Resist, America!

Happy Birthday, you big ol’ wonderful U S of A, you!

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Doonesbury Archive/Washington Post

More of the same, Mike.  It just keeps coming and coming, crazy outburst after incomprehensible decision.  An unprovoked trade war here, a cruel immigration enforcement policy there…how can we be expected to even keep up, much less resist?  It’s too hard, right?

Yes, it’s hard, but not too hard.  This isn’t over unless we let it be over.  (“Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”)

America can’t throw up its hands and quit because our president lies to us, unconstitutionally profits off of holding the office, threatens our alliances all over the world, and shows no signs of changing his behavior.  There’s more and more of it every day, and it feels like we have no time to rest up from the onslaught from the White House, even a sliver of which would have been unimaginable before January 2017.  In Slate, Dahlia Lithwick used the occasion of the separation of immigrant families at the border last month to encourage us all to speak up and not let Trump’s treatment of America become normal.

That we are finding ourselves unable to process or act or organize because the large-scale daily horrors are escalating and the news is overpowering is perfectly understandable. But we need to understand that and acknowledge it and then refuse it any purchase. Because to be overwhelmed and to do nothing are a choice.

It’s a choice, and it’s also a luxury, because the asylum-seekers at the borders cannot afford to go numb. Female victims of domestic abuse who are coming to the United States to save their own lives cannot afford to go numb. Teen girls denied access to reproductive care do not have the luxury of going numb.

(snip)

There isn’t a lot we can control in the present time, but as any good counselor will tell you, we can absolutely control how we react to what’s going on around us. And this is the scene in the movie where even though you want to fall asleep in the snowdrift, you need to get up and walk around. If you decide to stop swimming and just drift for a while, you’re apt to wake up in a land you don’t recognize. Because “going numb” is the gateway drug to acceptance.

As David Frum wrote in January, reflecting back on the first year of Trump, “the unacceptable does not become more acceptable if it is accepted by increments.” It’s only easier to swallow and more apt to wear down our defenses. Don’t let other people tell you what to focus on. Choose for yourself. Sure, tune out that which makes you feel hopeless. But hold on to what motivates you to act. Find all the humans you can find who agree with you and make calls and register voters. Because if things continue on this way for people without funds, or with brown skin, or for women and children and the sick, there will come a time when we all have fewer choices. This is not yet that time. Get out of the snow bank, find the St. Bernard with the tiny flask of hope, and stomp around like democracy depends on it

You don’t have to be a member of Congress to fight back, although it sure might help if members of Congress started holding the president to account—that is part of their damn job.  We can all start by being careful in the language we use in talking and writing about what’s going on, and not lazily repeating the words Trump uses that make him seem stronger and more rational than he really is.  This is a spot where we all have to make an extra effort because the president has an advantage: our brains just naturally keep track of what is true and what is not, what makes sense and what’s just crazy talk, but he’s just spewing whatever he wants to be true at the moment he says it or Tweets it, with no effort at accuracy, or consistency, or even sensibility.  Lili Loofourow calls it a “linguistic emergency” and urges us to stop reinforcing his defenses.

Sidestep every attempt he and his allies make to equate treating people badly with being strong, because their efforts to link those concepts are working. Neutral outlets are defaulting to his language for what he does—he’s “cracking down” on unions! He’s taking a “hard line“ on the G-7! Driving “hard bargains”! These all position him as powerful, which he loves. The trouble is, it’s wrong. In practice, Trump’s positions slip and slide all over the place. He never got that “hard bargain” he allegedly drove (though he sure got credit for driving it). His deals fall through, his policy shifts depending on whomever he spoke to last. It would be the height of irony if the weakest president on record managed to rebrand himself as the strongman he so badly wants to be.

(snip)

A president’s lack of basic competence is worth accurately reporting on. And it must be reported on when there is nothing else of value worth reporting.

So why doesn’t this happen more? Two reasons: For one, I sense in much of the reporting on Trump a secret fear that maybe we’re missing something. He won, after all. And he keeps insisting that he’s strong despite all the evidence, so maybe there’s something we’re not seeing. This, as many have pointed out, is gaslighting. It’s why he always says he has a plan he won’t describe.

The second reason is that many news organizations still confuse neutrality with accuracy. Better to just report what he says and let the people decide, the thinking goes.

But that’s wrong. And that’s due to the power of language: Simply repeating his fantastical claims makes them seem less fantastical. What a president says usually matters a great deal. But because what Trump says usually bears no relation to the truth (or to what his own policies end up being) it therefore fails to inform the public, and is not worth repeating. He wants to propagate the story of a power he doesn’t have. We shouldn’t help him.

Jon Stewart made the same point, along with some others, when he visited his pal Stephen Colbert last week:

And remember, along with still having our votes to use this November, we in the resistance have one other advantage: unlike Trump, we have a sense of humor and can see the ridiculousness for what it is…all he has is a mirror.  Sad.

Tom the Dancing Bug for Jun 15, 2018 Comic Strip

 Tom the Dancing Bug at go.comics.com

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Considering “American exceptionalism”

Two hundred thirty-six years!  Wow…amazing to think that this country has not just survived, but prospered for that long, given all that it and its people have faced over those seven or eight generations.  Some attribute that to the hand of God, some to the nature of Americans, some to a combination of the two.

If you’ve led a sheltered life, like me, then the concept of “American exceptionalism” is a relatively recent revelation.  Come to find out, today it’s a dog whistle blown by social conservatives amid the political battle, and wielded like a heavy club against those of us who “just don’t get it.”  And so I was very interested to run across a thoughtful series of essays at CNN.com that shed a lot of light on the topic.

The first installment, on the site’s Belief Blog, looks into the history of the idea and makes it pretty clear that it began as a religious concept among the Puritans who fled England almost 500 years ago.  Those people established a theocracy and their descendants were big believers in Manifest Destiny, but the concept evolved along with beliefs about democracy and egalitarianism.  Very interesting reading.

So is the second part, which will bother some “exceptionalists” no end: it looks at the evidence which proves that in some respects America is not the best country in the world, and wonders why some people think that even considering the evidence is a sign of weakness, or treason.

The third rail of American politics is acknowledging we may not be the greatest country in the world.

(snip)

It’s not like acknowledging flaws is the same as acknowledging failure. The business sector seldom rests on its laurels. Successful companies assume there’s room for improvement, and they’ll put themselves through ISO 9000, Six Sigma, benchmarking, best practices and any number of other assessment programs to get there.

(snip)

If businesses don’t evolve, they end up like Atari, Pan Am and Woolworth’s, onetime industry leaders that crashed against the rocks of strategy, innovation and competition. So the successful ones aren’t shy about borrowing good ideas from others.

Then why is it so hard for the United States to admit its shortcomings and do the same?

(Read the piece for the answer.)

And in today’s third installment, CNN political analyst (and longtime Republican political adviser) David Gergen, and his researcher Michael Zuckerman, try to answer the question “What makes America special?” and conclude that exceptionalism, like beauty and more, is in the eye of the beholder, and that the heart of our contemporary on-going political pie fight is a conflict over which of our “core values” is core-est.

…Americans espouse five core values, stemming from key historical experiences, that distinguish us from other Western nations: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism and laissez-faire.

(snip)

…these values can be in serious tension with each other. Those who believe foremost in egalitarianism, for example, run in very different directions from stout defenders of laissez-faire.

In politics, nowhere does this tension between core values play out more starkly than in debates over liberty versus equality. Republicans have traditionally argued that a free society allows everyone to do better, while Democrats have objected that without basic fairness, society as a whole is held back. In that spirit, Romney ardently defends liberty and just as ardently, Obama defends social equity.

So, why should we care about this right now, while we’re preparing to ditch work and fill our faces and gawk at politically-hued ballistics displays in the middle of the week?

On this July Fourth, then, we have an America where many, including our leading politicians, disagree on what makes the country special — and on what values should take precedence. There is nothing inherently wrong with such disagreements: Indeed, a competition of ideas is healthy for the republic. But, as has become painfully obvious, the differences in perspective have become so sharp and deep that we are tearing ourselves apart.

That’s why this July Fourth should not only be an occasion for wondering what makes America special, but also for pondering how we can build bridges across the divide.

(snip)

For our money, the winner of the 2012 election won’t be the one who makes a stronger argument for egalitarianism over liberty or liberty over egalitarianism, but the candidate who joins the two, persuading voters he is best equipped to lift floors as well as ceilings, ensuring every American has an honest shot in life.

Happy birthday, America!