Thursday
Dec282017

One Down, Three (?) to Go

We have somehow made it through the first calendar year of the worst president in modern American history (and quite possible the worst of all time).

When it comes down to it, the most positive thing I can say about 2017 is this:

At least Prince and David Bowie didn’t die again this year.

Anyway, I’m taking the rest of the year off. If you need me, I’ll be checking out a matinee of The Last Jedi.

Happy New Year.

 

Wednesday
Dec202017

Stats for the Holidays

Just a quick post this week to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and give thanks that we all live in the greatest country in the world.

Well, actually, there is no “greatest country in the world,” at least in the sense of some objective standard or measurement. We just all say “greatest country in the world” and assume we’re talking about the USA because, I mean, come on, who are we kidding?

Of course, if we did use objective stats to analyze how well America is doing, how absolutely A#1 amazing we are, we might pull out this one:

“The US has the second-highest rate of poverty among rich countries,” and for black and Hispanic American children, “the poverty rate is even higher.”

Hmmm… that statistic isn’t so great, is it? Well, how about this one:

“The US has the highest income inequality of all rich countries.” And of course, that just got worse with today’s massive GOP tax cut for the wealthy.

OK, this isn’t going so well.  Let's try again.

Although “Americans spend enormously” on healthcare, we remain “in relatively poor health.” For example, America “has fewer physicians, hospital beds, and psychiatric care beds than most other economically advanced countries, ranking towards the bottom in each of these parameters.” And as if we all didn't already know, the United States “remains the only advanced economy in the world not to have full health coverage of its population." 

But look on the bright side, we’re also the most obese industrialized nation in the world.

About now, you’re probably wondering where I’m getting all those disturbing statistics.

Well, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) put together a report that found “the US performs dismally in most areas — such as healthcare, education, and violence.” In fact, the analysis “proves that, while Americans may be doing relatively fine, ‘best country to live in’ is a serious stretch.”

Yes, according to the OECD, “child mortality is higher in the US than any other advanced economy, and adult Americans also live shorter lives.”

Hey, if you want to live longer, move to Japan or one of those fancy, effeminate European countries where they simply don’t understand that dying young just proves how tough you are and is clearly the patriotic thing to do.

The OECD gets a little personal when it claims that America “stands out as one of the only countries in the world where maternal mortality has increased, rather than decreasing, over the past 15 years.”

But of course, that’s just one of the ways in which it sucks to be an American woman. Because according to the report, the “share of US women who experience violence in their lifetime is much higher than the OECD average,” and “the gender wage gap is also bigger in the US.” But don't worry, because another thing we have going for us is the fact that America is “one of only two countries in the world that do not mandate paid maternity leave.”

How’s that for American exceptionalism?

Now, my intention is not to bring you down this holiday season.

It is simply to point out that much work needs to be done, and shouting how we’re the “greatest” isn’t going to accomplish anything.

We cannot address our problems if we refuse to acknowledge them, or if we dismiss disturbing facts as fake news, or if we insist that we have nothing to learn from any other nation because we’re just the damn best.

We’re only 200+ years old. Maybe we have some growing up to do.

 

Wednesday
Dec132017

Who’s Next?

As I’ve mentioned before, my family is from El Salvador. I’ve never been there, but I hear that it’s nice.

Actually, I don’t hear that at all. In fact, I hear the direct opposite.

My mom and aunt came to America decades ago, and they have surprisingly little positive to say about their childhoods in El Salvador. One of my cousins came to the United States when he was a kid. He has vowed never to set foot in El Salvador the rest of his life, because the place holds such dark memories for him. And my brother has lived in that country for years now, and he has told me about the struggles of raising a family there. 

So no, this isn’t going to be an up-with-the-motherland kind of article.

Because in addition to my family’s subjective experiences, there is also the fact that El Salvador is arguably “the murder capital of world.”

And that is definitely not a phrase to put on the travel brochure.

You see, the legacy of U.S. intervention, a horrific civil war, and a stagnant economy are all major reasons for the country’s problems. And of course, “violence by so-called maras – gangs that originated in the United States and spread to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – is thought to be the major push factor” in propelling the tiny nation into “a lethal cycle that the government’s current rhetoric and strategy will not be able to break.”

In short, it’s a messed-up place.

What’s interesting is that, as bad as El Salvador would be under most circumstances, a couple of stray variables have turned a horrific situation into a pure cataclysm.

Back in 1999, the government thought the best way to fight the skyrocketing crime rate was to arm its citizens. It was that whole fantastical scenario of a good guy with a gun coming in to save the day. Well, that didn’t exactly work out.

The laws “permitted the private possession of heavy weapons. Instead of reducing violence,” however, these laws “fuelled its escalation.”

Another factor in El Salvador’s demise is its hyper-religious culture. The Catholic Church has such sway over the inhabitants that abortion is “illegal in all circumstances, without exception, punishable by up to eight years in prison. Sentences of up to 30 years have been handed down when a judge determined that ‘homicide’ rather than abortion had occurred.”

When women are denied basic rights over their own bodies, the culture notices. And today, “El Salvador is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women,” with “the highest rate of femicide in the entire world.”

Now, you might say that this is all very depressing, but that’s life in the third world — right?

Well, look at some of those factors again: a country where citizens are heavily armed, religion is all-powerful, abortion is illegal, and strongmen run the place.

This is the dream of everyone who voted for Roy Moore yesterday. Fortunately for America, they were outnumbered… this time.

For all the fear and paranoia that white right-wingers have about Latinos, they seem absolutely hell-bent to adopt the very worst ideas of Hispanic culture. 

Perhaps El Salvador has bottomed out, and can only improve.

But the United States, if handed over to zealots, can get a lot, lot worse.

Friday
Dec082017

So Emotional

Remember back when liberals were widely known as bleeding hearts and crybabies and hypersensitive wimps who would, if they could, create a Constitutional amendment that forbade anyone from getting their feelings hurt?

Yeah, those days are long gone. Because according to many conservatives, modern liberals are nothing but a bunch of heartless Antifa thugs who will crush your skull if you even mumble the words “free market.”

So liberals aren’t relying on emotions anymore, but you know who is? That’s right — Republicans. Much to our national shock, the GOP has become the party of feelings.

No, I don’t mean soft, useless feelings like empathy and compassion. I mean the manly, hardcore, non-cuck emotions like anger and contempt and hatred. They are very much in touch with those feelings. 

This move to prioritizing emotions over thoughts has been prevalent in the Republican Party for at least a decade. Recall that George W. Bush, the loveable war criminal, famously led with his gut and eschewed scientific analysis or hard data in favor of whatever appealed to his intuition.

Yes, that’s how we got the Iraq War and truthiness and the idea that climate change was open to debate. Good times…

In any case, the current GOP has doubled down on the use of feelings over facts. During the presidential election, we heard that it didn’t matter if crime was down. All that mattered was that people felt crime was up. It didn’t matter that the economy had improved substantially under Obama. Conservatives felt that it hadn’t.

And now, during the reign of the most id-driven, unthinking rage-aholic in presidential history, we see the full effect of this approach.

We have an America that is not just illogical. It’s anti-logical.

I’m not just talking about conservative hostility toward higher education, scientific inquiry, and the very concept of facts. All that is proof enough of GOP’s preference for knee-jerk reaction over careful analysis.

No, I’m talking about our glorious leader himself. All rational Republicans should see that Trump has “every quality they described as a deal breaker under Obama” and withdraw their support immediately. But while there is “virtually no personality defect that conservatives accused Obama of possessing that Trump himself does not actually possess,” more than two-thirds of Republicans still back him.

And the reason is simple: the GOP, as a whole, feels like Trump is doing a great job, despite the fact that the man has startlingly few accomplishments. They feel it in their right-wing bones.

But of course, that leads us to the latest Republican triumph: the passage of massive tax cuts for the wealthy.

This panacea of conservative thought, this epitome of GOP dreams, is and has always been trickle-down economics writ large. There is no evidence, of course, that giving more money to rich people stimulates the economy. Republicans just feel like it should, and so now we’re going to do it, despite the fact that the vast majority of America thinks this is a terrible idea.

Of course, Republicans have a secondary objective (again, one based on pure emotion), which “is to screw over Democrats.” The GOP tax plan will almost exclusively hurt residents of high-tax blue states like New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California. 

This is the just the latest, most egregious example of what has become the bottom layer of the GOP’s pyramid of principles. It is clear that conservatism “as practiced by most Republicans is an ideology built on one single principle: pissing off the liberals.” And this motivation is based on the feeing, the gut-level revulsion that “liberals are subhuman scum, and that hating liberals… is far more important that minor concerns like preventing war or economic destruction.”

In such an environment, it doesn’t matter that most economists — including conservative ones — agree that the Republican tax plan will not have any beneficial effects on the economy.

It doesn’t matter that the CBO has calculated that the plan will add over a trillion dollars to the national debt, which was anathema to a political party (long gone) that billed itself as brimming over with “deficit hawks.” Instead, we have GOP leaders — not working-class Republican voters, but full-time leaders of the conservative movement — who look at these facts, glance at these numbers, and dismiss “the findings as an accounting gimmick.”

It is not possible to have a true debate with people who, when confronted with overwhelming statistics, verifiable facts, or irrefutable evidence about clear truths, will simply set their jaws and proclaim, “No, I don’t believe it,” just because that’s the way they feel. 

The only proper response to such people is to say, “Well, fuck your feelings.”

 

Wednesday
Nov292017

Delusion Everywhere

It’s been just over a year since 62,979,636 Americans said, “Hey, you know that smug, narcissistic, mentally unstable billionaire who hates women and minorities? Yeah, that guy. Let’s all vote for him.” 

And it’s been nothing but easy living ever since.

To be fair, plenty of Americans are indeed happy with Trump’s first year in office, even if by any objective or reasonable standard, it has been a complete failure, daily embarrassment, and horrific nightmare.

No matter, because as I wrote in my last post, many hardcore Trump supporters have abandoned all pretense of rational thought or even strained justification for their misbegotten votes. Instead, the working-class folks profiled in Politico insist that the human cringe factor masquerading as a president is a great guy, and that things couldn't be better.

Well, I didn't mention that the Politico article ends with a Trump supporter casually dropping the N-word, which might as well be a snapshot of what the 2016 election was really all about.

You see, study after study has shown that bigotry is a prime characteristic of many Trump voters. In fact, some experts insist that racism motivated Trump voters more than any other factor. 

But as I’ve written before, Americans tend to dismiss the very idea that racism was even a minor variable in Trump’s election. We are determined to say that prejudice died in the 1960s, and millions of our fellow citizens cannot possibly be bigots. 

Well, as the Atlantic recently pointed out, this kind of delusion has been going on for decades.

And it is not just Trump’s supporters “who were in denial about what they were voting for, but Americans across the political spectrum, who … searched desperately for any alternative explanation — outsourcing, anti-Washington anger, economic anxiety — to the one staring them in the face.

The explanation staring all of us in the face is blatant racism, xenophobia, hate-filled rage — whatever you would like to call it. 

What happened in 2016 was that “Americans, who would never think of themselves as possessing racial animus, voted for a candidate whose ideal vision of America excludes millions of fellow citizens because of their race or religion.”

It really is that clear.

Now, of course, it is inaccurate and offensive to label all of Trump’s supporters as racists.

But the vast majority who are not neo-Nazis and white supremacists were still willing to look the other way as they voted for a guy beloved by, well, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. 

The Atlantic article has gone viral for a very good reason: It is an astute and well-written attack on our national delusion. At the risk of checking out for the remainder of this article, I’ll just list some of the most striking passages here.

 

“A majority of white voters backed a candidate who explicitly pledged to use the power of the state against people of color and religious minorities, and stood by him as that pledge has been among the few to survive the first year of his presidency.… This all occurred before the eyes of a disbelieving press and political class, who plunged into fierce denial about how and why this had happened. 

 

“Supporters and opponents alike understand that the president’s policies and rhetoric target religious and ethnic minorities, and behave accordingly. But both supporters and opponents usually stop short of calling these policies racist. It is as if there were a pothole in the middle of the street that every driver studiously avoided, but that most insisted did not exist even as they swerved around it.”

 

“The argument for the innocence of Trump’s backers finds purchase across ideological lines: white Democrats looking for votes from working-class whites, white Republicans who want to tar Democrats as elitists, white leftists who fear that identity politics stifles working-class solidarity, and white Trumpists seeking to weaponize white grievances.”

 

“A peculiarly white American cognitive dissonance is that most worry far more about being seen as racist than about the consequences of racism for their fellow citizens. That dissonance spans the ideological spectrum, resulting in blanket explanations for Trump that ignore the plainly obvious.”

 

“A majority of white voters backed a candidate who assured them that they will never have to share this country with people of color as equals. That is the reality that all Americans will have to deal with, and one that most of the country has yet to confront.”

 

It’s a lot to take in. But a combination of data-driven research, psychological study, anecdotal evidence, and our own common sense all verify that this is indeed the case. Americans remain in deep denial about the crushing moral failure that occurred last year.

To justify their votes, Trump’s biggest fans combined “an insistence that discriminatory policies were necessary with vehement denials that his policies would discriminate and absolute outrage that the question would even be asked.”

The only thing more delusional than thinking that Trump is not a bigot is to believe that his die-hard supporters will ever become open-minded and tolerant. In essence, “these supporters will not change their minds, because this is what they always wanted: a president who embodies the rage they feel toward those they hate and fear, while reassuring them that that rage is nothing to be ashamed of.”

So let’s stop kidding ourselves.

 

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