripture lessons, the brother and sister were allowed to stay up late and listen to the preacher recount tales of his many travels throughout the world. They all settled around the table with warm beverages and sweet treats (truly a special occasion!).

The preacher told of how there was great evil around the world that challenged the very foundations of their faith. He told of how other preachers were often captured and tortured in some countries of the world who rejected their faith as distorted and evil. These preachers were sometimes tortured and beaten and thrown into prison for the crime of believing their faith was the Truth. He told them that they were actively trying to “rid the world of their kind.”

The family around the table gasped in horror at some of the stories the preacher recounted of even children killed in the name of this other, false [God]. He told of how there was a movement within the [Church] to fight back against these evil doers, and how he was traveling from town to town to recruit those who would serve in defense of [God]. “Everything that you hold to be true, and righteous is at stake,” he told them. “These unbelievers want to destroy our way of life.”

He told how the religious leaders of these other people were training missionaries to try and lead them astray, and convert them to this other faith.

The preacher went on to say that, amazingly, “children in these other countries were being told that OUR RELIGION is false, and that WE are the evil ones!”

The brother and sister were incensed at this. They were visibly agitated. How could this be? It was so obvious that their scriptures were true. Wasn’t their father a great man, respected in the community as a pious, righteous leader? Wasn’t their mother gentle and kind to all she encounters? The fruits of their religion was in plain sight for all to see.

That night, the preacher gave a sermon that was attended by nearly everyone in the community. They were as equally appalled at the unjustified violence to people of their faith. The preacher even showed photographs of children and innocent civilians who were killed by these worshipers of a false [God]. Loud gasps were heard over the carnage displayed on the screen. “How could we allow this to happen?”

The next day, a group of former military officers gathered and vowed to fight against these unbelievers.

When the townspeople heard of this, they declared; “Why, our very nation is founded upon the principles of our faith. [God] is on our side. We will prevail!”

Many in the town made it their mission that day to defend to the death the honor of their [God]. The one and only TRUE [God].

The brother and sister considered all of these things, and decided what, then, they should do…

[Insert your deity, holy book and / or place of worship here]

“We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the same sense to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.” – H.L. Mencken

Trump Card

A confident black person who doesn’t parrot traditional societal order is called a race-baiter. A self-assured female is labeled a bitch. A Native American who aspires to be more than a sports mascot is painted a trouble maker. A LGBT rights advocate has an agenda.

But, a rich, white male who speaks his mind with abandon is a viable presidential candidate.

Just what the hell is going on?

I think we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the era of white, male privilege. Donald Trump represents the middle finger of a class that is waning in power and prestige.

This country has elected a black man as president, and he has exceeded expectations in all areas, despite a relentless, concerted effort to ensure his failure by the privileged class to maintain the status quo.

For the first time in American history, there is a strong, female candidate running for the highest office in the land.

The Supreme Court affirmed the rights of gay and lesbian citizens, removing centuries of discrimination and stigma.

Immigration reform is giving new hope to Hispanic families who have grown to love the soil they’ve tilled for generations as uninvited, but economically convenient, guests.

Millions of poor families who did not have the benefit of quality, affordable health care a privileged status enabled now have access to basic coverage.

In the words of George Costanza, “worlds are colliding.”

Human beings by nature are primarily concerned with self preservation. Those classes who have risen to enjoy a privileged status have grown comfortable with being on the top of the food chain.

The bulk of the 18th to 20th centuries in America have overwhelming favored the white, European, Christian male as the privileged class. Even among the poor, if you were white and male, and didn’t attend a synagogue or mosque, you stood a better than average chance of improving your lot in life through hard work and strategic planning.

One phenomenon of self preservation is the tendency to keep company with those who share our basic traits, whether that is skin color, language, religion, gender or political organization. History has favored the current ruling class as the winner of life’s lottery for a variety of reasons: the accident of tillable soil, geographic mobility, coincidence of human invention, and genetic and societal adaptation.

The net result is that if one could associate with this favored class, success was a viable option. Success reinforces the notion of favored status, and when coupled with a divine providence, the defense of such privilege takes on militant and righteous fervor.

The latter part of the 20th century saw the yearning of the unfavored classes to acquire success and privilege for themselves. Leaders among these classes used the power of their increasing numbers and an appeal to the humanistic goals of the American experiment (all men are created equal) to leverage their way into a better life — the pursuit of happiness. Predictably, the currently favored classes fought to maintain the existing order, as they perceived the lower class rise to equality as a threat to their own happiness.

Slowly, but surely, these winds of change wrought a new order within the fruited plains. All of the successes enumerated above have come, as perceived by the ruling classes, at the expense of their presumed superiority.

So, when we hear “The Donald” lashing out at immigrants and minorities and the poor receiving “special favor” (how ironic), we are hearing the death pangs of a privileged species having to make way for a new order.

White, European males are still the majority by a very small margin. In some states – California, notably – this has already changed. But, nevertheless, I think the support of Donald Trump reflects a natural tendency toward self preservation.

The question for America is will we cave in to our animal instincts of self preservation, or rise to the higher evolved ideals of a society where all people are treated as equal, and we are judged by the merits of our actions and abilities regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or wealth?

The candidacy of Donald Trump is a litmus test for this experiment.

I hope and pray that we pass.

Roberts Rule!

Robert was gay.

At least, that’s what everyone believed.

He spoke with a lisp, wasn’t interested in sports, fast cars and girls. He giggled instead of guffaw. He preferred theater and opera to football games and rock music. He was described by everyone – including grownups – as effeminate.

Now, of course, the Baptist church I attended taught that homosexuality was a sin. I knew that for sure. It was right there in the Bible as plain as day:

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it [is] abomination. – Leviticus 18:22

Anytime the Bible used the word “abomination,” whatever was abominated against was bad. Really bad.

So, it was no surprise to me that Robert was teased and tormented. He deserved it for doing something that was an abomination to God.

Yet, something in the pit of my stomach didn’t feel right when my buddies were taunting Robert. The frightened, confused look on his face haunted me. I would mumble my little slurs with the rest of them (hoping Robert wouldn’t hear) – lest someone think that I was gay. I felt terrible about it. I avoided eye contact with Robert. He was a sinner, after all. I actually resented Robert for putting me in this position.

One day Robert confided with someone in high school that he was indeed gay, and had a crush on a television actor. That person betrayed his trust and this news was common gossip in the school lunchroom that day. The barbs and insults intensified. The jeering was horrendous as Robert sat alone to eat his lunch.

That afternoon Robert was attacked by a bunch of redneck bullies. He was beaten so severely that he had to be hospitalized for a month. The boys who beat Robert up were punished, but the damage inflicted on Robert was more than physical.

The whole incident made me feel sick. I thought the perpetrators belonged in jail. They just received a fine and the instigator probation for a year, plus their parents had to pay Robert’s hospital bills.

But, what disturbed me most was the underlying feeling among some (too many) in the community that Robert got what he deserved. Of course, they were horrified by the violence, but…you know; abomination?  I still thought homosexuality was a sin, but I didn’t feel good about thinking that. I did NOT feel good about what happened to Robert.

I don’t know what ever became of Robert, but it bothers me to this day that I never spoke up for him – that I didn’t speak out against such hateful treatment. It didn’t feel like the Christian thing to do. But, homosexuality, in my mind, remained a mystery to me. I didn’t understand it, and I couldn’t relate to it. I didn’t think much about it for a number of years. I felt uncomfortable when someone would tell an off color joke at the expense of homosexuals, but not enough to say something. I still believed, as my church taught, that it was a sin and that it was against nature.

Then, while working as a newspaper journalist in the 80s, the scourge of AIDS wreaked havoc on the Gay community. We did a story on a couple in Lorain, one of whom had the AIDS virus. We followed them for several months through various medical trials and frequent hospital visits.

I’ll admit that when we were assigned the story, I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea. The AIDS scare was real, and as a Christian, I heard many sermons from well known and respected evangelists and preachers who explained how God was using AIDS as a punishment for their sinfulness. I didn’t agree with that nonsense, but I was still a bit uncomfortable at first with this couple.

As we spent more time with the story, it struck me that these were two people who truly loved one another. It could have been a husband and wife struggling through cancer. The fact that these were two men seemed to become less important. My unfounded fears and prejudice began to melt away. There was nothing abnormal about the love these two men had for each other. The only difference was in how other people and society responded to them. When the virus claimed it’s victim, his partner was barred from the intensive care room by his “real family.”

The inhumanity of this situation gave me pause to reevaluate my position on this issue.

Years have passed, and I’ve since come to an understanding that homosexuality is just the way some folks are wired, and is perfectly normal. It has nothing to do with sin, and the Bible passages written by men during the iron age were just wrong about this aspect of human sexuality due to their ignorance. Just like they were wrong about diseases being a curse from God, or a result of an unrepentant sin. Modern science has enlightened us in these areas.

I often think about what I would say to Robert were I to see him today. Would I apologize? Would I tell him my story about how I came to see things from his perspective? Or, would we simply talk like old classmates?

Now, here we are. June 27, 2015. The Supreme Court of the United States has allowed same sex couples to legally marry with all of the rights and privileges that come with it.

It’s about damn time.