In a Democracy, Criticism is Love

A lot of people mistake criticism of America by citizens as hate towards their country. I would argue the opposite is true – that criticism is love when it comes to democracy.

American democracy is an ongoing experiment, one that remains in pursuit of a more perfect union. And so, America consistently tries to live up to the ideals on which she was founded. And when the government that represents us does not live up to those ideals or starts to stray away from democratic principles, we must correct America’s course, through constructive criticism, through dissent and protest, and through the vote.

In America, the citizens are not static witnesses to democracy – we don’t sit idly by when our representatives behave in ways that contradict American ideals. We don’t sit on our hands or keep our mouths shut when we see systemic racism and an unfair justice system. We don’t just go along with a president who inspires and praises a violent insurrection against our country. Instead, we speak up loudly and condemn lies and the deplorable actions that spring from those lies, and we do so because we love America, not because we hate America.

As citizens, we are not parented by our government. We are not obliged to remain silent in deference to government officials when they go afoul of democratic principles and American ideals.

In a democracy, the citizens are the parents or the controlling authority, and when you see your child behaving poorly, you don’t ignore the behavior because you love them. Instead, you criticize the behavior, demand that they change the behavior. . . . because you love them.

Somehow, our understanding of the relationship between the government and its citizens has gotten totally twisted. So many of us view our President or government as infallible parental figures that should be obeyed and respected at all times. We think that speaking out against either means you don’t love or respect America.

In a democracy, criticism is love. In a democracy, criticism is our responsibility, especially when we see America straying from the principles on which she was founded.

Patriotism Polluted

What does it mean to be a patriot?

We’re finding that it means different things to different people and that patriotism today is shaped by where you get your information.

Many Americans view the insurrectionists who stormed the US capitol as patriots, mainly because of what they were told by a lying president and by conspiracy-based news sources, neither of which benefit from a truthful accounting of the 2020 presidential election.

The former President’s attorney general, William Barr, stated that he knew the President’s claim that the election was rigged was “total bullshit.” More than sixty cases were brought to courts across the nation by the President’s legal team — all of them, including the case heard by the US Supreme Court, were rejected as baseless bullshit.

But the court’s decision, and all the states that ratified the results of the 2020 election, don’t matter to Americans who continue to get their information from the former President, or conspiracy “news” agencies and websites, mainly because both are telling Trump supporters what they desperately want to hear.

Millions of Americans simply don’t want to hear the truth because they are too uncomfortable with what that truth reveals. They’d rather live in the comfort of the lie than the discomfort of facts. I don’t think this is a liberal or conservative phenomenon – it’s a human one that is further complicated by the sheer quantity of misinformation available to people.

Under normal conditions, people eventually resign themselves to the truth, even when the truth is painful – they can be honest with themselves because the truth is plainly evident and indisputable. It’s what Hillary Clinton supporters and the supporters of every other losing presidential candidate go through. Disappointment, denial, acceptance.

But we’re not living under normal conditions. This time around, we face a cult-like leader who cannot accept the truth of his defeat because of his narcissism. Trump is bolstered by a cottage industry of conspiracy-based websites that profit from lies and misinformation. And a congress of cowards who fear being “primaried” out of a job does nothing to help their country.

Now that the former President is in legal jeopardy, we should expect him to react as any criminal backed into a corner does, with desperation, fear, and violence.

If American democracy is to survive, she’ll need to rely on true Patriots in the coming months.

Fake Patriotism – Blech!

Republicans all over Facebook are trying to hijack patriotism with fake-ass outrage at an Olympic athlete protesting. These are the same people who turned a blind-eye to a lying ex-president who inspired and praised an insurrection against the United States of America.

“Look at me supporting the flag wavers, the anthem standers, the pledge sayers – I’m a true blue American!!”

Blech!

Posts of proud and talented athletes draped in the stars and stripes, don’t make you “patriotic.”

Posts showing disdain and disgust towards the American athlete who protested, don’t make you a “true American.”

And all the patriotic posts in the world won’t erase the un-American act of supporting a President and a political party that tried to overturn a free and fair election and destroy our democracy. That dark, dank, stank envelops you. It sticks to you like white on rice, and you can’t “patriotic-post” your way out of it.

You want to be a true blue American? Speak out forcefully against the big lie, protest voting laws that make it harder for your fellow citizens to vote, and show your outrage at the refusal to investigate a politically-motivated insurrection against your country.

Be a patriot, not a parrot

They say that patriotism is the last refuge
To which a scoundrel clings
Steal a little and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you king
– Bob Dylan

Injecting patriotism into politics is nothing new. But what we saw under the Trump administration was a dangerous and poisonous variant of political patriotism that continues to threaten our democracy today.

Trump weaponized patriotism — not to marshal and unite Americans for the greater good of the country, but rather to pit Americans against one another. Trump understood that a divided America was his best hope of holding onto power — and a false and cheap patriotism was a way to achieve that.

Trump’s patriotism smacks of fascism. Its mob-like and fervor-based. It’s an America-first / white-is-right / bend-the-knee-and-kiss-the-ring form of patriotism. It’s anger-based and nationalistic. It feeds, grows, and lives on grievances, bigotry, and religious intolerance.

And what mattered most with Trump patriotism, was how loudly you proclaimed it, or how prominently you displayed it. Volume, visibility and violence were the primary elements in measuring one’s commitment to Trump’s vision for America. From MAGA hats, to Trump banners, to beating capitol police officers unconscious with American flags, Trump patriotism was loud, obnoxious, violent, and devoid of American values and human empathy. It drove a wedge between Americans and divided the country into two groups – those who shared Trumps warped view of American democracy, and everyone else.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a plethora of puffed-chested patriotic posts on social media from Trump supporters. Images of the American flag, videos of the Pledge of Allegiance, pictures of the Statue of Liberty, in what seems to be a reflexive response to the continued coverage and news stories about the January 6th insurrection.

As we learn more about that day, we now know with certainty that the violence behind the insurrection, and the ongoing lies about a stolen election, are inherently tied to Trump and the Q-wing of the Republican party. And so, many traditional republicans find themselves caught in this fuck-tangle of lies and un-patriotic behavior from the leader of their party.

What to do when faced with this sticky wicket?

Well, what we’re seeing from many Republicans is an almost obligatory need to vomit out a bunch of flag and pledge posts on social media. Maybe they think they can “patriot” their way out the conundrum in which they find themselves.

“Look at me, I love my country!!!”

I’ve no doubt that many of these folks are decent-minded Americans who actually do love their country and are now trying to reconcile their support for a man who cheered and praised the January 6th insurrection against America.

I almost feel sorry for them. Almost.

By the way, I’m not suggesting that everyone who says the pledge is un-patriotic  (though publicizing it on social media seems a bit, I don’t know . . .  .  over-the-top) . What I am saying is that reciting the pledge in-and-of-itself is just a gesture, and has nothing to do with being or not being patriotic.

I can teach a parrot to recite the pledge, that doesn’t make the Parrot a Bald Eagle.

And in the case of Trump supporters, it doesn’t matter how often or how loudly you proclaim your patriotism, it doesn’t change the fact that you voted for an autocratic white nationalist who defied, and continues to defy, our democratic principles.

We’ve drifted so far away from the true meaning of patriotism, it’s difficult to see how we get back on track (though voting the biggest fake patriot out of office, was a good first step.) 

Fake Political Patriots and False Prophets

There’s nothing like a group-pledge to form a cheap and easy kinship with your fellow Americans. Tie-in a political message like “Make America Great Again” and voila, you’ve got yourself a vociferous Army that you can feed for years with cheap and empty platitudes of patriotism.

Under the previous Administration, it was considered patriotic to shout racial epithets and condemn African Americans (and others) for taking a knee in peaceful protest against systemic racism.

Under the previous administration, it was considered patriotic to support the government when it dispersed peaceful protesters with chemical agents.

Under the previous administration, it was considered patriotic to separate children from their parents and put them in cages.

Over a four-year span of a cult-of-personality presidency, many Americans came to believe the act of supporting a president, even when he obstructed justice and abused the power of his office, was also patriotic.

America desperately needs to get back to a quiet, purposeful, and dignified patriotism. A patriotism that that unifies citizens around the democratic principles on which this country was founded, rather than a politically-fueled patriotism that divides us.

In order to do so, we must disentangle patriotism from politics.

If the four-years of the Trump presidency taught us anything, its that we need to view political patriotism with a healthy does of skepticism and suspicion. Deploying cheap, simplistic, and empty patriotism for self-gain, is not patriotism — it’s a form of fascism.

We need to continue pushing in the right direction

America is not perfect, hence the phrase to form a more perfect Union – the movement towards that objective a more perfect and more complete union, is what makes America great. It’s the journey towards self-improvement (and all the work that entails) that will continue to define America.

America is at a crossroads. To go in the right direction, we don’t need empty patriotic gestures, we need a steady, consistent, and united push towards that more perfect union.

Flag waving and saying the pledge won’t get us there – actions in support of democratic principles will.

So, be a patriot, not a parrot.

Trumpocalypse

Trumpism is America’s Zombie Apocalypse.

It’s a growing and spreading mass of ravenous unthinking humans, driven by a blood-lust, unable to communicate ideas, moving forward in a dangerously backward and unproductive way, while the rest of humanity scrambles to stop the spread.

Fortunately, we know the cure. All that’s needed is for rational republicans to gather up some courage and speak the fuck up. Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer rational republicans willing to do so. Instead, we’re witnessing a stunning comradery of cowardice.

The longer this goes on, the worse it gets, not only for the GOP, but for our country.

Trumpism is a metastasizing and cannibalistic political movement hell-bent on eating American democracy.  The ousting of Liz Cheney and the failure of republicans to speak out against it, lends oxygen to this dangerous political movement and increases the likelihood that it will consume the Republican party.

This is not a movie. This is real.

A house divided

Republicans in congress want to remove Liz Cheney from a leadership position because she refuses to lie.


Let that sink in.


If she’s removed, how do GOP voters continue to support the party that removed her?


This isn’t about removing a republican who isn’t conservative enough. This isn’t about punishing a rogue politician for going against the platform or for shitting all over long-held republican beliefs. In fact, Liz Cheney embodies the conservative principles that for years defined the GOP.


The effort to remove Cheney stems from her audacity to speak the truth and contradict Donald Trump’s outrageous lie about a fraudulent election.
It’s as simple as that.


The GOP has devolved from a party of ideas, to a cult of personality. They’ve cut a deal with devil, to save themselves from a rabid, fact-denying, and hateful base of voters.


How will rational republicans react to what’s happening to their party? Will they fight, or will they just say “fuck it” and go along with a dangerous game of follow the liar?


Is there a strong and deep enough desire to return the GOP to a party of ideas, or will they bend to the will of conspiracy theorists, religious charlatans, and a crazed pillow salesman?


Anyone who rationalized their vote for Donald Trump on the basis of being loyal to the GOP, has some serious soul searching to do. Will republicans do the tough work that entails, or will they let someone as despicable as Donald Trump become the architect of the new republican party?

The great divide

Even when faced with video evidence of George Floyd being slowly murdered by rogue cop Derek Chauvin – Even after listening to the testimony of fellow police officers and expert medical witnesses – Even after the last syllable of “guilty on all 3 counts”, many Trump supporters are still unable to get on the right side of the issue when it comes to racism in America – why is that?

I think the Chauvin verdict was difficult pill to swallow for ardent supporters of the “law-and-order” president.

With the recorded murder of George Floyd, Trump supporters, like the rest of us, saw with their own eyes, what Black Lives Matter protesters and activists like Colin Kaepernick have been saying for years – that there’s a serious problem in America.

And here’s how fractured our country is. When it comes to the George Floyd murder and verdict, many would rather remain silent, than take a position that might inch them closer to someone on the other side of the ideological divide.  

The deafening sound of silence from Trump supporters at the end of the Chauvin trial shines a light on the deep chasm in America today, which exists because so many are willing to elevate ideology over truth and humanity.

“You’re un-American!” “NO, YOU’RE UN-AMERICAN!!”

How is it in a country full of Americans, half of us consider the other half un-American, and vice versa?

To me, this seems like a fairly recent development.

Some people who know me today might categorize me as a “Godless libtard, who cares more about immigrants than real Americans.”

These same people probably didn’t categorize me at all 10 years ago — even though I was pretty much the same person then — a progressive liberal atheist.

On the flip-side, 10 years ago, I probably didn’t categorize some of the people I knew as “fascist-leaning individuals who’d rather wrap themselves in the American flag than care about their fellow human beings” — but that’s how I’d categorize them today.

So, what’s changed?

In terms of our politics, I don’t think we’ve changed all that much. The biggest difference is the manner and degree to which we broadcast our politics. That’s totally different than what it was 10 to 20 years ago.

Today, we have access to a social media soapbox, and many of us get up on that soapbox, and with a keyboard as our megaphone, we share our opinions (and other people’s opinions). We speak our values; we argue politics, and whether we realize it or not, we present our views on what it means to be American.

I used to think this was a good thing. Now, I’m not so sure.

Too often, our use of social media results in a singularly-focused and myopic view of one another, to the exclusion of the many things we likely have in common – a love of music, parenthood, art, literature, sports, science – the things that we could (and used to) connect over, but now, choose not to, because of political tribalism and a strange social media sectarianism.

Social media magnifies and intensifies our political differences, making it difficult to recognize or even care about things we have common. This unintended consequence benefits foreign enemies, who flood social media with content designed specifically to deepen the divide between Americans — and its working splendidly. Facebook has turned out to be the perfect crowbar to our Pandora’s box- dividing our American house and weakening our country from within.

How do we combat this?

The genie is out of the bottle in terms of social media. Its unrealistic to think people are just going to stop using it – and let’s face it, it’s a bit of an addiction.

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter rely on two very human traits; the desire to communicate with one another, and our desire to fight with one another.  Combine those two things with an insatiable need for affirmation, and you’ve got the perfect weapon for division and discontent.

The “thumbs up” or “heart” emojis are like herrings to a seal, as soon as we receive them, we instantly bark out more opinions on Trump, Biden, Guns, Abortion, Religion, and Immigration — widening the gap between one another, burning bridges, fueling hate.

Weirdly, social media is weakening the fabric of our country by allowing us to show others who we are, and what we believe in. We were a stronger / less vulnerable country when I didn’t know your politics and you didn’t know mine. If we both liked the Beatles, that was a good enough foundation to at least be kind and respectful to one another.

I looked back at some of my early social media posts, a lot of them had to do with my kids; a shared newspaper article, pictures from family gatherings, photos from sporting events or school dances. You know the schtick, obnoxiously proud mom or dad posting stuff about their son or daughter — often embarrassing them in the process.

“Ah, the early and innocuous days of social media.”

I looked at some of the respondents to those early posts. Interestingly, I’m pretty sure if I shared similar kinds of posts today, many of the same respondents would make a point of not responding.

No emoji herrings for me!

Many who responded fondly to my innocuous posts in the past, probably think I’m an asshole today. In their eyes, I’m a meme machine – a opinionated jerk – an atheist – an intolerant liberal fuck — and I totally get that.

When 9 out of 10 FB memories are rants about politics, you might have a problem (talking about myself here), and who can blame others for seeing you solely through a political lens, if that is all you show them?

It’s not easy to un-see what you see on social media, and some posts leave an indelible mark on our opinion of others and vice versa.

My High School has its 40th reunion this Summer. Our last reunion was in 2016, before Trump won election — before the war, so to speak. But even at that stage, you could see battle lines being drawn on social media. I even remember a plea from one of the organizers to refrain from talking politics.

A lot of shit has transpired since 2016. I know I’ve annoyed the fuck out of Trump supporters on a near daily basis (and vice-versa ). I wonder if we’ll be able to put our megaphones down for 5-to-6 hours and just pretend that we’re not offended by one another? I hope we can, though I expect some top gun-like maneuvers, as we buzz around the clambake tent, trying to avoid in-coming liberals or conservatives who might be looking to engage.

Social media has wrecked us. Its a shame, I wish it were different, and I don’t know how or even if we can fix it.

I think the best approach is to talk more about what we have in common — lead with those things, rather than politics – broadening the perspective might help lower our emotional temperature.

Broken, we are

America

We’re good on paper

But don’t deliver the goods

We swallowed the hype

Got lost in the woods

Don’t love our neighbors

Mistrust them instead

They’re a little too blue

or a little too red

So, let’s disagree with

whatever they said

 “They don’t really look

American to me”

We can’t seem to get

beyond what we see

Be it color

or religion

or ethnicity

We get lost in the hateful

Shit that we read

And we share all the garbage

That displays on our feed

 and the news

that we choose

isn’t news at all

Just a place to trawl and brawl

Then scrawl on our wall

We set up our camps

are told to pick sides

It widens the gaps and deepens divides

We no longer talk with each other

We talk at each other

We’re in a constant state of agitate

arguing is now our default setting

So easily triggered and never forgetting

We don’t live and let live

or live to forgive

We’re an angry flock of bots

Always bratty, catty, and taking cheap shots

Always posting and boasting

and political roasting

 We’re walking-talking bumper stickers

We’re cheap and shallow politickers  

Our house is burning

 Our ship is sinking

we’ve got no solutions

just meme-based thinking

We’re a promise broken

A useless token

A hatred spoken

Black Lives Matter, Stop the Steal, and a Demagogic Puppeteer

Close-up Of Businessman’s Hands Saving Piggybank From Hammering

The impetus behind the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is systemic racism.

People join and support BLM to protest a system of justice in America that treats people of color differently than white people. From that perspective, the BLM movement comes from noble place – the desire to right a wrong in our society.

This past Summer, the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer sparked outrage and widespread protests, deservedly so.

Rising up and taking to the streets to protest that murder was an entirely appropriate response by Americans. And, if I remember correctly, when some of those protests turned violent, that violence was condemned by democrats and republicans alike.  

Most Americans agree that violent protests cannot, and should not be tolerated. That said, it’s important to understand the psychology of a riot.

Marin Luther King said:

“I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.

And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.”

The BLM riots were the result of America failing to acknowledge the mistreatment of black and brown citizens by our justice system, which has been going on for years.  Prolonged injustice needs but a spark to lead to protests and riots, and the George Floyd murder was that spark.

Contrast that with the January 6th “stop the steal” protest, which turned into a violent riot.

The January 6th protest had nothing to do with prolonged injustice. It was not borne out of years of systemic racism. Instead, the January 6th protest was a planned and calculated attempt by our president to disrupt the certification the 2020 presidential election.

The impetus for the January 6th protest was the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was rigged. There is not a shred of truth to that claim. But, as we all know; Donald Trump does not care about the truth. So, he pushed the false claim of a rigged and stolen election to millions of Americans in the weeks leading up to the January 6th rally. And on that day, he again lied to the thousands in attendance.

None of this is in dispute. We know that President Trump spread lies and false claims about the election, and we know that he assembled the rally on January 6th to disrupt the certification of the election by congress.

The primary difference between the BLM protests and the Stop the Steal protest is the legitimacy of the issue being protested.

Systemic racism is a real and legitimate problem in America. We have data showing black and brown citizens are treated more harshly than white citizens by both the police and by the courts. In short, for BLM protesters there’s a genuine issue at hand and a real reason to be angry, and George Floyd’s life being extinguished under the knee of a white racist cop, brought an ugly and graphic clarity about racial injustice, to millions of Americans.

In contrast, what Trump supporters were protesting on January 6th was not justified. The very foundation of the Stop the Steal protest was built on lies. There was no widespread voter fraud. The election was not stolen. President Trump did not win in a landslide.

How do we know that the issues being protested on January 6th were not legitimate?

We know this because:

  • The votes were tabulated and Joe Biden had 7 million more of them.
  • The votes were recounted several times, and Joe Biden still had 7 million more of them.
  • Every challenge that the president’s legal team brought to the courts was defeated in resounding fashion.
  • The Trump Administration’s Attorney General reviewed the claims of widespread fraud and said there was none.

The indisputable truth is that President Trump lost the 2020 election.

Now, if the candidate that I supported and trusted lost an election, and then went on to tell me every single day for weeks at a time, that the election was stolen, and that the consequence of that stolen election was that my country was going to be destroyed, I might have stormed the US Capitol as well.

Take what Doctor King said about riots and apply it to what happened on January 6th:

I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.  And, what is it that America has failed to hear?

They failed to hear that my vote was stolen – that the election was rigged, that I won’t have a country anymore if the election is certified

I honestly believe that millions of Americans believed what Trump told them every day for weeks before and after the election – that it was rigged and stolen. And for the thousands that showed up on January 6th,  the only way to stop the steal was to stop the certification, and that meant storming the Capitol building. So that’s what they did, at the behest of our lying president.

The issue many of us are grappling with today is how did we get to the point where millions of Americans are resistant to facts and immune to the truth?

How did this happen on such a mass scale?

I believe it was the perfect storm of the browning of America, globalization, religiosity, and an opportunistic and depraved leader.

More than any other President in our history, Trump understood the value of other people’s fear. He understood that he could use that fear to his own advantage.

Trump understood that connecting with people over fears about our changing demographics, what it means to “be American”, growing secularism, and loss of manufacturing jobs, would override everything else – including truth and facts — because fear, national identity, and religion resonate at an emotional level.  

Trump knew the quickest and easiest way to get people to vote for, and support him (no matter what), was to connect with them over fear.  

Trump’s connecting with voters over fear didn’t involve engaging in meaningful dialog or the difficult task addressing our changing world – instead he commiserated – not because he was genuinely empathetic, but because he knew both the power and expediency of commiseration.

Trump saw early on that if he could get the disenfranchised to believe he was with them in terms of their fears around abortion, immigration, and globalization – he would have them in his pocket. Once he achieved that, he could “shoot someone in the middle of 5th avenue” and it wouldn’t make a difference to supporters.

Trump’s fake commiseration around religious issues, immigration, and globalization led to a fact-resistant base of supporters, and emboldened the President to embark on his Hitleresque desire to rule a nation.

Trump knew that once he connected with people over fear, he could lie to them with impunity, and that they would follow him off a cliff, or to the doors of the US Capitol.