One Year Anniversary

Is it an omen that the government shut down on the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration? Is this a portent of the future for this administration? Is this President going to be known as the head of one of the most dysfunctional governments in U.S. history?

Notice I did not write “unsuccessful.” Trump and his cronies have had some measure of success, as well as some notable failures. But I’m not referring to the keeping of campaign promises. I’m more concerned about whether or not Trump’s government is functioning the way it was meant to by our founding fathers.

Their over-riding intent was that the United States be a democracy. The defining characteristic of a democracy is that it is representative of all its members. The only reason the majority “rules” is because there has to be some way of settling disagreements. But I don’t think they ever meant to set up a government whereby the majority could be manipulated to run roughshod over the minority.

But that’s exactly the kind of government we have today. Special interests pour billions of dollars into congressional and presidential races, think tanks and lobbyists with the sole intent of taking away power from everyone who isn’t like them, making it seem like the majority sides with them on everything.

Most people aren’t even aware that they are being manipulated. They buy the line that their concerns matter more than the concerns of those who have less power and influence. They’re flattered when politicians point to them as the “real” Americans. They believe that they have the divine right to rule everybody else  because they “won.” They no longer understand the concept of or care about the “common good.” They are content to be made in the image of their creators: prosperous, predominantly white, and Christian.

It makes me crazy when “originalists” like Neil Gorsuch act like the Constitution is sacred, as if its authors were some kind of futurists who anticipated everything that would happen to and in this country. They obviously didn’t see the day coming when slaves would be freed, let alone considered equal to a white man, to point to just one example.  Besides, originalists are perfectly willing to remake the law to suit themselves (i.e., keep their power) even if it doesn’t jibe with the Constitution. (See gerrymandering or voter restrictions.)

Trump never meant it when he said that he would represent all Americans. And he’s willing to use conservative politicians and judges to twist the founding fathers’ words so that it looks like it is the minority that is unworthy of representation.

That’s the way Trump’s first year in office looks to me.

 

 

 

What I Think of Trump

The impression I get of Trump is that he is winging it, experimenting with what he thinks will get him the best (in other words, the most) response. (He said once that he wasn’t sure how his idea about building a wall would be received, but once it was met with cheers, he decided to keep on saying it.)

When he does go too far, he backs down, says he was kidding, or even denies that he said or did whatever it was that caused offense. As far as I can remember, the only time he apologized or admitted that he was wrong was when the “grab them by the pussy” tape surfaced. And that was only because the evidence was right there; he couldn’t deny that he’d said it. [He has since said that he doubts the authenticity of the tape.]

I wrote the first two paragraphs of this post on January 3, 2017.  Now it’s January 1, 2018, almost a year later. When I started this post, Trump hadn’t even been inaugurated yet. In almost three weeks, he will have been our President for a year. So what do I think of him now?

Well, for one thing, I think he is a terrible representative for the United States. Instead of making America great again, he has ripped our reputation as a world leader to shreds. The words at the base of the Statue of Liberty no longer apply. In the space of a year, the U.S. has gone from being a beacon of hope and a land of opportunity to an island built on suspicion and self-aggrandizement (much like Trump himself). The countries that still have positive opinions about the U.S. are those that are ruled by strongmen (which is what Trump aspires to be).

So far, it is Trump himself who draws the most fire, but the day is coming, if we continue on the course Trump is setting, when the democracies of the world will no longer look to the U.S. as an example worth emulating.  (With the exception of Israel, which is really happy right now since Trump announced his recognition of Jerusalem as its capital.)

I can’t help but wonder what Trumps means when he refers to a “great” America. Great for whom exactly? Certainly not for immigrants or Muslims. Or the millions of Americans who are teetering on the edge of losing their health insurance. Or those who still have moral values (and haven’t been seduced by politicians intent on staying in power). Or the poor, the young, the elderly, and the working class. Did I leave anyone out? Oh, yeah, corporations and the wealthy. That’s all Trump cares about.

Trump caters to his “base” by playing on their fears: terrorism, unemployment, a takeover by liberals and minorities. By telling them what he imagines they want to hear, he is able to pull off a magician’s trick and make their health care, their chances for upward mobility, and their ability to live in a free and equal society disappear. When he calls the media “fake news” and rails against the justice system when he doesn’t get his way, he is eroding the protections of the very Constitution he swore to defend.

I didn’t want to be right about Trump a year ago and I wish I was wrong about him today. I’m not like some people who say that he’s mentally ill or another Hitler. I don’t even think he should be impeached (partly because I feel just as negative about a President Pence). I just think that he’s a shallow, insensitive, egotistical blowhard who believes that he can shape the world into what he wants it to be, regardless of the consequences to others.

Trump is already one-fourth of the way through his time in office (God willing). If he hasn’t changed his behavior by now, he’s never going to. When January, 2019 (or 2020) rolls around, I don’t expect to see any improvement on his part. I only hope that he won’t have done too much damage to our democracy.

Maybe when the next presidential election comes around, the Democrats’ motto should be #MAAA (Make America America Again). I just hope we won’t be too late to pull it off.

Post-Election Hangover

Being a pessimist is supposed to be a bad thing, but it usually works well for me. It protects me from a lot of psychological turmoil. For instance, by holding dress rehearsals of the worst that could happen, I was able to wake up the morning after the election without an emotional hangover. I hadn’t spent the night high on hopes of a Clinton win; if anything, I was stone cold sober. I just didn’t trust the predictions that she was going to win. The polls looked too close to call it one way or another.

I was so sure that there was a very real possibility that Trump might win that I went to bed at 9 on election night. I had no interest in spending the whole evening stress eating and biting what little was left of my fingernails. Unfortunately I woke up around 1:30 and decided to check the results. Even though I’d been expecting it, it was still a shock when I saw how many electoral votes Trump had. I kept checking the news and people’s responses on Facebook as if somehow it would turn out to be a mistake. There was this disconnect between my intellect and my emotions. My mind was registering the reality but my spirit was wailing, “No! It can’t be!” Even though it hurt, like picking a scab on a wound, I made myself stay up for Trump’s victory speech. I didn’t get back to bed until 3:30 and I had to get up three hours later for work. I’m surprised that I got back to sleep at all.

Having Trump win was almost a relief, not just because it proved that my instincts were right, but also because it ended the suspense. Anticipating something that you fear is usually worse than coming face to face with it.

But I won’t lie, it is also deeply upsetting. What is hardest to swallow is the feeling that millions of Americans agree with Trump about women, sexual assault (“Boys will be boys.”), reproductive rights, immigrants, refugees and Muslims, torture, a free press, civil discourse, and, most of all, the importance of being honest. (I still can’t fathom how his supporters could harp on Clinton’s supposed dishonesty while Trump was repeatedly caught in half-truths, reversals, and out-and-out lies.)

I spent the first few days after the election in denial—except for when I would suddenly jerk “awake” and remember that he really was going to be our next president. (Actually, I still have that reaction whenever I hear or read the words “President Trump.”) I kept imagining his supporters gloating, and indeed, a lot of them have been, especially on social media. What pissed me off the most were the comments about how Clinton supporters/liberals/Democrats should stop their whining and get over it. As if they would have reacted any differently if Trump had lost.

Right now I feel like I’m in a holding pattern. I’m still expecting the worst, but I refuse to go down the road of crying, “The sky is falling!” just because the clouds are hanging low on the horizon.

 

 

 

 

Party Unity My Ass

Some of you may remember the designation PUMA,  which was used to describe Clinton supporters who had an “all-or-nothing” attitude about the 2008 Presidential campaign. In other words, if Clinton didn’t receive the Democratic nomination, they were going to leave the party. (Hence, “Party Unity My Ass.”)

I wasn’t a PUMA then and I’m not one now. I wanted Clinton in 2008, but it was more important to me to avoid a Republican presidency than it was to achieve a female one. So I voted for Obama. I’m not going to go into how that worked out for me in this post, except to say that Obama has been like the boy who stuck his finger in the hole in the dike. If it hadn’t for him, we would all be awash, if not drowning, in a flood of Republican rhetoric and misdeeds. It’s been bad enough as it is.

I voted for Clinton in my state’s primary but I’m not going to pout and sit out the election if she doesn’t get the nomination. For one thing, I’m not as heavily invested in Clinton this time around and I do think that Sanders is a decent alternative. So I have no problem switching my allegiance to Sanders if he becomes the nominee. My main concern is that we nominate the person who can beat the Republican candidate.

The way things are going for the Republican Party right now, it’s beginning to look like the Democrats are the only ones who can give this country a sane and respectable President. There is no consensus among Republicans; they are as polarized as a party as the U.S. is as a nation. As popular as Donald Trump has been in the polls and some of the primaries, he still has an overall disapproval rating of 60%. Even over half of Republican women don’t like him.

Democrats are lucky compared to Republicans: we have two decent choices. I just hope their respective supporters realize how much is at stake if we get another Republican presidency. (Especially if the President is Cruz or Trump.) Not voting at all is a cop-out. Voting for a Republican is a betrayal.

No matter who gets the Democratic nomination, we need to stay united. Republicans would love nothing more than to see droves of Democrats forsake their party. There is no such thing as a perfect political party—or candidate. But if you believe that Democrats get it right more often than they get it wrong, then you need to swallow your disappointment if “your” candidate doesn’t get the nomination and vote for the one who does.

Sexism in the Gaming World

A few months ago I listened to an interview on NPR with Laralyn McWilliams, a woman who works in the gaming industry. (She was the lead designer on games like Full Spectrum Warrior and the creative director for the online game Free Realms. Currently she’s the chief creative officer at The Workshop, a game studio based in Los Angeles.)

About a year and a half ago, what became known as #Gamergate stirred up a tremendous brouhaha in the video game industry. Although it wasn’t specifically about the role of women in that industry, charges of misogyny and sexism soon began to dominate the discourse. Incredibly, women gamers received rape and death threats for daring to speak out about their experiences.

Even though McWilliams herself doesn’t feel that she has been impeded by sexism in the course of her career, she still feels that it is a big enough problem that she was willing be interviewed about it. When asked why she thinks sexism is rampant in the gaming industry she offered these comments:

Tech itself is male-oriented; software is even more male-oriented than that. And because games for many years have mostly made games for men, it’s even more male-oriented than the rest of them. So it’s sort of this more condensed version of all of the problems in tech…

There is a tendency in tech, and in games in particular, that if you are a woman who talks about the issues facing women in games, that becomes what defines you. You become “the woman who talks about being a woman.” When honestly … it largely continues to feel like my gender should be irrelevant.

When I heard this I had an “aha” moment, because what she describes is a perfect description of the reaction many people have to feminists. Even if all you do is point out that women don’t make as much as men (all other things being equal), you are labeled a “woman who talks about being a woman,” or, God forbid, a feminist.

This phenomenon isn’t restricted to women talking about “women’s issues.” Any time a member of a group that is discriminated against dares to speak out about that discrimination, he or she is shouted down for playing the “victim” card. I’ve heard commentators on the (mostly conservative) radio stations dismiss claims of discrimination by calling the claimants “whiners” who want the world to feel sorry for them. Any criticism of the status quo is seen as a ploy to receive special treatment.

They just don’t get it: people who feel that they have been discriminated against don’t want special treatment; they want equal treatment.

I know, I know: I can hear the arguments now against quotas and affirmative action. I’m not here to argue for or against such tactics that are often used to level the playing field. But those tactics wouldn’t be necessary if it were possible to change people’s minds without them. What employer is going to hire a woman if he’s convinced she’s going to take off work too much because of family responsibilities? Or if he assumes she can’t carry her weight because “women are weaker/less competitive/too emotional”?

Some people think that laws reflect the prevailing views in a society and should only be enacted only when there is a consensus for them. But I think that the opposite can also be true: sometimes laws have to be enacted to force society to confront and correct certain problems.

On the other hand, some things can’t be mandated. For instance, you can’t force women to enter the tech field. Nor can you force the public to buy games that were created by women. But women aren’t asking to be accepted just because they’re women; they’re just asking for the same opportunities that men are given.

I realize this is a tricky business. How do you prove that a man was given preferential treatment just because he’s a man or that a woman was denied an opportunity just because she’s a woman? Usually you can’t. But laws can be put into place that protect women who are merely attempting to have the conversation.

 

Call Me What I Tell You to Call Me

Vanity Fair’s July 2015 issue features a glamorous woman on the cover with the words, “Call me Caitlyn.” Inside is a 22-page article about that woman’s journey to trans-womanhood. If you didn’t know any better, you would have no reason to suspect that this woman used to be a man. But because of the media coverage (hysteria?), almost everyone knows better. The irony is that Caitlyn Jenner probably would like nothing better than to be left in peace to be the woman she’s always longed to be. But because she’s a celebrity, she will probably never have that experience.

And yet I think her decision to “come out” in such a public way was actually quite brilliant. Stories about her “fluid” gender identity have been circulating for quite a while now and I applaud her decision to tell her own story. Less than two months ago, Jenner gave his last official interview as Bruce, with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, in which he explained his struggle to become and accept the person he believes he was really meant to be. The Vanity Fair feature is her first public appearance as Caitlyn. And, in his words, “As soon as the Vanity Fair cover comes out, I’m free.”

As you might expect, the public’s responses have been all over the place. Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” made the astute observation that now that Jenner is a woman she is going to have the unfortunate experience of being treated like one; in other words, as if the only thing that matters is her appearance. Many other people have applauded her bravery. Still others feel that she is, at best, in need of some soul-saving, and at worst, an abomination. And then there is the transgender community, which might well see her as its ambassador.

There is also a fair amount of cynicism leveled at Jenner’s actions. She has been accused of doing all this as a publicity stunt and a way to drive traffic to her reality show, which is set to debut this summer on E! Network. She laughs at the idea that she would go through all this (including surgery to feminize her features) just to pay the bills. On the contrary, she sees this as an opportunity to educate the public about what it means to be transgender as well as offer hope to other people who are transgender.

Many people believe that it’s impossible to be “born in the wrong body,” that saying you’re the opposite sex (from the one you were assigned at birth) doesn’t make it true; and that being transgender is a choice. But even the DSM (the manual  used by clinicians and researchers to diagnose and classify mental disorders) recently revised its terminology from “gender identity disorder” to “gender dysphoria” to remove some of the stigma and enable trans men and women to get help with their “profound state of unease or dissatisfaction” about the gender they were assigned at birth. It’s not exactly saying that transgender is as “normal” in its way as heterosexuality or that it’s just one of several ways to be gendered in our society, but it has backed off from treating it as a mental illness.

We need to stop treating being transgender as a disease or a sin and start listening to the people who claim it as their gender identity. There must be some reason why they feel the way they do; it’s not likely something they would make up as a lark. Imagine having others tell you that you’re crazy or perverted just because you’re trying to express who you feel you are at the fundamental core of your being.

When I first saw the Vanity Fair cover, I thought “Call me Caitlyn” was a plea, for understanding and acceptance. But the more I thought about it, the more I hoped that it was a command instead. We all have the right to tell others what to call us and we need to exercise that right without apology. To do otherwise is to lose who we are.