Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Rational Republican

I search for the rational Republican, who might make the proper case for the conservative point of view as follows:

The United States has been bending over backward for too long trying to uplift partners around the world with foreign policy, military interventions, and trade agreements that serve to weaken our country. We need to change that. Deals must favor us, policies must make our goals equal to or greater than the goals of foreign partners, and military interventions must be treated more judiciously, requiring foreign nations to stop depending upon the U.S. as a crutch. Our diplomatic efforts must be predicated on others strengthening their own muscles and carrying their own weight. Enough, already, yes.

The United States has been foolish and naive in its immigration policy, and dishonest about the danger it poses to our national security. Allowing (and we do *allow* it) people to enter our country unchecked is as dangerous as leaving our front doors and windows wide open at home all the time. We are surely more at risk because of our lax attitude and practices in this area. 

Often, we hear that the free flow of trade and labor facilitated by our immigration policies benefits our economy. That's hogwash. Whatever benefit there may be to our economy from the employment of immigrants, it's not worth the detriment to our existing labor force's ego, its ambition, and its relevance to the strength of a traditional ladder of success. The middle class is not just collapsing because of bad trade deals, and slow adjustments to modern technology, and the employment of women - which we never addressed at all, really. The middle class is in jeopardy because the workforce has been damaged by the semi-permanent underclass of immigrants which ensures gaps in the experience and work ethic of our American laborer. As a consequence, he is demoralized, and we need to fix that.

Lest we be cast as idealogues, let's not call this a Democrat or a Republican issue. John McCain has been the U.S. Senator for Arizona for how many years? Immigration is a federal policy issue, and yet Arizona has been struggling with this problem throughout his entire tenure. Republican and Democrat presidents and congresses alike have failed to address this. Let's all be held to account.

We may be a nation of immigrants, but we are no longer living in a time where our need for labor serves as a vacuum for every kind of laborer; we must be smarter and, sadly, more selective about who and how we bring people into our country. This is a natural consequence of growing from a newcomer on the global stage to an established society with generations of citizens who are and have been American. A constant influx without some export of human labor eventually leads to imbalance. 

That's not racist or xenophobic, it's basic math, and responsible public policy, and its intent is not to diminish but to uphold and uplift the American ideal. With that said, racism is far from dead in this country, both toward immigrants and our own citizens of color. Let's admit that and work on it. Doing so does not mean 'racism' is the only answer to every question about how brown, black, and other minorities function in our society. That holds us all to a lesser standard. But it does mean we don't oppress the already marginalized with a disregard for their experiences.

Likewise, police brutality and the bias of our courts is not an invention of the self-righteous or the entitled. We need to approach each of our problems as the real and solvable challenges they are. The laws must be respected, as must the citizens, and the discipline necessary to achieve balance comes from the top. Speaking the truth has to be honored and encouraged on all sides of the divide.

The truth is our health is, of course, important and it can and should be the work of the government to help its citizens keep good health. However, the government cannot manage the work and machinery of a healthcare system that addresses the needs of millions without diverting its attention and resources to such a degree that other and more important priorities are left deficient. For this reason, a return to free-market healthcare systems with supports from and oversight by the federal government is the appropriate and realistic compromise. We must also make use of the existing infrastructure of education, food and drug administration, and agricultural systems that are neglecting their roles in the preventative care and on-going health of our citizens. We can do this if we approach the problem from a 'government can do' but not a 'government can do it all' point of view. That's not un-American. It's adult.

This is true in all our areas of discord. Whether the constitution contemplated semi-automatic weapons or not, the right to bear arms is fundamental not just to the tradition and spirit of the Second Amendment, but truly, to the ideal that the government cannot be more powerful than the people. There is value and necessity for ensuring that ordinary Americans continue to protect this position. Within reason, the President must support the people in this endeavor and he can do so without diminishing the value of every citizen's life. Criminal violence is not the necessary outcome of protecting the citizens' right to bear arms.

The Republican ideology does not seek to ban and bar, but to treat with measure and reason the benefits of our society, so that they can be sustained not just for this but all generations to come. The cavalier manner in which we have treated our borders, our laws, and our workers cannot meet a good end.  We must honor with real work and intention the principles upon which the nation was founded, that freedom is absolutely necessary for the human spirit to thrive, and that a nation must protect its freedoms in order to ensure they are available both for all their own citizens and to serve as a model for citizens of the world.

I seek him and he is nowhere to be found. So I look elsewhere.

To be continued...

Monday, July 25, 2016

No, thanks.

Please don’t pray for me.

If you talk to me about Jesus, but when you have the opportunity to be kind you are hard, don’t pray for me.

If you make a show of your praise and worship in church, but in our times you are venomous, even when prompted by love, don’t pray for me. 

When I try to explain myself, if you talk over me and ridicule and mimic me for effect, don’t pray for me.

Don’t flower me with quotes from scripture, don’t defend yourself with apologies after the fact - time and time again; apology does not right your disrespect. Don’t say to one what you insist I have no right to say to anyone; I hear you. Hear me: don’t pray for me.

Spend your energies seeking your own peace. Don’t usurp the power of the Creator with your judgements, this only serves to harm you, to poison your heart.

If, alone, you cannot find the way to curb your spite, seek help, seek real help, not the false joy that comes from arms outstretched to a heaven that cannot receive you for the mean in your spirit, the dark in your thoughts. Choose wisely your words, they stain.

But whatever the case, I cannot receive your good wishes, I don’t believe them, and don’t want them lest they make me sick with whatever it is ails you. I remain at rest in the hope that more than prayer will imply itself in each of our hearts, for our own sakes and for the good of those we love.

In the meantime, please don’t pray for me. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

If I Wrote The Speech

So I've been watching all the harp on Melania Trump's speech and its failure to deliver both honest and interesting detail about her own experience or her husband's character qualifications for the presidency. To prove that it's really not that hard, and as a practice for my future life, I offer you my suggestion for what could have been an epic speech, no plagiarism needed...

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your gracious welcome and for the enthusiasm you've brought to this event. Our family is excited to be here but, unlike Donald who is always so confident, I'm a little surprised to be here, too. I had many dreams growing up, but I never pictured being the wife of the Republican nominee for President of the United States and I have never before addressed millions of people.

Outside the spectacle of this arena, I'm running a business, taking care of my family, and doing my best to raise my son in challenging times. I know that my good fortune eases many of my burdens, but the mothers in this room know that all children have pain, and all parents have worries, and money doesn't solve everything. When we talked about Donald's plans to run for the presidency, I thought first about my son, about all of our children and grandchildren, and how this would affect them.

I also thought about the broader context of what is best for our country, what is best for the future of our children, and all children. The truth is I don't know much about global economics or military strategy, so I can't speak to those issues. I don't know much about how my husband's businesses run either. I imagine those in this room who are married to dentists and plumbers and shoemakers don't know all the inner-workings of their spouse's jobs. We don't need to know those things, however, to know whether our spouses would be good at something, maybe even great. Because what we know about our partners is what kind of people they are, what matters to them, and what qualities they bring to any situation.

So I know this about my husband: he is loud and arrogant and bossy and incredibly foolish sometimes. He can be bull-headed and hard. Sometimes, I just shake my head when he talks. (laugh line) But I think those things are obvious. What the TV shows don't tell you is that he can also be surprising, kind, thoughtful, and generous. He is extremely intelligent and quick to learn new things, even at his age. (laugh line) He is a good and loyal friend, a compassionate boss, a hard-working partner, and a devoted father. He has been a loving and honorable husband, sincere and romantic. Even though I am not his first wife I am quite sure I am his last. We love each other very much.

Throughout our courtship and marriage, Donald has made it clear that his children from prior marriages are a priority in his life, as are the families of his children, including in-laws. He has not forgotten any member of his or our extended families. You can learn a lot about a person from the children they raise and in this respect, my husband and his former wives should be very proud of the talented, accomplished, and wonderful young men and women they have parented together. (applause line) I feel extremely fortunate to have them as role models for my son.

Outside of his family life, Donald has lifelong friends who know him to be a good man, funny, and warm. We often host people in our home, which to many is lavish, but to us is a place where we gather with friends, share meals, have great conversations, and celebrate. Donald and I have traveled the world together and he always amazes me with how much he knows about and appreciates other cultures, foods, and customs. Never, as his wife, have I felt that my nationality or my experiences as an immigrant were fodder for ridicule or disdain. On the contrary, I think Donald knows and appreciates that I am living the American dream, and that is something to be enjoyed and celebrated. (cheer)

In fact, I think that's one of the things that has inspired him to run in this election. The American dream seems a little faint right now. People are struggling, young men and women don't feel connected to pathways that will lead to success, children are being raised in communities that seem hopeless and tired, we're always hearing about violence amongst ourselves and with those who set out to protect us. That's not what America is about, not at all.

When Donald talks about making American great again, he's not talking about racism or sexism. He's talking about making the American ideal a reality again, and making the American dream attainable again. (cheer) He's talking about resurrecting the structures and systems that allow a young girl from a small town in Slovenia to dream big, pursue her ambitious, and succeed beyond her wildest imagination. He's talking about giving you a chance to compete against anyone in the world with your country behind you one hundred percent, giving you the tools and resources and encouragement you need to succeed. He's talking about not letting others in the world bully us with fear tactics wrapped in religion so that we feel compelled to proceed with caution, where bold action is required instead. He's talking about reminding us that while others in the world may be great, and many are, we are great and we don't need to apologize for that. We are great. We are. (chant line) He is talking about making sure that diplomacy does not come at the expense of our nation's best interests, about making sure that the deals favor us, or at the very least don't cheat us. Let others prioritize themselves. We need to put America first. (chant line)

So I know my husband and I are not the conventional candidate and wife. I think, frankly, we've seen enough of conventional candidates for a while. (cheer) I think it's time to let someone else have a try. Someone who has a global perspective and a nationalist ideology, and not a self-serving political agenda. Someone who is unafraid to take a big bite. Someone who believes we can still do great things, because we are a great people. We are great, don't forget that. I believe my husband will be a great leader, that he is the man best suited to be the President of the United States at this time in our nation's history and he will make America great again. I thank you for the opportunity to address you this evening, God bless you, and God bless our great country.

Friday, July 8, 2016

I Can't Write

The white of a blank page is something I revel in and look forward to, like plunging my face into a cool pool on a hot day, feeling the water swirl around me, silky and luscious. I can swim in a blank page for hours without once realizing the time has passed or that my fingers have long-since pruned. Even when I know I don't care. I love a blank page.

But this blank page is so hard and cold.

Because FBI Director Comey seems to me like a pretty honorable guy. His grasp of the situation seems so right and so righteous to me. He's like the real-deal American, right? The distance between me and people who view him as a pariah for his unwillingness to BRAVO TV his job frightens me.

I had a screaming match with my daughter last night - screaming, both of us at full volume, for the first time ever  - over my wanting her to come home instead of sleep at a friend's house. I don't ever want to do that again and fear that for my fear we may. That frightens me, too.

I am at once gripped and repelled by the news of the last three days, each day worse than the one prior, herald for the collapse of our framework, our absolutes. The war is not over there, friends. The war is right here, right here where we are.

As it turns out, my words fail me when the real thing is happening, when what matters is action and not words. I'm not trained or talented in that arena, and for my worry over my impotence I am rendered more so.

I keep looking for the comfort, the 'helpers' as Mr. Rogers would say. I see them but they don't bring me peace. They look weary, too.

I appreciate that God is there and that I can call out to Him, as I'm sure countless others do every day in every way known to man. But what does God have to do with it all, exactly? Nothing, I think, except to show us how far we are from Him and to compel us to do the little work.

I do that work, but fear I am deeply, drastically, irrevocably outnumbered, outmanned, and quite literally, outgunned.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

I'm Not Ashamed At All

My husband and I attended a concert for our children several years ago when a woman came over to us and blurted, "You should be ashamed of yourselves!"


This was a woman who we'd known only casually from the neighborhood; her daughter attended our kids' school, she lived a block or so away, and we knew her face and her name but not much else.

At the time, my husband and I were both elected officials on our Local School Council.  The school was dealing with a principal who was struggling, and we on the Council were struggling to manage the situation. We were working through a bureaucracy of rules and regulations, mindful that the children needed their school to function at its very best, teachers needed an appropriate environment in which to work, and the principal, however unfit for this particular job, deserved fair treatment and consideration for his career and his livelihood.

There were forms to complete and a process to follow that was lengthy and onerous. There were those who were vehemently for and others passionately against just about every effort we made. And while all this swirled about there was a bit more. Unknown to many in the school at the time, the principal's wife was very ill. They had no children, no help as far as we could tell, so he was working extremely hard to take good care of her while holding a position of considerable pressure and responsibility. All this while under the intense scrutiny of a committee-based performance review. It was not an easy situation.

Ultimately, he didn't wait out the process and found himself another job. By all accounts he's doing just fine there, and our old school is also doing fine, with an excellent group of people on the local school council, and an outstanding principal.

The woman who came over to us at the concert was clearly agitated, having convinced herself that whatever the problems were, our magic wands were not being put to good use. She felt comfortable berating us in front of our parents and friends, along with everyone within earshot - quite a few people - as if our positions somehow provided carte blanche for this exercise. She insisted we were letting down the community, we should be ashamed - she threw that in a few times - and then, having had her say and not much interested in our replies, she sauntered off, smoothly telling us over her shoulder how relieved she was that her daughter was graduating and wouldn't be around to be deeply affected by our failures.

Gee, thanks for stopping by.

I've never spoken about this publicly, but I share it with you now here because I want you to know there's a difference between sitting at home, hearing what you think is the truth, and knowing the truth, and working to do something about it.

I won't say that many elected officials aren't corrupt. I'm sure many are. I won't say that sometimes the 'looks like a duck, quacks like a duck' rule of thumb isn't the most true. But I will say that sometimes it isn't what it seems and if you don't know, you shouldn't act - or speak - like you do.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Scenes From an American Experience

The Declaration of Independence concludes with these words:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
 Two things there stand out to me.

First, in the eyes of our forefathers the declaration needed both their support and a reliance on divinity. They understood the declaration was meaningless if the men and woman represented by it did not fully stand by it, did not act upon its intent, and did not hold the purpose of the declaration above self-interest. Further, our forefathers were sure enough to put it in writing that some power greater than the human power would need to be employed to make sure the declaration's ambitious objectives could be met.
It was bold stuff, to be sure, and not to be undertaken without some careful prayer and consideration.
Interestingly, though, our forefathers did not name the divine entity whose providence would be relied upon for the support of the Declaration, I find it possible that for the Buddhist, Buddha is the understood presence, where for the Christian it is his God, and for the Muslim his, and so on, where in all cases each is bound by his reliance on the providence of his trusted divinity, without ever there being a cause to retreat from the purpose of the Declaration.
I find that so comforting, and true.

The second thing that stands out for me is that the authors of the Declaration felt it was important to articulate what they were willing to put into the pot, so to speak, so as to back up their announcement. They should give up their lives.
They should give up their fortunes. They should give up their honor. What would we do today? For whom would you give your life? A family member? A close friend? How about a neighbor or complete stranger? Would your member of Congress give up his life for your sake? How about his fortune? Would any of the candidates for president do so?

The last of these sacrifices is the one that most impales me, however, the one that most devastates me. We don't talk about honor enough, and especially not in the context of our politics or governance.
We have come to accept not only dishonor but the scorn of it as norm, and we've diluted our expectations so much so that we, ourselves, are not even shadows of the honorable men and women we should be in our support of this Declaration of Independence. We refuse our higher selves, and really most often it seems to me, for laze, not for ignorance, although I'll cede a bit of the latter, myself.

I attended an event a couple of weeks ago at an outdoor venue in Chicago, where a series of Mariachi students and professional performers put on a rousing summer concert for a crowd filled with bright color and food and sweetness. The event opened with the Mexican national anthem and while I'm not Mexican-American myself, I stood with everyone in the crowd and smiled as so many - young, old, in between - belted out with great emotion words that felt familiar even though they weren't to me.
The song ended with whoops and applause, great cheers, and I had the fleeting thought scurry across my mind that these folks ought to be singing an American song; we're in America, and singing the national anthem of Mexico seemed a little provocative for some reason. I couldn't hold the thought in my head for long because just then the arena filled with music again.
Oh-oh say can you see...
I stood there, heart racing, feeling terrible for my ignorance, and listened. A grandmother to my right, feeble and crinkled, held fast to her grandson's hand, singing reedy, proudly. A young woman in front of me wearing every bit of that jumpsuit just right held her hand over her heart, sincere and lost for the music. A group of men, still wearing rainbow beads from an earlier stint at the Pride Parade no doubt, sang full-throated, broad smiles, arm-in-arm.

I thought for those few moments of that song I might just sink into the earth for shame. Here these families who no doubt know that one of the candidates for presidency of this country has called them rapists and criminals, who no doubt know that across the street and wide into the city and across this country there are those who would wall them off, those who would presume them false in their Americanism, those who would turn their noses at their social advances even as they'd thank them and call them 'amigo' for care of their lawns or their hotel rooms, these families who continue to be treated like the nation's whipping boy for all things wrong in the economy, in the security of our nation, these beautiful, bright, warm, amazing Americans were mutually pledging their honor to our country in song.

That music was beautiful, that moment - for me - unforgettable, and that triumph of the truly American spirit will stay with me forever and a day. We are these colors, these scenes, and we can only hope to be this honorable.