One Brick at a time

There is an overwhelming feeling I see when I’m talking with friends. It seems to affect people of all types. One of the first pieces I wrote in this new series talked about depression. Depression is but a symptom of the feeling I am talking about. That feeling is the feeling of despair. Despair happens when we feel like things are slipping away and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

Whether it be watching America descend into chaos, politicians cravenly going back on promises that they’ve made, or democracy itself seemingly slipping away. I’ve had people tell me they’ve cried daily. I can’t say I’m there yet, but I find myself tearing up more often. It usually happens when watching something sad on television. Scenes that used to leave me unaffected have me making excuses. I was about to sneeze. There was an itch. I just had to wipe my eyes.

This despair ends up manifesting itself in numerous ways. Depression is just one of those. Sometimes people get angry when they experience despair. Sometimes they participate in dangerous activities. That could be to escape the feeling or to feel more alive. Everyone reacts in a way specific to them, but we all know the root cause of it.

Often times this despair is a combination or real life events and events imagined. I ran across someone online that was convinced Christians were being persecuted because a couple of statues/artifacts that had been defaced by vandals. Those couple turned into dozens of statues and then hundreds. Those vandals turned into an organized group designed to overthrow religion.

Others are convinced that the president won’t peacefully transfer power in case of defeat. There are a number of fears here. First, those that fear this fear that the election will be compromised somehow. Interesting that people on both sides feel this. Secondly, they fear he will do something to invalidate the results. Are any of these fears founded? Are there boogeymen coming to overthrow religion? Will the election be rigged?

A large part of the despair comes from the fact that even if the election works out there will be too much damage to repair. You spend so much time and political capital repairing damage that you hardly have time to advance the cause. This happened in 2009 as well. We had to overcome the financial crisis. We had to repair alliances around the world. So, we got really one piece of landmark legislation through.

If that is the case again I have a nominee. I want to shore up our political institutions and strengthen our elections. The first step is getting rid of the electoral college. I understand the arguments for it. We’ve all seen the maps about how certain states dominate in terms of population. How would a popular vote be fair to those small states? It’s simple really. It’s one person and one vote. Everyone’s vote counts equally whether they live in Los Angeles or Billings. States cease to matter.

Then, I would end gerrymandering forever. An independent commission would use computers to draw the 435 congressional districts. Studies have shown that fewer than 200 current districts are even competitive. They are separated by ten points or more in most cases. Gerrymandering is simply when political parties get to choose their voters instead of the other way around. Experts have determined that if districts are drawn independently then over 300 districts would become competitive. Think about what that would mean. In order to win you would have to appeal to the majority. Representatives would have to be sane and rational to win.

The final leg of this plan would be to create one set of rules for all elections involving national office (meaning president, representative, or senator). That means polls open at the same time and close at the same time. That’s also true of early voting and absentee voting. This would also make voter ID universal or not. Whatever the rule is in one state, it’s the same in the other 49 states. That would affect IDs, voter rolls, and everything else.

Studies show that Congress’ makeup does not match the wishes of the American people. The president won a minority of votes. The Senate is majority Republican even though more Democrats got votes in the last several elections. State legislatures are predominantly Republican even though there are more Democrats in the country. They blocked justices under Obama and packed them under Trump. They keep thousands if not millions from voting nationwide with onerous ID laws designed to affect poorer and darker Americans in addition to other voter suppression methods. It’s easy to see where the despair comes from. We clearly see that those that represent us really don’t represent us. Most of us didn’t even vote for them. If you want to change the despair you have to change that first.

I think the other problems will somehow become more manageable if those in Congress and the White House simply reflect the majority of people that voted. It will also become manageable if people have to be sane and reasonable to win office. When you have sane, rational, and reasonable people in government then the problems suddenly look so impossible.

The No Meme Pledge

I wanted to take a step back from fiery rhetoric to talk about something I’ve noticed lately on social media. People no longer speak for themselves. They post memes. They quote someone else. Sometimes, when pressed, they admit that they really didn’t look at it closely. This is especially true if the meme or quote is longer and more involved.

The internet has been with us for an entire generation. It has created a generation of people that have the bravery of being out of range. We can say things online we never would have said in person. People even created terms like “troll” and “cyberbully” to deal with the phenomenon.

Most of us in the older crowd spend our time on Facebook. The kids seem to love Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat. I’m not on any of those platforms, so I can’t really say anything about those platforms. I’ll just speak to what I notice on Facebook and Twitter. Facebook in particular is great in that you can connect with friends and family you go years without seeing in person. You can see pictures and major life events and share in the common experience of larger events.

The current feeling I have came to a head when a friend clued me into something you could do with Facebook. It is called “snoozing”. Essentially, it allows you to ignore posts from a particular person for 30 days. It also does not allow them to comment on anything you post. How sad is it that Facebook has to install an option for people to be able to specifically ignore other people.

Yet, it’s sad when you know someone you love or like has become so toxic that it dampens your day when they post something. We immediately go back to our memes. The meme has become similar to the Gif in that quickly delivers a thought usually with a chuckle. It brings celebrities, animals, famous characters, or humorous situations and slaps on a quick slogan on for the quick laugh.

The problem with the meme and Gif is the same as the problem with the 30 second soundbyte. It doesn’t offer any context. Most issues have a context to them. They aren’t solved with a meme or a Gif. They are solved with hard work, deep thought, and careful compromise.

There can be no greater irony or microcosm of life than an attempt to snooze someone following the post of an inane meme. You can’t snooze your friend. It snoozes the poster of the meme. I’ve done it a few times. I don’t ever know anyone that originally posted the meme. So, I can snooze them, but that really doesn’t do any good.

The irony is that this mirrors the real life situation. The friend or loved one can simply claim that this wasn’t their meme. They were just forwarding it on. They didn’t create it. It’s not their responsibility. It doesn’t necessarily reflect what they think 100 percent. They just liked the sentiment and decided to share it. We’ve heard it all before.

Except, we are responsible for what we post. We are responsible for the tone we bring to the conversation. We are responsible for what is on our wall or on our Twitter feed. I can’t come at this from a position of judgment. I’ve posted stuff on my wall that was toxic. I’ve posted stuff on my twitter feed that was toxic. I may have even posted a meme or two.

So, here is my pledge. I will not post a single meme on my Facebook or Twitter feed between now and the election in November. I’m still going to speak my opinion. No one will ever stop me from doing that. Still, you will know that it’s mine. That way, if you don’t want to hear what I say you can unfollow me or snooze me. I suspect the more of us that do that the more respectful the dialogue will be. Then, there will be no need to do all of that.

The only issue

Abortion is an issue I’ve discussed before in passing. However, it has never intersected with so many issues as it does right now. I’ve also mentioned Ruth Bader Ginsberg as well. It seems the ship has sailed on Republicans waiting to fill the seat. Heck, Mitch McConnel couldn’t even wait 24 hours to make that declaration. Elections have consequences after all.

I think the saddest part of this whole deal is how political the court has become. I was always fond of telling the story of Earl Warren to my students. He presided over the court from 1953 to 1969. He was a part of Brown v. Board of Education and Miranda v. Arizona decisions to name a couple. He was appointed by Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower was a Republican. You can’t always predict how a justice will act. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Conservative thought on jurisprudence has gone from an overall legal point of view to a litmus test. Would you overturn Roe. v. Wade? If the answer is yes then you are qualified to serve on the bench. Life is complex and certainly legal philosophies and issues are complex. Is abortion really the most important legal issue before the court today?

I’ll address where I am at on that issue in a minute, but we know it is not the most important issue. The court is constantly dealing with issues of equality. Whether it be continuing systemic racism, prejudice against the LGTBQ community, or differences between men and woman, the court’s stances on those issues affect far more lives. The court also has opined on issues of free speech and campaign finance. In the age of the internet, issues of free speech and privacy are also dreadfully important. Every era has it’s legal questions. Abortion might be the least important and least interesting of all of them.

This is because the legal issue surrounding abortion is different than the act itself. The legal issue behind it was decided by a 7-2 ruling in 1973. Clearly, the court back then felt it was a compelling privacy right that belonged to women. The human side of the issue is a lot more complex and the various reactions to it should also be more complex.

I have known multiple people that have had abortions. I’m not revealing the number or any identifying characteristics. It’s a right to privacy. I will only say that none of them used it as an extended form of birth control. They were difficult decisions that were made for complex and often tragic reasons. I’m just thankful I wasn’t in the same situation.

As a general rule, I am opposed to abortion. I also don’t think it should be a political issue. Beyond supporting or not supporting a woman’s right to choose, it really shouldn’t be on the ballot. There isn’t much a president can do to affect abortion since it’s a legal right. What legislatures have been want to do lately is pass all kinds of restrictions. I suppose that makes sense. They are supply side economists after all, so why not apply the same concept to abortion?

I’ve always been a demand sider. Statistics show that the rates of abortion have been lower in Democratic administrations than in Republican ones. So, are we worried about what people say or are we worried about what actually happens? If you want to limit abortions you limit the demand for those abortions. You do that by limiting unwanted pregnancy. How do you do that? Well, you provide more education for kids. You provide access to contraceptions.

You don’t eliminate the choice. You help them expand the choice. There is adoption, but there is also making keeping the child more palatable. You do that by providing support. The common criticism of the Pro-Life movement is that they aren’t really Pro-Life. They are Pro-Birth. The moment that child is born then those poor girls can fend for themselves. We don’t want to provide them with affordable health care. We don’t want to provide them with income assistance. We don’t want to provide them with help finding good food. We don’t want to provide them a roof over their head. If you didn’t want to end up like this then you shouldn’t have gotten pregnant in the first place. That’s the world we are bringing that child into.

It’s okay for the state to kill convicted murderers. It’s okay to repeal the Affordable Care Act during a pandemic. It’s okay to refuse to wear masks. If you’re afraid of getting the virus then you should just stay inside. The elderly would gladly give up their lives to save the economy. It’s okay to pollute the environment so our company can make a few dollars more. It’s okay to separate children from their parents at the border. It’s okay to strip women of their ability to have children at the border without their consent. It’s okay to neglect your own citizens following hurricanes, wild fires, and other natural disasters. This is particularly true if they reside in a blue state or a U.S. territory that doesn’t get to vote. It’s okay to keep blue states from getting much needed supplies for the pandemic. Blue lives matter, but they only matter if you’re talking about police. If you aren’t then only red lives matter.

While we are on the subject, notice that the all lives matter crowd never shouts that at the blue lives matter crowd. It’s only when someone mentions black lives. In other words, quit calling yourselves pro-life. You aren’t pro-life. You are pro-birth. Life is a continuum. It doesn’t stop at birth. Being pro-life means being for feeding that child. Being pro-life means being for keeping that child healthy. Being pro-life means being for educating that child. Being pro-life means protecting that child’s life equally no matter their background. Being pro-life means that their life is more important than the economy. Being pro-life means the state doesn’t get to end that life no matter what the child has done. Being pro-life means we don’t enter into wars of choice so our children can end the lives of other children.

So, I hope that you can see that Pro-Life means a whole lot more than just abortion. I don’t like abortion any more than anyone else, but I’ll be damned if we allow short-sighted zealots to wipe their hands and walk away as soon as that child is born. That child’s life has just begun. They deserve more. We can argue about what that looks like, but you don’t get to call yourself Pro-Life if you think you wash your hands of it after the child is born. You don’t get to call yourself Pro-Life if you allow government officials to endanger our lives everyday with their short-sighted policies. You don’t get to call yourself Pro-Life if you are okay with letting that poor family starve because of choices they may or may not have made. You don’t get to call yourself Pro-Life if you are okay separating children at the border and putting them in cages. You don’t get to call yourself Pro-Life if you think opening the economy is more important than saving people’s lives. You are pro-birth. I have no issue with anyone that is pro-birth. It’s a fairly respectable viewpoint. You just don’t get to stand on the moral highground of Pro-Life.

Emotional Growth

Last time, I wrote about a woman that was threatening to divorce her husband because he was a Trump supporter. They had been married for five years. She knew he was a Republican before they had gotten married, but they were obviously married before the age of Trump. It’s obvious she naturally assumed he would be opposed to Trump. That assumption was obviously wrong.

Some of the responders on the left seemed to naturally assume that the man in question was emotionally stunted. A recent post from PsyPost asserted that people with lower emotional intelligence are more likely to hold right-wing views. It was published on September 3, 2019. So, it’s not completely up to date, but it seems close.

Yet, that seems to be one of the reflexive things we say when we want to denigrate an opponent. We insult their intelligence or in this case say they are emotionally stunted. The other side does it too when they call liberalism a sickness. These things are usually done to shut down debate. It feeds into that whole, “I can’t understand why you….” My wife even caught me doing it when I uttered, “I don’t know what I can do for you” after someone uttered an inane comment on Twitter or Facebook.

We all need to grow emotionally. Often times these pieces that I write serve to work as therapy. They drudge up memories of when I might not have been as enlightened as I am today. I won’t be as enlightened as I will be in the future. That’s how life works. Growing up where I did, I really grew up in a bubble. We were all generally sheltered and even people that would technically be called ethnic minrities tended to have the same cultural background as the rest of us. Their parents worked professional jobs and were educated. So, encountering different people in college and later on in life was a learning experience.

When I wrote about interracial marriages in the last post, I was reminded of a situation I found myself in in college. A friend invited me to go to a school function with her. We had had several classes togather and always got along. I liked her and was attracted to her, but I assumed she wouldn’t be attracted to me. Part of that is probably because I was never much of a player, but the other part was that she was black and I was white. As it turns out, her invitation was not only meant to be us going as friends, but maybe her way of reaching out. I could look back at it as a blown opportunity, but I am also happily married. So, I chalk it up as more of a learning experience.

This growth continued throughout my teaching career. When I look back on the way that I sometimes acted I cringe. I don’t know that I had any particular malice in my heart. I just didn’t necessarily know any better. Admittedly, I have not always been an effective teacher. Part of that is my failing. I sometimes struggled with discipline. Some of that is based on the fact that I have always been too nice. Yet, I could be easily frustrated and frustration often leads to anger. It has been a lot easier working in the capacity I do now. I can be nice and built a report with students no matter who they are or what their background is.

What does this have to do with politics? It’s really simple. It is easy to feel superior in a conversation. It’s a defense mechanism that allows us to ignore what someone else is saying when what they say challenges deeply held beliefs that we have. They don’t have the facts or they are just a racist asshole. That’s the easy way out.

The hard way is to remember that we are all flawed people and are all on a journey to become the best version of ourselves. That’s the downside of reflexively calling someone a racist. First, we deny our own beliefs that we may hold or may have held. Secondly, we put someone else in a defensive posture where they will be reluctant to do a serious self evaluation. It’s always good to look inward every now and then to really check ourselves. It’s uncomfortable to admit that I may have been one too at one time even if I didn’t necessarily hate anyone.

It’s a delicate balance. I am usually ineffective in debates because I am not secure enough in my own opinion to fight back as hard as I should. I allow that doubt to consume me. It can be disjarring to see people who are seemingly so sure in something that seems so wrong to me. My sincerest hope is that everyone reevaluates their beliefs, attitudes, and emotional growth at least on occasion. Emotional growth is not a liberal thing. It’s not a conservative thing. It’s a human thing. We need more of it these days.

Inter-party Relationships

Social media is an interesting place to escape every now and then. Twitter in particular is a fascinating place. It is easy to get sucked into the rabbit hole when you look at the replies to a particular tweet. This happened to me today. I read a tweet from a woman that was disgusted that her husband of five years was still supporting Donald Trump. She was considering divorce.

The beauty of Twitter is that you can see dilemmas encapsulated into short bursts of words. The downside of Twitter is that you see the replies in short bursts of words. I experienced something similar earlier in the day when I attempted to engage a guy when he said that mainstream media had created the myth that Donald Trump was racist. I bowed out. It just wasn’t worth the effort.

As someone that has studied a little psychology, I’m more interested in this overall topic. The topic of Trump’s racism is just not interesting anymore. It’s so obvious that for those that can’t see it there is nothing I can really say. However, the issue of relationships is interesting on a psychological, personal, political, and historical level.

Interracial marriages used to be so rare that they were illegal in some jurisdictions. Couples that came from vastly different religious backgrounds were also rare. They may still be rare. Data is understandably old, but the rate almost doubled for interracial marriages in the last census. It was 15.1 percent in 2010. It jumped to 17 percent in 2015.

We see similar trends in interreligious marriage. The rates for marriage between a couple from different sects of Christianity hasn’t increased that much. However, the rates of couples from completely different backgrounds has doubled since 1960. Overall, 81 percent of marriages in 1960 involved both parties being from the same faith background. That dropped to 61 percent in 2014.

So, the new taboo appears to be interpolitical marriages. The responses from the Twitter followers seemed to demonstrate why. Liberals and progressives wanted this woman to get a divorce. Conservative men took the opportunity to insult the woman. Conservative women asked for his digits. A smattering expressed regret that this kind of issue would destroy a marriage.

It’s difficult to put on the therapist hat in this kind of situation. It involves looking at the situation completely impartially. The best I can come up with is that we should know as much about our partner as we can before we marry them. According to the woman, she knew he was a Republican before they married. So, one has to decide whether that’s a deal breaker. It’s the same as marrying a Yankees fan or Cowboys fan.

On the other hand, I get the difference between being a conservative and being a Trump supporter. My wife is a conservative. She’s a conservative in the classical sense. She wants the government to stay out of our lives and she wants the government to live within its means. She also didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 and won’t again. If she were a Trump supporter I’d have to seriously evaluate the situation. I don’t think I’d leave, but you never know until you are in that situation.

This is all proof that this election isn’t a policy debate. It’s not about foreign policy or domestic policy. It’s not about tax policy. This election is about who we are. I know who I am. I know who I want those around me to be. I know not everyone agrees with me. The hard part is deciding what we want to tolerate. In that case, I can’t judge. On the one hand, life is too short to be with someone you can’t respect. On the other hand, life is awfully lonely if we exclude people we disagree with.

A wounded animal

There are moments when you have little that you want to say. Then there are moments where you have too much that you want to say. Yesterday, news came down that put us in the latter category. Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death has sent many of us reeling. There will be numerous moving pieces that will celebrate her life and her long and distinguished career. Part of me wanted to do that.

Others will strike out in anger and make big claims. Part of me wanted to do that. Yet, I wanted to touch on the emotion that is overwhelmingly driving all of that: fear. Fear often leads to anger and can lead to aggression. So, I thought I would introduce a personal story to illustrate the point.

Last week, our daughter accidentally closed the door on our cat’s paw. It was an accident. Our two cats were fighting and she was trying to prevent it. The cat broke two bones in his paw. He was understandably frightened and hurt. We managed to get him into a carrier and get him to one of those late night emergency clinics. He now has a splint on the paw. We must keep him confined and medicated for nearly two months.

Seeing the response to a wounded animal is an interesting study in human nature. My wife is not a huge fan of the cat. He is chronically lazy even when healthy and sometimes does not relieve himself where he should. However, she has been very comforting to him because she generally loves animals. Even the dog has been comforting to him as they share space downstairs.

At this point, you might be asking what this has to do with Ginsberg. Simply put, the liberal wing of the country is like the wounded animal. We have retreated to our corner and are looking to regroup. It’s not a fatal injury at this point, but we are certainly in a weakened position. The GOP and the president are in a position of being the observer in all of this.

You could imagine that the wounded animal in the corner is not your pet, but instead a wild animal you never wanted on your property. You have three simple options when dealing with such a wounded animal. You can leave it alone and hope it leaves on its own eventually. You can attempt to put it out of its misery and kill it. You can also try to help it.

I would say the president holds the cards, but I don’t know if he would have any compassion for a real wounded animal mich less a metaphorical one. This is where Mitch McConnel needs to step up. I know hearing those words is enough to put a chill down anyone’s spine, but this is where we’re at. Give McConnel credit, he is a master of political calculation even if the humanity isn’t necessarily there.

If he moves to fill the seat it would be akin to attacking the wounded animal. Liberals and progressives aren’t merely an injured raccoon. We make up roughly a third of the country. If you come after us you better kill us quick. Otherwise, such a move would backfire horribly. In terms of reality, if you move to fill the seat you better make sure you win the next election. That kind of move could be the spark that mobilizes people to vote against you. He is himself on the ballot after all.

His best option is to pledge not to fill the seat until after the election. If Trump loses then the next president appoints the next justice. If Trump wins then he gets to appoint one in November. That would be similar to the home owner leaving the wounded animal to heal itself and move along. Dealing with wild animals is unpredictable, but I can tell you how our cat has reacted. He has become more lovable after the care he has gotten. He trusts us more.

The third option only gets done in fiction on shows like the West Wing. That would involve putting Merrick Garland on the bench. Some of you may recall that was the judge that never got a hearing from McConnell in Obama’s last year in office. It was the so-called Biden rule. That would be a master stroke just because it would be a move that would create reconciliation and engender a level of trust from the left that the right has never enjoyed.

I think we know that’s not happening. So, the realistic choices are to go for the kill and appoint a right-wing judge now or to practice mercy and hold off until after the election. No one is quite sure how November turns out and each of these major events puts the issue more in doubt. I don’t think Trump voters are changing their tune, but with each blow comes the realization to everyone else that we are in this together. If you manage to unite them it could be game over.

The 1776 Commission

Yesterday, the president revealed a new commission that would be used to teach patriotism in the classroom. The 1776 commission’s mission seems to be to counteract the 1619 project that some schools are adopting. He said there is an emerging classroom narrative that “America is a wicked and racist country.” The commission’s goals would be to reemphasize patriotism and what has become known as American exceptionalism.

Admittedly, I am a historian in the strictest sense of the word. History was officially my minor for my undergraduate degree, but the state of Texas requires at least 24 hours in two teaching fields, so according to my degree plan I was practically a double major. All that being said, most of my course work was on the World History side and I spent far more time teaching World History than U.S. History.

In the show “The Newsroom” Jeff Daniels (as Will McAvoy) makes a famous speech when a student asks what makes America the greatest country in the world. The short version of his answer is that we aren’t the greatest country in the world. The long version lists a litany of reasons that we aren’t and outlines factual evidence that we aren’t.

The education business is dominated by the rubric. We use rubrics to grade student work. The district uses rubrics to assess teacher performance. The state uses rubrics to grade school and district performance. A rubric is just a fancy word for developing a systematic way to assess performance. Ideally, the student, teacher, campus, or district knows exactly what they will be graded on before the final grade comes out. Therefore, I can tailor my performance accordingly.

What rubric do you use to grade a nation? How do we decide who is the greatest? Some folks don’t even bother to ask the question. They just naturally assume we are the greatest. This is usually what historians and political scientists refer to as nationalism. Nationalism is the overwhelming belief that you live in the greatest country in the world. Germans think Germany is the best. The French think France is the best. The Chinese think China is the best. We can literally do this until the end of the post.

There certainly is no harm in loving your country. There certainly is no harm in being proud of your country. The United States has done plenty of good here at home and throughout the world. However, a number of folks would point out that we’ve done some bad things too. Pointing out the good and the bad is not a leftist agenda or liberal propaganda. It’s what good history teachers do. They give you as complete a picture as possible.

The best analogy I can give as a history teacher is comparing history to being the fan of a team. No one really argues about whether their team is the greatest team in the league. The standings and playoffs do that just fine for us. A few people have the belief that you never say anything bad about your team, but most people think that’s just silly. We yell at the television when they make a mistake. We call in to call in shows and complain about the coach/manager when they make a decision we disagree with. Sports history buffs often go back and debate what the best and worst trades were in franchise history. We obsess over decisions made 20, 30, or 50 years ago. There are far too many parallels between regular history and sports history.

The temptation is to treat this latest presidential decree like the announcement for space force. Most of the people in the space industry are laughing at space force and most observers seem to think it will go away as soon as he goes away. Certainly, he wouldn’t be the first president to make an announcement that is self-serving and backed by nothing. This is what presidents do.

I can’t do that with the 1776 commission because I know there are legions of politicians and influential people that buy into this idea. Essentially, you teach kids that America is great, has always been great, and always will be great. Anyone saying anything to the contrary wants to destroy America and has to be stopped at all costs. Any history teacher that looks at a negative event or an event where a decision was made that had a negative impact on people is teaching anti-American propaganda. They are just a nasty liberal.

So, imagine the sports analogy again. Imagine you are a Texans fan. Obviously, they are the best team in the league. Why did they lose all of those games? Well, they were cheated by the league and by the officials. If it had been a fair fight then they would have gone 16-0 and waltzed all the way to a Super Bowl title. Remember those trades everyone said were stupid? Fake News. They were brilliant. You just don’t understand why. Anyone saying anything bad about Bill O’Brien or any of the Texans are just Cowboys fans in disguise. If you don’t support everything the Texans do then move to Dallas you filthy carpetbagger.

I think you get the idea. When you remove critical thinking from the equation you never grow. If the Texans don’t figure out that management is making mistakes they will never get better management. If we as historians never talk about the negative aspects of our history, those negative aspects never quite go away. If we deny the presence of racism then we never do the work to rid ourselves of racism. If we deny that we have treated people unfairly then we don’t correct those mistakes and we continue to treat people unfairly. It’s really that simple. It’s okay to love your country and to be proud of your heritage. In fact, that’s a good thing. It’s not okay to gloss over those negative things because people are afraid you might not love your country as much as you once did. A truer and deeper love requires that we love everything. We own everything. We accept everything. What we choose to ignore will continue to fester.

Of Karens, Kens, and Snowflakes

You can tell how old people are by the language they use. I’m certain no one under the age of 50 uses the word “groovy” with any regularity. For awhile in the late 1990s and early 2000s things were “krunk.” I’m still not exactly sure what that meant, but it sounded good and you were cool for a few minutes if you were able to fit it into a sentence successfully. Speaking of “cool”, there’s another one. I digress.

The newest monikers this year seem to be calling people Karens and Kens. The great fountain of Wikipedia defines Karen as “a pejorative term used in the United States and other English-speaking countries for a woman perceived as entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is appropriate or necessary.” Ken seems to be the same for men, but there have been other names thrown out as examples, so you might have heard something different.

I’ve never been a big fan of labels. Labels often take on their own meaning and so they don’t accurately describe the behavior. Everyone pictures someone in their head and that mental picture is different for everyone. We saw this a few years ago with the renewed emphasis on bullying. As a former counselor and as someone interested in mental health, I generally applaud anything that empowers people, but we quickly descended into calling everything bullying until it ceased to have any real meaning.

It finally came to a head for me when my daughter came home from school on consecutive days and said someone was bullying her. On both occasions we asked her to tell us what actually happened. What she described wasn’t bullying. I had to do the same thing when I worked as a counselor. Describe the behavior without attaching the label. Often times I don’t think the word means what people seem to think it means.

We fast forward to the Karens. Karen was originally a term meant to simplify a description of a woman (almost exclusively white) that would loudly complain about things that no one else really complains about. The implication is that they had so much privilege that they had extra time on their hands for the complaint.¬†As you might suspect, this was done as a way to own (another relatively new term) the opposition in quick fashion. Don’t waste time describing bad behavior. Just come up with a name that encompasses the behavior.

I’m admittedly old and don’t pay too much attention to cultural trends. The first time I remember hearing the term was when a white woman hadn’t leashed her dog. A black man asked her to leash the dog and she angrily threatened to call the police on him. That happened over the summer. I’m almost certain the term is older than that, but like I said. I’m barely paying attention.

The term snowflake has been around for awhile. It was originally a term conservatives used to poke fun at liberals that got offended at something that was racist, sexist, or generally culturally insensitive. It has become so pejorative that it almost always has the word “liberal” preceding it. Again, the online dictionary defines snowflake as “an overly sensitive or easily offended person, or one who believes they are entitled to special treatment on account of their supposedly unique characteristics.

So, what is the point of all this? Simply put, a number of people have perfected what some would lovingly call the “self-own.” Again, I love these new terms. The self-own happens when someone throws around one of these terms all the while exhibiting the very behavior they are prescribing to someone else. This is when we coined the phrase, “it takes one to know one” as kids. Sadly, that phrase has gone out of style.

We see this everyday from people that complain about politically correct behavior. They complain when they are asked to take a diversity sensitivity training. They complain when anyone brings up the idea of systemic racism. They complain when someone points out that there is a thing called “white privilege.” They complain and they are angry. So, who is exactly being the snowflake here?

The same thing happened yesterday on social media. Someone was describing something that had happened to them. They were so offended. Someone else chimed in and called it a battle between that person and a Karen. Somehow, I think they missed the point of what a Karen actually was. I’d go into specifics, but I think all of us can imagine such a situation. Heck, there are moments when we might exhibit those same behaviors without realizing it.

This is why labels like Karen, snowflake, and bully have so little meaning these days. Everyone immediately pictures someone in their head for all three. The fun part comes when we imagine someone that exhibits those characteristics simultaneously. We have to admit that there is a lot of overlap there. Yet, we have all been a Karen (or Ken), a snowflake, and many of us even a bully at some point in our lives. Yet, use any of those terms and most of us will immediately become defensive. If you call out the actual behavior we might be more receptive.

Science is on the ballot

There are things I never thought I would have to say or talk about. However, people seem to like it when I get personal, so I thought I would talk about my childhood yet again. When I was in school I seemed to enjoy science. It wasn’t my favorite subject. I think if you have read my blog for any period of time you would guess what my favorite subjects were.

However, I still remember vividly that the cheerleaders would change seats and sit behind me for some reason on test day. That was until I took Chemistry. I won’t reveal my teacher’s name because that would be rude, but she managed to suck any joy I may have had for science completely out of me. I got exactly two detentions during my high school career and she gave me one of them. It was for having my book wrapped incorrectly. That’s right. It wasn’t for not having it wrapped. It wasn’t for not having my book. It was for it being wrapped incorrectly. I could see the students of today saying, “tell me more about this book wrapping of which you speak.”

Shortly before Christmas we were taking a test. I wasn’t feeling well. In fact, I had already planned on going home early following the test. I could feel myself getting really sick, but she never let anyone go to the restroom. I didn’t make it through the test. I ended up throwing up on the test, myself, the girl in front of me, and anyone else within a five foot radius. I stayed home for two days (more out of embarrassment than anything else). As my wife said after hearing that story, “there went your chance of dating that girl in front of you.” As if I ever had a chance anyway.

Those stories are important for two reasons. First, they helped shape me as a teacher. That teacher’s nickname was “Satan”. Nobody liked her and that included the staff. When you are a teacher, you know who that teacher is on your campus. Everyone knows that teacher. The last thing I ever wanted to be was that teacher. No one wants to be responsible for students hating school or hating a subject. I could be called boring. I could be called hard. I could be called easy. I never wanted to be called cruel.

Secondly, science became my least favorite subject. I don’t like math either, but I have always been good at mental math and I have a fairly developed interest in statistics. So, we will have to call that good in terms of interest. Yet, even though I have little interest in science, I still think it’s important and something we should pay attention to.

If you are plugged into politics, you saw the president talking with some scientists in California. They were concerned about climate change and the effects it is having on the wild fires in California. They urged the president to pay more attention to climate science and to work with climate scientists to prevent more disasters from happening. He responded by saying it would get cooler eventually. Don’t worry.

It’s one thing to disagree about the implications of science. It is one thing to disagree that what we are noticing in science is something to change national policy about. It is another thing to deny science itself. “It will get cooler” is both dismissive and overwhelmingly stupid at the same time. It’s like the congressman that brought in a snowball to “prove” that global warming didn’t exist. When did this happen to us?

When we were kids, they told us that global warming would eventually destroy us. No, the world did not turn into a disaster movie, but I don’t know if people have been paying enough attention. We seemingly have wild fires all year around on the west coast. We have five tropical storms in the Atlantic ocean at the same time. In 1983, Hurricane Alicia (that’s an A meaning it was the first storm of the year) hit Galveston in September. It is September. if all of those storms reach tropical storm status we will be moving into the Greek alphabet.

Temperatures are getting hotter and hotter every year. Glaciers and ice caps are melting. The ozone layer has holes in it. These are all facts. We can certainly disagree on what policies we need to adopt to address these facts, but denying the facts won’t get us anywhere. Now, the sophistication of the denial depends on the relative intelligence of the person doing the denying.

The village idiot in chief says short quips like, “don’t worry, it will get cooler.” Others use the presence of snow as an example of the absence of global warming. Compelling. Others are a little more thoughtful. For instance, they point out that temperatures have only been routinely documented for a little more than 100 years, so how do we know about warming patterns over hundreds or thousands of years? Like I said, that’s a little more thoughtful, but ultimately the scientific community has reached a consensus. Global warming exists and we are involved.

I could wax poetic about the need for scientists and experts, but I will simply say this. One of the things that separates human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom is specialization. We each have become experts in something. Our society functions when we allow experts to use their expertise for our entire benefit. When we deny what those experts tell us or attend Facebook University to get our own “facts” then we threaten the very fabric of society.

Now, I can choose to listen or not listen to those experts. My doctor can tell me that sugar is bad for me and that I need to adhere to a certain diet. I can choose to ignore those warnings every now and then. I can choose to follow or not follow the advice of other experts in my life. However, I do that at my own peril. I also don’t deny their expertise. I don’t suggest that some kook in a Youtube video has got it right and hundreds of real scientists have gotten it wrong.

Yet, that seems to be a real theme in this election cycle. Wearing a mask and social distancing have become political issues. I don’t need to see a bumper sticker on your car to know who you are voting for. I just need to see if you are wearing a mask and social distancing. I listen for your opinions on vaccinations and flu shots. I listen for your opinion on whether global warming is a hoax. Obviously, this isn’t 100 percent full proof. Yet, increasingly the advice of doctors and scientists has become a political issue. When did we slip down this rabbit hole?

The Big Mistake

1980 was a revolutionary election in many ways. It marked the end of a major period in American politics and ushered in a new era of conservatism. It would be wrong to say the last 40 years have been dominated by conservative politics. We had Clinton for eight years and Obama for eight years. Contrary to popular belief, neither really governed from the left.

All that being said, the miracle of the 1980 election wasn’t the fact that trickle down economics was actually bought and sold. The miracle was that the Christian Right became a thing. It became a thing with a candidate that had been divorced and was a Hollywood insider. He took on a candidate that was quite literally a Sunday school teacher. Jimmy Carter might not have been a great president, but he is undoubtedly a great man. He still builds homes for Habitat for Humanity. The man is past 90.

The entry of the Christian Coalition into politics itself was something. Most ardent Evangelicals shunned politics and for good reason. American politics is a mine field for dedicated followers of Jesus. Everyone focuses on abortion, but if you believe in sanctity of life it’s hard to argue for the death penalty. Then, when it comes to social justice you have a virtual quagmire of different policy options and debates to consider.

The big mistake was when the liberal wing of the Democratic party began to seem anti-Christian. Every political party wants a big tent. You want to attract all kinds of people and the Democratic party wanted to appeal to those that weren’t Christian and were concerned about religious freedom (or freedom from religion).

A whole generation or two later and it seems impossible for some to understand that someone could be a Christian and a liberal at the same time. The concept seems foreign to them. Wait, you must not be reading the Bible right. Maybe you need to pray on this and talk to your pastor about where you might be confused. You can’t be a liberal and a Christian at the same time.

What they might not understand is that I’m not a liberal in spite of being a Christian. I’m not a Christian in spite of being a liberal. I’m a liberal becausee I am a Christian. I’m a Christian because I am a liberal. My beliefs definitely motivate my politics. It’s impossible to separate the two. Of course, this is the way it works for conservatives as well. The idea is what you choose to focus on.

The Democrats in 1980 had the ultimate candidate on this front. Carter was always considered a good man. Many disagreed with his politics, but the party began running away from Christianity. All of the presidents have been Christians and most were regular church goers, but they really couldn’t run on that. That’s because the Democratic party bought into the battle that the Christian Coalition laid out. They set up abortion as the number one issue in Christian politics.

If Christ is supposed to be the center of Christianity then it would make sense that we should focus on what Christ focused on. Go back and read the Gospels. Read them again. Show me where Christ talks directly about abortion. Yes, he talks about the law and he talks about sin, but he never mentions abortion specifically. This is because the whole concept of abortion is a modern construct. I’m sure it happened, but this is a fairly modern phenomenon.

This isn’t to say that he wouldn’t have been opposed to it. This isn’t to say that it isn’t wrong in the vast majorirty of instances. This is simply to say that abortion really wasn’t the core message of his ministry. So, if it wasn’t the core message of his ministry then why are we making it the core issue in American politics? Even if you follow religious teachings from today, they would consider abortion to be a sin. A mortal sin, but still a sin. Is avoiding sin or calling out sinners really at the core of his ministry? Are we simply reduced to our sin? Wasn’t the whole Easter miracle about overcoming that?

So, if abortion really isn’t the most important issue then what is the most important issue? I go back to the two main commandments he talked about. Loving God with all our heart, mind, and strength and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. What does that love look like? Well, this is well worth the debate and it is something that people on the left and right can debate about. Ceding the argument to the right was never the right answer. We have a whole lot we can offer on the subject.