Anti-Trump Images for Free Use Everywhere

January 31, 2017 Artwork, Featured, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 658

I am making these anti-Trump images available for free use anywhere and everywhere. Commercial or non-commercial use, with or without attribution or modification. The original images are public domain, and the adaptation is mine, so there are no rights issues.

I’ve set up a Redbubble shop where you can buy these as vinyl stickers — but feel free to make your own if you prefer.

Share, share share.

(Click an image in the gallery to get the high-resolution version)

Creative Commons LicenseThis work by Christopher Keelty is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://christopherkeelty.com.

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What Hillary Clinton Could Learn from Charity Fundraisers

January 23, 2017 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 223

[Up front, a disclaimer: This is not a “why Hillary Clinton lost” post. I’m as sick of those as you are. This is sharing some thoughts on a lesson I think we might learn, and improve on in the future.]

In addition to my various creative endeavors, in my day job I’m a nonprofit fundraiser. I don’t talk about it much because, frankly, I don’t think most people would find it especially interesting. But I’ve been doing it for about 15 years, and I’ve learned a lot of things.

The most important lesson I’ve learned as a fundraiser, I think, is talk with the donor about the donor. A lot of people, when they want to convince someone’s support, they start listing great things about the organization. How long they’ve been around, the great staff, the many people they’ve helped, and so on. But that’s wrong.

People want to hear about themselves, not about you.

Donors don’t want to support an organization, they want to do something good for the world. When you see a hurricane or a flood, you don’t give to the Red Cross because you’re worried about the organization. You give because you want to help the victims.

In that respect, philanthropy is a selfish act. Donors want something from their donation–they want the knowledge that their gift is doing good, and the feel-good feeling that comes along with that. For that reason, a good fundraiser doesn’t talk about how great the charity is. They talk about how great the donor is. Don’t talk about “me,” “we,” or “us.” The important word is always “You.”

Credit is due here to Tom Ahern and Jeff Brooks, from whom I learned this rule. In Brooks’s book How to Turn Your Words into Money, he goes so far as to present a template for a fundraising letter that is just the word “You” over and over again. From there, says Brooks, you fill in the blanks.

What can successful politicians learn from fundraisers?

So why do I bring this up now? Because I’ve been reflecting on the 2016 Election, and how Hillary Clinton failed to follow this rule.

One of the most common complaints I heard about Hillary was that she was “too ambitious.” This was from both Trump voters who hated her, and reluctant Democrats. Now, I will not discount the role sexism plays in this assessment. It’s classic sexism to regard ambition as a negative quality in a woman.

However, I think there may have been something else at play here as well. Hillary Clinton talked about herself a lot. I wonder if this created a perception that her campaign was about her, rather than about the voters, and if this might be what some voters meant when they said she was “too ambitious.”

Obama, and even Trump, talked more about the voters

I’ve been trying to recall how often, during his first Presidential campaign, Barack Obama even mentioned the fact that he would be the first Black President. I’ve asked friends, Googled, watched some old speeches, and I don’t think he ever mentioned it once. Other people did, certainly, but I don’t think Obama himself ever addressed it.

Hillary, by contrast, mentioned her opportunity to become the first woman president quite frequently. If it came up in every speech, that would not surprise me.

I don’t fault her for that, any more than I would fault Obama for mentioning his own historic opportunity. I mention it not because of his race, or her gender, but because that focus made Hillary’s rhetoric more self-oriented than Obama’s. Even the slogan, “I’m with Her,” put the focus on the candidate herself, rather than the people she sought to serve. While it would lack the clever double-meaning, “She’s with You” may have worked better, from that perspective.

In some respect, Hillary’s experience might have worked against her. Yes, she ranked among the most qualified candidate ever to run for President. And yes, as a woman she was under an unfair obligation to state her qualifications. But every time she recited her remarkable resume, she was talking about herself instead of talking about the voters.

The remarkable thing here is, if we analyze the rhetoric of Donald Trump, narcissist though he is, he did better. When Trump took the podium at any of his rallies, he talked a lot about the voters and his promises to them. I lack the resources to count the number of times each candidate used the word “You,” but I bet Trump far outpaced Clinton.

The candidate as cipher for voters’ hopes and dreams

There’s a particular similarity some commentators have pointed out between Barack Obama and Donald Trump. I’m paraphrasing here, but the similarity is that supporters of both candidates tended to attribute views neither candidate ever actually expressed. Each was, to some extent, a policy cipher onto whom voters could map their own wants and desires. In 2016, I had a Facebook friend explain to me how Donald Trump was going to eliminate the federal deficit and pay off the debt–during the same period when Trump himself promised to build a wall across the southern border and deliver massive investments in infrastructure.

I suspect part of the reason Trump and Obama presented this opportunity is because they talked more about the voters than about themselves. In contrast, by presenting so many concrete policy positions, Hillary won the allegiance of voters like me, but she also clearly defined herself. That stripped voters of the ability to attribute their own values.

At least I think that might be the case.

It’s possible that political strategists already embrace the same rule as fundraisers. Certainly, in 2016 fundraising is a priority role for political candidates–if not their primary responsibility. But it’s not something I’ve heard pundits comment on. I suspect it’s something to which candidates and strategists may want to pay closer attention.

 


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Nate Silver swung the election. He should admit it.

January 20, 2017 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 317

It’s a simple but unfortunate fact that most humans don’t understand probability. It’s not our fault, exactly. Our primate brains are not designed for it. Take the Gambler’s Fallacy: If a coin flip comes up heads nine times in a row, you should bet on tails, right? It’s due, right? Well, no. If you’re educated you probably know the odds are still 50/50. But the multi-billion dollar gambling industry is built on how terrible our brains are at probability.

This is why it’s so infuriating to hear Nate Silver, patriarch and spokesman for data journalism, insist he didn’t swing the 2016 Presidential election.

The REAL Real story of 2016

Since Trump’s win, Silver has done innumerable interviews in which he disavows any responsibility. He’s prone to a judgmental tone about the way people treated polling data, and a blasé, even willfully obtuse response to suggestions that he had a role.

Yesterday, Nate Silver published a long analysis, titled “The Real Story of 2016,” in which he begins with a question: “Why, then, had so many people who covered the campaign been so confident of Clinton’s chances? This is the question I’ve spent the past two to three months thinking about.”

To his credit, Silver does acknowledge the role of polling data, and FiveThirtyEight specifically, but his analysis seats responsibility squarely with FiveThiryEight’s readers, and journalists who “lumped together” their model with other, differing forecasts. There is no recognition that the way Silver and his fellow data journalists represent their findings might be inherently misleading. No recognition that the winding path the election took might have been shaped by a certain hourglass-shaped graphic.

Data journalism changes how our elections work

Data journalism is young, and Silver’s model of compiling and analyzing poll data to produce a single projection has been with us for only three Presidential elections. Following his success in 2008, many (myself included) began treating Silver as some kind of wizard. Revisionist history will likely forget the absolute confidence with which many regarded FiveThirtyEight’s prediction pre-Trump.

In the months prior to the 2016 Election Hillary Clinton’s win seemed predestined. Journalists, talking heads, even candidates themselves tended to treat her as if she were already President. It is highly likely that strategic decisions were informed by that perspective, both within the Campaign and outside.

What might have been different, had people not assumed a Hillary win? Would the Obama White House have moved faster to let the nation know about Russian interference? Would FBI Director James Comey have sent his infamous letter to Congress? Would the Clinton Campaign have invested so much into states like Texas and Arizona, and so little in Michigan and Wisconsin? Would the mainstream press have focused so intensely on Clinton’s email “scandal,” or turned their attention to more intense scrutiny of Trump?

All of this is down to speculation, of course, but it stands to reason that some of the elements that shaped the outcome might have been different. In a few cases, dramatically so. Strategists live and die by polling data, and in 2016 Nate Silver was inarguably the forecast most people followed.

There is an argument that data journalism distorts our understanding of polling data. In October, following the final Presidential debate, polls showed Clinton with a four- to seven-point lead on Trump. That’s a sizable lead, but still a close race. FiveThirtyEight put Clinton’s odds at 88 percent. The Upshot said 89.

Silver’s front page projection is the core of the problem.

In interviews, Silver invariably defends himself by citing FiveThirtyEight’s disclaimers about polling errors. And that’s fair. It’s in the headline of this piece from November 4, and as a regular reader I will attest that this point was regularly included in their reporting. But direct your browser to FiveThirtyEight and you aren’t met by a nuanced analysis. You see this.

The 71 percent forecast comes from just before the election. By that point, it was too late for strategic shifts. A month earlier, Clinton’s odds were near 90 percent.The Upshot employs a similar presentation. Ignore the yellow bar here, that showed up only on Election Day.

“Who will win the Presidency?” asks FiveThirtyEight. “Who will be President?” says the Upshot. Then a simple percentage. No mention of polling errors, no disclaimer about margins. Not unless you click through to more detailed analysis. I can’t access internal traffic reports for either site, but I’m willing a small percentage did so. And that sets aside the way those numbers are reported across other outlets–though in fairness to Silver, that plays to his point about other journalists misrepresenting his work.

Nate Silver understands probability. He doesn’t understand people.

The fact is, the projection model pioneered by Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight shaped the way Americans, including election strategists and the candidates themselves, understood the Election. Arguably, it was the single most influential factor. Yes, there are many other polls to take apart, and in past decades that’s what analysts did. But having a single projection is much neater, and easier for our primate brains to understand.

85 percent. Good. So Hillary will win.

Statisticians like Silver, who are better than most of us with probability, don’t see it that way. On Twitter, I’ve personally been chastised by people who say people should never have regarded Silver’s projection as “deterministic.” Which, again, is true, but it shows a failure on the part of data journalists to understand how bad most humans are with odds.

Personally, I still like Nate Silver, and I like data journalism. I don’t believe such projections should not exist. In the wake of what happened in 2016, however, I do think serious consideration should go toward how it’s presented. I do think a single projection, presented as a thermometer at the top of the front page, is harmful. It distorts the way people view the election and its likely outcome, and in doing so it shapes the election itself.

I’d like to see that change, but even more, I’d like Nate Silver to acknowledge his responsibility. It’s pretty obvious that when it comes to statistics, Nate Silver’s brain works better than most. The same does not appear to be true when it comes to human nature.

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First Amendment Friday: January 20, 2017

January 19, 2017 Civil Rights, Featured, First Amendment Fridays, Gay and Lesbian Comments (1) 228

Happy Friday! It’s January 20, spring is two months away, and I’ve been 38 for three whole days. There’s something else happening today, too, but damned if I can remember what it is. Still, some unnamed impulse has inspired me to bring back the old Friday First Amendment Roundup, which I haven’t written since I worked for the ACLU. That same feeling tells me I’ll try to keep at it for the next four years.

So… Let’s all dust off our vintage Louis Brandeis decoder rings and see what’s happening with the Constitutional Amendment that’s First in all our hearts.

The Slants, the Supreme Court, and the NFL

The Slants, an Oregon-based band whose members are all Asian-American, appeared before the Supreme Court this week. Why? The US Trademark office says a 70-year old law forbids them from registering racially offensive names. The Slants (whose name comes partly from a derogatory term for Asian-Americans) say the law violates their freedom of speech.

Watching with great interest is the NFL’s Washington-based football team, whose name will not appear here. In 2014, the Trademark Office stripped said team of their trademark rights, costing them major profits. They are definitely rooting for the Slants; no word yet on any SCOTUS-related face painting.

Curb Your Rights

DAPL Protesters, photo by Flickr user Fibonacci Blue

Photo: Flickr user Fibonacci Blue.

As the nation prepares for a protest that may be one of the largest in our history, five separate states have introduced legislation to crack down on peaceful protests. Oh, excuse me. That should read Republican legislators in five separate states.

Especially targeted are highway protests, popular with Black Lives Matter and Dakota Access protesters. Minnesota and Iowa seek to make such protests illegal, while in North Dakota lawmakers think motorists should be able to kill protesters with impunity. Provided they claim it was an accident, of course.

Washington state and Michigan are also looking at criminalizing protests. A number of these legislators, by the way, consider themselves members of the Tea Party Caucus. I seem to recall something there to do with protest… but let’s move on.

A Big, Beautiful Problem with the First Amendment. Just Huge.

It says here that some guy named… Donald Trump(?) is taking over as President. Trump has shown himself to be no friend to the First Amendment, and the Nation does a good job of breaking down the biggest issues, from his relationship with the press and his abuse of libel laws to his endorsement of laws against flag-burning.

The Nation doesn’t mention much about the religious freedom provisions of the First Amendment. This Atlantic article from late December covers the bases: Anti-Muslim discrimination, mosque surveillance, and attempts to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and religious minorities. It’s morning in America, people.

Did I say morning? Sorry, I meant mourning. Damn homophones.

Hey, trivia: A “homophone” is the reason Mike Pence currently lets all his calls to go voice mail. And speaking of the midwest…

Priority of Zion

The ACLU is currently fighting a new law in Ohio that forbids the state from contracting with any business that boycotts Israel. Similar laws have recently passed or been introduced in about half of US states, including New York. The ACLU warns that such legislation not only punishes legal political action, but risks punishing businesses that divest from Israel for apolitical reasons, like new tarriffs.

Writing in Slate last April, Columbia Law Professor Katherine Franke and attorney Michael Ratner pointed out the irony of Zionist crackdowns on boycotts, observing that the Jewish community had long used boycotts as effective political tools. The two also expressed concern that such anti-boycott initiatives could be deployed against the LGBTQ+ population, which has deployed high-profile boycotts against anti-equality legislation in states like Indiana and North Carolina.

Anti-equality legislation? Hey, that brings us back to Mike Pence! So why not…

The No-Pence Party

In what has to be my favorite political protest… I don’t know, ever? LGBTQ+ activists staged a massive queer dance party outside Mike Pence’s DC-area home, just days before Pence was sworn in as Vice President. Protesters in hot pants and various rainbow garments sang, gyrated, and called for “Daddy Pence” to come out and join in the festivities.

Which goes to show: When it comes to American political protest, eventually it always comes back to tea bags.

Yeah… Sorry.


Top Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Don’t Let Republicans Pretend Racists Face Discrimination

January 19, 2017 Civil Rights, Featured, In The News Comments (0) 217

A bizarre but illustrative moment came during last week’s confirmation hearings for Senator Jeff Sessions: As NAACP President and CEO Cornell Brooks offered testimony, Lindsey Graham (Republican senator from South Carolina) confronted him about the NAACP’s civil rights legislative scorecard.

Graham read scores for several prominent members of Congress, pointedly contrasting the high scores by Democrats with the low scores for Republicans. Graham then leveled the following:

“It means that you’re picking things that conservative Republicans don’t agree with you on and liberal Democrats do. I hope that doesn’t make us all racist and all of them perfect on the issue.

I think the report card says volumes about how you view Republican conservatives. Maybe we’re all wrong and maybe you’re all right. I doubt if it’s that way.”

Did you catch that? Lindsay Graham suspects the NAACP is discriminating against Republicans by giving them low scores on a Civil Rights scorecard. The Republicans, who have built a 60-year platform opposing civil rights and advancing policies that harm people of color.

Opposing Hate is Not Discrimination

It’s surprisingly hard to lay hands on a copy of a recent NAACP scorecard, but their 2009–2010 scorecard lays out the issues they deem important, including predatory lending, opposing school voucher programs, ensuring wage equality, health care reform, and strengthening hate crime laws, among others. As Brooks says in his response, “The ratings are based on legislation, not party affiliation.”

This is of a piece with recent right-wing outrage over fashion designers who announced they would refuse Ivanka and Melania Trump their business. Designer Sophie Theallet, the first such designer, issued a statement explaining her refusal to dress the incoming First Lady: “The rhetoric of racism, sexism, and xenophobia unleashed by her husband’s presidential campaign are incompatible with the shared values we live by.”

Non-discrimination laws, like those enforced against homophobic cake artists, do not forbid any person from denying service to any other person. They forbid certain specific types of discrimination, including that based on race, religion, gender, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, and others. The Supreme Court labels these “suspect classifications,” groups of people who are likely to be the subject of discrimination.

Republicans, apparently, believe that racism, sexism, and xenophobia deserve to be protected under the very laws designed to prevent them. Or, more likely, they believe that when those values are so ingrained into a political philosophy that they might be labeled “beliefs,” that political philosophy warrants the same protection against discrimination as, say, a religion.

This is a ludicrous position, however. For the record, there is no legal protection against discrimination based on political affiliation or belief. Nor should there be. Political parties exist for the sole and specific person of taking positions others may find disagreeable to the point where they would refuse association.

I’m certainly not in favor of predicating all commercial services on political affiliation. I don’t want my local deli asking me how I voted before they’ll make me a sandwich. But for an event as momentous as the inauguration, at which much fuss will be made over who produced the First Lady’s attire, a designer has every right to refuse service. Just as the NAACP should be able to announce that every single member of the Republican Party is taking action to harm people of color without being accused of “discriminating” against their oppressors.

There is no specific test to determine whether a group legally constitutes a suspect classification, but the Supreme Court has specified some criteria. Political affiliation meets none of them. It is not an immutable trait; you are not born a Republican, you align with the party based on your political beliefs. Nor is it highly visible, unless you choose to put on a button or a bright red hat. Political parties are by definition not powerless within the political process (particularly laughable for Republicans, in light of recent election results) and while members of political parties may be subject to hostility, to characterize that as stigma is too far to stretch. Political ideas and positions are meant to be subject to scrutiny and rejection; that is their nature and purpose.

It’s been common for some time to hear Republicans in daily conversation claim to be victims of discrimination. It is breathtaking, however, to hear a lawmaker as prominent as Lindsey Graham claim victimhood when his party is called out for its own discriminatory practices. That’s a level of rhetorical normalization that verges on dangerous.

Do not allow Republicans to claim they face discrimination. Do not acquiesce when people equate their loathsome defense of racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-gay rhetoric with being born black, or Mexican, or gay, or Muslim. Do not allow oppressors to advance their cause by co-opting the language of the oppressed.

Look at it this way [and indulge the extreme example — it’s meant for illustrative purposes].

Imagine this was Germany in 1936, and Lindsey Graham was seated as a member of the Nazi Party. Imagine the NAACP was a group that advanced the civil rights of Jewish people. Would the Nazis say they were victims of discrimination when that organization gave them poor grades on Jewish rights?

Yes, you may be thinking. They almost certainly would. And that is something you should always remember.

Photo: Flickr user Fibonacci Blue, used under Creative Commons license.

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Comic: Trump Camp

November 20, 2016 Artwork, Comics, Politics / Religion Comments (4) 555

trump_camp

 

I haven’t heard too many people cite Godwin since the Trump campaign, which ticked most of the fascist boxes. The “victory tour” and his intention to continue holding rallies certainly doesn’t help. But once in a while, someone does still make this argument.

I heard someone recently say it was “too early” to compare Trump to Hitler, which is a funny phrasing. It implies we’ll get there eventually–but I guess we need to wait for genocide? Or maybe just the invasion of France.

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Well, THAT was horrible. Now what do we do?

November 9, 2016 Featured, Gay and Lesbian, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 451

1. We protect our mental health

This has to be the immediate priority. The traumatic shock of this result is already being compared to the 9/11 attacks, and we need to take care of ourselves and each other.

For starters, try to avoid freaking out about things that haven’t happened yet. As someone with anxiety, I understand the impetus to catastrophize and panic, but that kind of thing only takes a toll on you, and does nothing to solve any problem.

Yes, there is abundant reason to believe Donald Trump will be a catastrophically terrible President. And his mere election reveals terrible things about the United States and Republican voters. You can mourn those things–but try to avoid panicking about the things you expect to happen, because you don’t know the future.

If you feel lost or hopeless, talk to someone. A friend, a family member, even a suicide hotline. Do what you need to care for yourself–if you need to take a sick day, do it. If you need to be around people, do it. But try to get outside. Go for a walk. Being isolated in your stress and anxiety will only cause more harm.

2. We face reality

This election taught us a terrible lesson about the United States: We are not the country many Americans believed we were. Going into the election, I thought Donald Trump would show us all that racism, xenophobia, and misogyny remained serious problems in the US; I didn’t expect to learn that they were strong enough to win.

What this means is that we, as progressives or liberals or Democrats or Social Justice Warriors or whatever we call ourselves, must reevaluate our strategies. We should resist blaming isolated causes, and face the harsh reality of the America we live within.

And yes, what I’m saying is we may need to find strategies for appealing to fragile white voters who are far too concerned with race. Condemning the majority of voters for refusing to come along with us might feel righteous and good, but if the end result is a White Nationalist party controlling all branches of government, we end up harming the very people we are trying to protect.

3. We prepare ourselves to be vigilant

This is not the first time in history that men with evil intentions have assumed power; it’s not even the first time in recent history. The administration of George W. Bush took office with a plan to invade and occupy all of the Middle East; they got as far as Iraq before the nation stood up against them.

This time it may be even harder, because the GOP majority looks to be so definitive. But again, we cannot predict the future. If we stay vigilant, and act early to resist the worst efforts of our new government, we can likely prevent at least some of the grevious damage they wish to do to our country.

We must, first and foremost, fight for and alongside the most vulnerable Americans in the wake of Trump’s bigoted campaign: Muslim Americans, Black Americans and other people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community, Jewish Americans, immigrants, people with disabilities, and anyone else Trump’s followers (not to mention Trump himself, and his administration) wil now feel futher empowered to persecute. Already this morning the Ku Klux Klan staged a celebratory march in South Carolina; it’s up to us to send the message that, in spite of what this election would suggest, racism and hatred are not American values.

4. We start organizing for 2018

I know, it feels hopeless right now. Our Congressional districts are gerrymandered to all but ensure a GOP majority, and the Republican Party now knows that trading their racist dogwhistle for a big damn trumpet can be a winning strategy with white voters. But it wasn’t that long ago when things looked equally hopeless for the GOP. They got where they are today by persistent, strategic effort, and we can do the same.

It begins by understanding how we lost in 2016–again, facing reality no matter how much we may dislike it–and building our strategy from there. We have to address the needs of all voters, and motivate Democratic supporters to get out ot the polls. We have to weed out disenfranchisement and voter suppression. And we have to find the right candidates to appeal to the largest number of voters.

None of this will be easy, and a win is not guaranteed. But all you have to do is look at the current GOP to recognize that persistence pays off.

5. We resolve to resist obstructionism

I refuse to play the game the GOP has played for the last 8 years. As much as Donald Trump offends and terrifies me, I will not support an effort to block his initiatives simply out of spite or to score political points. As much as I loathe saying it, we need to rally behind the new President and help him make the right decisions for America.

One thing I will say for Donald Trump: We legitimately don’t know what he will do as President. Yes, candidate Trump said a lot of horrible, deplorable things, and he certainly could follow through on them. But Trump also has a long history of lying and betraying those who work with him, and his past positions (before he needed the support of GOP voters) were actually relatively progressive. I realize I sound like a ridiculous pollyana, but it is possible he could be an okay President–or at least he could advance some positive initiatives.

One way or another, the Democrats simply cannot become the new Party of No. It’s a surefire way to further alienate voters, it shows contempt for our whole political system, and I refuse to be a part of it. We have to be better.

6. We work to restore civility

On that same note, we just cannot have another election like this one. Our political discourse has steadily decayed with each election, to the point where Pew research says we are currently even more divided than during the Civil War. As Lincoln said, a house divided against itself simply cannot stand. We need to build bridges, or things will only get worse.

We need to return to an understanding that we are capable of disagreement without hating one another. I refuse to defend racism or urge “empathy” for people who vote based on hatred, but I do believe we need to at least understand other perspectives, so we can begin to speak with one another. Part of the reason we are currently so divided is that many of us don’t even live in the same world; the facts as we understand them on any particular issue may be directly contradictory. That simply cannot continue.

What I’d ask is for every person to develop an instinct: That when you read some piece of news or opinion that affirms your beliefs, that gives you that endorphin rush of righteous validation, that you regard that feeling the way you would a heroin high; addictive and ultimately damaging. We need to work to learn more about people who disagree with us, not reinforce the walls of our echo chamber and live assured that we are the ones who are right.

Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of showing you the articles you are most likely to agree with, Facebook changed their algorithm to show you the ones you’re least likely to have seen? It wouldn’t be hard to transform social media into something that would broaden our perspectives, rather than reinforcing our divisions.

I certainly don’t think that will happen. But each of us has the power to find those pieces ourselves. Instead of dismissing or unfollowing your conservative relatives, try reading those articles they share from Breitbart and Drudge. Yes, you’ll be horrified, but at least you’ll start to understand the paradigms in which they operate. Maybe then we can try to speak to one another as humans.

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It’s Time for the Republican Party to Abandon its Racist Base

October 20, 2016 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 266

As the third and final debate of the 2016 Presidential Election concluded last night, it was clear to anyone that Donald Trump’s collapse was complete. After a performance in which he threatened to end 215 years of peaceful transition of Presidential power, vascilated between condemning and admiring Vladimir Putin, and lashed out at the last minute by labeling Hillary Clinton “such a nasty woman,” even the most die-hard conservative commentators had to admit that he’d lost.

Except, perhaps, Rudy Giuliani, who has transformed from America’s mayor to America’s greatest sycophant.

But Trump’s catastrophic collapse is not his alone. Certainly the election is far from over, but polling data shows that barring some unforeseen development, Hillary Clinton will win the election in a landslide so dramatic that the Democrats will likely take the Senate and possibly–even in spite of prohibitive gerrymandering–the House. As one could tell watching Bill Kristol practically collapse into tears on Morning Joe, the Republican Party is in dire straits, done in by an identity crisis and a fundamental sickness of which Donald Trump is a symptom, not a cause.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Only a scant 22 months ago, the Republicans were picking up massive gains in every body of government, from Congress to Gubernatorial mansions to state and local offices. As the 2014 election set records for low turnout, Tea Party Republicans seemed the only people motivated to go to the polls and signify their disapproval of President Obama and his policies.

But was it really ever about his policies? Trump’s rise provides evidence for something many on the left, myself included, have been saying since the earliest days of the Tea Party: That their energy and anger was never really about taxes or sovereignty or the Constitution, it was about race, white nationalism, and xenophobia. This was clear from the start to anyone who paid attention; people claiming to be driven by tax policy didn’t know anything about actual tax policy; what they “knew” was that President Obama was an African Muslim bent on taking their guns and destroying America.

This is the energy Donald Trump seized, and rode past 17 other candidates, all of them (arguably) more qualified than him, to the Republican nomination, despite the party establishment’s best efforts to stop him.

But why? Why couldn’t the Republicans trust their voters to choose policy and electability over racism and xenophobia, to save them from certain doom at the hands of Donald “The Groping Narcissist” Trump?

Simple. Because Republican policy has been broken for years, so broken that to get voters to support them, the GOP built a coalition of hate and fear. But as the population of people to be feared has grown, and more people added to the list, that coalition has found themselves outnumbered and incapable of winning the important elections.

Republicans knew as early as the 1960s that they could not win elections on the merits of their policies. The roots of Donald Trump’s rise are in Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” which used coded rhetoric and stoked latent Confederate resentment after the Civil Rights Era to win white racists to the Republican Party. Nixon replaced Johnson’s War on Poverty with a War on Drugs, which was only ever really a war on black communities.

By the 1980s it was Ronald Reagan, telling the story of a fictional “inner-city welfare queen,” playing on racism to get poor whites to vote against welfare programs from which they benefitted; but racism alone was not enough to win every election, so in the late 1970s and early 1980s the Republicans formed a pact with the so-called “Moral Majority,” the American theocratic movement that feared gays, abortion, and atheists.

Muslims, who through the 70s and 80s took a back seat as villains to the Soviets, would have to wait until the end of the Cold War to be labeled as the greatest enemies of the state, and while murmurs of white anxiety about Mexican immigrants were heard, it would not be until the 1990s, when recession made the job-destroying consequences of Republican policy vividly apparent, that white conservatives began pointing fingers at Mexico and the need for southern border security.

But the predominantly white population on which these tactics worked was ever shrinking as a percent of voting population, and as culture shifted and LGBTQ Americans gained mainstream acceptance the GOP lost one of their wedge issues. Republicans had a wake-up call in 2012, and in the miniature identity crisis that followed considered the need to alter immigration and jobs policies to appeal to Latinx Americans, soften on anti-LGBTQ initiatives, and otherwise shift to invite a wider section of America’s increasingly diverse voting base.

Instead, the party went the other way, intensifying their rhetoric until they alienated even those relatively few diverse voters who still aligned with them. Rather than work to embrace minority populations (who, combined, now constitute a majority of Americans) the Republicans advanced new voting requirements to prevent those minorities from voting, a desperate and despicable ploy to preserve the power of their alliance just a little bit longer.

Many experts cited Republican fears about alienating their base, and the need to win local and primary elections dominated by Tea Party voters. The implied assumption there, however, and one that I believe is correct, is that softening would not successfully attract new voters because Republican policies are fundamentally flawed. This is why there are no more Rockefeller Republicans, and almost no more of Bush’s “compassionate conservatives.” The only way to get people other than the most wealthy corporate elite to vote against their own self-interest and to support the Republican party is to appeal to their hatred and bigotry.

And so the GOP candidates and party establishment finds themselves now, cursed with a candidate who cannot win–and whose catastrophic candidacy seems poised to drag the entire party down with it–as the inevitable product of a machine they created.

The only solution? If the Republican Party wants any chance at winning major elections in the future, it must evolve. The United States is never going back to the way things were in the 1950s, and it is past time that one of our two major parties stop pretending otherwise.

Our immigration system is antiquated and broken, and voters will embrace realistic, reasonable immigration reform. Closed borders and isolationism are neither practically feasible nor appealing to Americans who embrace our diversifying culture. No more mythology about immigrants bringing crime and drugs; reforming the way ICE approaches immigration enforcement and transforming it into something humane and decent would win a lot of votes.

No more “tough on crime” laws. Mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws are devastating to communities and carry a huge tax burden to enforce. In recent years, the curtain has been drawn back to reveal the ugly reality of American law enforcement. Modern policing is oppressive and incompatible with any party that claims to value a small government that doesn’t intrude in people’s lives. Put forward meaningful reforms on law enforcement, including community policing and sentencing guidelines.

While you’re at it, bring the War on Drugs to a definitive end. The idea is totally compatible with the core values of reducing regulation, shrinking government, and minimizing tax-funded public expense. The War on Drugs costs Americans billions every year, it destroys families and communities, and it doesn’t do anything to prevent drug abuse. Legalize drugs, tax their sales (Republicans prefer use taxes to income taxes, right?) and use the revenues to fund rehabilitation and education that might actually solve drug abuse problems–like the catastrophic opioid epidemic that generally already begins with the legal use of prescription drugs.

Abandon the anti-science stance that allows you to deny climate change is an existential crisis, and bring the same energy and enthusiasm to that problem that the GOP does to all other matters of national security. Stop allowing corporations to pretend carbon emissions aren’t the problem, and instead work with them to incentivize solutions.

It’s time to reevaluate all Republican policies, but especially the most hard-line, because the beliefs to which you cling hardest are the ones with the least rational justification. Trickle-down does not work, that’s a proven fact. Christianity has never been our official religion, and it never will be, so stop trying to force it on us. The Second Amendment affords Americans the right to self-defense, but right now Americans need defense from the Second Amendment.

All of these reforms would change the GOP from an out-of-touch relic that relies on trickery and manipulation to achieve any power, and provide a viable second party alternative to voters who feel frustrated by our broken political system. Would they alienate the racist white voters who have come to define the Republican Party? Abso-fucking-lately they would. The GOP would need to be prepared for a lot of angry phone calls, bigotry, and death threats of the variety those on the left currently receive on a daily basis. You’d probably also see a number of GOP politicians jump ship to become independents or join the Liberarian Party.

But that’s okay; embracing meaningful changes in policy would attract conservative-leaning voters who right now align as reluctant Democrats, or feel totally disenfranchised. In all likelihood, a GOP that kept to conservative principles while embracing science and realistic policy measures would lure bright centrist politicians away from the Democratic Party to replace fringe Tea Party extremists who jump ship.

And perhaps most importantly, such changes would again provide the American voter with two viable parties from which to choose. As a very left-leaning Democratic voter myself, I desperately want a reasonable and attractive Republican Party to force my politicians to work hard and put forward real solutions to our problems.

Will the Republican leadership see it this way? Almost certainly not. For one thing, appeals to racism have been so intrinsic to the party for so long that many of the officials themselves are racists. Others are corporate shills who aren’t interested in doing work that actually benefits the country, just the next rhetorical trick that will keep Americans voting against their own self-interest. My expectation is that the GOP will keep on the same path, maybe even further intensifying their rhetoric, until their victories are limited only to the whitest and most bigoted state and local offices, and congressional districts so gerrymandered they look like the letters of some alien language.

But wouldn’t it be nice if Trump were the last of the racist Republians? If Nixon’s Southern Strategy was finally laid on the ash-heap of history, as they say, and America entered 2017 with two rival political parties ready to face the realities of the 21st century instead of trying to turn back the clock?

Human progress moves slowly; that’s a fact. In government, in the United States, it is almost incentivized to move slower still. But Donald Trump and his catastrophic, embarassing bid for the Presidency is a death knell for the Republican Party. The question is whether it can reinvent itself and rise, or be itself consigned to the ashes.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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New York City’s Naked Hillary Statue is a Misogynist Political Cartoon

October 18, 2016 Featured, Politics / Religion Comments (2) 739

This morning, an artist named Anthony Scioli staged a political protest in downtown Manhattan by erecting a mostly-naked statue of Hillary Clinton near Bowling Green park. The move appears to be a reaction to the naked Donald Trump statue displayed in Union Square in August by an anarchist collective called INDECLINE.

Note: I could find no photos of either the Hillary or Trump statue that I could use without violating the photographer’s copyright; click the links above to see the statues for yourself.

Politically, Scioli has every right to stage his protest. New York City requires a permit for such a display, and counter-terrorism(!) police reportedly told him he had to remove his statue less than three hours after it went up, but not before morning commuters tore it down and engaged in a street-brawl about whether it belonged.

As an artistic and political statement, Scioli’s statue is troubling and speaks to much of what’s wrong with the way Hillary’s critics approach her, especially in contrast with the artistic choices around “Naked Trump.”

Let’s begin with the most obvious and attention-getting aspect of Naked Hillary: Her swollen, naked belly and exposed breasts. The artist who created Naked Trump crafted a very realistic human form that, while overweight, closely approximated Donald Trump’s actual physique. The one (likely) exaggeration was the statue’s obvious micropenis.

Naked Hillary, in contrast, has a body resembling a fertility goddess or R. Crumb cartoon, a grotesque parody of the female form. It bears almost no resemblance to Hillary Clinton’s actual figure. Instead, it is a commentary on the female form itself. The statue’s shape reflects the way Hillary’s critics view her: Burdened and disfigured by her femininity. Were this the artist’s primary statement, one could almost see this as a commentary on the way our society regards women; in combination with the statue’s other aesthetic and symbolic choices, however, such a reading is impossible.

Naked Hillary is posed mid-gesticulation, her arms spread wide as her mouth and eyes expand in wild-eyed frenzy. Once again, the choice contrasts with that to depict Naked Trump at rest, a placid if somewhat self-satisfied expression on his face. Especially when one considers that Trump is by far the more bombastic of the two, this choice again says more about the artist than about Hillary herself. Hillary Clinton is many things, but frenzied is not one of them. Instead, the wild expression and contorted open mouth reflect a primary objection from her critics: She is an outspoken woman.

From behind her belly and beneath her open shirt emerges the glib face and hand of her husband Bill; because god forbid any woman, even the likely first female President, be regarded as an individual human being apart from the man who defines her. It’s not entirely clear what purpose Bill serves; his expression and reaching hand likely hint at his well-known reputation, but in a surprisingly subtle move (considering the other symbolic choices) he is sans-cigar.

[EDIT, 12:30PM: From the photos available earlier this morning I took this to be Bill Clinton, but from later photos, it’s clearly not. It appears to be a banker fondling her and kissing her breast, adding another layer of troubling symbolism to the piece (why must alleged corruption be portrayed via sexual symbology? Because she’s a woman??) but doesn’t much alter the overall thesis as I’ve laid it out here. Just note that it is definitely not Bill.]

Below Bill’s hand, Hillary’s nether-regions are clad in a simple pair of white panties, because even in retaliating for Naked Trump, the artists regard female genitalia as too vulgar and offensive to be exposed in public. From there down, Hillary is transformed into a literal devil, her human legs replaced by hairy goat legs and hooves. Beneath her left hoof is a pile of papers; it’s hard to say with certainty from the photos online, but they would appear to be a mountain of emails. Her right hoof crushes a Google-style marker denoting a location on the map she stands upon, soaking it in blood that spills into the ocean.

Though the map is distorted, it’s almost certain that the marker denotes… wait for it… BENGHAZI.

The Naked Trump statue that made headlines in August was a simple artistic statement: It stripped The Donald of his glamor, of his character, of his bluster and his dignity and depicted him as nothing more than a man. Yes, the representation was distorted in some subtle ways to embarrass him: the tiny penis, the saggy skin and hanging jowl. But the artistic statement was to emphasize his humanity.

Naked Hillary, in contrast, is anything but human. She is a cartoon, so burdened by the symbols of right-wing knocks against her that no actual person remains. The statue’s artistic choices illustrate more about her critics than the candidate herself. Hillary’s attackers see her female-ness, they see the manufactured scandals they’ve associated with her, they see her refusal to sit down and keep quiet, and they see her husband as an intrinsic part of her personhood. The thing they are incapable of seeing is her humanity.

In the end, the Naked Hillary statue shares much with the right-wing movement against Hillary. It is wholly unoriginal and reactionary, exaggerated until it has little resemblance to reality, and based more on an imaginary character named Hillary Clinton than on the actual human politician by that name. It is fundamentally misogynist, and so burdened by decades of talking points and fake scandals that it can’t make an original statement of criticism. It’s less a “protest” than a political cartoon, one that repeats the same tired message Republicans have been reciting for the better part of 30 years.

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