What is Trump?

Angry_TrumpDonald  Trump’s rise to the top of the GOP heap is a symptom of classic American anti-intellectualism, which unfortunately is the real cancer eating away at the Republican Party.

While many see Trump’s rise and even Sanders’ rise, not as anti-intellectualism, but as purely symptomatic of a growing frustration with establishment government, and certainly to some degree that is true, Trump is something much more sinister. The current discontent with the establishment was summed up nicely by a smart conservative friend of mine when he said, “People are getting tired of business as usual in politics and want change. I truly believe that the lack of term limits, and the creation of career politicians that are more worried about their next fundraiser or election instead of doing what’s right, is the cause of what we are seeing now.” But let’s evaluate this idea by analyzing both Trump and Sanders.

We’ll look at Bernie Sanders first. Sanders is a mostly economic phenomenon. His supporters are comprised of largely young, student loan-laden voters who have come to realize that our politics have rigged our economic system to favor the wealthy; to their exclusion. Our system capitalizes profits and socializes losses, something that became painfully clear during the subprime mortgage crisis and the subsequent extensive bank and corporate bailouts of the last decade, and they see Sanders as a catalyst to shake that construct apart. But being frustrated in the status quo does not an anti-intellectual make.

Trump’s rise is much more than simple frustration with the establishment. His brand of political populism in the Jacksonian sense is often a fairly clean inverse of anti-intellectualism. As wonderfully documented in Richard Hofstadter’s brilliant book, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,” we know that this phenomenon ebbs and flows throughout our history, and here we are again.

But instead of a true salt of the earth populist like Jackson, today we have the billionaire Trump.

Trump is the perfect poisonous mushroom sprouting from the great pile of crap that was and is the rise of the Tea Party as the dominant Republican identity. These are the xenophobes, the homophobes, the conspiracy theorists, the racists, the birthers, the anti-science (read global warming deniers), the religious zealots, and other malcontents coalescing under a Gadsden flag umbrella and whipped into an angry frenzy by 24/7 “fair and balanced” nonsense and propelled by YouTube ranters and misinformed bloggers.  Trump is the absence of critical thinking. He’s the antithesis of reasonable discussion. He’s the personification of the comments section of any Fox News article about anything social or political.

In a nutshell, Trump is a creation of the GOP’s inability to keep its fringe on the fringe, and the party is all but lost as a result.

Why is Brexit a bad thing

brexit-shutterstock2On my Facebook page this morning, I posted the following:

Well, the only silver lining I can think of is that at least this morning, it feels sort of nice to not be in the most embarrassingly backward country in the developed world…‪#‎BrexitVote‬

One of my friends who has relatives in the UK who supported the exit vote, asked me why it is a bad thing. So this was my response:

Where to begin?

First, it creates uncertainty and instability in financial markets as we’ve seen and will continue to see.

It stymies business growth and opportunity for UK citizens and for those wanting to do business in the UK.

It certainly stymies the ability of their citizens to physically move and to move goods and services around Europe or for others in Europe to go to the UK.

From a security perspective, the UK retreating from the EU may have a large destabilizing effect on the rest of the EU states, particularly those with fairly large hard-line right wing factions that would like nothing more than to retreat in to old ethnic camps.

Remember the EU was born from WWII under the theory that nations that trade together and share common interests, are less likely to go to war with each other. So this retreat is a colossal – and potentially dangerous – step backward.

Finally, the one person cheering louder than the fanatic who just assassinated Jo Cox, is Vladimir Putin.

Hopefully that puts Brexit in some geopolitical perspective.

My gun control position in a fairly large nutshell

My gun control position in a fairly large nutshell:

imrs.phpThe US has a ridiculously high homicide rate when compared with the rest of the developed world because of our obsession with guns (see chart to the left). This obsession means we have more guns than we have people in this country.

Guns are a controllable factor and yet we do virtually nothing to control them to the degree where it makes a significant difference in homicide rates.

It’s as bizarre as it is appalling. It’s as if we’ve discovered a virus that kills and have a vaccine to stop it, but choose not to administer it. I’m not saying all guns should be banned; I’m saying that they should be tightly, dare I say “well” regulated,  as per the text in the Second Amendment.

All that said, yes, gun homicides have declined and as I’ve said elsewhere, will likely continue to decline for reasons unrelated to regulation.

And if the question is, “Is the likelihood of dying from a gun greater than many other devices/vehicles/objects/persons?”

The actual answer  is “it depends.”

If you own a gun, your chances of dying by gun increases (most likely by eating your own barrel according to the data, but of course accidents and domestic violence play in). If you are a poor, minority, young male, your chances of dying by gun also increases.

My chances of dying by gun are very small but that doesn’t stop me from wanting Congress to act to help others avoid tragedy.

We’ve made cars safer. We’ve made car seats safer. We guard against vaccine-preventable diseases. We’ve made workplaces safer. We’ve made food safer. Wherever we can find a controllable factor, we’ve endeavored to control it, with this one obvious and embarrassing exception.

The challenge of the Second Amendment: revisited

I jotted this piece down in 2012 after the Aurora, Colorado massacre. It is sadly just as relevant today as it was then and is eerily similar to what I wrote last week regarding the Orlando, Florida LGBT massacre. Notice that between then and now, the only thing that has changed is the volume of guns purchased by certain Americans. We have long passed the point of absurdity on our collective inaction. We need to move our political representatives to act. And if they don’t act, they must be voted out.

secondamendmentA week ago, some deranged lunatic in Colorado decided to take an arsenal in to a crowded theater and shoot a bunch of innocent people who were doing nothing other than trying to enjoy an evening at the movies.  It was a horrible tragedy and now that the collective national shock has subsided, as sure as the sun rises, the tried and true “gun control” debate has begun popping back up.  And as with any gun control debate in the United States, the Second Amendment gets bandied about by gun fanatics and gun control proponents alike.

By way of reference, here’s the Second Amendment to the US Constitution as a brief refresher to us all:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Fast forward from 1791 to today, 2012 and let’s take a scan around the world to see how well the intention of the Second Amendment would fit in to a city needing to protect itself.

The Syrian city of Aleppo is under attack by the Syrian government; specifically, the Assad regime. The city [read its people] has been bombarded by artillery, tanks and helicopter gunships.  While the rebels in Aleppo seem to have held strong, the Assad regime’s bloodthirsty and indiscriminate shelling of cities and neighborhoods over the past several months have proven that the regime has no regard for civilian lives and safety.  So the only real recourse for the people of Aleppo has been to flee, en masse.

Here’s where we start to draw some distinctions. The Assad regime possesses a mere fraction of the sophisticated military firepower of the United States. Given that, what if the men, women, and children of Aleppo had a well regulated militia courtesy of their own Second Amendment? How well regulated and armed would this militia need to be if it were to withstand the government’s constant and ruthless bombardment?

In the United States, it’s ridiculously easy to go out and buy a handgun or maybe even a semi-automatic assault weapon, but how does a civilian populace needing to protect itself from a modern military force, go about buying a Bell AH-1 Cobra helicopter or an F/A-22 Raptor fighter jet or even a run of the mill FIM-92 Stinger surface to air missile?  Of course it’s meant to be a ludicrous question, but it is also meant to illustrate the painfully obvious point that the tools of warfare have far outpaced the ability of a well regulated militia of minutemen to guarantee the security of a free State.

As a student of history, I totally understand where the founders were given the age in which they lived, but in the modern age, the best defense against tyranny is no longer a “well regulated militia” armed with even the scariest looking AR-15s, but a well-educated populace (both men and women) armed with a vote.

Regarding the Orlando Massacre, there’s plenty to be mad about

Photo by Jenna Michele Photography

Photo by Jenna Michele Photography

It has been two and a half days.

By now we know that in the early morning hours of June 12th, 2016, a crazed, Islamist extremist took a small arsenal of legally obtained weapons in to a nightclub frequented by the LGBTQ community in Orlando, and then proceeded to murder 49 people and wound 53 more.

Now that the initial shock and horror of that atrocity has started to subside, with the smoke barely settled, people are starting to retreat in to their sadly predictable factions.

Liberals are blaming gun culture in the United States.  A culture that makes possible with obscene ease, the purchase of weapons of mass destruction (unless of course we decide that killing 49 people does not qualify as “mass” destruction). A gun culture that is a fact of American life. A gun culture which makes massacres like Orlando (and Charleston, and San Bernardino, and Sandy Hook, and Virginia Tech, and Aurora, and Columbine, etc.) so “easy” to pull off. The liberals don’t mention Islamist extremism.

Conservatives are blaming Islam. In fact, the presumptive presidential nominee for the Republican Party, Donald Trump, is once again calling on the United States to ban all Muslims from entering the country (never mind that the killer in Orlando was born in New York). The conservatives don’t mention guns.

The reality of course is that this most recent and most deadly atrocity was about homophobic bigotry, fueled by Islamist extremism, and made possible by guns.

There are clearly multiple variables at play. By focusing only on the variable that validates our political narrative, not only are we are dishonoring the lives stolen by this kind of hatred and violence, but we are leaving the door wide open for the next attack. We are being pitifully myopic.  If we only attack guns, extremists will use bombs or knives or whatever tools they can find to main and kill others. In the case of Islamist extremism, if we vilify all Muslims, the extremists among them will simply use anti-Muslim bigotry and xenophobia as tools for recruitment and convenient excuses for more extremism. We clearly have to talk seriously about both the obscenely easy access we have to the tools of murder as well as the perversion of certain religious ideologies that inspire murderous behaviors.

Here is what must happen:

We have to better control the proliferation of weapons designed to kill. As a simple start, people who are deemed too dangerous to board a plane, should also be deemed too dangerous to purchase a gun.

We have to eradicate Islamist extremism. Preferably by convincing adherents that their extremist interpretation of Islam is morally bankrupt to the degree that they begin to once again place value on human well-being; but by force if they insist on violence against others.

Both of these actions are going to take time, so what can we do now? We can ensure that all people are treated with the same dignity and respect expected within a free and open society, particularly people such as those in the LGBTQ community, who are consistently targeted for derision by those who think their holy texts, irrespective of the religion, compel them to denigrate LGBTQ people as unworthy, sinful and broken.  For example, Christian politicians in the United States don’t get to “pray for Orlando” in one breath, and in the next, make the lives of LGBTQ people who aren’t being laid to rest, miserable by restricting their restrooms or the marriages or their adoptions or whatever else they can find that helps them discriminate in the name of “Biblical” or “family” values.

Fundamentally, we have to champion and promote the “liberal” in the classical sense and secular values that make pluralistic societies work. These are the values that erode the walls between factions. We have to promote across the globe, freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of conscious, freedom of ideas, freedom from tyranny, and the rule of law.

If history is any guide, understanding that our problems are more complicated than any one faction would have you believe will take time. So in the meantime, consider a contribution of financial support to the victims now.

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We all will make a difference. We have to.