Tag: blogging101

The Virtues of Federalism

File:Constitution We the People.jpg

I am a federalist.  Among the many powers in the United States, which influence or dictate to individuals and groups, the federal government has consistently been more progressive and a purer expression of the people’s will than have local or state governments.  The federal government is less subject to control by small minorities striving for power over the majority, than are local and state governments.  Local and state governments are where prejudices can best find haven and oppress citizens.  The federal government is also more progressive than the market, and more representative than are private interest groups, and corporations.  The market favors and reinforces those already possessing substantial advantages over others; and private interest groups and corporations are by definition self-serving organizations fighting against each other, and against the whole people, for their survival and dominance.  I am a federalist because the federal government is the organization best positioned, equipped, and willing to support my struggle for my own rights as a human being and as a citizen.

Governments are responsible for protecting persons and property; and for promoting the public welfare.  For the federal government, these functions manifest through constitutional provisions such as the commerce clause (US Constitution, Article I, Section 8, third clause), giving the US Congress the power “… to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states…”  The federal government is responsible for protecting business, workers, and our environment and resources.  The federal government is responsible for managing and arbitrating the necessarily conflictual relationships between business and employees and consumers; and between those wishing to use resources here and now and those wishing to preserve them for future or long term usage.  State and local governments are also responsible for pursuing these goals within their jurisdictions; but only the federal government is capable of managing these issues at the national level.  Market forces do not look after the interests of individuals, groups, or the nation; but simply react to prices and forces to restrict access to and usage of resources to those few who can afford it.  Private national groups and special interests look after only their own specific interest at the expense of conflicting interests.  A government must manage all of these forces and groups, and only the federal government is able to do that for the nation.

American power and wealth are built upon the foundation of two key pillars: public funding and direction, and private enterprise.  Throughout the history of this nation, private enterprise has depended upon the government’s active support, initiative, and funding to provide the necessary infrastructural foundation upon which to build successful businesses. The federal government played a key role in railroad development, providing public land and funding construction projects; and fueling a massive industrial revolution and employing hundreds of thousands of workers.  American shipping, communications, and motor works; oil and coal; agricultural industries and supports; were all built with federal dollars and federal initiative backing those men of wealth who could both afford and dare to build a greater economy with the people’s support and taxes.  No part of this nation was built by enterprise acting without government welfare, or by government acting without the organizational drive and muscle of free enterprise.

While vast fortunes were made (and very often squandered) by men of wealth, with the eager help of federal initiative and funding, the development of capitalism and all of its failings drove government to ameliorate the worst effects of capital.  The Civil War-era federalism of the Republican Party meshed perfectly with the party’s championing of workers’ rights against the greed of corporatism.  Later, the Great Depression drove the federal government to finally enact economic measures to keep the “boom and bust” cycle of unrestrained capitalism from breaking the lower and middle classes.  While state and local governments could moderate some of the impacts of economic spasms, the federal government could steer far more support to those areas suffering the greatest effects, providing help that only national funding could provide.  It was only federal New Deal mechanisms like Social Security, large construction projects, national labor and cultural drives, etc., that brought a broken US economy back onto its feet.  Private enterprise had failed, and state government was too near-sighted and hampered by local financial disadvantages to do more than minimize local manifestations of massive national problems.

Although deregulation has weakened the New Deal regulations that protected us from disasters like the Great Depression and the Great Recession, the federal government still attempts to ameliorate some of the failures of capitalism.  The Dodd-Frank banking reform law was one such attempt; with Senator Elizabeth Warren as the conceptual godmother of one of its key provisions, the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau empowered to protect consumers from irregularities in the banking sector.  Although Republicans have worked strenuously to keep the Bureau from functioning the way it was intended, the federal government still works to minimize the harmful ups and downs of the capital market.  The market, private business, civic action groups, and special interests are neither capable of nor interested in performing these roles effectively and beneficially.

The federal government’s irreplaceable functions are most evident domestically in the support and development of national infrastructure.  From the canals and railroads of the 19th century, to the interstate highways and nuclear power plants of the 20th, to the information network and green energy of the 21st, only the federal government has had the combination of political power, national jurisdiction, and fiscal resources to push private groups to do what the market is ill equipped to do by itself:  invest in their own and the nation’s success through federally funded and managed infrastructure programs.  No other entity has either the constitutional mandate, the public oversight, and the funding to make strategic decisions for our country, and to implement those decisions. In the 1950s, the increasing global competition with the Soviet Union pushed the federal government into a greater, more cohesive program of education, infrastructure, scientific research, and economic investment and management.  Similarly, the increasing competition today for jobs and markets in a globalized economy and information network pushes our country to a return to federal management, to a renewed faith in the virtues of federalism.

Infrastructure is one of the key public goods provided by government.  The public good is the measure of that which the people do best by doing it through collective governance rather than through private initiative or on the free market.  Examples of public goods are the roads on which we drive, the water that we drink, and the schools in which we teach and learn.  Schools in particular present a strong case not only for the provision of the public good, but for the federalization of that good.  The management of schools by local and state government derives from the growth of districted common schools funded by those authorities – the authority to manage comes with the fiscal responsibility for providing the public good of education.  However, our schools are failing because local communities and state governments have failed to fund such schools, as budgets have grown constricted amid economic woes and a growing conservative disdain for the public.  With district school funding keyed to local taxes (usually property taxes), schools in high-income areas have substantially greater funding than do those in low-income areas.  The conservative notion of “failing schools” refers not to a lack of our schools’ commitment to care for their students, but to these schools’ inability to squeeze the necessary funding from poverty-stricken areas.  Federal funding is the simplest answer to fixing such funding discrepancies.  The federal government has far greater assets with which to fund schools, and federal funding is not subject to local or state-level economic crises or failures.  Poor states would be more capable of competing with rich states for jobs and resources were their children better educated, and more consistently educated in accordance with priorities determined by federal authorities tasked with keeping American schools competitive with foreign schools.  Federal funding would also protect our schools and our students from local variations in political and moral extremism; although a continuing role by state and local authorities would still be necessary to give the communities a degree of power in offering electives favored by the community.

The autonomy of state and local governments is often championed by states’ rights advocates as negating the intrusion by the federal government into the lives of citizens.  However, states’ rights advocates ignore the glaring problem of state autonomy, which is that virtually all oppression which visits American citizens comes from their state and local governments.  States have vastly greater powers over their citizens than does the federal government.  State and local governments control speech, public behavior, unions, religion, arms, voting, education, marriage, welfare, housing, employment, food, water, the environment, commerce, communications, transportation, sewage and garbage, and many other activities.  In any given location in the US, the overwhelming number of laws that restrict people’s lives and choices come not from the federal government but from their state and local governments.  States were responsible for preserving slavery, segregation, poverty among African-Americans and other minorities.  It took the federal government to push a civil rights agenda to protect our basic freedoms.  North Carolina and other states are even dictating their citizens’ gender identities, while the federal government attempts to intrude into our state governments’ intrusion into our rights.  States’ rights do not represent the rights of the people; they represent the rights of a minority of people to enforce their power over their neighbors and fellow citizens.  The federal government operates as an ameliorating force in the struggle between the powers of the state and local governments, and the rights of the people.

A major problem with state and local government in the US is that the focus by our national media, and the attention of those few people who follow politics, are centered on the federal government.  This attention puts the federal government under a microscope that largely ignores the place where most of our law and most of our governments’ abuse of power takes place: in the states, counties, cities, townships, and villages.  Few as Americans are who can name their legislators in the US Congress, far fewer can name their state legislators, city council members, county commissioners, and other key elected officials.  This enables a far greater degree of corruption, lobbying, and abuse of power at local and state levels than can take place at the federal level.  State and local governments generate and enforce law with relatively little input or awareness by citizens (other than the few corporate actors funding local officials’ election campaigns), and with relatively little attention by either the media or the people.  In the meantime, the national media shouts loudly and constantly about major legislation in the US Congress, about election campaigns for federal positions, about bureaucratic operations, and about corruption and lobbying at the federal level.  This shouting ignores the fact that, taking place outside of most citizens’ attention, and with much lower voter turn-outs, local elections take relatively little funding; and a small corporate donation can create a far closer relationship between local government and the corporation than can be created by a much larger donation at the federal level.

At state and local levels, prejudices are actualized into law (both written and unwritten) far more easily – and over a vastly greater number of issues and behaviors – than at the federal level.  This is why the civil rights battles had to take place at the federal level; the state and local governments of the Old Confederacy were unwilling to loosen the chains of oppression and to allow their citizens access to their constitutional rights.  Whatever states’ rights advocates argue about federal incursions into our freedom, the federal government has protected and enhanced our rights across the several states far more than our own state governments have, as controlled as the latter have been by local forces unwilling to change.

While democratization, civic action, and increased transparency can happen at state and local levels, it often takes greater resources than local citizens can access to put a spotlight on local problems.  It took national organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee to organize voters’ registration in southern states in the 1960s.  It took national actors and media outlets like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Time Magazine to finally enable the citizens of Flint, Michigan to fight their own state government’s lack of concern over their poisoned water.  In both cases, national actors helped push the federal government into a response as well, generating relief to oppressed populations that was not forthcoming from state and local governments.  As the federal government has stepped in to denounce North Carolina’s HB2 law, it is again taking the national resources of the whole people to fight against a minority of people, who are attempting to abuse their powers of law to oppress their own neighbors and citizens.  By spotlighting issues like voting in the 1960s, and Michigan’s water fiasco and the North Carolina law of today, the federal government can push democratization into local areas oppressed by their own governments.

Government is both a boon and a burden; the means of keeping ourselves free and a machine used to oppress us.  In the US, we have complicated relationships between federal, state, and local levels of government; and between government and corporations, the media, and private citizens.  Each of these is a form of oppression against the rest; and each is also a source of freedom from the rest.  Failures of policy, the impact of corruption, and abuses of power occur at all levels, from top to bottom, and throughout both the public and private sectors.  However, the attention of voters, information consumers, and the media have for some time been focused on federal and national issues, at the expense paid to state and local levels.  We have achieved a transparency of power in the federal government that is sorely lacking in the very place where most of our laws and our governments’ powers are enacted and enforced.  The sordid history of human rights in the US shows that there is not just an imbalance of power between federal and state levels; there is an imbalance of interest.  The forces of patriarchy, theocracy, racism, xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, and oppression find quiet, dark corners in that very center of American law and power, our local and state governments.  Like cockroaches fleeing when a light is turned on, these forces slink into our local and state governments, away from the level where the greatest and brightest lights are shined by our media and our attention.  This is why I am a federalist; and this is why I cringe at the words, “states’ rights.”

In the 1800s, in the 1900s, and today, “states’ rights” have always meant the “rights” of a minority (those few holding local and state seats of power) to take away the majority’s rights.  States’ rights are not people’s rights; and they are the means for restricting or eliminating our rights.  While clearly imperfect, and subject to its own hungers and abuse of power, the federal government is better positioned, and has done more, to protect local human and civil rights than our local and state governments can do or wish to do.  I am a federalist because I am jealous of my freedom, and I am suspicious of power that slinks into dark corners away from transparency.  I am a federalist because my nation’s history shows that in the battle for our rights, the federal government has been a purer expression of the will of the people than the local and state governments have been.  I am a federalist because our local schools become less able to teach the more our local and state governments interfere with them, and because we need a federal effort to fund schools regardless of their geographic locations or the socioeconomic status of their districts.  I am a federalist because our nation works best when it works together as a nation.  We the People have formed a more perfect Union; and we must uphold and empower our Union.

Headline image of the preamble to the Constitution, from Wikimedia Commons.

Using Johnson’s 1964 Ads Against Trump, Part 2

In 1964, actor William Bogert was asked by Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign to read a script that coincided with his political views; and in filming his script he also improvised with some of his own views as a Republican about his party’s candidate Barry Goldwater, and about the coming election.  As with the “Daisy Girl” ad, the language of this ad, the frustration of a conservative with his party’s flirtation with extremism and hatred, and the comparisons between Goldwater and Trump, all present a unique opportunity to revisit history by using this ad, or one very much like it, to prove that Trump’s extremism and immaturity disqualify him completely from holding any political office, let alone the presidency.

Vote Democrat in November.  The stakes are too high for you to stay home.

Labor: the Source of Capital

Quote of the Week:  Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.  – Abraham Lincoln, December 1861.

Abraham Lincoln reminds us of the labor-based and socialist origins of the Republican Party (something that would make current Republicans shudder, were they to own up to the ideological origins of their organization).  Horace Greeley, who had helped push the socialist agenda in the US during the 1830s, later served as a formative leader of the early Republican movement; and the party’s platform through the 1860s was solidly pro-labor and generally distrustful of the growing power of corporate wealth, which was then beginning to transform American economics and social structure.

Lincoln’s words also remind us that capital, and capitalism, were products of labor transforming from artisanal and agricultural work into paid industrial service to business owners.  Humans have always labored; but capital was a new growth from the industrial revolution.  Capital is not always evident or strong; as we can see in the difficulties that Russia has had transforming itself from a communist economy into a capitalist one.  For there to be a strong capitalist economy, there first needs to be capital as the centerpiece for the organization of production.

Ultimately, the greatest weakness of capitalism lies in the weakness of capital.  Capital is subject to gross fluctuations which shock the economy and break the ability of the middle and lower classes to save money.  It took the federal government in the US until the 1930s to decide finally that it needed to manage these fluctuations to prevent further disasters like the Great Depression.  The American political landscape has wavered from its dedication to protecting the non-wealthy from the weaknesses of capital; and in that lack of dedication lie the roots of frustration underlying the vitriolic fights of the 2016 election year.

To restore confidence in both the economy and in our political system, the US needs to restore its faith in and dedication to our organized labor movement, and to a federally based, Keynesian management of the economy.

Headline image from open domain, via Google Search.

Comedy Central’s Advice for Hillary Clinton

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Click to watch Michelle Wolf addressing Hillary Clinton’s “Likeability Problem.”

Michelle Wolf of Comedy Central reminds us that we all hate our bosses.  Since Hillary Clinton is running for the job of being the boss, she should embrace her ability to be the boss, and forget about being “likeable.”  As Wolf exclaims, Hillary “…eats enemies and shits policy.”  Likeability?  We do not want or deserve a leader we like; we need a leader who knows what she is doing, to save us from the wasteland of the Trumpocalypse.

Wolf also buries the “email controversy” by reminding us that none of us really know what servers are and what the issue even implies. “The only question we should ask about her emails is, ‘Did they get where they were supposed to go?’  Then shut the **** up!”

Headline image of Michelle Wolf, from the video clip referenced above.

Will Edison, or Marx, or Both Prove Right on Big Energy?

Quote of the Week:  We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. … I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. –Thomas Edison

Over a century ago, the controversial technology developer (some would say, “inventor,” while others might hedge at that title) Thomas Edison evoked his hope that man would not limit himself to destructive and extracted energy sources when there was unlimited natural energy all around us.  His conflicts with Tesla over alternative energy schemes notwithstanding, and leaving aside the morality of some of Edison’s own approaches to business and corporatism, this specific Edisonian vision has been betrayed by the energy corporations that today live in his shadow.

Energy companies themselves should be at the forefront of green energy research and implementation, and they would be if they did not suffer from a myopia that afflicts most American corporations.  Corporations are all too wedded to the quarterly profits and the stock-market values of their stock shares, to look into the future and invest in their own success.  If and when green energy supplants oil and coal, those companies that today profit the most from extracted energy ought to have ensured their own survival by spearheading the transformation to green energy.  But that takes a corporate vision that is beyond the quarter-to-quarter profit motivation of American corporatism.  Instead of a steady transformation that protects the economy, the environment, and the corporations’ own stockholders, there will likely be a market disaster as coal and oil become suddenly too expensive and limited in quantity to provide the world’s increasing hunger for power.  Some forward thinkers will make a fortune; and some old money will disappear into the coffers of the new.  In the meantime, of course, those less wealthy people who had mistakenly invested their savings in old energy may find their retirement savings gone and their lives financially ruined.

The corporate myopia is also related to “financialization,” as major corporations worldwide invest fewer resources into research and put greater resources into stock buybacks to artificially inflate their own market share values.  Overall, business is becoming less enamored of research and more enamored of artificial devices to put greater stock values into the hands of the stockholders – and to concentrate those stocks into fewer, richer hands.  Karl Marx’s predictions for the potentials that capitalism has for destroying itself have outlived the communist movement that he helped create.  The fall of communism notwithstanding, corporatism is becoming ever more the corrupt, inefficient system that Marx criticized.  Capitalism’s increasingly apparent inability to solve problems, to create jobs, and to make people’s lives better may yet generate a new methodology for economics in the future.

Extracted energy suffers from a dilemma, in that increasing energy extraction competes with food and water resources (through environmental degradation and through the need for water to push resources out of the ground).  On the other hand, increasing food and water production require ever-increasing energy availability.  The world’s rapidly growing middle classes want energy, food, and water in ever greater quantities; and the only way to assure those needs in the long run is by switching our energy systems to non-extracted energy; to wind, sun, and other systems as hoped for by Thomas Edison.  Who will win in the end – Marx with his predictions for the end of capitalism; or Edison with his hopes for the transformation of energy?  Or will capitalism’s end help to finally enable a transformation to green energy?  The 21st century offers us both an opportunity to make our world better through innovative technologies like green energy, and a danger of what may happen if we do not.

Headline image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain images.

The Future of Religion and Bowling

Quote of the Week:  What I want to happen to religion in the future is this: I want it to be like bowling. It’s a hobby, something some people will enjoy, that has some virtues to it, that will have its own institutions and its traditions and its own television programming, and that families will enjoy together. It’s not something I want to ban or that should affect hiring and firing decisions, or that interferes with public policy. It will be perfectly harmless as long as we don’t elect our politicians on the basis of their bowling score, or go to war with people who play nine-pin instead of ten-pin, or use folklore about backspin to make decrees about how biology works. –PZ Myers

This week, Spark! is letting the Quote of the Week sit on its own, since there is no need to add further thoughts to this one.  Reflect, and have a good week!

Image from Wikipedia user Mark Schierbecker: “PZ Myers presents his talk,’You, too, can know more molecular genetics than a creationist!’ at Skepticon in 2014.

Does Clinton Have a “Favorability Problem”?

Recently, the above chart has been going around Twitter (with no link to sources, but a reference to NYT/CBS/Huffington Post polls).  The argument is that Senator Bernie Sanders is supremely equipped by his favorability ratings to take on Donald Trump in a general election in November, and that Secretary Hillary Clinton is not.  However, this chart omits two significant points of data.  First of all, Bill Clinton’s favorability in 1992 is noticeably absent.  Before taking the election in a landslide, in April, 1992, Bill Clinton’s ratings were 34 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable, giving him a net -13 (unfavorable), a point worse than his wife is currently running according to this chart.

A second missing factor is the differential between the winning candidates’ ratings and their opponents’ ratings (taking the winning candidate’s net +/- favorability, and subtracting from that their opponent’s net favorability).  The differential between Sanders and Trump (37) is by far higher than any contests on this list (higher than the Reagan-Mondale contest differential, which is 30).  That, of course, is the basic argument of the pro-Sanders user posting this chart; that Sanders ought to win a November general election against Trump in a landslide.  However, the Hillary Clinton’s differential against Trump (12) is also higher than the lowest three differentials here: her husband’s victory in 1992 against incumbent President G.H.W. Bush (differential = 3); George W. Bush’s race in 2000 against Al Gore (differential = 2); and incumbent President Obama’s 2012 reelection win against challenger Mitt Romney (differential = 6).  While there appears to be more risk in running Clinton against Trump than running Sanders as the Democratic nominee, a Clinton/Trump race, if decided on these favorability ratings, would be a Democratic win.

Headline image copied from a Tweet.

The Unmentioned Genius That Drives Our World

Quote of the Week:  Biographical history, as taught in our public schools, is still largely a history of boneheads: ridiculous kings and queens, paranoid political leaders, compulsive voyagers, ignorant generals, the flotsam and jetsam of historical currents. The men who radically altered history, the great creative scientists and mathematicians, are seldom mentioned if at all. –Martin Gardner

It is all too easy, as Gardner effectively warns us, to focus (in both history and in current events, especially of a political nature) on specific political actors, or on other individuals who represent a tiny minority of the people who manage to change the world in some way.  Mathematicians and scientists are lauded by their own institutional structures, like the Field Prize and Nobel Prizes, and are published in journals read mostly by specialists in the same field.  But few people outside the realm of science and mathematics are ever aware of more than a very tiny few leaders of these fields.  This, in part, helps to explain the “revolutionary” nature of modern technology.  People unaware of what our best minds are thinking only learn about such things when some shiny new toy can be ordered from Amazon that makes use of new science and new knowledge – and even then, we understand the device, but not the science behind it (and we then have detailed but inaccurate debates about our toys during moments like the recent fight between the FBI and Apple over iPhone encryption).

But besides not understanding our devices, our disconnect from everything that makes our modern lives possible also threatens our ability to impact and control our modern lives.  For example, conservatives pretend to “debate” on climate change, an issue that is far past the point of debate for those who understand anything at all about the science involved.  There is no debate; just people who understand what is happening, and people who do not but think that a coal company’s paid spokesperson “speaks the truth” in calming the voices of alarm about our increasingly obvious damage to our environment.  If more people understood science, and knew about more actual scientists and their work, there would not be any pretension to a “debate” between the knowing and the ignorant.  We would have produced and implemented policies now only envisioned by those who are close to the subject and cognizant of the basic facts and processes.

Although our schools need a much more diverse program, teaching not just STEM courses, but social sciences, culture, and languages, the focus on STEM does come from a need that is increasingly unfulfilled – the need for a 21st century labor force and citizenry that understand the modern world in which they live.  Part of that need involves teaching a greater awareness about the scientists and mathematicians who helped to make that world, and their ideas which are driving the technological revolution.  We need to focus our resources on education to a degree far beyond what we are doing now, teach science and math and an appreciation for the processes and pioneers leading our scientific and mathematical progress.  Those who have, and are, and will be radically altering our world need far more recognition – as do their ideas, their processes of discovery, and the results of the knowledge that they have given to us.

Headline image from BBC News; “How to stop the brain-teasers set by a top puzzle master,” 24 October 2014 (© 2016 BBC).

What Do Conservatives Understand About Gender? Not Much, Really…

Quote of the Week:  I’m not a woman / I’m not a man / I am something that you’ll never understand. -Prince

Hey, we’re back!  Spark! took a little break, but we’ve returned to ponder the connection between a couple of things that have been plaguing our world for the past few weeks.  The recent death of musician Prince (or “the artist formerly known as…”) gives us pause to reflect on his art and on his message while he was among those less Purple.  Specifically, notwithstanding a later more evangelical posture, Prince’s play on sexuality and androgyny draws a closer look at morally unseemly approaches to legislation enacted in North Carolina (“I’m looking at you, HB2!”), and being considered in other states like South Carolina, Tennessee, and Michigan.  Conservatives are once again attacking individual freedom by declaring the gender listed on people’s birth certificates to be permanent and mandatory gender identities for the purpose of using public restrooms.

Such squeamishness flies in the face (as with many things conservative) of actual science, particularly of recent research showing that the XX and XY chromosomes are not the only forces at work in determining biological gender.  In fact, gender has far more range when looked at from the point of view of genes like the masculine conditioning gene SRY (which usually but not exclusively attaches to the Y chromosome), or the sometimes feminine conditioning gene DAX1.  When someone with XX chromosomes has a strong attachment of SRY to their chromosomes, they may develop some male traits and some female traits (including a confusing mix of internal and/or external reproductive organs); and other confusing things can happen when DAX1 operates abnormally.  All of this means that there are, in fact, many “men” and “women” (so their birth certificates would have us believe) who, genetically (and sexually) are “not a woman/not a man… [but instead] something that you’ll never understand.”  However, the GOP now wants to mandate that whatever these people’s birth doctors or nurses jotted down in the “gender” slot on the birth certificate is now a permanent and unalterable gender identity, whatever may be happening to the contrary in their genes and chromosomes, inside their bodies or just on the outside.  And such birth certificates can be used to deny changes made by surgeons and hormones to help people to find their identity in a world where people are expected to operate within a predetermined gender-based role.

How about a better idea?  A hotel in Durham, North Carolina is simply bypassing the need to use a particular gender-identified restroom with signs like this:

21c Museum Hotel has posted new signs outside its public bathrooms in response to a controversial state law.

Headline image via Google Image Search.

On Being Great Again, Or Good

Quote of the Week:  Patriotism is proud of a country’s virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country’s virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, “the greatest”, but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is. –Sydney J. Harris

Donald Trump shocks Americans by telling them that he wants to make our nation “great again,” implying obviously that the United States had some greatness that is now lacking.  It is easy to associate this clearly unpatriotic lack of faith in America with racism and xenophobia (implying, for example, that the US was great, until it went ahead and elected one of “those people” as its president for eight years).  It is easy to do this because of Trump’s heartless criticism of Mexicans and Muslims (and of the latter’s faith, Islam).  It is easy to do this because of the numerous Nazis, Klansmen, and fascists of all colors (so to speak) who have come out in open support for Trump.  It is easy to do this because, notwithstanding the candidate’s willingness to tweet and speak about all sorts of people on the cuff and without any “due diligence,” it took him something like 48 hours to disavow one of America’s leading white supremacists.  Attacking ethnic groups, dissidents, and women is not something the candidate needs to take any time to consider properly; but disavowing the country’s leading white supremacist was something that needed closer study, not being any kind of “no brainer” for our little Orangearschenfürher.  All of this shows what most Americans need to know about what “greatness” is missing and how to restore it.

But for those of us not raised from birth to hate “those people” or to misogynize at our morning Tea Party, it is clear that what we need is not for our nation to be “great again,” but for our country to be good again, like Sydney J. Harris suggests.  We need to remember John Winthrop’s exhortations to us to build the City on a Hill by embracing the liberal imperative to care for the poor, to house the homeless, to feed the hungry, and moreover to use the wealth of those at the top for that explicit purpose.  We need to remember that politics should be about caring for those needing medical care, not about politicizing issues.  When we attack Planned Parenthood for performing a legal operation (and doing so using only private funds, and not anyone’s taxes), and use the government to punish the organization – and the many women and men it cares for in other ways, using both public and private funds for the purpose – for offending a minority of Americans, we are not “good,” and we are not the nation that Winthrop called upon us to be.  When we attack people for not speaking English “properly” (ignoring the multitude of uneducated bigots who themselves have a limited grasp of our grammar and syntax, though it be their only language), we are not “good,” and we are not the nation that was built on the labor and the blood, sweat, and tears of immigrants, indentured servants, slaves, and refugees.

Our parents, grandparents, or other ancestors (those that came here willingly, anyway) came to this nation not because of its military strength, and not because we pick on the weak and leave the dying to meet their end.  They came here because we are a nation that has always promised to be better than that.  They came here because we offered them something better than the empires of the past, great only for their ability to kill and to disenfranchise others.  Coming to our shores for our “goodness,” rather than for our “greatness,” they built this nation – together with those who simply had no choice in the matter – into a nation that was able to grow past its dark side, and embrace the better angels of our nature.  We became a nation born of slavery that (later than most) discarded slavery; a nation dominated by men who (later than some) embraced suffrage; and a nation dominated by white Christians who (through a mountainous struggle) embraced the “Others” and welcomed them into our community as builders and partners.

To be “good” again, we need to put Trump, and his supporters, back into whatever corner of our national psyche we dragged them out of.  We need to put them back into the box in which we keep our pictures of “Whites Only” and “No Jews” signs, pictures of slaves’ backs striped with whip scars, pictures of the Trail of Tears, and of schools forcing Indian children to adopt white, Christian ways.  We need to mark that box “Ugly Things From the Past We Promise Not to Do Again.”  And we need to put that box into high-school history books with long lessons about how and why we got over those evil tendencies, how we are a better nation because we moved past the need to do these horrific things, and how we embraced our promise to be a nation of many peoples, many faiths, many languages and cultures, and many ideals.  We need not to worry about our “greatness”; but only about our “goodness.”

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