Demagogues

I’ve been thinking and reading about demagogues a lot this summer. Demagogues are political leaders who appeal through pathos rather than logos. For the non-Greek, feelings rather than logic. Most commonly, demagogues manipulate our fear and anger, and they generally direct those emotions at an other or a “them.” Demagogues require opponents as scapegoats. They require division.

We’ve seen their kind many times throughout history, yet I’m optimistic about them. For every one that has risen to power, I like to think many failed to gain any traction. Recognizing them is simple, something I expect any American should be able to do instinctually, yet if you find yourself caught by their influence, it may all seem a bit vexing and complicated. That’s because some of what they’re saying, on some level, makes sense and is, on some level, true. They require reality distorted.

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On ‘Salute to America’ and Questionable-at-Best Leadership

Despite his country continuing to face a historic pandemic and unaddressed racial tensions, Trump is proceeding with his “Salute to America” celebration tomorrow, and that tracks, considering the kind of questionable leadership he has exhibited not only throughout these crises but also throughout his term.

While I’m seeing talk about how much the event is costing us and the wisdom of holding such an event right now, I’m wondering why more people aren’t more outraged about the principle that he’s once again co-opted our most sacrosanct holiday for personal and political gain. Independence Day used to be a day of unity for all of us to set aside our differences and come together to celebrate the best ideals of America, but Trump has turned it into a divisive campaign rally to highlight the worst of America at our expense. Regardless of politics, this should set off even the most adamantly self-proclaimed patriots among us.

It’s not right, and it’s just one more of the countless reasons you shouldn’t vote for him in November. Of course, it is far less compelling of a reason than the thousands of Americans who have died from Covid-19 due to his poor leadership; his woefully inadequate response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the far too many others, and the social movements clamoring for change; and the countless other indicators of his ineptitude and harm; but I digress.

Healthcare in America

Tonight, I went to the ER because I thought I was dying (I wasn’t, and I’m following doctors’ recommendations; I’ll probably be fine). For anyone who has been to a doctor in America, I don’t have to tell you this was a miserable experience. However, maybe you’re super healthy or have just forgotten how bad healthcare in America is (or maybe you’re one of the about 60 million Americans who can’t really afford access to healthcare). In any case, I feel it’s important we all consider the state of healthcare in America this year because we have a really important vote coming up in November.

I felt inspired to write something about this because it’s something I care about. I felt compelled because I’m a writer and that’s what I do. I care because the flaws in the U.S. healthcare system have harmed me and my family, because we call ourselves the greatest country in the world and can shoot a rocket down a brown person’s throat from halfway around the world using a remote-controlled airplane, but we can’t provide adequate healthcare for our own people.

Coincidentally, John Oliver’s first feature story of the new season, which aired last night, does a good job covering some of our healthcare system’s failures and the potential for a medicare-for-all system. And it’s funny. And you can watch it instead of reading it. You don’t like John Oliver? I’m sorry. Maybe it’s his accent, or maybe it’s his personality, or maybe it’s because he’s often right and persuasive and nobody likes to be proven wrong. My advice is to get over that because, if you can’t accept being proven wrong, you’ll never learn anything or grow as a person. Like our president. Maybe you aspire to that. Maybe there’s something else entirely we need to talk about.

Anyway. Personally, I’m skeptical of medicare for all because it would be a big change, and there are a lot of uncertainties, and that’s scary. But I think one of our primary goals as a society should be to reduce and minimize suffering wherever and whenever possible, and there’s a lot that just doesn’t make sense in our current healthcare system, which necessarily has to balance profits with the wellbeing of people, and no matter how you try to make sense of that, it is and always has been cruel.

Maybe there’s some bitterness in the above. That’s probably because I am bitter. There are many reasons for that, but for tonight, I’ll stick with this one. Maybe I’ll talk about more later. Yay, 2020.

One Sentence About This State of Emergency

After two years of holding partisan control of the federal government during which border security was not an emergency, a president the American people don’t want is declaring a state of emergency that doesn’t exist to build a wasteful and ineffective wall the American people don’t want, by taking money from the military’s tax-funded budget, not Mexico as he promised, and to satisfy prejudices and assuage fears he helped create with lies and demagoguery, thus sidestepping democracy and invoking autocracy in the country that used to be the leader of the free world where self-proclaimed patriots and champions of liberty used to criticize a black president for using the power of executive order and now are celebrating victory for getting nothing their country wants or needs, because one failed businessman turned celebrity exploits the popular scorn of modern American politics to convince them he knows best and reinforces that belief with propaganda, confirmation bias, and the cognitive dissonance of a generation that stripped future generations of their prosperity and is losing its grasp on the modern world.

Dark Fiction, Author Anxiety, and Personal Judgment

The lady and I recently watched Netflix’s The Staircase, a docu-series about the novelist Michael Peterson who was charged with murdering his wife in 2001. Similar to Making a Murderer, it’s another fascinating investigation of the American justice system. I highly recommend both of them.

A bit of a disclaimer, though: these are not mystery stories. They are not about whether the suspects did or did not murder the victim (I realize the marketing image I chose to plop down to the right of these words poses that very question, but it’s the most compelling way Netflix could find to sell you on it).

These docu-series put the American justice system on full display, exposing its flaws. They will make you question your faith in the fundamental tenet of American justice that a defendant should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and they will make you question our very humanity, especially given the context of the cruel times in which we live. If you watch them, they will anger and sadden you because the reality they portray is not one we confront often, or maybe because it’s one which we are increasingly forced to come to terms with.

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America’s Identity Crisis and Its Need for Liberalism

I didn’t bother watching the state of the union address this week. I figured that, as long as Trump stuck to the speech he didn’t write, stumbled through nine out of ten words correctly, and didn’t wet himself at the dais, he’d be forgiven the falsehoods and misleading statements, and it appears I was more or less right about that.

I did watch Joe Kennedy’s rebuttal speech, and I found it eloquently expressed an idea that’s been weighing on liberal America these last 18 months or so since the GOP nominated a guy who was not only unqualified and unfit to lead its party, but also a desecration to it.

“Constitutional crisis” has been buzzing around recently because Congress made about as unanimous of a decision as it can (517-5) to impose sanctions on Russia for what our intelligence community is in consensus was an attack on American democracy, but of course, the Trump administration is refusing to enforce those sanctions because he’s a traitor (probably) and democracy is dying and the GOP doesn’t care as long as they win, because party over country, and …

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Hey, Charlottesville

Hey, Charlottesville. I hear you’re having a bad day. I know you pretty well, and I want you to know that, though the world is looking at you today and normally is content to ignore you, I know you’re a friendly, small city in one of the most beautiful regions of the United States, and you’re a beacon of culture, art, and enlightenment, and you’re trying to be a good home for a lot of different people with different stories and different ideas.

And that’s not an easy thing to do.

Much of that is why some of the worst of humanity is there today. You see, they don’t like you. They want to hurt you. They aren’t content to be a part of something great. To them, it is not great unless they dominate it.

But I want you to know that I know they are not you. I know that, today, this is not you at your worst. Today is us at our worst, and it just so happens to have found its way to you.

I’m really sorry about that and wish I could do something. Today, all I can really do is watch to make sure you make it through all right, and when you do, I want you to know I still love you.

It’s About Time For Honesty and Introspection

Yesterday, the president of the Boy Scouts of America apologized for the political content of Donald Trump’s speech at the National Jamboree.

It’s July 2017. Donald Trump has been in office for roughly six months. Before that, we had about ten weeks to really prepare for his presidency. Before that, we endured his despicable 18-month-long campaign, and before that, anyone who was paying attention watched him transition from a once-failing businessman who saved himself by branding and licensing his reputation and becoming an inconsequential celebrity whose only real chance at relevance was stoking fires and pandering to American desperation and resentment through conspiracy theories, lies, and post-truthism.

My point is we’ve known what Donald Trump is for a long time. Or, maybe you’re just joining us because he’s put on full display the worst of America using the world’s biggest stage. Either way, love him or hate him, you know what you’re getting with Donald Trump.

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On Chris Cornell’s Death

If you read Chris Cornell’s obituary today, you’ll learn he was the frontman for Soundgarden and Audioslave; you’ll learn he had a unique voice.

He was so much more than that.

Obviously, he was a person with family and friends who cared about him, knew him intimately, and will never forget him. But he also was one of the last remaining legends of a rock and roll era that has already lost so much or seen its heroes falter and fade.

My wife bought us tickets to see him solo a couple years back at this music hall near our home that typically hosts classical and traditional musical acts. What struck me about him was not his performance. It was his attitude and presence. Alone on a stage in front of hundreds, in a place that was maybe out of his element, he didn’t just command the room, he owned the whole damn building, because we did.

We flooded those halls with t-shirts bearing Soundgarden, Audioslave, and even Temple of the Dog album covers; everything from tattoo sleeves and beards to shaven faces and button-ups.

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On Women’s Day—Thoughts on Identity, Equality, and Discrimination

On Women’s Day in the U.S., here’s what I’m thinking about regarding identity and discrimination:

I occasionally encounter the sentiment that, for example, “I am an American woman, and I’ve never felt discriminated against; therefore, I don’t believe women in America are discriminated against.”

Fair enough. I’m a white, heterosexual, cisgender male, and I’ve never felt like I’ve explicitly or specifically benefited from that in terms of merit-based achievement.

But there’s a problem with extrapolating my personal and anecdotal experience to an entire culture and society; namely, I am not every American man. Not to mention, whether I have, in fact, benefited from my gender, race, or sexual orientation isn’t wholly relevant to what’s commonly referred to as “privilege.” Continue reading “On Women’s Day—Thoughts on Identity, Equality, and Discrimination”