America’s Sacred Gun Violence

Bear with me, but after today’s mass shooting in Texas, I am struck by how quasi-religious America’s worship of guns has become.  Gun violence is a sacrament, a high mass celebrating the mysteries of faith.First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas

Here’s how it looks…and of course I am not telling you anything you don’t already know.

A gunman kills a handful, a dozen, a few dozen people…it doesn’t matter.  People die, sacrificed to the mystery and the people are asked to accept it as an article of faith.  Our priests of violence instruct us:  “Again, let’s be careful.  Let’s not jump to conclusions.  Let us pray.”

Always “again”.

A press conference is hastily called — a sermon from the pulpit — and it presents the mystery  to the faithful.  It includes religious protocols of its own, complete with introductory rites, a homily, professions of faith…the whole kit and caboodle.  The formula is familiar and well-rehearsed.  It feels like a ministry because…well, because it has become exactly that in the religion of American faith.  In short, post-carnage press conferences are little more than a sacrament.

And through all the invocations to prayer and communal laments, never a mention of the gun because — let’s not forget! — guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  Gun is the god.  Gun is pure.  Gun is infallible.  Gun stands for faith, rights, and freedom.  To blaspheme Gun is a sin.

It is ridiculous.



What Have Republicans Done for You in the Last…Well, Ever?!

For years I have been posting a simple question on Twitter:  Name just one Republican idea, policy, or law that has been enacted and helped the country.  Just one.

I have never received a response.

I have offered some, however.  Eisenhower signed a voter rights and desegregation act in 1960.  He also invested heavily in US infrastructure.  Nixon signed an executive order establishing the Environmental Protection Agency ten years later in 1970.  That’s something, but hell! most Americans today were not even living then.

So what have Republicans done recently, if the last 47 years qualifies as recently?

Most recently Republicans have given the country Donald Trump, an unfit and unqualified buffoon they continue to defend and enable.  So it seems — to good people, at least — that perhaps the GOP needs a course correction.  But I might be missing something.

Come on, conservatives…what have you got?  What have Republicans done in the last 40+ years that has been good for the country?  You don’t even have to defend it.  Just suggest something.

Still waiting.

Fixing Obamacare…Think of it this way.

Both Republicans and Democrats claim what they really want to do is make health care better and more accessible in the United States.  The presume that claim is correct.  Democrats say they want to improve the Affordable Care Act by fixing the parts of the law that are not working.  Republicans say they want to toss it out and start over…

Imagine the health care debate as a group of people in a small boat floating in the middle of the ocean.  The leaders of the group offer two solutions.  One proposes rowing together toward a bigger, safer boat.  The other suggests that people abandon the small boat altogether and fend for themselves.

It’s about freedom, you know.

Disrespecting Flag and Country or Something Else?

This seems respectful, even sane. The real problem is not the kneel.

Many Americans — too many, in my opinion, because one is too many — are up in arms about NFL players taking a knee during the pre-game National Anthem.  They argue that this is about not showing proper respect for the flag and everything for which it stands.

Nevertheless, this is not about the flag.  Not at all.  It is a red herring.

As often happens, the issue of the flag has become a counter protest and these counter protests are not without irony, but there is something more going on here.

Let’s say I am really ticked off about something the government does or doesn’t do.  Perhaps I am really hot about my taxes.  If I turned my back or sat down when a color guard passes in a parade, would anyone care?  Maybe.  People might find my protest offensive.  But, really, would people care?

Probably not that much.  And there is a lot here to explain why.

First, and most importantly, the NFL protests are about minority rights and respect.  People unhappy with these protests don’t see it that way.  They see the flag as something unassailable.  But even if you agree with this, that does not change the fact that this protest is NOT about the flag!  And there is more.  When Trump and his minions say the players are disrespecting the flag and then by association the military, they are pitting protesting football players (overwhelmingly black football players) against military servicemen and servicewomen.

At best this is tone deaf, but I think it is deliberate.  Making this argument deflects the protest’s target.  (It also distracts from other important floundering issues for the president like health care, North Korea, tax reform.)  The focus shifts from race to one about respect for the country and patriotism.  To make that point clear, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin — yep, the treasury secretary — when representing the official line from the White House specifically says Trump’s opposition to NFL protesters is not about race.  And that’s a notable slip.

Steve MnuchinThe white White House can argue it isn’t about race, but in saying so they betray the truth.  It is absolutely about race by the very fact that black NFL football players (and now many of their non-black teammates) are protesting racism, that very fact makes this about race and racism.  Choosing to say it is not about racism is more than evading the issue, it confirms the issue.  Mnuchin should have strictly stuck to the flag worship canard.

Indeed the counter-argument made by Trump that this is simply about respect for the flag is a deflection, turning the flag into a sacred totem.  In this way the flag becomes a shield against which criticism can be deflected and the issues of the protest barely mentioned let alone addressed.  The protest is not valid, therefore, — indeed, not even heard — because the protesters don’t respect the flag.  It is a dilemma constructed to silence the protester, to undercut his agency.

Like so much in political discourse today, the rationale for political counter-argument is misleading, often deliberately so.  Consider the latest effort at health care reform repeal, purportedly necessary because health care reform is failing, despite facts that show otherwise.  In the most recent repeal effort, it is all couched in platitudes to freedom and sacred federalism, neither of which have much to do with healthcare if you cannot see a doctor.

The flag is an easy diversion.  Who wouldn’t at least feign offence to someone disrespecting the flag, right?  And protesting the military and first responders (that’s the police, paramedics, and firefighters…excludes teachers, public works employees, and judges, hence the more descriptive “first responders”) is on par with treason today.  No one would do that!  Rather than addressing the subject of protest — racism, police profiling, racial justice — we instead are caught up in a debate about who loves the flag most properly and in the process undercut the legitimacy of those deemed to love it less.

Jason Lewis

Republican Jason Lewis

On CNN today, Rep Jason Lewis, a Republican from Minnesota, went further to expose the real issue.  He pointed out that football players are paid millions — Colin Kaepernick had a contract of $124 million, he reminded us — and he’s pretty sure NFL players are “comfortable.”  So what’s the fuss, right?

What, exactly, does the income of black NFL football players have to do with racism in the United States?  What does it have to do with the right to protest?  It is an argument we’ve heard before.  Black players are paid well.  They should be grateful and shut up.  Seriously.  Maybe Jason Lewis will march in a parade holding a sign proclaiming “Poor Black Lives Matter”, is that right?

I am not going to raise the parallels with fascist and totalitarian nationalism that exist in flag worship.  However, it is difficult not to notice them.  A citizen — a patriot — can respect and honor symbols of his nation without conflating those symbols with infallibility.  When that happens these things — flags, in this case — become totems.  They become ideological weapons as much as symbols of national identity, wielded to maintain a hegemonic order and silence dissent.  This is exactly what is happening when people like Trump, Steven Mnuchin and Jason Lewis complain about protesters and challenge the protesters’ fidelity to the flag.

When we get caught up in the symbols and rhetoric of nationalism we create a hostile environment for debate, protest, and dissent.  That’s what is happening.  You can see no better example of this sort of discursive trap being set anywhere in the world today than at a Donald Trump rally.  It is this sort of deceptive, exclusionary approach to politicking that got Trump elected, a method set in motion on the right long before Trump.  But now Trump has tripped the trap, made it part of the presidency, and I can think of nothing in our history so far as disturbing as that.

Why Are We Letting Trump Define Our North Korea Narrative?

Kim Jong-un Donald TrumpThis is not a rhetorical question, I am unclear about why we are letting Trump define the narrative about North Korea.  I don’t know a heck of a lot about these things, so this is my informed layman’s perspective.  I welcome feedback.

I understand not wanting North Korea not having nuclear weapons, but it seems to be that this needs to be more of a preference than an absolute.  I’m not sure we can take a zero-sum attitude on these things.  While North Korea is no Soviet Union, when the USSR developed nuclear weapons we did not draw them into snarky, threatening quarrels in the manner with which Donald Trump has chosen to deal with North Korea.  We did not make reckless threats.

Furthermore, I would argue that the Soviet Union was a much more real threat to the United States; they legitimately could have turned the United States into an ash heap.  North Korea?  Probably not.

Plus…What motivation would North Korea have to attack the United States or anyone else, for that matter?  The result — even if we would choose responsible military actions rather than “totally destroy” North Korea and the 25 million people who live there — would not be good for North Korea.  What advantage would Kim Jong-un possibly expect to gain if his country is lost and he is dead?

But when you watch pundits and politicians you would think we were dealing with a true existential threat if North Korea were able to drop a bomb on the United States.  Is that a reasonable assessment?

It seems to me that the only people being served by such a conclusion are Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump!  It is a battle of bullies (and Kim Jong-un is winning) and we are like school kids circling the fight and egging them on.  Does that make sense?

The real threat as I see it is Kim Jong-un selling these weapons to even more deranged groups who might actually use them.  If we keep pushing North Korea into a corner, starve them of resources, and financially bankrupt them, isn’t this possibility more real?

I think we have to deal with the facts more pragmatically.  North Korea has the bomb.  Now how do we contain that?  Trump doesn’t seem fit to handle it.  However, when the press and politicians help hype the problem it looks more and more like a crisis, a largely self-made one.  Ironically, the best guide to deal with this might be found with Iran, another matter that Trump appears ill-suited to deal with as he threatens to dismantle those agreements.

It seems that North Korea would self-contain its weapons program understanding that doing anything else would destroy the regime.  (Whatever happened to the mutually assured destruction argument?)  Where the real risk lies is in clandestine deals that let these weapons spill into other hands and conflicts.  I believe catering to Trump’s rhetoric makes this outcome more likely and therefore makes this more dangerous and real.

My two cents.

Briefly: When Job Creators are Content

We hear a lot about taxes and jobs and how great it would be if the former were cut so the latter could grow.  It is taken to be axiomatic that the correlation is valid:  Lower taxes so that job creators can hire more workers.  Never mind the flaws in this reasoning which invalidate that conclusion.  The idea often sticks.

But there is another flaw in the idea that we only need to help existing job creators create more jobs and they’ll do it.  It is a subtle flaw and one that is more common than you might expect.

I sell advertising, mostly to small businesses, and the less-obvious barrier to job creators creating jobs that I see is contentment…or maybe even laziness.

“Laziness” generally isn’t a nice thing to say about a person and so I want to be careful.  I’m not out to attack the “lazy.”  Instead, I am pointing out something I see and hear almost every day and have come to believe is true.  That is, some business owners don’t want to bother with more work — more jobs, more orders, more employees.  Content or lazy or a mix of both, some people are going to stand pat.

Today, for example, I spoke to a young woman who has been managing her father’s landscape business since his death several years ago.  Her father had a robust business supported by a strong advertising campaign and she is quickly letting it fall away.  I ask her why.  “I really don’t want the extra work.”

Now you might be correct to think that this is an example of someone who wasn’t all that much into her business in the first place.  She inherited it, after all.  Nonetheless, hearing her today is what brought me to my conclusion about some business owners simply being content with what they’ve got, regardless of the opportunity for more.  The key is how she said it.

The young woman said “I don’t want”, not “I don’t need”.  That’s either laziness or contentment (or, again, maybe both).  The difference is between expressing a want versus a need.

In my line a work, a day doesn’t go by without someone proclaiming that business is so great and they are so well known and respected that they don’t need more work.  They certainly don’t need to advertise for it.  Generally, a quick inspection suggests otherwise.  Idle trucks, empty aisles, a quiet phone.  These people just don’t want to invest in advertising or otherwise are not persuaded that I am offering a convincing pitch.  They convince themselves that they don’t need it or want to convince you of that they don’t need it.  It is a face-saving objection, a polite way to brush aside an uncomfortable idea.

The young woman — and many others — on the other hand, can be trusted because she says what she wants and doesn’t want.  In sales, you like hearing about what people want and don’t want.  It is more accessible than a need, which can be a bit too personal.

So when I hear that someone doesn’t want more work, I tend to believe them.  And I hear it a lot.

Now, most likely if the demand for widgets outstrips the supply, someone will come along and make those needed widgets.  However, that’s another topic, one that I would suggest might be spurred not exclusively be bestowing incentives on existing enterprise, but also offering support to aspiring job creators and their efforts.  You know, something like universal health care so the entrepreneur can more easily break away from a job that tethers him to an all-too-content employer, perhaps…

Just my two cents.

Republicans Running for the Cover of Lincoln Raises the Question…

Briefly.  As Donald Trump flails and fails — especially post-Charlottesville — Republicans run to the cover of Abraham Lincoln.  Yeah, there is a lot of irony here, of course, but I think it raises a simple question, one which doesn’t seem to get asked.  What have Republicans done for us in recent history that has benefited us?  Do they have any policy proposals that would benefit the country and the majority of our citizens?

I’ve been asking this question, by the way, and I am still waiting for an answer.  A very simple question.  What have Republicans — let’s call them modern or contemporary Republicans, Republicans existing in our memory, Republicans in the past 40 years  — what have THEY done that has been good for the country and the majority of our citizens?  Or the world we live in?  Anything?


I am soliciting responses.

Lincoln Reagan Trump

The Devolution of the Republican Party