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.




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.





Empathy: Would it Bring World Peace?

world-peace-logo_4qghS_65We’ve all heard the adage (or some variation thereof), “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.” This is about developing empathy, which is in short supply in this world. If there is one thing that causes disconnects between people, it is a lack of empathy. Every time we criticize another person or group, we almost certainly are guilty of not being empathetic.

Being empathetic is not the same as being sympathetic, but most people seem to think it is. Empathy can lead to sympathy, but sympathy doesn’t necessarily lead to empathy. You can feel sorry for someone without entering into his world, or more specifically, his head. In fact, sympathy implies that you are maintaining some distance and looking at a person’s situation from the comfort of your own (superior) position. Empathy is harder to attain and harder to feel.

Months before I converted to Islam, I wrote a post about the Islamic item of clothing called the hijab. (Women’s Rights: The Headscarf.) At the time I had no idea that I was going to convert, let alone that I would ever wear the hijab myself. I felt sympathy for the women who wear it, because of the way they are viewed—and treated—by non-Muslims. They can’t “pass” as non-Muslims, or fade into the background when it’s uncomfortable to be identified as one. (For this reason, I view wearing the hijab as a mark of bravery as much as a symbol of one’s faith.)

But I can’t say that what I felt was empathy. I simply didn’t know enough about what it was like to wear the hijab, what courage it took to put it on every day, the strength of motivation that was required to wear it in a society that is ambivalent (at best) about Muslims.

I’ve heard of social experiments where non-Muslim women have put on the hijab for a period of time (usually a day or a week, at the most) in order to get some idea of what it’s like to be a Muslim woman, let alone a woman who wears one (often known as a “hijabi”). That’s fine as far is it goes, but it doesn’t begin to address all the issues faced by Muslims, like finding a place to pray five times a day, or fasting during Ramadan (or learning how to pray in the first place, if you’re a convert).

I no longer wear the hijab and, in fact, am in a state of flux about exactly where I stand in the matter of religion. I still subscribe to the basic theology of Islam, but I’m undecided about how “Muslim” I’m willing to be. But I will never be sorry that I converted. Because if I hadn’t I don’t think I would have the empathy it takes to understand where Muslims are coming from. I could have studied Islam for a thousand years and it wouldn’t have taught me what I really wanted to know, which is: what is it like to be a Muslim?

Obviously we can’t convert to every religion, let alone pretend to be another race, for instance, in order to develop empathy. But there is a lot we can do to approximate walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

  • We can learn another language.
  • We can travel, whether it’s to a different country or another part of town.
  • We can watch movies with subtitles.
  • We can read, anything and everything.
  • We can listen to different types of music.
  • We can try different cuisines.
  • We can attend a different kind of religious service.
  • We can sponsor a child.
  • We can invite someone to dinner.
  • We can make a friend.

Anything that exposes us to another culture can help us to develop empathy. But the most important step we must take is to stop limiting ourselves to the way of life we were born into. We have to step outside of our comfort zones. We have to open ourselves up to discoveries and be willing to learn something new, preferably every day.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that the more foreign something seems to you, the more important it is that you embrace it.

It’s so much easier to stick to what we’re used to, to take potshots at things we don’t understand, to hang out with people who are like us. But that’s a recipe for disaster. We can see the results in our world today. What is discrimination but an attempt to prove that the group belong to is better than the group you belong to? What is war but a refusal to admit that we all want—and have a right to—the same things: safety, security, sustenance, love, acceptance and happiness, for ourselves and those we care about?

Developing empathy is an ongoing and many-layered process. None of the suggestions above will, by themselves, help you to become deeply empathetic. But taken together, and repeated often, they will help.



Now is the U.S. Ready for a Woman President?

woman man imageEven though I’ve been a feminist since my freshman year in college—so, for some 44 years—I didn’t initially think of writing this blog from a feminist perspective. But then the 2008 presidential race began and I found my focus. The fact that a woman was vying for the Democratic nomination—and making a damn good showing—made me think more seriously about how women are seen in our society. Specifically about whether or not this country was ready—or would ever be ready—to vote in a woman president.

As a Second Wave feminist (a feminist who came of age during the ’60s and ’70s), I leaned toward Clinton because she is a woman. I admit it. After all, electing a woman president would be quite a feather in feminism’s hat. Younger feminists tend to reject the idea that, all other things being equal in a competition between a man and a woman, they should always support the woman. But I’d waited a long time for something like this to happen and I couldn’t help but see it as a historic opportunity.

Of course, electing a black president would also be historic, but I couldn’t help but think that the main reason Obama, as opposed to Clinton, got the nomination was because he is a man; his gender may have outweighed the fact that he is black. In other words, gender was more of an issue than race.

Now here we are again. Except that this time there doesn’t appear to be anyone else who can beat Clinton for the Democratic nomination. And yet I don’t kid myself: that’s not because she’s a woman, or even because she is the best woman. It’s simply because she has more influence, money and power, not to mention experience, than anyone else who might challenge her.

However, that in itself is historic. She didn’t get where she is today by riding on her husband’s coat-tails; if anything, her status as Mrs. Clinton is a negative in many people’s eyes. I voted for Bill Clinton and thought he was a decent president, but I see Hillary Clinton as completely separate from her husband, which is probably the way she wants it.

No one really knows of course, but I’m guessing that Clinton has been carefully planning her political path for years, even before her husband was elected president. Maybe she didn’t see the presidency in her future, but she certainly set her sights on a political career of some kind. And now she’s on the brink of possibly bagging the biggest prize in U.S. politics.

The feminist in me wonders if Clinton is just an anomaly, or if this country is actually more open to women in politics than it used to be. I’m afraid that it’s the former. The U.S. still lags behind many other countries in gender balance in politics: America now ranks 98th in the world for percentage of women in its national legislature, down from 59th in 1998.

But this post isn’t about that (I’ll save that for a later post); it’s about the chances of Clinton becoming president. If she doesn’t win, will it be because of her politics or her gender? I do think that her politics will be an issue, but only if the voter can look past her gender in the first place. A lot of people will say it’s her politics they object to, but really, in their deepest hearts, it’s that they just can’t accept the idea of a woman president.

These are the people whose default leader is always a man. Oh, they’re willing to throw a woman a leadership bone now and then, as long as she stays in her own area of expertise (which usually has to do with caring for or nurturing something or someone). But when it comes to really important positions, like president of the United States, only a man will do.

When reminded that other nations have had women presidents and prime ministers, they reply, “Yes, but those countries aren’t America.” They see the U.S. as unique, as exceptional, which means that it needs to be headed by a person who is also exceptional. The President of the United States needs to exhibit the traits of a true leader, that is, strong, smart, courageous, masterful and powerful. Who fits that bill the best? A man, of course!

The ironic thing is, when a woman exhibits the same traits that we admire in male leaders, it makes a lot of people are uncomfortable, because women aren’t supposed to be like men; they’re supposed to be like women, which means kind, sensitive, nurturing—and indecisive. Women don’t have the balls to be the leader of the most powerful nation on earth.

I hate to think that a Republican will win the presidency mainly because he’s a man. That there are people who have no problem with Clinton’s politics but who just can’t bring themselves to vote for a woman. But I’m afraid that’s just what will happen. I could be wrong; I hope I am. But I’m afraid that this country is still not ready for a woman president.

What Hurts the Institution of Marriage the Most?

Opponents of same-sex marriage say that allowing homosexuals to marry would hurt the institution of marriage. I don’t quite see why: if gays and lesbians want to marry, isn’t that reinforcing the idea that getting married is a good thing?

People who use this argument are failing to see the forest for the trees. They freak out over a handful of relationships nationwide and ignore the relationship that may have hurt the institution of marriage more than anything other kind: that of the cohabiting couple.

My oldest daughter and I were watching “She’s Having a Baby” the other night and for me it brought back memories of a time when marriage was treated with much more respect and honor than it is now. In 1988, when “She’s Having a Baby” was made, living together was only just beginning to be a common phenomenon. (The number of cohabiting unmarried partners increased by 88% between 1990 and 2007. Source: U.S. Census Bureau. “America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2007.”)

But when my first husband and I thought about living together before getting married back in 1972, we didn’t have the guts to do it. We didn’t want to be an aberration or the object of unkind gossip. Besides, to our parents at least, marriage was a very big deal. It was the ultimate state of commitment. So, like the couple in “She’s Having a Baby” we went ahead and got married despite the fact that we were young and naive and didn’t know each other very well.

Would our relationship have survived if we’d lived together before getting married? I doubt it, since getting married didn’t cause us to break up—it just made it harder to. (And more expensive.)

Consider these statistics:

About 75% of cohabiters plan to marry their partners. 55% of different-sex cohabiters do marry within five years of moving in together. 40% break up within that same time period. And about 10% remain in an unmarried relationship for five years or more.  (Source: Smock, Pamela. 2000. “Cohabitation in the United States.” Annual Review of Sociology.)

Cohabitation implies that marriage isn’t as important as we were once led to believe. Many couples go into a living-together arrangement because they don’t trust the institution of marriage. They look at their parents’ generation and wonder why they should even bother to get married. (I’ve even heard people say that the main reason they would consider getting married is to get wedding gifts. Really.)

So why aren’t conservatives berating couples who have opted to not marry (like Goldie Hawn and Kirk Russell)? Why aren’t they holding them up as examples of relationships that hurt the institution of marriage?

Same-sex marriage isn’t weakening the institution of marriage; on the contrary: gay couples’ desire to marry is a vote of confidence. They’re saying that marriage matters. Cohabiting couples aren’t as sure about that.

Sometimes it seems that gays are doing more to promote the sanctity of marriage are than straight people are.



Review of Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity

Whew! This is one long book! (Although it’s not as bad as it seems–out of 960 pages, the last 259 are acknowledgements, notes, bibliography and the index.) The hardest thing about reading a book this size was trying to get it in a comfortable position. I considered buying the Nook Book but it was $19.99, so I borrowed the print edition from the library. (The hardbound book’s price is $37.50.)

The author, Andrew Solomon, worked on this book for ten years–and it shows. It’s incredibly detailed, almost too much so. I can’t even imagine the amount of thought and effort that went into it.

The best–and worst–part of the book is all the anecdotes from the interviews he conducted. They helped to put a human face on what he was writing about and kept the book from being too scholarly. But at times it was hard to keep track of all the family members and their unique experiences; they sort of blurred together after awhile.

I loved the first chapter, which was basically an introduction. It contained so many thought-provoking comments I just had to copy many of them into my journal. The author states his thesis clearly and gives the reader a perspective that makes sense of the rest of the book. This was helpful because when I saw the chapter headings, I couldn’t help but wonder what made him think that all these disparate topics would have a common thread.

Those chapter headings are: Deaf, Dwarfs, Down Syndrome, Autism, Schizophrenia, Disability, Prodigies, Rape, Crime and Transgender. The first six make sense, since they are all usually seen as disabilities of one kind or another. But the last four seem to be anomalies and it’s to the author’s credit that he’s able to present his premise convincingly in all of them (with varying degrees of success).

I won’t dissect each topic here, but I will make a couple of comments. Some of the chapters were real eye-openers; I hadn’t realized the obstacles that some families face when trying to raise autistic or severely handicapped, for instance. The chapter on prodigies was my least favorite chapter because the author chose to write only about musical prodigies and the examples got to be pretty repetitive.

I was also surprised that he didn’t choose homosexuality as a topic (transgender is not the same thing!). That could be because he writes about his own homosexuality in the first and last chapters, but he doesn’t go into much detail about how various families deal with a child’s homosexuality. I would have liked to have read about that.

For the most part, Solomon presents a good mix of the experiences of fathers and mothers, but even so he seems to imply that the mother has more influence on how well a child transitions into successful adulthood. Although I don’t deny the importance of mother-child relationships, I thought the view that mothers are largely responsible for raising well-adjusted children had been largely discredited. Apparently not.

I also objected to his use of dialect when writing about families that were less educated and poor. He especially did this in the chapter on crime, making it seem like it is only the disadvantaged who have a problem with crime. Plenty of middle-to-upper-class people commit crimes; they just rarely pay the same penalties for their actions as lower class people do.

Far From the Tree is important because of what it says about families. It illustrates how different parents deal with their children’s differences and how those children respond to their treatment. The main thing I took away from this book was a greater sensitivity for what some parents go through in their attempts to love and raise their children. It certainly made me count my blessings.

Don’t let the length of this book deter you. It’s well worth the time and effort.