Dear Old Friend:

You saw my Facebook remarks about listening to the audiotape made surreptiously at the US/Mexico border when little children were being removed from their parents’ arms. There was shouting and weeping, and it made me cry, sitting there, hard tears. This happens to me.

But you just couldn’t resist a response. What is your solution to the immigration issue? you asked. What is your solution—I notice that now it’s an immigration issue, not an illegal immigration issue. But I see no issue. I and others like me are not deceived by this; we’ve known all along people like you would prefer no immigration at all. As if you weren’t raised just like me, with the notion of a melting-pot America. What happened to you?

(I know, I know; that question is rhetorical. You’ve been brainwashed by Limbaugh and Shapiro and Fox Not-News, and since the illegitimate election of a racist to the highest office in this country, you think it’s OK to fly your racist flag in public now. But the fact is, people like Sean Hannity are preying on your fears and your false perceptions. The border crisis is a myth. Immigration has been falling. Doesn’t hurt wages or increase crime. Isn’t in the top 100 serious challenges for our country. Read this and become informed; it will make you feel better.)

Let me remind you that your people were once immigrants and no doubt arrived here illegally, too, unless they arrived after 1920 or so. Unless you are of Native American extraction. As to the rest of it, you know my feelings, so I don’t know why you bother to ask, other than to disturb my sleep (since I tend to check FB before I go to bed). So let me remind you that I have skin in this game. Remember that I have married two immigrants, and the first had let his legality lapse by the time I married him.

But long before I married the second immigrant, I developed empathy for those who are simply seeking a better life. I became a single mom; I lost a job during a recession; I worked two full-time (40 hrs/week) minimum wage jobs and freelanced in my spare time, such as it was. My son was on the Federal Free Lunch Program; I sought food stamps. To do that, I had to spend hours waiting in line, taking time off from my poorly paid work. Let me tell you, it is expensive to be poor, and it is hard to climb out of the hole once you’re in it. (I know you grew up in poverty, which is why I’m always so surprised that you … well, you know.) I lived in a 650-square-foot apartment in a complex that also housed many Mexican folks. Were some of them illegal? I’m sure they were. They were young men, often; I learned that they came and worked and lived poor and sent their money home to their wives and children. When I saw them shivering in the wind in front ot a taco truck parked in the laundromat across the street from our apartments, I was heartbroken.

As time went on, I had many conversations with “the least of these” as the Bible calls them, people I met where I lived, where I worked (often janitors, of course), where I ate (long conversations with Mexican waiters in the presence of my son). Not only did my empathy grow but I began to understand that I live in an abundant land. Seriously—have a look. I truly believe that we have enough here to go around. We have—until trump arose—one of the most desirable countries on earth and we export our culture unremittingly. It’s no wonder people want to come here from all over the world.

Do I have a “solution” for that? No. It’s not my job. Way smarter people than me … (this statement does not include trump, or Stephen Miller, or, in fact, anyone in trump’s administration, because they are subpar intellects and subpar human beings and, we are seeing demonstrated, criminals, wholly unqualified to collect garbage, much less run this country; surely you’ve seen the news so you know this, yes?) … but smarter people than I have reasonable solutions, so I don’t feel the need to spend my precious time, which must needs be spent earning a living, on this.

My second immigrant husband now has nearly ten thousand dollars invested in the immigration process, and we are nowhere near the finish line. In fact, a process (exchanging a temporary, 2-year Permanent Residency card to a permanent one) that should take a year is now approaching the one-year mark and we’ve just learned it could take up to a further 36 months. That’s the wait time. Fortunately we have the means to hire an attorney (who informed us a year ago that every step of the process from here on in must be litigated, i.e., must happen in a court of law) and we are white. But just imagine couples, families, who are separated during this process (I actually have corresponded with some). Just imagine that they are people of color. Just imagine that trump’s jackboots are checking the immigration process of every single case looking for ways to end it. Oh wait—no need to imagine it! It’s happening already. The jackboots are coming. They’re even trying to find ways to take away the naturalized US citizenship of some immigrants.

As to what’s happening on our borders right now, again, you know how I feel. The solution for this trumped-up “problem” doesn’t really matter—using children as pawns is vile, inhumane, and, in fact, illegal. It is an abomination. No matter how many times our illegitimately elected president lies about who “started” this, the data and the facts and the truth exists. The trump government set the policy, and they could stop it; however, they do not.* (Liberal tears, and all that.)

Federal and international law prevent the government from deporting people back to danger. And it’s perfectly legal for someone to present himself for asylum at a port of entry. We know now that DHS is refusing to allow any of them enter. Which is illegal. Note the irony that it is our government who is behaving illegally, not the asylum seekers. Many asylum seekers, therefore, choose to cross between ports of entry—to cross illegally into the US—and present themselves to Border Patrol. When an asylum seeker crosses into the US illegally, he/she commits a federal misdemeanor. Under previous administrations, the Department of Homeland Security usually processed the asylum case first rather than referring him/her to the Department of Justice for federal prosecution. Even if DHS referred her for prosecution, DOJ wouldn’t usually bother to actually prosecute her before her asylum case was complete. But Jeff Sessions, in particular, is convinced that many of these asylum claims are fraudulent, brought by “dirty immigration lawyers” to gum up the system. So DOJ and DHS have stepped up their efforts to detain as many asylum seekers as possible and deport as many of them as quickly as possible. To repeat and emphasize, not everything that’s illegal—meaning against the law or violating the law—is a crime. There are civil violations, like when you get a parking ticket. “Unlawful presence” is one of these. You don’t go to jail or receive any other criminal punishment for being in the country illegally—you get deported (though not, in theory, if you have a credible asylum claim). So being here illegally does not equal a crime. In fact, 45 percent of undocumented immigrants (aka “illegal” immigrants) arrived legally. Forty-five percent.

Those fleeing persecution—most often from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador; also Nicaragua is heating up—should be treated as potential victims rather than presumed criminals. That would be the empathetic, humane thing to do. Fully 76 percent of people who arrive at the border have credible asylum claims. Seventy-six percent! Yet no claims for asylum are being allowed by current DHS. However, there is no reason to take those asylum-seekers’ children away from them. There is nowhere else in the entire world that does anything like this. Trump is the first president to institute a policy to remove children from those seeking asylum. Immigration policy has been discussed and fought over for decades, and plenty of people on the left criticized Obama (and Clinton) for how they handled it, though I don’t think there’s any point in looking backward at this point. This is something new, this is something different: We are talking about seeking asylum and separating families, not border-crossing and deportation.

So, my old friend, don’t come to me like you’re some wise old sage who is going to show me the error of my progressive ways by tangling me up in how I would devise a solution. This policy of taking children is purely political, it’s shameful, and no one with a shred of humanity should support it.

Sincerely,
Your Friend Who Is Not Falling For It

* Since this writing, it has stopped, sort of. There are still no asylum claims being accepted. And ICE is searching public records for every marginal case they can find for deportation.

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Racists at the Breakfast Table

My husband and I had breakfast with another couple on Saturday morning. I have long loved and respected these people—we worked together years ago—and they’d never met my husband, so I was delighted to show him off. On the way to the restaurant, though, I reminded Gerry: “No politics, honey. We just can’t talk politics.”

You see, my old friends are (let’s be frank, shall we?) crazed Trump supporters. I’d always known they were conservative (and I am not); I’d put up with my friends saying, in a mock shocked tone of voice, “You mean you want to pay more taxes?” for years.

But recently (in the last three or so years), they’d become one of that group of evangelical Christians who staunchly—no matter how awful the tweet—support and defend Trump. They’d become shrill. They’d become, even, nasty and mean in their defense of him.

I’d thought we could have breakfast and have a laugh. Yet within fifteen minutes, one of them was asking Gerry what he thought of Brexit. Harmless enough, you’d think. But Gerry’s Irish, Brexit will affect Ireland dramatically, and Gerry has followed Brexit news closely. My friend interrupted. “England is being swamped by people who have no respect for its ancient culture,” he said. Gerry snorted: “England had no respect for Irish culture for eight hundred years! And let me remind you,” he said, “England had such a labor shortage in the 1950s after the war that they encouraged emigration from elsewhere in the commonwealth, such as Jamaica.”

My friend was surprised—history isn’t his strong suit, apparently—but undaunted. He widened his cultural reflections to include Europe, which has, he said, accepted all those immigrants who “want to establish Sharia law”—yes, he actually said that—when in fact, these immigrants are often fleeing from Sharia laws. This went on and on. It covered every hot-button Trump-zealot issue you can imagine—and perhaps some you can’t. My friends were also incensed that Sikhs—if they should pass the notoriously grueling RCMP entrance process—can wear wear turbans as a Mountie.

Finally, my husband told them that they were advocating racial cleaning, and that this sounded racist to us. He kicked me under the table, we ended our meal, and left—a little shaken and relieved to be gone. We’re too old to put up with such ugliness.

Second-Class Something

In preparation for some dental work, my husband needed some prescriptions, including one for pain. The latter triggered a request from the pharmacy for ID. He doesn’t walk around with his passport and doesn’t have a driver’s license, so he whipped out his Temporary Permanent Residency card. But … “It’s expired.”

Oh. yeah. We’re in process.

We started it last July. We have an Official Letter From the Powers That Be that says, essentially, Oh, yeah, this guy, he’s still legal, but we’re awfully busy right now rounding up Dreamers and other immigrants to rip out of the arms of their legal loved ones, busy hunting down the semi-legal immigrants who are still trying to stay alive in the ICE Hunger Games Sweepstakes, so this guy has to wait some more. No, we can’t give you an estimated time of arrival. Shut up.

When we first learned that he’d be walking around with an expired green card for a year, we giggled. Wow, that’s really classy and professional. But yeah, see, we’ve got this letter …

So we went home, retrieved the needed paperwork, went back. Fuming.

In between the house and the pharmacy, Gerry decided to just show his passport—which is not expired (and is pretty stinkin’ impressive, actually, with it’s fancy-schmancy visa inside)—and get the pills and get out of there. He just didn’t feel like the hassle of having to call the store manager to look at and read this letter while he stood by, hat in hand. Gerry has spent a lot of his money in this community—on a house, on remodeling, on a car, on furniture, and always, always from local vendors—and yet this whole exercise made him feel not-good-enough.

I support him in the decision but I would have loved to march in there with him with his expired green card and his not-expired letter and say, See? See? I think it would have been a good education for the staff. It’s why I talk/write about this over and over. Because there are a lot of people who live their whole lives and never meet an immigrant. Or don’t realize they have.

At the end of the day, this story works out for us (that is, we can afford to hire an immigration attorney, and we have the time to wait and wait and wait, and we are white and move through society unnoticed, except when we need a drug on the restricted list). But what if my husband had brown skin? Or a funny name? Or a noticeable accent? (Oh, wait …) What if someone just felt like making trouble and called ICE on suspicion of an expired visa?

We don’t blame the good folks at Kroger who were just doing their jobs. The point here is immigrants—people who are neither here nor there—run into a dozen little roadblocks* like this every day. This experience made Gerry feel “less than.” It made him feel second-class. It made him feel as if he’d just been subjected to extreme vetting at the Kroger Pharmacy counter.

This coming October Gerry will have been resident here for three years, and technically we could start citizenship proceedings. Of course, it’s unlikely he will have his permanent green card by then, so we’ll have to complete that process first (so as to remain “legal”), then start on citizenship. Me, I look forward to another progressive voter in the house, working for change in this bloody state.

In the meantime, if anyone says the words extreme vetting in our hearing, he or she is likely to get punched. You’ve been warned.

* Remind me to tell you about how hard it was for Gerry, a decade ago, to open a checking account in this town (because he didn’t have a Social Security number) before we figured out how to game that system. Remind me to tell you how hard it was for him to get a simple credit card here. Remind me to tell you why it was easier for him to pay cash for his first house purchased in the US than to get a mortgage.

Critical Thinking PSA

I’ve written on this topic—how to find the truth, and why sticking to facts is so important—more than once, three longish articles about critical thinking in today’s Wild West of Journalism.

Eschew Ignorance. Pursue Truth.
I Don’t Care If You’re Partisan. I Do Care If You Perpetrate Lies
The Year in Review

            I’ve probably got another longer article about the difference between news and propaganda in me too—but for now I think I’ve got a couple down and dirty examples that should help those who still don’t get it.* The difference between straightforward journalism and the biased comes down to use of words and use of photos.

Here’s an example of word use:

On Tuesday, with respect to tearing down Confederate monuments, President Trump bravely stood before the world and asked, “Where does it end?”

That’s an example from the Daily Wire, a right-wing opinion website that looks like a news site, complete with “breaking news” headlines. But you see it in the words: “President Trump bravely stood before the world.” Really? I’m rolling my eyes. Legitimate news reportage would simply say, “Donald Trump said.”

Here’s an example of photo use from the same not-news site. In a piece** that has very little to do with Hillary Clinton (except for the fact that the far right would like it to and has been trying to connect her to it for months), the headline mentions her (words, again) and is followed by an unflattering photo of her. One sees this “ugly photo” activity over and over in the right-wing press.

There’s a third principle at play here. The legitimate press doesn’t try to make something out of a long-debunked issue (here’s what PolitiFact says about it), using the name of their favorite bête noire to draw in readers anxious to hear some dirt on someone they dislike intensely.

So there you have it: words and photos. As a last thought, John Wiley & Sons, publishers of the For Dummies series, offers these points for discernment:

  • Look for a slant. Some articles are fair and balanced, but others look more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. If an article has only one source, beware.
  • Consider the source. Even if an article cites external sources, check out those sources to see whether they are being cited fairly and accurately—and do, in fact, reinforce the article’s points.
  • Look who’s talking. If you research the contributors themselves and find that they are experts in their fields, you can be more confident in the entry.

My BS meter goes off all the time, y’all, but I have experience in research and parsing words, and that’s why. I offer this in the hope it helps make it easier for others to spot.

* Actually I think some folks just don’t want to get it. But there comes a time in everyone’s life, I think, when you realize you really need the truth. The facts. No sugar-coating and no prevaricating either. Maybe you’ve reached that point.

** I really hate linking to this website, so I’ve made a screengrab instead.

The Year in Review

It’s been a strange year, yeah?*

About this time last year,** a woman I used to think kindly of posted some [ridiculous, biased, highly charged, partisan] article on Facebook with the comment, “The left can’t see the truth.” (Later in another post, she shared a similar sentiment: “The left can’t see past their noses.”) At the time, I wondered, What TRUTH does she think I am missing? It was a generic statement without a clear meaning.

Did she mean the truth about her candidate, the one she’d self-righteously announced she voted for because she believed he represented her Christian values? (Her words, from an earlier post.) What values,*** exactly, are those?

  • The multiple divorces and infidelities? (I know for a fact the Bible has commandments about those.)
  • The serial lies? (WaPo keeps a list of them.)
  • The lewd behavior? (The man bragged about the size of his penis in an election debate. He bragged about grabbing women’s genitalia. UPDATE: And it appears he had an affair with a porn star, to whom he paid $130K hush money during his presidential campaign.)
  • The white supremacists? (He can’t bring himself to disavow them. Of course, that’s because he’s a well-known racist.)
  • The talk to the Boy Scouts? (His profane performance was deplorable.)
  • Throwing around racially offensive comments like “shithole countries”? (I’ve mentioned the racism, right?)
  • Rounding up immigrants? (The Bible says: “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. … Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” —Matthew 25: 42–43, 45)
  • I could go on and on and on.

But it’s not just this specific “friend.” (I say this in quotations because I don’t feel we are friends any more, frankly.) I can’t tell you how many times I have read (or had said to me), “She lost. Get over it.” (To which I think and might answer, angrily, that she didn’t actually lose.) A year later, people are still saying that, as if it is a meaningful response to this Seussian world we are living in. In which people like me are left saying, “But the facts are …” and “The law says …”

I realize now that this friend was just spouting some verbiage she’d heard, mostly likely on Fox (Not)News. Or that her husband read on Breitbart or listened to on Rush Limbaugh. “Talking points.” And for the last couple years I’ve been telling myself, Well, they’re just brainwashed. Remember, a year ago it had been six months since I’d spoken with my brother. I was already aware of the political brainwashing phenomenon. As an article about this issue in Vox points out:

Information [on the right] is evaluated not on conformity to common standards of evidence or correspondence to a common understanding of the world, but on whether it supports the tribe’s values and goals and is vouchsafed by tribal leaders. “Good for our side” and “true” begin to blur into one.

This is the frighting situation we face. There is an entire industry devoted to disseminating an alternate version of reality that is “good for the [Republican] side.” And the lunatic right wing is snapping it up and passing it around amongst themselves: a University of Oxford study has found that trump supporters and extreme conservatives consume and share more “junk news” on social media than every other political group combined. (You can read more about that here and here.) The McClatchy News Bureau spoke with the lead researcher, Philip Howard:

The findings suggest “that most of the junk news that people share over social media ends up with Trump’s fans, the far right. They’re playing with different facts, and they think they have the inside scoop on conspiracies.”

As a result, he said in a phone interview, it appears that “a small chunk of the population isn’t able to talk politics or share ideas in a sensible way with the rest of the population.”

When I was growing up, our family watched the six o’clock news every night without fail. (I continued this habit well into adulthood.) There were three networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—and each had a respected journalism unit that produced the news program. Everybody had a favorite, a preferred vendor for news. My family watched Walter Cronkite on CBS.

The networks were competing with each other, sure, although not for alternate facts. But now … we have the Fox network. It is utterly biased and often just lies. Fox is all about the “good for our side” (which is the far-right, conservative, wingnut version of the Republican party) and not particularly concerned about the true. I understand that some folks may have started watching Fox fifteen years ago, before this bias was so blatant. It’s like putting the frog in the pot of water on the stove and then turning on the heat—the frog is cooked before it knows what’s happened to it. And Fox viewers are boiled frogs; anyone watching Fox these days doesn’t know what the truth is, because they’ve been gradually brainwashed and thoroughly misinformed over a period of time.

Vox goes on:

From Reagan forward, the US has become much more politically polarized, but the polarization has not been symmetrical—the right has become far more extreme than the left. (That story is exhaustively told in Asymmetric Politics, by political scientists David Hopkins and Matt Grossmann.)

But it doesn’t help much to think of polarization as working purely along a single left-right axis, as though the right has simply moved further right. Instead, there has been a break, a divergence of political worldviews.

On one side is what we might call the classic liberal democratic (small-l, small-d) theory of politics. In this view, politics is a kind of structured contest. Factions and parties battle over interests and policies, but the field of play on which they battle is ring-fenced by a set of common institutions and norms. Inside that fence is “normal politics” — the subject of legitimate political dispute. Outside that fence is out of bounds, in violation of shared standards.

The “game” of politics is defined by explicit rules (e.g., the Constitution), enforced by various legally empowered referees (e.g., courts and the executive branch). But it is also defined by implicit norms, unwritten rules more informally enforced by the press, academia, and civil society. These latter institutions are referees as well, but their enforcement power operates not through law but through trust. Their transpartisan authority exists solely because participants in the game agree it does.

The idea is that when political participants step outside the ring fence and violate some shared rule or norm, they are called on it by referees and must pay some penalty, reputational or otherwise. In this way, political contests are bounded and contained, prevented from spilling over into violence or illiberalism. That’s how democracy—indeed, any framework of cooperation among large numbers of diverse people—works. Institutions and norms provide structure and limits, the shared scaffolding of cooperation.

That is the classic, some might say naive, view. But there has always been a powerful strain in conservatism (think the John Birch Society) that resists seeing itself as a participant in the game at all. It sees the game itself, its rules and referees, as captured by the other side, operating for the other side’s benefit. Any claim of transpartisan authority is viewed with skepticism, as a kind of ruse or tool through which one tribe seeks to dominate another.

That’s the view Limbaugh and others in right-wing media have consistently articulated. And it has found an increasingly receptive audience.

And so people like me sputter on the sidelines. It doesn’t matter how often people with nothing more untoward in their hearts except to point out that the law has been broken, people like my friend will call us names and post ridiculous memes and deny the evidence that truly is right in front of them. My friend lives in an echo chamber in which everyone is repeating the lies, in particular their news sources.

I honestly don’t know how to remedy the situation we find ourselves in. It’s tough to believe in the American ideal of the First Amendment when it forces us to tolerate people like Alex Jones (the proprietor of an unhinged, far-right conspiracy theory radio show and website), whose reason for existing on God’s beautiful blue earth is unclear at best. How a man who earns his living telling public lies (actually, I think he makes his living selling merchandise—T-shirts and suchlike) manages to stay out of jail is beyond me. In fact, in a child custody lawsuit (ex-wife says he’s unstable) Jones’s lawyer admitted Jones is a “performance artist” who is “playing a character,” though that makes no difference to Jones’s equally unhinged followers.

It’s a slippery slope, trying to make distinctions in the First Amendment, but I think that’s where we have to look. The European Union, which also prizes a free press, has passed some strong laws against hate speech. That’s a start, and we can look to the EU for what’s working and what’s not. There must be a way to preserve our free press.

But I think eventually as a society we’ll have to address the concept of fake news. (A good definition is this: Fake News is the deliberate attempt to publish hoaxes and/or disinformation for the purpose of profit or influence. That is, for the purpose of keeping the tribe in power.) As we learned in the documentary The Brainwashing of My Dad, when the filmmaker’s father could no longer watch Fox (Not)News, he gradually returned to the mild-mannered person he had been before he started watching. This truth is demonstrated even more dramatically in the story of Derek Black, a former white nationalist whose father started the first and largest white nationalist website, whose godfather is David Duke … and who went off to college and learned new things and met new people (got out of his echo chamber, in other words) and completely changed his way of thinking (read this post-Charlottesville interview with him here). Eventually he came out—that is, disavowed his racist mind-set and disavowed white nationalism altogether—publicly, first in a letter to the Southern Poverty Law Center and later with an op-ed in the New York Times.

I find Black’s story very moving and inspiring.

It gives me hope.

* It’s been a strange couple of years, actually.

** This was on the day of President Obama’s farewell speech and public (right-wing) outrage about some comment Meryl Streep made.

*** Full disclosure: I’m willing to bet it’s the abortion issue, even though we have the data that shows countries with free access to abortion have lower rates of abortion than those which don’t, just for starters. Even though she would scream bloody murder about Muslims trying to establish sharia law in this country, and her desire to eliminate legal abortion would essentially establish “Christian sharia” law. But you knew it was a rhetorical question, right?

Sunshine Patriots

These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.                                                                                 —Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1777

Ah, fall. It’s football season again, and the armchair patriots are passing judgment yet again. But, excuse me, did our false president just publicly call American citizens sons of bitches? Why yes … I believe he did.

This guy has been working overtime to conflate #TakeaKnee with disrespect for a) the national anthem, b) the American flag, and c) U.S. military veterans. And it’s working. He’s creating anger and discord across our nation. Everybody’s a superpatriot. I wrote about this a year ago, and you should read it again if the Great National Anthem Argument is raising your blood pressure.*

Look familiar? Hmm.

So, patriots, let’s talk.

a) The national anthem. You know it’s a drinking song, right? Here’s what the the Los Angeles Times says about Francis Scott Key’s 1814 poem, Defence of Fort M’Henry:

Key wrote his poem to fit the beat and melody of British composer John Stafford Smith’s “To Anacreon in Heaven”—a popular tune [at the time].

… Most elementary school classes note that the music for “The Star-Spangled Banner” came from a British drinking song. But in his well-received book, historian Marc Ferris, author of Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America’s National Anthem (Johns Hopkins University Press, August 2014) gives a more sophisticated reading.

“The words of ‘To Anacreon in Heaven,’ the song that Francis Scott Key borrowed for the melody of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ is a sly 1700s paean to drinking and sex. Though understated, the line ‘I’ll instruct you, like me to entwine; The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s vine’ is unambiguous,” he wrote.

For the record, Venus is the goddess of love and Bacchus, the god of wine, and entwine is defined in any dictionary.

Key’s poetic effort grew in popularity over the years, but sectarian interests hindered the drive for a national anthem. Who thinks about unity during a Civil War? New lyrics were added to reflect that war, but disunity was the watchword and the era became more attuned to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Dixie.”

Prior to 1931—when it became the national anthem by congressional resolution—various other songs were played at important occasions.

But wait, patriots! When did a football game become an occasion for the national anthem? My Irish husband has always scratched his head over this propensity to reel the anthem out at every little sports gathering. But we Americans are a sentimental people, and though the anthem had been played at occasional games (“important” ones, like opening day) since 1918, it didn’t really become a thing until after World War 2. Author Marc Ferris says, “The anthem was heard everywhere” during the second world war. “Before the opera, before the movies, before the theater.” At the end of the war, NFL commissioner Elmer Layden called for the anthem to be played at every NFL game. And that’s how it started.

Fine, but prior to 2009, players stayed in the locker room until after the anthem was played! What happened? In 2015, Axios tells us in an anthem timeline,

Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake released a report revealing that the Department of Defense had spent $6.8 million between 2012 and 2015 on what the senators called “paid patriotism” events before professional sports games, including American flag displays, honoring of military members, reenlistment ceremonies, etc. The DoD justified the money paid to 50 professional sports teams by calling it part of their recruiting strategy. However, many teams had these ceremonies without compensation from the military, and there was nothing found in the contracts that mandated that players stand during the anthem. [Emphasis mine.]

So in the wake of reduced enlistments eight years after the September 11th event, the DoD decided to goose its pool of potentials, and this is when the conflation of patriotism and professional sports really kicked into high gear. Only in America.

b) The American flag. Here’s what CNN tells us about flag respect:

The Supreme Court has ruled twice that destruction of the American flag is protected by the Constitution, specifically the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, even if the act is unsettling.

One of the staunchest defenders of the decisions, and a key vote in favor of both, was conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was widely praised by Republicans after his death in February, including by Trump.

Scalia spoke about the matter in a 2012 interview with CNN, saying that while he does not approve of flag burning, it is fundamentally protected by the Constitution and the Founding Fathers’ efforts to create a government not ruled by tyranny. [Emphasis mine.]

“If I were king, I would not allow people to go around burning the American flag. However, we have a First Amendment, which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged—and it is addressed in particular to speech critical of the government,” Scalia said. “That was the main kind of speech that tyrants would seek to suppress.”

… The cases were Texas v. Johnson in 1989, and US v. Eichman in 1990. The former case stemmed from a flag burning protest at the 1984 Republican National Convention and a Texas law banning desecration of a venerated object, and the latter responded to a bill from Congress that made harming the flag illegal.

In both cases, the Supreme Court ruled that burning a flag is an act of expression and “symbolic speech,” and exactly they type of action that the First Amendment was designed to protect.

But wait, wait, patriots. Nobody’s burning the flag (which, as we’ve noted, is permissible). The U.S. Flag code has a whole list of dos and don’ts for respecting the American flag. Here are just a few of them that you may have seen being abused around your own hometown (I know I have):

  • The flag should not be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should not be used for any decoration in general (except for coffins).
  • The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed, or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard.
  • The flag should not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, firefighters, police officers, and members of patriotic organizations.
  • The flag should never have any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or drawing of any kind placed on it or attached to it.
  • The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
  • In a parade, the flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle, railroad train, or boat. When the flag is displayed on a motorcar, the staff shall be fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender.
  • If the flag is being used at a public or private estate, it should not be hung (unless at half staff or when an all-weather flag is displayed)[10] during rain or violent weather.
  • The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally [as on, say, a football field], but always aloft and free.

The U.S. Flag Code suggests we stand when the flag is passing in a parade or being hoisted or lowered; it says nothing about standing or kneeling when the national anthem is performed. And, as we’ve already noted, a professional athlete’s right to a peaceful protest is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S Constitution.

c) U.S. military veterans. This is the one that just breaks my head, patriots. How in the world does a peaceful protest about injustices perpetrated against people of color offend—or involve in any way—American veterans? Well, it doesn’t. Here’s what Kaepernick’s colleague Eric Reid wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times:

It wasn’t until after our third preseason game on Aug. 26, 2016, that his protest gained national attention, and the backlash against him began.

That’s when my faith moved me to take action. I looked to James 2:17, which states, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” I knew I needed to stand up for what is right.

I approached Colin the Saturday before our next game to discuss how I could get involved with the cause but also how we could make a more powerful and positive impact on the social justice movement. We spoke at length about many of the issues that face our community, including systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system. We also discussed how we could use our platform, provided to us by being professional athletes in the N.F.L., to speak for those who are voiceless.

After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former N.F.L. player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.

It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.

It baffles me too. I grew up in a military household with an American patriot (i.e., my daddy). I know plenty of servicemen and –women, and the ones I know will tell you straight up that an American’s right to all the protections of the Constitution is one reason why they got into this military gig. They signed an oath to protect the Constitution.

So take a chill pill, armchair patriot.

Take a step back from your outrage and listen to the protestors before you start spouting off. There’s a lot of social injustice going around, if you have eyes to see. (Another post for another time.) But let me leave you with this thought:

  • 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t salute the flag.
  • 200 thousand Amish don’t stand for the national anthem.
  • Some Quakers don’t recite the pledge of allegiance.

But one black man** kneels respectfully to draw attention to injustice in his community and all hell breaks loose.*** The ugly comments all over social media from our fake president right on down to you are just mind-boggling. Shame on him for being a criminal and a self-centered fool. Shame on you for letting a criminal and a self-centered fool shape your opinion about anything.

* And seriously: how many times have you stood up in your living room when the national anthem was played? I’m willing to bet on none. So please: shut up.

** And have you donated a million dollars to charity like this unemployed NFL quarterback has? No? Shut up.

*** Some people might construe this as racism. The fake president is a well-known racist. Is that the sort of person you want to be associated with? No.

 

I Don’t Care If You’re Partisan. I Do Care If You Perpetrate Lies.

When I was a kid, there was a common schoolyard taunt—“It’s a free country!”—usually uttered when one had been caught out doing something that was wrong, bad, stupid, not done, beyond the pale, going to get one in trouble. It was meant to be a defense, a staving-off of criticism.

Last week I read a comment on a New York Times story. Seems there is a right-wing meme going around that Obama’s mother-in-law gets an enormous pension because she watched the girls while he was in the White House.1 When the commenter informed his poorly informed social media friend that this myth had been debunked, the friend replied, “This is America and you can believe what you want.”

Um.

Actually … that’s not a good idea, but it is, in fact, what seems to be happening. Americans who haven’t had to exercise their brains since they left high school have lost their ability to think critically. And then when confronted with all this evidence of their poor choices (All. This. News.) they cry, “This is America and you can believe what you want!”

Or “fake news.” Or, simply … “I disagree.”

One reads that polls are showing our *president’s approval ratings dropping. But not among his hardcore base of supporters. About Donald Jr.’s release of incriminating email, the Washington Post reported,

The Gallup Poll’s tracker has found Trump’s approval among Republicans steady, since February, at 85 percent. Last week, before the new email was revealed, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found 73 percent of Republicans unwilling to believe that the president had colluded with Russia; just 4 percent said he might have done so illegally. …

For many conservatives, the rumble of scandal news on CNN, MSNBC and national newspapers is easily dismissed. On conservative media, from Reddit to Fox News, the story has largely been covered as a conspiracy theory. Monday night’s prime time shows on Fox, which ran after the contents of the email had been reported by the New York Times, largely covered the story as a sideshow.

It’s astonishing to me, but otherwise intelligent people—people known to me personally!—are desperate, it seems, to believe this is all nothing, while my bullshit detector has been going off like our NOAA weather radio during tornado season—loudly and often.

I’ve got an old friend who used to like me until he realized I was a Democrat. He disagrees with my point of view, of course, even though I’m careful to stick to the facts. But a few days ago I realized the basis of our entire problem in seven words. He posted, on Facebook, an opinion piece from a far-right website. (I’m not going to link to it.) And I commented:

“This article is devoid of facts.”

To which he replied, “I disagree.” Ah. The It’s a Free Country Defense.

This article—which could best be described as hate-filled vitriol—was full of lies, kernels of truth twisted to impugn “libtards,” and only looked back in time (Obama, Clinton) to place blame for All This [Current, Bad] News, rather than looking at the source of it.

Your facts are suspect, my friend told me, because he knows I’m a Democrat and thus—because he believes what websites like Breitbart, Right Wing News, Daily Wire2 and uncountable others say about people like me—I am anti-American, Not Good People, and so on.

It’s OK to have differing opinions, I told him, but your facts still need to be, you know, facts. (The devil on my right shoulder reminds me: this is America, and he can believe what he wants. The angel on my left says if we reason together like sane humans, perhaps he will listen.)

I suggest a thought experiment: substitute “trump” for “Obama” in this opinion piece; would he still believe it as truth? Or would he then call it fake or biased? He’s drawn to articles like this because they confirm his bias and because he doesn’t like the actual news he’s hearing right now. He’s admitted as much: All This News about Russian hackers and spies is making him nervous. He’s been “researching” it, but only within his own bubble.

But when I tell him he should trust the American press—the press that hires actual, college-trained journalists3—he stops me. These are my facts.

At this point I realized I’m an idiot to continue to respond but I did anyway. I’m an editor; he knows this. As a professional editor, I told him,

I would never let you cite this article to prove a point in your manuscript about the American press because it’s so clearly slanted and uses inflammatory language. And, again, because it is an opinion piece, not reportage, though it leaves that distinction up to the reader.4 And I’m not saying that because of my politics. For twenty-five years I’ve worked in the Christian industry, twenty of them in the Christian book-publishing industry, which tends to be deeply conservative, so the nonfiction books I have worked on have been deeply conservative (look at my website and you’ll understand this; I have a portfolio). And yet these publishers hire me over and over and over. Why? Because I am a professional, ethical editor who does not allow her politics to interfere with her work. Because I use my professional knowledge and understanding of the way words work to protect their authors from leaving themselves open to the sort of criticism I am leveling here, while still saying in their books things I often disagree with. Because I make sure the publisher is not going to have to remove already-printed books from circulation because of something stupid and potentially subject to litigation discovered inside them. It is possible for a person to be ethical and still know her business. So when I say this article is absent facts, it isn’t because of politics, it’s because I’ve done my research.

My friend said he’s not interested in research, particularly. The This Is America And You Can Believe What You Want Defense.

I have spent hours and hours over the last months responding patiently to my friend on Facebook. Sometimes he asks me to tell him why I believe what I believe. Sometimes he leaves a snarky (or fact-free) comment about something I’ve posted, and I respond with as much sanity as I can muster while resisting the urge to do otherwise. Now I feel as if he is simply disgusted by me and has been trying to trip me up or reveal me as misguided and/or stupid.

So I told him,

If you can’t or won’t trust the institution of the established American press (the ethical kind that labels some pieces “opinion” and keeps the op-ed pieces separate from articles that report current events) … if you can’t or won’t trust the institutions of the American legal system (when both the unfettered press and the rule of law are specifically provided for in our Constitution!); if you can’t or won’t trust the institution of the American intelligence community (which has been diligently tracking the events of the current situation for some years, even when it didn’t know enough to connect the dots), then I think we have nothing left to say. I’m truly sorry.

We leave it there, aside from my parting shot: I don’t care if you’re partisan.5 I do care if you’re repeating lies.

The current *president has declared in many tweets that the so-called mainstream media (those institutions I’ve mentioned) is the enemy of the American people. But aside from the fact that this is how fascists get their start (discrediting the press, then declaring it the enemy, then taking it over so there is only one message, and so on), American patriots—those of us who were raised to respect this country and still believe in its ideals—should know that the Founding Fathers felt the press was so important they called it out in the First Amendment. No, the press is not an enemy of the American people.

What is the enemy of the American people is fake news, pseudo news, heavily slanted news like InfoWars, Breitbart, and on and on. Fox Not-News. It’s created a subgroup of people who are uninformed, brainwashed, intellectually lazy and uncurious … and like my friend, they actually believe the mainstream media are lying to them, when in fact it is “their own people” who are keeping the truth from them.

I know I’m repeating myself here, but it’s true: it’s fine to have differing opinions but facts are facts. It would behoove the electorate to learn how to discern them.

Well, it’s a free country, right? At least for a little longer.

• • •

The Constitution specifically selected the press, which includes not only newspapers, books, and magazines, but also humble leaflets and circulars, to play an important role in the discussion of public affairs. Thus the press serves and was designed to serve as a powerful antidote to any abuses of power by governmental officials and as a constitutionally chosen means for keeping officials elected by the people responsible to all the people whom they were selected to serve. Suppression of the right of the press to praise or criticize governmental agents and to clamor and contend for or against change, which is all that this editorial did, muzzles one of the very agencies the Framers of our Constitution thoughtfully and deliberately selected to improve our society and keep it free.
—Justice Hugo L. Black, in Mills v. Alabama, 384 U.S. 214 (1966)

• • •

1 Sometimes the people who make this stupid stuff up don’t really think it through. If she’d actually been put on the government payroll, there would have been universal outrage among the wingnuts long ago. But then even as I was writing this, I was introduced to another wingnut theory that claims the Obamas borrowed children from another couple in order to get elected. Because Michelle is a man, apparently. Because there are no photos of her pregnant. (Um, there are no extant photos of me pregnant either.) That I have not seen this stuff up till now is an indication of the sheltered life I lead. 🙂

2 It’s actually Daily Wire whose op-ed pieces he was posting. They are truly astonishing to someone like me who only reads establishment press—hate-filled and vitriolic, with lots of “they do this, they do that” meant to be divisive, to push the reader into outrage against “them,” who happens to be me. My friend is mild-mannered but I suspect this anger is how he actually feels. And not just my friend! Lots of people. It’s kind of scary.

3 Regardless of what you think about the mainstream press and its college-educated journalists, I believe it is genuinely trying to do a fair job of reporting the news, unlike the partisan press (Breitbart et al), which calls its output “news,” but which is actually propaganda. Although my friend has a college degree himself, he’s been brainwashed by this right-wing media to think colleges are bastions of liberal professors who are out to brainwash the innocent children of good Republicans and turn them into (shriek) liberals. (Yeah, but it’s a liberal arts school, right?) No, I tell him, they’re just trying to teach kids critical thinking, logic and reasoning, to be intellectually well-rounded, and so on.

4 The Post, the NYT, and other reputable news sources clearly label opinion as such.

5 I was raised to believe two heads are better than one, that we need a conservative opinion at the negotiating table alongside the progressive opinion.

#StudyHistory #ReadABook #FactsIsFactsSir

UPDATE: On the afternoon I posted this (23 July 2017), Jim Wright—a political analyst and top-notch bullshit detector, posted on Facebook: “New White House Communication director Tony Scaramucci said neither he nor Donald Trump accept the US Intelligence Community’s assessment that Russia attempted to interfere in the presidential election. The President of the United States of America, rejects the assessment of the United States Intelligence Community.” This is precisely the This Is America And You Can Believe What You Want Defense I cited earlier. Trump doesn’t like the assessment of his intelligence sector, so he’s going to disagree, and then try to discredit it.

UPDATE 2: It’s still interesting, even if Scaramucci only lasted ten days in the job. Ha.