America will never heal from Trump

July 11, 2018 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 125

I’d ask you to begin by reading Hector Acosta’s account of applying for citizenship after the 2016 Election. Full disclosure, Hector is a personal friend and co-organizer of the writer’s group I run. The short version is that Hector, a Mexican immigrant, lived in the US for 20 years as a resident alien. After Trump’s election, suddenly worried that he might not be welcome, he applied for citizenship and spent 15 months sweating when he saw police, lying awake at night, and wondering whether his next appointment would end in deportation.

Hector’s story ends happily, in that he did finally attain citizenship. But the consequences of that experience will stay with him for a long time, maybe forever. One day he was an American, who never doubted his place in his adopted home country. The next he was an immigrant, different and unwelcome, and even as a citizen that feeling will always linger.

And that is the truth of Trump: As focused as many of us are on opposing him, on stopping his racist, fascist-light policies, and even possibly removing him from office, America will never fully recover from Trump. We will always wear the scars of his election.

As of this writing, thousands of immigrant children remain separated from their families, kidnapped and held for ransom so Trump could demand his wall. Yes, a court has ordered the reunification of those families, which may feel like victory to some–but those children, some as young as infants, will suffer very literal psychological damage that will affect their entire lives.

Experts in child development say the experience of being torn from their families and held in cages may cause permanent psychological and even physical change to the brain development of these children. Something as simple as being denied human contact during vital developmental stages can lead to depression, isolation, and diminished health later in life. Even if we return every child to their family, even if we pay settlements for our crimes, those children are permanently and irrevocably harmed.

So, of course, is our nation. The US will always be the nation that put children in cages on the border. Nothing can undo that. Add it to the long list of shameful, hypocritical betrayals of the values we claim to hold dear.

These scars will never heal

The election of Donald Trump revealed the ugly side of America: Just how many Americans are racist, nationalist zealots who would fall in line behind a dictator if he promised to protect white supremacy. It’s very true that many Americans already knew this, and many of us (especially white Americans) are better for seeing it laid out in all its ugliness.

For other people, however, ignorance was bliss. Young Black and brown children are entitled to their innocence. Adult immigrants deserve to feel like full Americans, even if they know deep down there are people here who hate them. No one deserves the daily stress and trauma of being told you aren’t equal, being made to feel like an outsider.

There’s little doubt that the racists among us have been emboldened by Trump’s rise. We see new evidence almost daily: A white Manhattanite shouting because he heard Spanish in the salad line, a white man assaulting a woman who proudly wore the flag of her US territory, a seemingly endless parade of white people calling the police because Black people are having fun. We’ve seen the marchers chanting racist and antisemitic slogans in Charlottesville and elsewhere, and the constant presence of symbols of hate in our daily lives.

That genie will never return to its bottle. Long after Trump is gone from office, these racists will still feel empowered. And even if their rhetoric is muted, American immigrants, people of color, Jews, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized groups, will always retain the memory and the trauma of this era. They will always feel unwelcome, they will always feel other. Those scars may fade, but they cannot be erased.

So what can we do?

This is all pretty bleak, I know. It’s a bleak time, and I don’t believe in papering over the truth with “positivity.” And part of Trumpism is to overwhelm decent Americans with an onslaught of attacks, putting us into a sort of emergency room triage. Our most immediate priorities, of course, are to protect vulnerable people from immediate harm by opposing and undoing the worst policies: Get children out of cages. Reunite families. Stop deportations. Protect the rights of women.

To the subtler, less tangible consequences, I don’t know if there is a solution. I suspect the best we can do is act locally–do what we can to help people in our own communities feel like they belong.

In 2015, in my own neighborhood in Queens, a convenience store teller from Bangladesh was assaulted by a stranger who told him “I kill Muslims.” After the story made the news, community members held rallies, and posted signs, and made a point to shop in his store, many telling him outright that yes, he was welcome. Not every action needs to be this dramatic, and I certainly hope people aren’t attacked first, but there are small things you can do to help people feel that the racists are the outliers, and their neighbors appreciate them.

You can learn a little Spanish–something as simple as hearing “gracias” from white Americans sends a signal to Spanish-speakers that their language is not seen as other. You can make a point to greet Muslim Americans, who are often met with suspicion by white people–although I’d be cautious you aren’t intruding in someone’s day just to make yourself feel good. Oh, and for god’s sake, you can stop calling the police when you see Black people (or anyone else with brown skin) just having a good time and not harming anyone.

I don’t think you should be stopping strangers to tell them they belong here, but a smile and wave go a long way. As to your friends and neighbors, who might be justifiably suspicious of their white friends’ true feelings, it doesn’t hurt to tell them what I told Hector: A person isn’t American because of a document, or religion, or language, or any other quality–a person is American because they live in America. And I don’t care if you’ve been here five generations or five minutes. We’re all equally American.

That’s what Trump is taking away from us, and that’s what we need to defend.

The AMAZING cartoon that serves as a banner image is by DonkeyHotey on Flickr, and used under creative commons license.

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In rural Bilgewater, Trump voters stand by their man.

June 29, 2018 Featured, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 94

Tildy Vintner lost her job as a coal chute lubricator in May, but that hasn’t changed her faith in Donald Trump.

“He’s white, like me,” Tildy says, in between visits to customers at her new place of work, Jimmy’s Pancake Shack. “I don’t like people who aren’t white, and neither does my President.”

Most everyone seems to agree here in the little Appalachian town of Bilgewater. On a muggy summer Saturday, serenaded by the rattle of cicadas and the rumble of distant combines, you can watch kids with skinned knees ride rusted bicycles down Main Street, past clapboard houses and the chained link fence around the tire yard. On rickety wooden porches, built before the Great Depression, men with robust bellies rest on rocking chairs and talk about the “Good old days,” while nearby their wives hang klan hoods on the clothesline to dry.

“I voted for that Arab fella last time,” says Stenny Feltman, who at age 83 still maintains the same gravel farm his great-great-grandfather took by eradicating a tribe of Native Americans. “I didn’t trust that Mormon, and my grandson told me if I elected a half-Black, then the liberals would have to stop making everything about race.”

Stenny sips coffee from a mug that reads THE HOLOCAUST WAS A GOOD START. Across the breakfast table, Burt Huebner scrolls through his Twitter feed on his iPhone.

Burt, who lost his job scraping septic tanks just a month ago, just surpassed four hundred thousand followers. He doesn’t make any money from his Twitter following, but he makes ends meet “living off the state.”

“I reply to every tweet from the President,” says Burt, “to tell him what a good job he’s doing. I have fifty, sixty memes, I guess. I like to use them. Also news stories, anything I read on Breitbart, Daily Caller, Fox News. I post all them. Only sites I read. You can’t trust the media, you know.”

When asked about his political affiliation, Burt laughs and says he doesn’t have one. “I consider the facts and draw my own conclusions.”

Pushed for examples, he cites the “false flag” of the Trump Administration’s family separation policy.

“Hillary and Podesta ate them kids,” Burt says. “Spirit Cooking. Everybody knows it, but the media just wants to cover for Hillary.”

Life in Bilgewater harkens back to a simpler time. On the town’s largest intersection, two blonde girls in pigtails have assembled a lemonade stand. Their handpainted sign reads “FORTEEN OZ FOR 88 CENTS.” A customer complements their matching dresses, and they politely inform him the specific shade is called Prussian Blue.

Through Burt Huebner’s Twitter feed, I meet Tyler Pass, captain of the local school’s football team. Tyler is well over six feet tall, gets straight A’s, and expects to go to college on a full scholarship, “if they don’t give it away for Affirmative Action instead.” He spends his Saturday working out, doing bench-presses and curls on rusty equipment in his back yard. The tattoos on his shoulders contort as his muscles flex: one an Iron Cross, the other a banner emblazoned with the words “DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON YOU IN MY TOWN.”

His phone, never more than an arm’s length away, chirps rhythmically.

“Reddit,” he says, laughing as he holds it up to display a meme. “You need to find places like this online, where it’s still safe to be straight and white.”

Unprompted, he goes into an explanation of the Civil War. “Abraham Lincoln was a Black,” he says. He pauses before the word ‘Black,’ his eyes narrowing as he decides which word to use. “Won’t read that in any government-approved history book. He invented Welfare, though. That was always the plan, quit working and live off hard-working whites.”

Asked what his family does for a living, Tyler explains that his father has been on disability since a cow kicked him in 1987.

“We need to get back to what made this country great,” Tyler tells me. “I didn’t get to vote Trump last time, but I will in 2020, and hopefully again after that.”

Everyone in Bilgewater agrees that Trump should be President for life. “I don’t care if we all lose our jobs,” says Stenny. “He promised to hurt brown people, and that’s all I need to hear.”

Most cite economic anxiety as their top motive for their vote. “Economically anxious,” Tyler tells me. “That’s what we are. All the Blacks and Mexicans, they want to take our jobs and then collect welfare from out of our paychecks.”

It’s true that Bilgewater’s main employers have all closed in the last nine months: The coal chute factory, the offal distributor, even the jaw-harp factory that relocated in September to Bangladesh. It’s true unemployment in town nears seventy percent, but few of the resident seemed bothered.

“He’s turned the economy around,” Burt tells me. “Deporting all them freeloaders from El Salvador? They’re not stealing my hard-earned money any more.”

What about the threat of nuclear war?

“They’re only gonna bomb them illegals in Jew York City,” says Tildy. “And hell, even if there is a nuclear winter and we all got to resort to cannibalism, all that matters here is that he’s making them immigrants suffer.”

That elicits a cheer from the collective crowd at Jimmy’s. A man near the back, who won’t identify himself, shouts “I’ll lose my house, lose my job, watch my whole family starve, as long as I know the Mexicans are getting it worse.”

As the sun begins to set on Bilgewater, and those men on their porches fetch their shotguns and watch the streets, conversation turns to the new postal delivery person, who “looks Oriental.”

Asked for my opinion, this reporter declines to answer. My face must have revealed my distaste, because Burt Huebner is moved to comment.

“See, you East Coast elites think you’re so much better than us,” he says. “You’re always so rude. That’s why Hillary lost.”

[For the love of God, please recognize this as work of parody. Banner image is by Phil Roeder on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.]

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Don’t sacrifice your humanity to win an election.

June 26, 2018 Featured, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 106

I had this exchange on Twitter yesterday, not for the first time and almost certainly not for the last: I decried the policies of our racist President and his bigoted, Nazi-adjacent Administration, and was chastised by a Trump supporter because my words wouldn’t “resonate with a lot of people to help me win in November.”

Not long after, I read this thread from WaPo columnist Megan McArdle, in which she asserts that anyone opposed to Trump should be “laser focused” on winning the 2018 midterm elections, and the 2020 Presidential Election. And listen, I fully recognize the importance of those two elections. Of course I want Trump out of power.

But if getting there requires me to reframe my reality in a way that least offends Trump supporters — in hope, I guess, of carving off some sliver that will put Democrats over the top — then no, I’m not willing to go that far.

There is such thing as objective reality. Words like “fascist,” “Nazi,” and “white supremacist” are not merely insults, they have specific definitions and, when those definitions are met, become appropriate descriptors. Yes, I recognize that fascists, Nazis, and white supremacists rarely appreciate being labeled as such, but my life is not tailored to appeal to the maximum number of demographics.

Perhaps its a consequence of the social media age, in which every individual is a brand, that so many people find this premise reasonable. The United States is building concentration camps,yanking children away from breast-feeding mothers, and putting babies in detention centers. The President takes to Twitter to refer to immigrants “infesting” the US, and frets about immigrants “changing the culture” in Europe; he stands at a podium beside so-called “angel families,” victims of “illegal immigrant crime.” These are tactics taken directly from 1930s-era Nazis, but I’m not supposed to say so because the people who support those policies might be offended?

Maybe they should be more offended by the policies.

I’m not running for office. I’m not a brand. Yes, I want the Democrats to win in 2018 and 2020 — more because we need to strip aspiring fascists of authority, than because I’m a great lover of the Democrats — but I’m not so devoted to my political team that I’ll keep quiet as my country violates human rights and slides toward totalitarianism.

The owners of the Red Hen in Virginia aren’t running for office, either. Yes, they have a brand, but they also have employees, actual human beings to whom they are accountable. When faced with a decision, owner Stephanie Wilkinson took action. She later told reporters, “This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.”

Uphold their morals. Not win more votes for the Democrats. Not “appeal to the white working class.” Uphold morals.

Because it’s easy to abandon morals in deference to political strategy. It’s easy to stop viewing people — like, say, indigent people arriving at your border seeking a better life — as actual human beings, and treat them as the abstract consequence of political controversy. To think another vote for Nancy Pelosi is more important than the crying children who might never see their parents again.

You might, for instance, forget how much courage it takes to walk up to a White House spokesperson and her family, and tell her she isn’t welcome in your establishment. You might focus solely on the political implications, and the strategy of it all — and argue that a family business, and a staff of immigrants, should keep quiet and serve dinner to a villain threatening their safety, rather than risk a victory in November.

We aren’t just cogs in some political machine, we are human beings with morals and beliefs. It should be the politicians trying to appeal to us, not us trying to tailor our message to boost our politicians. Not everything serves the damn political machine. For one thing, there’s no guarantee that such tactics would even work — and if we give up our beliefs and still lose, what do we have left then?

So I’m not going to be courteous or civil to people violating human rights, and I hope you won’t either. I’m not going to stop pointing out when US policy is taking pages from Hitler’s Germany, and I’m not sacrificing my humanity or my morals in the interest of winning an election.

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Is America Great Again?

June 19, 2018 Civil Rights, Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 73

I want you to listen to this recording. It’s seven-and-a-half minutes long, but I doubt many people could bear the full length. This recording, made and released by Pro Publica, contains the cries of children, separated from their parents and thrown in cages by U.S. government agents. Again and again they cry for their mothers and fathers, the adults they trust, for comfort. But their mothers and fathers won’t come to comfort them, because the U.S. government has thrown them in other cages. The former head of ICE sayssome of these children will never see their parents again.

Listen to this audio, and answer a question for me:

Is America Great Again?

There is no law, state or federal, that requires undocumented immigrant families to be divided. The President claims there is, but that is a lie. Even his administration officials know it’s a lie — you can watch Attorney General Jeff Sessions, just a few weeks ago, boasting about the tough new policy separating detained parents from their children.

In Texas, federal officials stole an infant from a mother while she was breastfeeding, and then handcuffed her when she protested. Another woman, an ACLU client, reports the government has kept her from her son for eight months. Another family, also in Texas, has not seen their 8-month old baby in 4 months, except via Skype. The child’s father was deported, but the child has now spent half of its life in custody of federal immigration officials.

It is not a crime to seek asylum —in fact, the right to seek asylum is protected under international law, affirmed multiple times in the 20th century by the United Nations, and further protected in the United States by federal law. And yet the Trump administration has established a new policy that prosecutes every person who seeks asylum as a criminal. They say this is not a new policy, but that is a lie.

Is America Great Again?

Numerous members of the Trump Administration have stated that the new policy is intended to deter people from coming to seek asylum in the United States. The President himself denies this, but he also declares that the United States will not become a “migrant camp” or “refugee holding facility,” and describes immigrants as “infesting” our country.

The President blames the Democrats, again lying about existing law, but also says he will not release the children unless he gets funding for his border wall. That’s the one Mexico was going to pay for, according to Trump the candidate. Maybe he meant with the blood of their children? But I digress.

Meanwhile, ICE officials have been kidnapping children from their parents by lying that they were “taking the children away for baths,” which is, you know, the same thing guards at concentration camps told Jewish people to get them into gas chambers. This, while Trump tweets racist fears about how immigration in Europe “changed the culture,” virtually paraphrasing the “14 words” used as a slogan by the neo-Nazi movement.

The rhetoric has become so bad, the policy so ugly, that the Attorney General had to appear on Fox News to try and point out ways current U.S. policy is different from that of Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find any.

I ask you: Is America Great Again?

It’s an honest question, not just rhetoric. I genuinely want an answer. Because I want to know if the people who put Trump in the White House — and 55 percent of Republican voters apparently say they support this policy — consider this great. I want to be clear, so we don’t hear in the future about how ICE agents were “just following orders,” or how voters didn’t know who they were electing.

This is, after all, the same Donald Trump who spent $85,000 in 1989 to demand the execution of five innocent children.

Is this great? Children, locked in cages on bare floors beneath lights that never go out, crying for comfort from parents they may never see again? Children,stripped of their belts and shoelaces so they can’t commit suicide, before being locked away like criminals? A U.S. government that receives applications for political asylum not with compassion or respect for human dignity, but with the kinds of human rights abuses that draw condemnation from Amnesty International, the Mormon Church, former First Lady Laura Bush, and the UN Human Rights Commissioner?

Is this what you wanted? Is this who you’d like us to be? Is this the America you envisioned when you cast your ballot?

Is this what you voted for?

Is America Great Again?

The photo in the header is from and used with permission under Creative Commons license. Please note it is NOT an image of a migrant child currently detained under U.S. policy; my intent is not to deceive, but to avoid using images without permission of copyright holders or violating the privacy rights of minors.

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March 14, 2018 Comic Books, Comics Comments (0) 197

Hey man, I grew up reading comic books in the 1990s. As soon as Trump announced “Space Force,” I knew who would be drawing that title.

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