A Reminder to The People’s Party…

Democracy-Crossroads-coverIf you’ve read any of my most recent posts, you will know that I take a very bleak view upon our current political and social circumstances. Our country is more fractious, more partisan and divided than at any point in its history since 1865. This has transcended mere arguments over policies and ventured into differences in how we perceive reality and determine what is true and false. I was somewhat ironic in my last post where I spoke about dystopian societies in literature and pointed out similarities with our current situation, but the topic is nowhere approaching funny. I do not feel like I’m being hyperbolic when I say: this is how democracies die. When a nation is split so completely that we can’t even agree on what is real or not, we are only one step away from social and philosophical pogroms. We are a hair’s breadth from revolution. And historically, revolutions in democracies tend to lead to autocracies of some sort.

So, ‘Mr. Aspiring Grimdark Novelist’, is there no hope? Or do you see our nation as inevitably doomed?

No, I do not, but if we want to stem this trend of divisiveness and tribalism, we need to start having serious discussions within our own social and political communities. I think there’s a lot of things we can do, but we need to recognize that there’s no easy way through this, for anyone.

First, Republicans and Conservatives of all stripes: Donald Trump and nearly all of the current sitting Senators and Representatives are not your saviors. They’re not even really your advocates and representatives.  They only ensure that your point of view will eventually be lost amidst the tumult of political upheaval. Putting ideologies aside, every step they’ve taken in the last five months is harming you. Trump and his Congress promised prosperity for his followers and the middle class in general; instead they are striping away protections that ensure your prosperity and well-being and is funneling money to his allies in business and politics.

You will never see the benefits of his largess towards the rich and the already prosperous elite he truly represents. He promised to drain the swamp in Washington only to turn it into a lake of corruption and misinformation. He is not the man he said he would be. He has lied and continues to lie to you every day. He is a dangerous, undisciplined and wholly ignorant man who does not feel humility and therefore is unwilling and incapable of learning and growing as a leader. The man is a fool and fools lead followers into massacres.

Your one and only job right now Conservatives is to listen and learn to the world and country around you. Broaden your spectrum of information and experience. Forget party rhetoric and watch what is occurring. Think about what is actually happening in the world. Ignore partisan commentary and focus on events and statements. What happened? What did they say would happen? If you are told one thing and another thing purposefully occurs, then you have been mislead and misrepresented. Act on that; make your voice heard and if it continues to be ignored, find someone who will not ignore you. The Justice Democrats have emerged on the left in response to conflicts and inadequacies in the Democratic Party (which I’m about to address) but the Republicans need the same new blood, new voices and (especially) new ears to listen and to represent.

Finally, Conservatives, ask yourself: does stripping away health care for the elderly, the poor, and the disabled and forwarding that money to the richest Americans make for a better country? Does purposefully alienating our allies in the world, while simultaneously spurring our opponents in the Middle East and Asia make us a safer country? Does vilifying and ostracizing the free press, a guaranteed part of our democracy ensure that you are a more or less educated citizen?

We do not live in a kleptocracy or corporatocracy. Governments that purposefully take prosperity from the people and subjugate them historically meet sticky ends. Our military protects more than our business interests, it protects the people of the United States; so should the rest of the government. Equally, while we should always be concerned with what is best for America, we cannot ignore our responsibility as a leader in the global community. We don’t need to police everyone, but we should be willing to defend those who are in need and who ask and we must be willing to sacrifice to ensure our continued well-being; by that, I’m referring to climate change. It exists and we have an impact on it. There is no debating that. Debate how to protect the environment and not wreck our economy if you’d like (that should be the current debate), but the science is correct and definitive; ignoring it is foolish and short-sighted. Finally, our forefathers recognized that the greatest weapon against – and protection from – tyranny is information. The press is an integral part of that and decrying the press because the information does not favor you is tyranny by definition.

The Founding Fathers, having experienced tyranny that could lead one to be imprisoned for speaking one’s mind, wanted to ensure freedom for an array of voices in the marketplace of ideas.

“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins,” Benjamin Franklin wrote.

George Washington added: “If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter … reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”

The Trump Administration has told you to listen only to itself and its approved media outlets, like Breitbart and Fox News and to distrust all other sources of news. I will not ask you to believe all of the other news; indeed, I say distrust all news on its face. Be a self-motivated and enthusiastic investigator of information. Adsorb multiple resources and then think critically about what you are presented. Does it match what you can actually see and hear? Is it the opposite of what you believe it is? Question everything.

That is your duty as a citizen and as an American and for a political party that touts how patriotic it is and how much they love the Constitution, it is time to start practicing the patriotic ideals our Forefathers laid bare in that Constitution.

Now Democrats

It would be comforting to think that the only people to blame for Trump were his supporters. However, these people voted for him for a very good reason, albeit one that time has proven to be a total fabrication on his part: he listened to what they said they need and not what he thought they needed. Of course, his every promise was a lie but the fact that they were so desperate to believe it speaks to a greater truth about the current state of America and to the failings of the Democratic Party.

We have ceased to be a party of the people. We’ve become their guardians or benefactors but are reluctant to truly listen anymore and more importantly, to represent. This is what we have failed to do over the last eight years, the reason we’ve gradually lost seat after seat in the House and the Senate, the reason we were so thoroughly abandoned in 2016. Most of our representatives in Congress act unilaterally in what they see as being in the citizenry’s best interests, but don’t stop to actually make sure that’s what they want.  Or need.  If we really want to regain control (and I would not advocate for complete control; its bad for a party to control everything; they lose perspective and that can doom them), we need to take the lessons from 2016 and learn from them.

First off, people are still reeling from the lender depredations from 2008. Jobs and homes were lost and lives ruined.  That takes longer than eight years to correct if the damage was severe enough. So, telling everyone that life is grand and the country is doing well just as it is is a flawed message even if it was well-intentioned and patriotic. They are suffering, so being told that ‘as-it-is’ is good enough is not a palatable message.

Neither is it a good message when the people you trust to protect you are so boldly compensated by the very organizations that authored their hardship. We won’t debate the banking bailout; arguably is saved the economy but looked very much like the Democrats were letting the banks get away with a heinous crime. The lack of prosecutions certainly did not help. Therefore, we must get the corrupting influence of corporate finance and donations out of our party and prove that Democrats are not beholden to corporate interests at all, unlike the Republicans. We must do this, even if it puts us at a disadvantage to Republicans in elections. Bernie Sander ran a largely successful primary on $27 donations. Other Democrats can as well and this gives us the ability to show our dedication to representing the people, not lobbyists and companies.

Next, we need to stop being so damned elitist. Yes, the concept of voting for Trump is repellent and seems categorically against one’s own interests. But calling them ‘idiots’ or ‘fools’ or ‘deplorables’ is not going to convince them of anything. It just instantly alienates them and PROVES to them that Democrats really are not trying to help them. We must combat hate and lies with simple truths and actions. We start with commonalities and work out from there. We will not get America’s right-leaning citizens to agree with us on everything, but they have to know that we are concerned for them anyways and are willing to listen and try to reach a compromise.

We have to take the long view here and think more about improving who we are as a political movement and less about the most expeditious way to win. Let the Republicans lie, cheat and steal. Eventually people will feel the sting of their elitism and think about what we’ve been saying for so long and how we ALWAYS want to help them and then change will occur.

Speaking of change, we must not be afraid of it in our own party, even if it redefines what being a Democrat is. Regardless of your post-election feelings, Bernie Sanders was a strong advocate for Hillary after she won the primary. She lost for a number of reasons, but Bernie supporters were not a primary part of that; low voter turn out amongst minorities and disenfranchisement with an establishment candidate played larger roles. So, when the Berniecrats ask for a seat at the table and a voice, they should be embraced because Bernie and his message still resonate even now. Especially now during the Reign of Trump. We are asking America to radically change. Democrats should be the first to make those changes.

In the end, we are all Americans first, Democrats and Republicans last. We need to look past our divisions and our hot button issues and try to again find common ground and rebuke the authoritarian decisions being made by Trump and his cadre of sycophants and minions. We can discuss abortion and immigration and security far more efficiently if we can agree to all look at the facts equally and openly and discuss how best to navigate the morass we are in. But this must start now and we must be willing to go against our friends and families, if need be.

I do not think it alarmist to say that the America envisioned and enshrined by our Founders is in danger of being irrevocably revised and diminished. Trump has displayed an alarming comfort with advocating revoking First Amendment rights and taking unilateral actions  using executive orders. With a Congress more concerned with being partisans than with being patriots, we may soon crown our very first King. Kings are rarely replaced with anything short of revolutions. Our Forefathers learned that well enough; too bad we seem to have forgotten it.  Let us not let it get to that point again.

Rise Up. Wise Up.  Eyes Up,
Sean

The Lies That Bind Us

In three weeks, Americans will once again make their opinions heard and either re-affirm the presidency of Barack Obama or elect Governor Mitt Romney as the 45th President of the United States. While it’s cliched to say that we stand at ‘the crossroads of history’ or that our decision as citizens will have far-reaching ramifications for not only our country but for the world as well, it is nonetheless true. The two candidates have substantially different ideals and visions for the direction and role of our country. I’m not going to compare and contrast the candidates in this post because that is neither my intention nor my responsibility. Indeed, it is your responsibility and the responsibility of all Americans to seek out information on their potential leaders of their own volition; however, the problem is whether the information that they find or the sources that they use are providing the truth about the candidates or are manipulating the facts in an effort to push forward an agenda.

Accusations about a biased or manipulative media are nothing new. Indeed, such claims are so ubiquitous that they are largely ignored these days, dismissed as either overzealous rhetoric or blatant misdirection. However, the fact is that some media outlets do purposefully mislead their audiences. This can take the relatively benign form of ‘spinning’ information or the more egregious examples of omitting information to manipulate the data into a different meaning or even outright lying about the information.

Case-in-point: US Border Patrol Nicholas Ivie was murdered on October 3rd in what is being assumed was a smuggling related shooting. Already opponents of the Obama administration are connecting this shooting with the shooting that is part of the ‘Fast and the Furious’ scandal, even though no direct connection exists. This is known as the ‘correlation equals causation’ fallacy. The two are related only in that they were (1) related to border security on the Mexican border and (2) involved guns. However, so pervasively restated is this connection that what is an exaggeration of the information (at best) is being taken for fact.

A little more close to home is the case of Colleen Lachowicz, Democratic candidate for the State Senate of Maine.  The Maine Republican Party is hosting a site called Colleen’s World, a site dedicated to Mrs. Lachowicz’s level 85 Orc Rogue in World of Warcraft.  If you stopped and did a double take, that’s fine… I understand.  Essentially the site contends that Lachowicz is unfit for public office because she is a gamer- specifically a player of World of Warcraft- since many gamers have addictive relationship with the act of gaming.    They even go so far as to post a link to a ‘study‘ performed by a gaming website  that contends that the ‘average’ player of WoW spends 22.7 hours a week playing the game.  While I can’t necessarily argue that WoW can’t be addictive, that’s not a proven fact; just because some people become addicted doesn’t mean everyone does.  Furthermore, the link they supply is from 2005, making it of dubious value over 7 years later.  Finally they post links to comments on guild forums, wherein she engaged in the typical repartee normally seen on such sites.

The problem with this website and Lachowicz’s hobby is that it has absolutely no direct bearing on the Maine Senate race (or at least no more than any other hobby someone might have).  Someone could be an avid writer or knitter and enough time doing those activities to negatively impact their careers or their ability to govern effectively.  Colleen Lachowicz’s ‘second life’ in WoW should only have bearing if it can be proven that her gaming activities have negatively impacted her normal duties and responsibilities.

Yet, gaming addiction is a hot button issue and largely misunderstood by the majority of people, so labeling her a ‘gamer’ is an effective attack strategy.  The shame is that it shouldn’t be.  This is not an attack on her policies.  Indeed, the only mention of her policies is when she speaks to her support of President Obama.  The Maine GOP can’t argue against her ideals or goals, so they misdirect the conversation to something they can slant any way they want, never truly providing the Maine votes with a serious discussion.

I’ve previously talked about my views about our responsibilities as citizens and consumers of information and how we must be more dutiful in seeking out and sifting through what the media presents us. To be properly governed and to govern in return, we must be educated and informed and be able to differentiate between the truth and a turd.  We must see past misdirection and misrepresentation of information.  However, sometimes that is not as easy as we could hope it would be.

A prime example of a media outlet that forsakes all pretense of truth or objectivity and brazenly programs around a vitriolic and partisan agenda would be -unsurprisingly- Fox News.  Now, I recognize that Fox has mastered the martyr conplex, claiming to constantly be under attack by the ‘liberal elite’ for their views.  That might be true, but I assert it is with good reason.  A 2010 study by the University of Maryland suggested that Fox News viewers are among the most misinformed individuals on issues like the economy, global warming, health care reform, and government spending.  This was later substantiated by a 2011 study by Fairleigh Dickinson University that indicated that people who watched no news were often more accurately informed about the same issues than Fox News viewers.   In addition, Fox News viewers are significantly more likely to believe completely false information because of the concerted and organized way that the various Fox New shows synergize with each other.  “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth” – Joseph Goebbels

While it may be tempting to just chalk this up to partisan politics and ignore it, it is something we can’t afford to dismiss.  A substantial portion of registered Republican voters rely on Fox News as their only source of information.  This means that an unacceptably large portion of the electorate is voting on issues they do not fully understand or foster completely inaccurate views on.  Again, liberal and moderate voters might assume that since 47% of the voters will always vote Republican that there’s no point in trying to combat the practice of misinformation in the media, but that’s a dangerous tact to take.

I contend that a good democracy can only be achieved by having a well-informed democracy.  The United States isn’t a better country for having only a single party with educated views, even if that party (in this case the Democratic party) were to win every election.  We need a political system with two varied outlooks that compete for primacy with educated, well-thought out ideas.  In this way the country stays healthy, ensuring that only the best ideas win.  This only happens if voters accurately understand the issues being discussed.  We can’t have that unless we hold our news aggregators to a higher standard.

As voters, we need to seek out information from more than a single source.  We need to hold media outlets who engage in practices that are designed to misinform to task, by petitioning their advertisers.  When it comes to the leadership of our government, we cannot be lax in our duty to be conscientious consumers of information.  It’s our duty as citizens and our responsibility to the rest of the world.  Most importantly, it’s our obligation to ourselves and our children.

Two by Two by Triceratops

sci•ence

  •  the state of knowing
  •  knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
  •  knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method

scientific method

  • principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.

‘And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth. “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. “Reality control,” they called it: in Newspeak, “doublethink.”‘ – George Owell, 1984

In the early months of 2010, the Texas Board of Education mandated an unprecedented series of changes to history books that were soon to be used in Texas public schools. While the changes sparked a short-lived media controversy, the issue was largely forgotten during the opening months of the Republican Primary race announcements. Largely out of public notice, the Texas State Board of Educators approved the amendments, 10-to-5, making over 100 amendments to the 120-page curriculum standards which affect history, sociology and economics courses from elementary to high school. Those standards had originally been created by a panel of esteemed educators and scholars in the social sciences.

The changes generally involved changes to the language used, but did involve cases where historical references were changed or additional ‘facts’ were added. While this might seem somewhat innocuous, it was the nature of the changes that cause exceptional worry in historians. In my opinion, it should cause worry in us all.

Some of the most noteworthy changes were the replacement of the terms ‘capitalism’ with ‘free market’ and ‘imperialism’ with ‘expansionism’. The problem is that these terms are not truly interchangeable. The American economic system is Capitalism. Our conquest of Hawaii and the seizure of lands previously owned by Native Americans can only be described as Imperialism. Redefining how we describe our history dilutes the lessons it has to teach. Even more disturbing is the redefinition of our entire system of government as being a ‘constitutional republic’ and not a ‘democracy’. While both are technically correct, why change things? Because the the term ‘democratic’ sounds too much like Democrat, whereas ‘republic’ sounds more like Republican.

Ten of the fifteen board members are avowed Republicans. The apparent intent of these changes are to cast the Republican party and its specific interests in a better light. One of the changes was to downplay the importance of Thomas Jefferson as a Founding father because he was not a practicing Christian. They also struck down a requirement to ensure that “students learn that the Constitution prevents the U.S. government from promoting one religion over all others.”  The board decided to strike down the inclusion of hip hop music in favor of country music as a uniquely American invention, even though country music is generally derived from a combination of European, Old English and Irish music. Music like Jazz and Hip Hop originated purely is America, but… well, draw your own conclusions why they weren’t picked. This might sound like a ‘race card’ being dropped, but they also reduced the attention given to Lincoln’s inauguration and emancipation speeches and gave equal accounting to Andrew Jackson’s inauguration and subsequent speeches. While I can see Jackson’s role in our history as deserving attention, it seems suspicious to me that they’d also reduce attention given to the Great Emancipator unless the abolition of slavery was less important to them than the historical tenets of the successionist states.

The problem with this is that the Texas Board of Educators were making decisions based upon political and philosophical reasons, not scholarly or educational ones. David Bradley, a board member, even admitted to this politicization of the process, saying “We took our licks, we got outvoted [in a vote 10 years ago] … Now it’s 10-5 in the other direction … we’re an elected body, this is a political process. Outside that, go find yourself a benevolent dictator.”  They favored terms and events that inferred a more ‘conservative’ outlook and removed terms and facts of a more liberal nature. Ultimately, this will reduce the objectivity of the education that the children will be receiving; it limits the full scope of the history of the United States and diminishes the contributions of minorities. When history is viewed retroactively through a politically-tinted lens  we often change the meaning and implications of what has shaped our nation.

I question both the credentials and the agenda of the members of the Board. The vast majority are lawyers and businessmen, not educators or scholars. Don McLeroy, the chairman of the Texas State Board at that time, has even gone on record indicating he believes that dinosaurs existed concurrently with homo sapiens and were present on Noah’s Ark during the Biblical Flood. While I will not challenge his beliefs, I will question his capacity to make objective decisions. The belief that tigers and triceratops co-mingled in Noah’s Ark indicates a very specific worldview and belief system. If he believes that textbooks should teach this as scientific fact, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, then how can he objectively make decisions about American history without letting his own personal beliefs color those decisions?

So, why is this important now, two years later? Or to you specifically, who may not even live in Texas? First of all, Texas is one of the largest purchasers of textbooks in the country, so large in fact that their orders often can influence the price of certain books in the market thereby lowering them. When this occurs, other school districts across the country will also purchase the same books, since they are priced lower due to Texas’s orders. In this way, what Texas chooses as textbooks is often what a large portion of America’s school districts will be using to teach their students. By now, your children might be studying history with a decidedly partisan outlook. Luckily, teachers still have some sway in exactly what lessons children take from their studies, but clearly the foundations of educational objectivity are being challenged.

However, more worrying is that this is just another example of the previously inviolable nature of factual evidence and scientific methodology being gradually eroded and suborned by political agendas. There’s an old maxim that ‘history is written by the victor’ but that’s a fallacious statement. History is actually written by a quorum of observers. What we know as true is based upon centuries of documentation that corroborates specific facts. And while it can be said that scientific truth is always evolving, always changing, the methodology to obtain that ‘truth’ is even more structured and less subjective than that employed by historians. It is determined by experimentation that is replicated by peers scientists who have all reached the same conclusions. In short, scientific fact is proven by observation and repeated testing and history is written because evidence indicates that an event occurred a specific way or because of a specific reason.

What we are seeing is the trumping of truth and fact by conservative ideology and expediency, a process that has been ongoing for the last two decades. Science and learning are ridiculed and spurned by the conservative right. In September, Rick Santorum admitted that “[Conservatives] will never have the elite, smart people on our side”, which he accepts as the status quo. It’s not unsurprising that conservatives eschew any type of cooperation with scientific experts; those people could readily discount the entire foundation for the narrative the conservatives are supporting, especially about issues like global warming and the economy. For Republicans, ignorance is bliss.

As Americans, we truly need to examine what we’re being told, what our representatives are doing. I’m sure the vast majority of Texas did not expect the Texas Board of Education to make the sweeping changes it made, under the helm of a dentist who believes dinosaurs took a cruise with Noah. This has to start before we tick a box on a ballot. This means looking into what your representatives believe and say, even when not in front of a camera (especially when not in front of a camera!). This is not just about whose fiscal policy will chart the course of the country; it’s about whose philosophical values will dictate what our children are taught and understand, about moral values that tell us who we can marry or who is a worthwhile citizen and how they can become one.

In short, it’s about revising who we were as a country, who we currently are, and who we will become. Make sure that America is representative of a melting pot of ideas, not just the worldview of a select few.