The Era of Post-Dignity in American Politics

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

— George Washington

Much has been said and written about the campaign and early administration of Donald Trump. There have been myriad attempts to explain “what went wrong” for the Democrats, and many others to pin a label on how our institutions are changing as he begins to demonstrate the gist of the narrative he wishes to create. But as his easily disprovable alternative facts are presented by his supporters as somehow just as believable as real ones, as Congress blatantly tries to disband the Congressional Ethics Committee as its very first act in the 115th Congress, in the aftermath of an election where the Presidential candidate claimed he would throw his opponent in jail if elected and bragged about his penis size on stage, when a Senator is shushed for reading a letter by Coretta Scott King about the racism of a nominee for Attorney General (and that nominee is subsequently approved), when the President of the United States appoints Brietbart’s editor as his chief strategist, a man well known for suing the EPA as the head of it, a woman who believes grizzly bears justify keeping guns in school as the head of public education, and can’t stop tweeting about how “unfair” everything is…we have moved well past attempts to categorize the times in which we are living as “Post Post-Modern” or even “Post-Truth”. We have to recognize it’s bigger than all that. We are living in the Era of Post-Dignity in American Politics.

I’m not claiming this administration or this Congress is any more corrupt than any previous one. It might be, but it’s impossible to judge, because up until this administration our political institutions as least tried to claim that they weren’t completely corrupt. They tried to hide it. They tried to misname and rename and misguide and misdirect. Remember when President Bill Clinton was busted for getting a blow job? Do you remember what actually got him impeached by the House? It wasn’t the act, itself…it was that he lied about it. He tried to cover it up, because getting busted for extramarital fellatio is not the kind of thing a President should do. Now that we have a President who has boasted of “grabbing them by the pussy”, however, we can expect that such wasted efforts at saving face are no longer necessary.

Do you remember when President George W. Bush was mercilessly teased for mispronouncing “nuclear”? For claiming to be “The Decider” and for coining the term “misunderestimated”? Those were the long golden days of a previous era. For the most part, the spelling and grammar errors, the five-year-old’s-fart-joke level of delivery emerging from Trump’s communications to the public are so frequent and so painful, we simply don’t have the available time and energy to track them. Instead, we’ve just accepted the fact that the President of the United States appears to be both functionally illiterate and incapable of sophisticated sentence structure. He is even sometimes praised for a “strategy” of not talking over people’s heads. Our nation’s highest office, one which has taxed the mental faculties of some of the most intelligent men in history, now prefers to communicate in 140 characters. And that’s apparently a good thing, because most of us cannot comprehend more.

Trump signed an arguably unconstitutional anti-immigration order, then publicly sulked when the judges wouldn’t let him have it. The Democrats tried to slow down the approval process for Trump’s cabinet nominees, so the Republicans just rewrote the rules of Congress. A counselor to the President has done an impromptu commercial for Trump’s daughter’s jewelry line on national news. The President of the United States is making money off the US Military by charging them rent in his enormous, tacky tower which he insists on frequenting while he makes “deals”.

Do you remember when President Barak Obama was made fun of for ordering Dijon mustard on his hot dog? At least we don’t have to worry about any of that elitist, ivory tower nonsense, anymore.

In all seriousness, this is a deeper problem than the simple embarrassment resulting from being represented by a man with a strangely orange fake tan and the vocabulary and coherence of an angry child. Congress is dysfunctional at best and blatantly self-serving and corrupt at worst. Our law enforcement can be recorded killing human beings who are not provoking them, yet they consistently go unpunished. We are presented with lies as truths so often that it is difficult to sift through to find facts upon which to operate. The rest of the world is swiftly realizing that turning their backs on an embarrassment incidentally opens up a better spot in the power structure for themselves.

And we allowed all of this by accepting claims that highly educated people are “elitist” and “out of touch” at the same time that we send all of our children into debt insisting that they have no future without a higher education. We cooperatively stepped down the path as our elected officials claimed science couldn’t be trusted because, apparently, scientists are known to be more corrupt than politicians. We dug our own grave as we swallowed the idea that the poor were only poor because they were morally corrupt, women were treated unequally because of their emotional instability, and black human beings bring death upon themselves due to a lack of etiquette. We have become calloused and gullible, believing any line spun out for us that will allow us to believe we are somehow going to be the lucky, chosen ones that rise to the top of the now baseless mythology known as the American Dream. And it is that series of choices which has empowered a government which has no pretenses of dignity. Only by baring the ugliest facets of our souls can we know we are being truthful. We support them because they let us see how truly monstrous they are.

That is where we are. And it’s unclear how we dig ourselves out of it. The United States has been in similar low spots before. Every massive wave of immigrants has been met with an undignified rejection of their humanity, subjected to open humiliation which should have embarrassed the perpetrators more than the subjects. Word War II set the stage for the Land of the Free rounding up and incarcerating Americans solely on the basis of their ancestry, an act which should have left the entire nation shamefaced for decades. McCarthyism was a blatant witch hunt, in which a few manipulative fearmongers convinced Americans to turn spy on their neighbors, submitting them to public harassment and mortification in a circus we attempted to dignify as vetting for “Un-American” activities.

But in each of those cases we were saved by the clear-sighted, clear-voiced few who were willing to stand in the face of monsters and ask “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”. Now, however, we face an uncertain future where such a voice will be mocked on Twitter by a President who has only to stoop to “yo momma” jokes to take the bar lower. Where a call to reason can be subverted by proclamations that facts are not facts, and logic a liability. How do we fight a system which no longer feels that even attempting to appear fair, just, and moral is worthwhile?

This is the question we must wrestle with, if we are to somehow survive this era with both our wits and our self-respect intact. We can’t just sit on the bleachers cheering the most entertaining of the unscrupulous acts before us. We have to recognize these are monsters, and that if we don’t find a way to tame them, one day they will consume us.

The Legal Case Against Trump’s Muslim Ban

Let’s be clear: Donald J. Trump does not have the Constitutional power to enact the executive order he issued last Friday, banning citizens from seven countries from traveling to the United States and barring refugees for 120 days (and refugees from Syria indefinitely). To be fair, he’d (arguably) be technically in the clear if he had made an exception for green card holders, but he didn’t. The United States green card lottery program even has a page titled Permanent Residents Are Entitled to the Bill of Rights. They are also entitled to protection under all federal and state laws. Essentially, once they are granted permanent residence, they cannot be detained or deported simply because of their country of birth. Particularly when the basis for such a ban appears to be religious discrimination. Those who arrived in the United States on Friday evening were not detained and/or deported because of a crime, or a review of their visa/immigration paperwork. They were harassed because the Trump administration has decided to punish Muslims.

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Yes, Protests Matter. Even Now.

Today, in the aftermath of an inauguration speech characterized by the promise of isolationism and fear, over half a million protestors came together to march on Washington, D.C. Thousands more walked into the streets in other cities throughout the United States and around the world. Here’s why, even in the shadow of the Trump administration, those protests still matter.

asheville women's march

Image by Andy Gmitter

Donald Trump has made a career of being “tough”. He says what he thinks, he does what he wants, and he’s not about to get pushed around by a pathetic bunch of whiners. Today’s protest, no matter how massive, is unlikely to change any policy decisions he plans to implement in the next 99 days (although of course we all look forward to reading the 3:00 a.m. meltdown when he realizes more people turned out to protest than came to his inauguration). Similarly, the last eight years have demonstrated a new Republican strategy of politics as a zero-sum game; there is no longer room, it seems, for working together toward a greater good for all. It seems apparent, in fact, that any conversation between conservatives and liberals at this point in history is doomed due to the inability of either party to translate the language of the universe next door.

Given the disconnect, the partisanship, and the blatant callousness of our new President and his supporters, it is easy to dismiss today’s protests as a futile effort, perhaps good for morale but with no substantial effect on the future. But that completely misses a larger perspective, both in what the protests mean for today and in what they create for the future.

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Time for a New Monster?

It has been a week since the election that will put Donald Trump in the White House. In that time, the news has been flooded by articles on how such a widely unpredicted result could have become manifest. Low black voter turnout, white women unexpectedly choosing Trump, the poor and the disenfranchised deciding this man will be their champion, ignorance, racism, misogyny, Islamophobia…all have done their rounds. And while we can debate their relative merit all day long, such an argument ignores the crucial point that all these individual “causes” have a common core: fear.

The article on how we counteract that fear is for another day, however. Today, let’s talk about how we embrace it. A vast majority of us are afraid, whether of our government or of the terrorists who may lurk in our midsts. And that’s nothing particularly new, but the sudden shift in our leadership promises to bring our fears sharply into focus. “Corrupt Government” doesn’t seem to cut it when you’re seriously discussing whether or not the new administration will build deportation camps or embrace torture as an interrogation technique. “Terrorism” fails to capture the sensation of finding swastikas scrawled over the walls of our cities. It’s a brave new world, and with it will surely come monsters.

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The Brass Heart

It was an impulse buy. Half a brass heart, sitting forlorn on a glass shelf in the thrift shop. Like the wedding gowns (and yet strangely unlike the cast off tuxedos), it whimpered of broken hearts and promises unkept. It was $5.99, an outrageous price for a cast off bit of brass jewelry, but, she told herself, a fine price for someone else’s dream.

Anna had never had a best friend, had never really wanted one until she was too old for the concept. Childhood had been a landscape of old trees and broken fence posts with bird nests inside. Of being sure she had made friends with the faeries, and then, suddenly, being not so sure, anymore. Which required gifts and impromptu rituals to reacquire their good grace, reassurances given in the shake of the leaves, the gust of the wind, the carving of a riverbank which clearly meant something. Continue reading

What Net Neutrality Is (and what it isn’t)

You’ve heard about Net Neutrality, but you don’t quite get it. Or you think you do, but your nerdy friends keep saying you don’t. Or you unfortunately arrived here because you searched for ascii porn, and have no idea how Net Neutrality is related. This one’s for you.

The Fast Explanation

Net Neutrality is the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. And by “equally” we mean that different kinds of information on the Internet should all be delivered to the the end user without any regard for what kind of information it is. You ask, you get, and no one is standing in the middle saying “Actually, that info you wanted isn’t important enough for you to get it quickly.” Everyone who makes content available on the Internet can have it accessible to whomever wishes to view it (sadly necessary disclaimer: this applies only to content that is otherwise legal in your country, state, and district). Everyone who wants to view content on the Internet can ask for it and get it at the same speed as any other content. Kind of like how when you pick up your phone to actually call someone (I know, who does that anymore, right?), you expect the call to be completed and the person on the other end to be able to respond in real time, no matter who you are calling. Equal, two-way access, no matter who you are calling. Continue reading

Growing Into Wonder

I hate surprises. It doesn’t matter whether they are good or bad, I prefer to know what is coming at me, so I can prepare myself to make the best of it or decide in advance whether fight or flight is the better option. I have known in advance what I was getting for my birthday since I was 12. I know that this would seem to indicate a stolid nature devoid of any sense of adventure, though I think few people would describe me that way. The thing about surprises is that they tend, in our complicated culture, to be the quick and dirty substitute for something far more meaningful and important: wonder.

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The Kali Principle

A great deal of emphasis is given in our stories to tales of magical creation. Wishes are granted, and the coveted item appears out of thin air. The birth of a child, in many religions, is the beginning of salvation. The creation of a building, or an artifact, or a concrete set of precepts is often the turning point where a tale of misery becomes a valuable lesson. As we go through our lives, working to live up to our own, personal, mythologies, we carry these lessons with us and aim to build and create that which will lead us to wisdom, happiness, and a sense of righteous fulfillment at the end of our time here.

Much less often is the power of death and destruction upheld as a step along this path. Usually, tales of death are only made meaningful when death is magically overcome, or serves the purpose of furthering a noble cause. Destruction is saved for the punishment of the guilty or as a catalyst for greater achievement. Something to be avoided at all costs, but if encountered, to be nobly borne and overcome. What we rarely hear are stories of the beauty and necessity of destruction as a meaningful, sacred thing in itself. The recognition that destruction is a crucial part of all our lives if we are to continue to grow, that death creates the fertile ground for new growth, seems to have been left behind with the harvest festivals and strange, heathen temples of the east. We are a people of creation and building; we never look back. We just continue to build up and out on the basis of what came before. But what if our foundation was built so long ago that the core is rotten? Can we continue to build external supports indefinitely, attempting to shore up that which wants to fall?

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Staring Into The Abyss

For some people, it is simply a culmination of small things, over the years, and it is impossible to pinpoint the one that tipped us over. However we get there, most people, sooner or later, find themselves staring into the abyss. It is a black, bottomless space, without any assurance that there is anything more real than this. You realize that everything you ever had to believe in, everything you counted on as a foundation, was an illusion. You realize that the symbols and trappings of your life are just that: symbols and trappings, nothing more. There is no guarantee that there is a reason, a pattern, a loving creator who will some day tell you why all this was necessary. There are no certainties that “it will all work out OK”, no promises that your loved ones will always be there, not even the comfort of thinking that you, at least, will always try to do the right thing. You are weak, the world is quite possibly a random collection of events, and you know with complete certainty that you are truly and finally alone.

How we deal with this experience has a great deal to do with the people we become. Continue reading