Monday, November 14, 2016

Trump Nation. Or, What Needs to Be Said about Trump that Not Enough Good People are Saying

*This post was originally a response to a Facebook post, shared by a friend, but written by a stranger.

I appreciate the empathy, level-headedness, and decency of this post. I agree that we MUST learn to better understand the other side, not because we don’t believe in our political values, but precisely because we are passionate about them, and we must better understand our fellow Americans in order to communicate those values effectively. And, of course, for the good of our nation; I believe our "divided house" can stand -but only if we keep open the gates of peaceful (albeit heated) debate and compromise. I loved the call for those who voted for Trump to show vigilance and accountability in speaking up against Trump’s words and actions now that he is president elect; I believe the same would have applied had Hillary won (i.e. her supporters would have a special responsibility to monitor her actions).

But my favorite thing about this post was that it demonstrated an ability to respectfully disagree, an ability that Trump’s entire campaign (and perhaps his entire life, at least based on his track record of tweets) failed to demonstrate. In fact, it is this ability which breeds compromise and which happens to be at the heart of democracy itself. As I see it, Trump’s message was a message of anti-democracy, a message of authoritarianism and even proto-fascism. I know many will dismiss this as “extreme rhetoric,” but what other words can I use to describe a man who said, “I alone can fix this,” and who threatened to jail his political opponent? (the peaceful transfer of power happens to be a cornerstone of successful democracy). Trump did not win the primaries through intelligent and reasoned debate; he won them largely by insulting and dismissing his contenders. And although it was not included here in the list of “cons about Trump,” it is this anti-democratic stance and disregard for constitutional norms which I believe is the most important, over-arching “con” that transcended political and party differences -because it threatened the fiber and freedom of our American way of life. Obviously, many others did not see it this way. And that’s where I’m struggling to make sense of Tuesday night’s results.

I understand that Hillary was perhaps the most hated nominee ever to run for president. I can understand a third-party vote and I can respect it. But I am truly struggling to understand the many, many wonderful Americans (and fellow Mormons) who decided that Hillary was the lesser of two evils and actually filled in that bubble next to “Trump/Pence.” Reading this post helped somewhat. But there are still so many areas where I am left scratching my head in utter dismay.

I understand that Obamacare was not affordable, but to dismantle it completely with no alternative plan? I understand that some regulations have hurt small businesses, but to wildly lower taxes on the wealthiest of wealthy Americans at a time when wealth inequality is reaching record highs? Any criticism of the Clinton Foundation pales once placed side-by-side with Trump’s pseudo charities. And the same goes for any criticism of Clinton’s lack of a moral compass. Yes, she has sold out to the highest bidder, but Trump WAS that highest bidder (figuratively speaking). Yes, she has accepted large amounts of dark money, but she was also the candidate talking about overturning Citizens United, thereby lessening government corruption, while Trump was talking about overturning Roe v. Wade. And, despite her checkered past, Clinton has, time and time again, made a stand for morally important issues. What has Trump EVER stood for?

The main area that frustrates me is this: Hillary was a “normal” candidate, Trump was not. And many good and reasonable people, including the author of this post, are failing to say it. And I believe that it needs to be said. Instead, they basically say, “Well, each candidate had pros and cons. People were stuck between a rock and a hard place. It was like choosing between apples and oranges.” Perhaps; if the apple was merely mealy and over-ripe and the orange was moldy and rotten. Hillary was unacceptable like wearing short shorts to school in the dead of winter; Trump was unacceptable like wearing nothing but a string bikini. The difference was there and it was a big one: there was strong precedent for almost everything that Hillary said and did (other than being a woman, of course). Yes, the emails were not great, but there was a strong precedent for the use of private email servers in government. The same goes for embassy attacks. The FBI ruling on Hillary (each time) has been “careless but not criminal.” Has Hillary told lies and made back-room deals? Absolutely. Has she told or made many more than most other prominent politicians? I’m not convinced that she has.

Again, place her dishonesty side by side with Trump’s. Have we ever seen a president show such an utter disregard for facts (e.g. Muslims celebrated in the streets after 9/11)? Have we ever seen such shameless, in-your-face whoppers? Have we ever tolerated a prominent figure openly mocking persons with disabilities (let alone our president-elect)? Have we ever, in recent history, tolerated racially charged “witch hunts” led by our own president (e.g. the birther movement)? Has a prominent nominee ever mocked a woman for possibly being on her period, or a contender for the size of his penis or the looks of his wife? No. Trump’s promiscuity and indecency was not hidden in the background or admitted apologetically; it was unashamedly shouted from the rafters.

And this is to say nothing of the fact that Trump will be our first president to have zero military or government experience, and that he seems to be embracing a philosophy of nativism and isolationism --at a time when globalization is on the rise and when global organizations such as the EU and NATO are largely what is keeping truly frightening figures like Putin in check. Or, worse still, Trump has threatened to legitimize ISIS by giving them the full-blown, “boots on the ground” holy war that they’ve been dreaming of. Terrorists should be ignominiously executed as the cowards and criminals that they are. They, by their very nature, cannot be defeated in traditional warfare.

We are in uncharted territory here. We have made the unacceptable acceptable. We have debased and degraded the discourse of our democracy --and how do we undo that? Combine this with Trump’s disregard for democratic norms and values and we have a scenario frightening enough that is should have overcome party loyalty or differences in political opinion. A vote for change is one thing, but you don’t “drain the swamp” by electing the swamp monster. You do not fight back against “an expanding and unaccountable executive branch” by electing a demagogue.

I don’t want to “write off half the nation,” and I refuse to do so, so please, please help me understand.

Finally, the last question asked in the post: “what am I missing about my own party that drove these people to such desperation for change that they were even willing to vote for Trump?” It’s on the right track, but, ultimately, misleading. Many people who voted for Trump do, indeed, place the bulk of the blame for their problems on the Democratic Party (or, to hear Trump speak, it rests with just two people from that party: Obama and Hillary), but the true picture is much, much more complicated. You have to look at the changes that globalization is bringing, that shifting demographics and new technologies are bringing. You have to look at the changes the “black lives matter” and “LGTB rights” movements represent. You have to understand the complexities of the rise of radical Islam and the fact that wages have stagnated for the past few decades while the vast majority of gains in GDP have gone to the top one percent. You have to ask what role our Reality TV obsessed culture played in all of this. You have to consider the way that social media has inoculated us in our own personal echo chambers, and has propagated fake news in a way we have never seen before. And that’s just for starters.

The better questions might be, “Why have we become so polarized? Why have we lost basic faith in our system of government? How was our our anger and fear so effectively misdirected? What moral numbness allowed us to convince ourselves that Trump was ‘just another candidate,’ that scapegoating entire groups of people and turning to a bully was ever, ever OK? And what part did both the Democratic and Republican parties play in helping to create that desperation? What part may I have played?”

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Shame Game (Or, How I'm Starting to Understand the Root Problem of my Problems)

Last night, I had a shame attack. This post isn’t about the attack itself, but about how important it is for me to finally have the words to name it (thank you again, Brene Brown). It’s clear to me now that I’ve had frequent shame attacks throughout my life (I wonder if I am particularly prone to them or if most people have this many?) but, before now, I didn’t know what to call the experiences and I didn’t know what common thread was connecting them. I did know that even mildly humiliating experiences (e.g. losing control of my Primary class, oversharing at a social event) would often trigger memories of much deeper pains and humiliations (e.g. being berated at work, walking in late to an important meeting). Turns out, the common thread was shame. It has always been shame. And when I’d feel shame, past experiences of shame would rise to the surface, as if to validate the shame and the pain that I was feeling now.

For me, the experience of a shame attack is a lot like a panic attack; I’m paralyzed with anxiety and it's very physical (trembling, rapid breath, etc.). I think the main difference for me is in what drives the attack. With panic attacks, the driving force is an unspecified threat or the fear of all the things that could go wrong; with shame attacks, the driving fear is that I am wrong. Fundamentally flawed. Doomed to fail again and again. And that I will never be enough, no matter how hard I try. It feels like being two inches tall. It feels like drowning. And it is deeply frightening and intensely discouraging.

Interestingly, the thing that triggers the shame attack for me is generally not the thing that is actually driving the attack. For instance, last night, the trigger was being late to a photo shoot and fearing that I wouldn’t get the pictures I’d been hoping for as a result. A failed photo shoot is not a big deal. But interpreting the experience as “the proof” that I am failing as a parent…that’s a much bigger deal (i.e. If I can’t even get my ragamuffin-looking children to look presentable on time when it really counts, if I can’t even get some pictures to capture how special my children are at these ages…Well then, what does that say about me as a parent?) After an hour of crying and working through some of the anger (Dave and I had been fighting too), I started being honest with myself about the true source of my problem or the reason why I was feeling so vulnerable about my parenting (I mean, I’m always feeling vulnerable about my parenting, but even more so lately). It’s simple. I am struggling, especially with Junie. And I feel ashamed about it.

Before our trip to Utah/Idaho at the end of February, it felt like we were in a golden stage where Junie was concerned; she happily followed Peter around the house, filling up the toy shopping cart or going along with whatever game he came up with. She was snugly, napping well, thriving, and talking more every day. I’m so thankful to say that she still is doing all of those things; however, whether it was an independence surge that corresponded perfectly with her second birthday or the fact that she learned how to climb out of her crib and the sleep deprivation that followed, she's been doing more hair-pulling, pushing, "chucking," and tantrum-throwing than ever. I don’t think I’m doing a very good job at teaching her how to deal with her ever-intensifying emotions. I’m yelling at her on a daily basis. I’m scared that she is going to become the “bully” of her preschool class this Fall. So, that’s the situation that I need to deal with, and I need to try to deal with it joyfully and lovingly and courageously because she is so dang cute and sweet (even when she’s furious) and she is growing oh-too fast. But my shame is getting in the way.

When it comes to how to deal with the shame though (or how to become “shame resilient” as Brene Brown would say) I don’t have much to offer. I don’t know what I am doing. But I’m guessing that being able to honestly label the problem is a good place to start. I’m “in a shame attack”; the attack isn’t me. I am making mistakes, but I am not the mistakes; I am learning from them even though I will probably repeat them. I know this kind of self-talk will help. I know prayer will help. I know that I need to try to give myself breaks to read, walk, exercise or to write. Beyond that, a big challenge is going to be staying engaged with my kids instead of turning to the type of escape/numbing behaviors that I've been doing a lot of lately (e.g. making David put Junie to bed every night, stuffing my mouth with chocolate every time the kids aren’t looking, staying up late watching movies).

Interestingly, I’m also not going to discount the power of music. Last week when I felt myself spiraling into a shame cycle (I’d been yelling at the kids all morning) I put on Joe Pug’s latest album, Windfall, and it totally pulled me out of it. For real it did. Here's a line from one of the songs: "Don't back down yet/It'll get brighter/Stand your ground like a veteran fighter/Grip that wheel just a little bit tighter now." So music helps. That’s at least one specific suggestion that I can take with me on this road away from shame and toward self-love and “wholeheartedness”; because I don’t have many other ideas. At least not yet I don't. But I will.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Whole of Human Suffering (or How the Love of God Makes Me Think of a Bench)

To be honest, the topic of adversity, trials and suffering is not one of my favorites. It’s a topic that comes up frequently in church talks and lessons, but it’s simply not a topic that I particularly enjoy. And, when I actually stop to question why, the reasons for my dislike and discomfort become pretty clear. I’m not a person who has suffered much in life, and, as such, it can be pretty guilt-inducing to think about those who have/are going through hell; I know I’m no better than them, so why am I getting off so easy?

Secondly, these kind of talks and lessons are extremely anxiety-inducing; they very effectively remind me that it’s not a matter of if I will suffer greatly in life, but only a matter of when and how much and in what various ways. The inevitably of future suffering is a hard fact to face square-on at any time, especially on a peaceful Sunday that has, up to that point, consisted mostly of pleasant family time and social interactions. 

If you’re anything like me, then you’ve felt yourself building a barrier between your heart and this topic and you’ve deliberately let your mind wander during these types of lessons. So much easier the wall than the vulnerability. So much better the distance than the fear and the foreboding. I’d much prefer a lesson about following the spirit or serving others –something I can fully engage with during class and then start attempting to implement right away. How do you implement a lesson about adversity in your day-to-day life aside from “waiting for the other shoe to drop” and hoping for the best? Hoping, that, when the time comes, you will be able to keep your heart open through the suffering and not lose your faith and not lose yourself? While, at the same time, being careful not to think too much about the suffering that’s coming, so as not to diminish your enjoyment of the good times that are happening right now?

I don’t know the answer. But I have thought a lot about human suffering in recent years. I’ve thought about the enormity of it. Suffering is a topic we should think about because we cannot, indefinitely, avoid thinking about. My goal is to find new and healthier ways to think about it. And, I’d like to somehow find a balance between enjoying today’s fair weather while still, at least to some extent, preparing for tomorrow’s storm (as completely unprepared as I feel and undoubtedly am).

Human suffering is immense; we come to understand it gradually and continually up until the moment of our deaths and possibly beyond. But we never understand the full spectrum of human suffering; we know it would kill us if we did. I believe that Christ did, and that the only reason that it didn’t kill Him was because of who He was and who His father was. However, even being spared the fullness of it, the longer we live, the more of it we taste, the more of it we understand. Hypothetically, if I live to be seventy, having suffered only mildly to moderately during the majority of my “trials,” my understanding of suffering at that point alone would be enough to completely overwhelm and incapacitate my twenty-year-old self (assuming it were possible to transfer understanding to past versions of ourselves). So, it’s probably a good thing that the process happens gradually. The rate of the exposure/learning isn’t constant, but the process never stops. And, when all is said and done, we hope to be better because of it. More empathetic. More human.

Everyone can give examples of how his/her understanding of suffering has increased in recent years. What are yours? For me, the obvious ones are: a better understanding of the potential pain of losing a child (I’ll hit five years of parenthood come October), a better understanding of the agony of helplessly watching a child suffer (watching both kids go through bouts of the flu or other minor traumas), and an increased empathy for those who lose a spouse after half a lifetime of companionship (as Dave and I approach the ten-year mark). These aren’t things I have actually suffered, but I better understand the potential suffering nonetheless. And as I do actually suffer them --please, please not these exact trials, but whatever does come into my path-- my understanding, and hopefully my empathy, will only increase –exponentially.

My understanding of suffering has also widened as I’ve watched others, particularly immediate family members, go through things that I wouldn’t have (and they probably wouldn’t have) ever imagined. It’s been “up close and personal” for me as they’ve dealt with depression, debilitating anxiety, losing a child, struggling to raise a child with disabilities, watching their financial prospects dissipate, undergoing a crisis of faith/leaving a religious group, or even watching my dad’s face as his peers and best friends grow old and begin to die.

On top of all this, other exposure to suffering (although I try to limit it) seems to affect me with its "realness" more powerfully than it once would have, as my muscles of empathy stretch to take on the load: stories of war/genocide, of oppression, of innocence lost too soon. And the heart-wrenching posts in my Facebook feed of young mothers made widows, debilitating sicknesses, chronically ill children. The extent of it honestly takes my breath away sometimes. How can this possibly be right? What order can be seen in this seemingly endless, senseless chaos? What do we do with all this suffering?!

Like most people, I can think back to a time when I was struggling deeply with something (something that seems silly now but didn’t seem silly at the time) and then…I found a measure of peace. For me, like for many of us, that peace came when I opened my heart to God (knowing that “God” means so many different things to different people). When I felt like screaming at the sky, “This can’t be right! I’m-so-so-angry-I’m-so-so-confused!” the answer that came back wasn’t a shout at all; It was a calm and simple “I love you. I’m here with you.” That was all. Somehow, that was enough. To me, the love of God is best visualized as an old friend sitting on a rickety park bench. The friend has been sitting there a long, long time and will continue to sit there forever –just beyond your line of sight but ready to step in at a moment’s notice, no matter how long it’s been since you sent that last greeting card. The friend waves at you from his bench, and tries to get your attention from time to time, but is never pushy, never going to rush or force you. The friend just loves you. And understands you wholeheartedly.

That’s how I would describe my experiences in resolving suffering, anyway. And it’s exactly the type of experience that I hope to think back on to get me through upcoming difficulties. But just remembering it isn’t going to be enough. How could it possibly be enough in the face of future suffering so intense that I cannot now begin to comprehend it?

There are many ways to respond to suffering, many of them destructive and unhealthy, and we all engage in them from time to time: bitterness, jealously, numbing ourselves, self-hatred at our perceived impotence, and a fear-inspired mask that keeps us at a distance from everyone and everything. The alternative? Take a deep breath…Courage. Keeping our hearts open to God (or a higher power or our own “better angels” or whatever God is to you). Learning about vulnerability and practicing it. Staying “real” and connected to others as “naked” as it sometimes makes us feel. Respecting our limits and setting boundaries when possible. Loving and forgiving ourselves. Giving ourselves time. And, for me, turning to God and turning the suffering over to God. Again. And again. And, imperfectly, again.

I’d like to be better at remembering Christ whose heart was bruised beyond any of ours will ever be, but who remained open and giving and brave as he prayed for others during his own excruciating death. So, without having done anything to celebrate Lent or even having done anything particularly spiritual to celebrate Easter (I was too sick to even go to church on Easter Sunday), I’d like to resolve here and now to be better at doing just that. To be better at remembering Christ as the friend who always stays, as the friend sitting on the bench, as the friend who teaches us how to suffer.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Austenland and Me (or, How One Line from a Very Silly Romcom Changed my Life)

This is not a movie review; it’s a post about self-discovery. I’ll need to give a little background about the movie, Austenland, first though (spoilers follow). The movie is based on a novel by Shannon Hale of the same title (which I haven’t yet read). Our heroine, Jane, is a single woman in her 30s obsessed with the world of Jane Austen who decides to blow her savings on a vacation to Austenland (a theme park where romance is guaranteed) in an attempt to get the whole thing out of her system -once and for all. She arrives and, well…hilarity ensues. (Jane Seymour is excellent as Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the resort’s director, by the way). At the end of her stay, Jane decides to reject her scripted romance with "the resident Mr. Darcy” in favor of “something real.”

I’ll jump in at this point to say that my husband, David, is my Mr. Darcy. In fact, before I met David, my best friend’s mother (who was reading Pride and Prejudice at the time) told me that the guy I was currently dating was my “Mr. Wickham” but that my “Mr. Darcy” was just around the corner. As it turned out, just months after this exchange, I met Dave, but unlike Elizabeth Bennett’s initial reaction of disdain, mine was nothing short of love-at-first-sight. Don’t ask me how I knew, but from the moment I walked into that half-empty BYU classroom and David turned around in his chair and smiled at me in that perfectly genuine way of his, I knew. I could feel the rest of my life about to unfold.

There’s a part in The Happiness Project in which Gretchen Rubin talks about her feelings for her husband, Jamie. She explains that, to her, he exists in epic proportions, like a hero from Greek Mythology. I immediately related because I feel the same way about my David. I’ll save my love letter until our anniversary next month, but, suffice it to say, I adore him. Or, to get my Austen on, we have been “incandescently happy” in our marriage these past seven years.

But here’s the catch: while these feelings of intense love and appreciation for my husband are entirely wonderful and healthy, the undercurrent of unworthiness that so often accompanies them is anything but. For instance, the seemingly innocent thought, “I’m so lucky to have him,” often holds a darker side -a side that says, “I’m so lucky to have him because I really don’t deserve him.” It’s funny, because the thing I probably love the most about my husband is his great esteem for me, and yet, deep down, I don’t believe that his feelings for me are truly deserved or completely based in reality. And so I’ve gone on, year after year, with a distant feeling of shame or unworthiness in my marriage that has sometimes ebbed to an almost inaudible echo of an echo, but that has sometimes risen to an almost deafening shout.

Which bring us back to Austenland. In the last scene of the movie, the Mr. Darcy character (Henry Nobly) shows up at Jane’s apartment. He tells her that his love wasn’t, in fact, scripted. “The night of the ball you said you wanted something real. I’d like to think I am real. Is it possible that someone like me can make you happy? Will you let me try?” To which our disbelieving heroine replies, “No. See, people don’t do this. This is my fantasy. This isn’t…” And then, with conviction, Mr. Nobly cups her face in his hands and says, “Have you stopped to consider that you might have this all backward? Jane…you are my fantasy.”

 It hit me then. (Okay, to be honest, it didn’t hit me until my second viewing of the movie, but, eventually, it did hit me.) I. am. Dave’s. fantasy. It was an incredibly empowering thought. His feelings for me are every bit as valid as my feelings for him. And I’m convinced that by remembering this, or, more importantly, by believing and internalizing this, I will transform my life and my marriage for the better. Without turning this into a lengthy post about shame and worthiness, I’ll just share a little bit about what I’ve been learning from author Brene Brown in her book, Daring Greatly. Self-love is foundational to any relationship. It takes self-love to be “real” and to be vulnerable and to really connect with others. And love is what grows out of this honest and respectful connection. So self-love isn’t just good; it’s essential and it greatly magnifies our ability to wholeheartedly love those around us.

So, the next time I catch myself thinking, “How did I ever get him?” or “He does so much more for me than I do for him” or even just a, “Dang! I’m lucky to have him,” I’m going to force myself to repeat these words and I’m going to try to really believe them: “He is lucky to have me. I enrich his life deeply. I am worthy of love and I am going to approach the people in my life from a place of worthiness. I am David’s fantasy as much as he is mine.”

Friday, March 4, 2016

My 2016 Politics

This post started as a Facebook comment, in an attempt to explain my political opinions and who I'll be voting for this election year.

So…here are a few of my thoughts: ;)

1. The Economy.

Prosperity as we know it has always been based on a thriving economy. Republicans and Democrats agree on this, but they have wildly different ideas about how we reach that end goal. To me, it makes sense to listen to economists, historians, and other scholars who have devoted much of their lives to studying these issues -to try to see past some of the political rhetoric, as hard as it is to do. Of course, the “experts” will always have their own political biases and will often give very different solutions, but I think some common threads may arise. For instance, most economists seem to think that investing in our infrastructure is a good idea -not just for the immediate jobs it will create but for bringing businesses to our shores in the future. Many of these projects are best handled at the level of the federal government. 
Not all government spending is created equal; some represents a logical investment.

While everyone agrees that job creation is central to the economy, I think it's important to emphasize that it's not just about creating jobs, it's about creating good jobs. When many jobs are so low-paying that only illegal immigrants will work them, or when a growing number of Americans work full-time but still live below the poverty line and require government assistance... This is a serious economic problem. Despite the conservative narrative, an unwillingness to work is not the central problem here.

While it's true that not all government spending/involvement is bad for the economy, it's also true that not all cuts to federal spending are good for the economy. As one example, cuts made to the IRS cost much more than they save in total revenue lost through increased tax evasion. Finally, there is so much government spending (or lack of spending) that just doesn't seem logical at all, until you follow the money trail. Which brings me to…

2. Corruption.

Why do we spend the enormous amount that we do locking up non-violent criminals (addicts) who often become repeat offenders? It doesn’t really make sense until you take into account the enormous power of the prison lobby. As another example, a lot of the problems with our healthcare system suddenly make sense when you consider the sizable influence of the insurance lobby on our government. And the list of examples goes on and on. It sometimes seems like we could find bipartisan solutions to almost any problem if only we could eliminate lobbying from powerful interests/groups. The fundamental problem seems to be: How do we make politicians vote in a way that is not in their own, personal best interest? How do we build more accountability into system? I think that change will of necessity come from the people. I think the level of support that Sanders has received (which was totally unexpected, by the way) partially represents that movement. Campaign finance reform is going to be central to that movement. We can't hope to have candidates make it to office without being beholden to powerful moneyed interests, if they don't stop accepting increasingly enormous amounts of money from said interests in order to get elected in the first place.

3. Sensible Regulations.

A capitalist economy has proven to be the best for many reasons. Even “socialist” countries/groups never advocated a total and equal redistribution of all wealth (with the only notable exception being the United Order of the LDS Church). To me, it seems that what all this debate really revolves around is the extent to which our government should regulate our capitalistic economy. What I truly don’t understand it the far-right/libertarian point-of-view in which the free market seems to magically solve all problems. That seems like a fantasy world to me. In the absence of strong regulations from a democratic government, other “regulations” and “governments” would rise up to fill the power void. These organizations may not be formally recognized as “governments” (Secret Combinations, anyone?), but they would attempt to consolidate power and to rig the system in their favor. Most importantly, these “governments” would not be accountable to the people. That doesn’t sound like “freedom” to me. Corruption would run rampant (much more so than it does today). History has shown this to be the case. I love to read what Teddy Roosevelt said and did about cronyism and about breaking up monopolies in his day. To me, it’s not about “wanting the government to fix all my problems.” It’s about wanting to feel protected by the government because I, as a common person, still have a voice in that government. That means a democratic government that puts strong and sensible regulations on our economy.

4. A Level Playing Field.

Life is not fair. Some children are born into the Romney household and some are born into poverty. The narratives we tell about self-made men often prove false; generally, windows of opportunity were open to them that were not open to others. Granted, they had to grab hold of those opportunities and succeed (where many tried to grab hold and failed) but the point is, the opportunity was there. Life is not fair, but, as a society, we should try to be fair, meaning that we should try to open more "windows of opportunity" for more people. It's not that everyone gets to score a touchdown, it's that everyone gets a fair shot at trying out for the team. Much like justice, it's not something we hope to achieve in its entirety, but it is an ideal that we strive toward nonetheless. This is a moral conviction for me that began while I was working for the Disability Resource Center (DRC) during college. The DRC's motto was "A Level Playing Field." I saw students succeed once higher education was made accessible to them, like a blind friend who turned out to be much better at math than me, despite stereotypes that blind people can't do math. She needed a system that made it accessible to her. She needed a fair shot. 

Providing opportunities should be a hallmark of who we are as a nation. Isn't that what the American Dream is all about? In some ways it is (e.g. all children have the right to a free and appropriate education), but in so many ways we could do much better, particularity with community-based interventions (as one of the strongest indicators of a person's future success is the community/neighborhood they are born into). Unfortunately, America doesn't score very well on measures of social mobility, meaning that people who are trying to work their way up are having a harder time than ever at doing it.

Okay...I should probably attempt to address "who I'm voting for" thing at some point.

You know (or can guess) my feelings on Trump. Cruz is almost worse because he hides his “crazy” under a guise of sanity and respectability while mocking republicans who are willing to make compromises and get legislation passed. Dear Senator Cruz, an ability to compromise does not equal weakness (unless you are willing to call all of our country’s founding fathers wimps); it’s called being a politician and doing your job. Obstructionism is not the answer. (I really wanted to use an expletive there, but I resisted.) J

I don’t like Rubio or Clinton because I think they are both “bought and paid for” by their parties and by other powerful people and organizations. They scare me less than Trump or Cruz. I think Clinton is smarter and more experienced (especially with foreign policy) than Rubio, which I believe would ultimately benefit our country. I think she would be very concerned about her legacy as president, which I think would also ultimately benefit our country. I do not think Clinton is free from corruption (far from it!) but I still have a hard time understanding the overwhelming, venomous hatred that has long been directed at her. I would vote for her to stop a Trump victory.

And then there’s Sanders. I probably don’t need to elaborate on what it is that I like about him (based on the essay that I have already written above), but he is speaking out against government corruption --and he isn’t just talking the talk, he’s walking the walk. That’s the main thing. That’s a HUGE thing. And honestly, most of his policies make sense to me. We need a public healthcare option. We need to make college affordable again. We need to invest in our infrastructure. I think he goes too far with some of his proposals (e.g. affordable college education is probably better than free), but I don’t think he would have a prayer of achieving his entire vision of “democratic socialism” as president. I think he would probably be able to move us in the right direction though. But, then again, with how divisive he is (and Hilary is too), I wonder if the “gridlock” would only worsen.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Downton Abbey Season 4 Review

Dave and I watched the Downton Abbey season four finale last night, and I’m now curious to know what some of you thought about it. Here’s what I thought:

Overall, I was a bit underwhelmed this season (particularly as it progressed toward the final episodes). Thinking about it, I realized that the main reason for this lukewarm sentiment was the lack of a compelling romance. Edith’s romances are always, well, icky, and the Tom/school teacher budding romance was uncomfortable at best. With Mary now free, there could have been at least the beginnings of something good, but no; I don’t mind the “multiple suitors vie for Mary’s attention” plot-line, but when they are all as boring as a pressed white shirt, who really cares? (The last guy actually started out with potential, but he pretty much became instantly boring once he fell in love with Mary and started being nice to her. (At any rate, he’s nowhere near as cute or charming as a certain blonde-haired lawyer from yesteryear). And poor Mary? She started out convincingly heartbroken, but is now back to being as unlikable (almost) as ever. If the writers don’t come up with a better male lead to humanize her a little, I fear we are in for a lot more of this self-absorbed heiress, “go ahead and try to win my affections” act.

What else happened? Well, I rather enjoyed Rose’s involvement with the black Jazz singer; he was delightfully cast. Daisy’s crush on Alfred (really, Alfred? –when cuter what’s-his-name guy was never good enough for you?) started out amusing enough, but if I am honest it was starting to wear pretty thin by the end of the season. And now Ms. Crawley has a suitor? Are we supposed to care about him or just enjoy watching her squirm whenever he brings her flowers and the like? The Anna/Bates conflict was by far the most interesting story-line this season, but I don’t think they did enough with it. Anna didn’t suspect Bates a little more given the arrows of pure hatred that he was shooting across the table at Mr. Green? Does she, like, know her husband? Did Bates confront the villain or simply push him into oncoming traffic with all the grace and precision of a trained assassin? After all, we now know he is a competent forger, a skilled pickpocket, and a very smooth liar. The season finale certainly could have done more with that, right? Speaking of the season finale, while killing off a main character every time seems far from necessary, I would like to be at least half-way to the edge of my seat waiting to see what will happen in the next season by the time the current season comes to an end. (To be fair though, the season finale did include an impressive number of gorgeous costume changes amid an apparently nonstop string of high-society events.)

As far as season five goes, all we seem to know for certain is that the Edith baby thing will explode (can’t say I’m looking forward to that), and that Mary will be pressured to pick a suitor (blah). They could have thrown some new complication into Mary’s love life (and, no, boring suitor #2 turning out to be super rich does not qualify). Or why not do more with Thomas’ scheming? We get vague threats that he has dirt on the new lady’s maid all season, but we still have absolutely no idea what those secrets might be? Even some revelation into what happened with Edith’s guy would have been appreciated. Is he living a double life? How ‘bout a shot of his body lying in a ditch? Come on, give us something to bite our teeth into! While the creators of the series are still nailing the details like setting, dialogue and humor, I’m afraid that if they don’t put a little more effort into major plot developments –or at least give us a decent love interest to pine after- the glory days of Downton may be forever lost somewhere down that dirt road near the smoking remains of Mathew’s car. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Current Thoughts on The Affordable Care Act

I hope you don’t mind hearing my two-cents about The Affordable Care Act. But there is just so much fear-mongering going on about it (e. g. “this will be the worst disaster our country has ever seen, mark my words!”) and also a whole lot of talk of lost liberties (e.g. “you will not be able to keep your exact same plan and coverage, waaa!” –btw, yes, you  may have fewer plan options and your premiums may go up, but you will likely be getting more benefits in return such as lower deductibles, prescription drug coverage, etc.). Of course there's also a lot of Obama-slamming and political garbage going on too (e.g. "Obama deceived the American people, blah, blah, blah"). All that aside though, here's the way I see it; this new Act has a lot of potential to increase liberties, give Americans more options, and empower a lot of people. As just one example, let’s say I wanted to quit my job (also assuming that I was currently working outside of the home) and start a private speech therapy practice. Before, fear of not being able to pay for insurance while getting things up and running might have been a big deterrent. With the new system though, a “safety net” is put in place so that health care is not such a worry while my income is temporarily so low (because I will be getting a government subsidy). Once I build up a clientele and am back on my feet again, I can start paying back into the system. If I am paying more at that point, I don’t think I would mind so much. Also, doing something progressive about our currently 30 million uninsured Americans is a pretty big deal in my book. And you realize that we have been paying for those uninsured Americans all along –every time one steps into an E.R. and can’t pay the bill- right? Remember that we are starting from one of the worst healthcare cost situations in the rich world (we pay about twice per capita of what other countries pay, while still managing to have many Americans declare bankruptcy every year over medical expenses or simply get by without adequate care). It's nuts. We need to move to a better system, even if it isn't a perfect one.