“I just had to let it go…” On Parenting and Mortality

December 8, 2018

December 8th is always a rough day, marking another year without John Lennon in the world. A 78-year-old Lennon would be pretty cool but he will never be more than 40, the age he was when he was shot by a “New York gunman” who happened to be from the Georgia town next to mine. That moment is forever frozen, just like December 7th is for another generation. I remember making a vow on December 9, 1980 that I would never laugh again as a silent protest against the insanity of taking this sage out of the world.

I did laugh again, a lot. And tried to keep the messages of the forever-young Beatle in the front of my head. This blog is inspired by him and named after his song I heard on 96 Rock that morning the moment I realized that he was actually dead. For the billions on earth born after the night he died in the back of police car on its way to Manhattan’s Roosevelt Hospital (that includes my wife and daughter), the ghost of John Lennon is omnipresent. Just ask Cozy to sing a few lines of “I am the Walrus.”

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What attracted me to John Lennon as teenager was his wisdom, born of pain. I would read every interview with him I could get my hands on and dissected song lyrics for glimpses of directions for my own confused life. His final album, Double Fantasy, released three weeks before his murder, was full of useful tidbits. I didn’t immediately connect with it because it was the songs of a 40-year-old bouncing off 16-year-old ear drums (although I did love the weird new wavey Yoko songs that were closer to the B-52’s than the Beatles).

Now that I’m a father, I understand the wisdom, and ultimate heartbreak, of that 1980 album. Cozy is now the age John’s son, Sean, was when he started recording the tracks for Double Fantasy. This includes the song for Sean, “Beautiful Boy.” In it John is filled with the deep optimism that comes with parenthood. “Every day in every way, it’s getting better and better.” And the pure thrill of seeing the world through your child’s eyes. “I can hardly wait to see you come of age. But I guess we’ll both just have to be patient ‘cause it’s a long way to go.” Three weeks after the world first heard that song Sean would have his father stollen from him.

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I’ve met Sean a few times and I always want to just give him a hug. His memories of his father are from the perspective of a pre-schooler. There was never a Father John teaching him an E chord on the guitar or nervously explaining the difference between (all you need is) love and sex. His John Lennon is the one shared with the rest of humanity. While it’s the natural order that parents die before their children, it shouldn’t happen that quickly.

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The day just has me reflecting on how I really want to stick around as long as possible to give Cozy the maximum guidance, protection, and exposure to my sick living-room dance routines. As an older parent, I might not make her 30th birthday party and hope I can be there for her college graduation. (The good/bad news is that Blazaks tend to live a long time.) I have to make this time matter because I might not be around to clean up any messes later. When I think about serious risks to me (I have been known to jump out planes and mouth off in biker bars), now the thoughts immediately go to my daughter. I don’t that Nazi to kill me, not because it will hurt, because who will explain to Cozy the dangers of mall jazz and boys who think they are all that? I mean, seriously.

The tragic end of John Lennon reminds me of how we are all here such a short time and do not control when our exit date might be. The rumor was that John was planning a tour in 1981 and I would have been in the front row. It didn’t happen but he made the absolute most of his 40 years. Each stage was focused on making his world a bit better, whether opposing a war or just making bread. That’s the best thing you can give your child, no matter how long you last in this world.

However far we travel

Wherever we may roam

The center of the circle

Will always be our home

Yeah, yeah, yeah 

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Stone Mountain is a rock with a lot of racial baggage: Finding solutions

November 22, 2018

Should Germany erect statues of Adolf Hitler because it’s their “history”? Is their banning of the swastika “erasing history”?

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When I was in third grade at Atherton Elementary in Stone Mountain, Georgia, if I couldn’t immediately name the three Confederate heroes carved into the face of the mountain, I would get punched. Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. We moved to Stone Mountain in 1972, after a year living in Boca Raton, Florida. But before that, my family lived in Cleveland, Ohio. I quickly learned that the Civil War didn’t end in 1865, and if there was one thing worse than a “yankee” it was a “damn yankee.” The refugees of the rust belt were the new carpetbaggers.

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I loved growing up in Stone Mountain. In the 1970s, it was just starting to transition from a rural southern town to a suburb of Atlanta. We got our milk from a dairy, fished in a pond, road horses, and played in endless tracks of woods that were quickly being cutdown to make way for new subdivisions. We had brand new schools (Woodridge Elementary and Redan High for me) and new grocery stores and even a new Hardee’s hamburger joint. But there were some old demons that caught a few of us damn yankees off guard.

Let freedom ring?

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I didn’t hear Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech in school for probably the same reason that (unlike other students across the country) we weren’t encouraged the watch the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries Roots. There was a subtle message that black lives didn’t really matter and neither did their experiences in white America. I saw the speech on PBS one day (a habit I picked up during the Watergate hearings) and was dumbstruck. Amid the rightness and righteousness to King’s call for a “symphony of brotherhood,” was a shout out to my podunk town. “Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!” Woo!

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There was a reason MLK mentioned my town. Stone Mountain is the birthplace of the modern Ku Klux Klan. A methodist preacher named William J. Simmons saw the film The Birth of a Nation in 1915, an insanely racist epic that glorifies the Reconstruction-era Klan, and thought, “That looks like a good idea.” He assembled a group of like-minded white men, including a local quarry operator named Samual Venable, whose son, James Venable, would become the Imperial Wizard of the national KKK in the 1960s. Simmons, Venable, and 13 others, including 2 elderly members of the original Klan, climbed the mountain and lit a 16-foot cross and a new Klan (and a new Klan tradition) was born.

As a kid in Stone Mountain, it was well known that the Klan was still a presence. A good friend of mine in sixth grade’s father was in the Klan and would “delight” us with tales of nightriders who would keep the town white. There was no counter narrative about the horrors of lynchings, rapings, and sheer terror inflicted on black Americans under the Klan’s warped reign. Every Labor Day, the Klan marched through our little town before their annual rally on the Venables’ property. There was no Antifa to oppose them. The fall of 1980, my senior year in high school, as our student body experienced an increase in African-American kids, Klan flyers popped up on lockers. There was no response from the white administrators. The following fall a 23-year-old black army private named Lynn Jackson was found hanging from a tree in nearby Social Circle, Georgia. There were no marches. Everyone knew that we lived in Klan territory.

I carry great shame that as a young person I never spoke out against this insanity. The truth is I was told the Klan had my back against the “invasion” (that word should sound familiar) of black residents moving out from Atlanta, looking for a better life in the burbs. We were told they were bringing crime and lower property values. My northern-born parents would never use the N word, but I heard “jigaboo” more than once. I was conflicted but acquiescing to the Klan-view of the world was easier. I now wonder how hard it was for the black kids in my class to operate in the face of this normalized white supremacy. When one white kid did something positive, another would say, “Mighty white of you!” If you tried to reach out to a black student for friendship, you were called a “nigger-lover” (so you didn’t). I had a great black friend in my guitar class named Cheryl who turned me on to dub reggae and the very first rap records. I want to find her and beg her forgiveness for not being a clear voice against the daily micro aggressions she must have endured as a black kid in white Stone Mountain.

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Stone Mountain has changed dramatically. White flight accelerated in the 1980s and when I go back now it feels like aliens just rounded up all the Caucasians. They fled farther into the hills and complain about “what happened” to “their” town. (The truth is my old neighborhood is now a nice middle-class black neighborhood. Cars on blocks have been replaced by Mercedes and landscaped lawns.) My nearly all-white high school is nearly now all-black. My brother and I recently visited our elementary school to take some pictures and the black principle came out to confront us, probably worried that we were Aryan soldiers planting a bomb.

“Get over it!”

But Stone Mountain still has a race problem. It’s the mountain itself. Or at least the carving on it. When the Trump-hat wearing alt right was rallying in Charlottesville, Virginia last year, chanting, “You will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!” they were defending a statue of Robert E. Lee. We were moving forward in our national history and putting these vestiges of our dark past in museums where they belonged. I remember thinking, “Um, we’ve got a Confederate memorial the size of a mountain to deal with. What do we do about that?”

It doesn’t make much sense to blast Lee, Davis, and Jackson’s faces off the giant hunk of granite that is our mountain. There’s some hysteria coming from white folks who think that’s even possible. These are the same white folks who, in 2008, worried that a newly elected President Obama would ban the N word and force white people to pick cotton. But those three faces loom over an increasingly black part of the country, watching over black families who picnic where the Klan burned crosses.

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Many southern whites say, “Get over it. It’s history! Stop looking to be offended!” I’m guessing that German Christians don’t say that to German Jews. These southern whites must be willfully ignorant of the centuries of rape, torture, mutilation, murder, family separation, and endless bondage that was a historical fact of the regime Lee, Davis, and Jackson fought to preserve. “The Civil War wasn’t about slavery!” these whites claim. This is the biggest lie of all. The leaders of the Confederacy made it quite clear that they were quitting the United States of America over the issue of slavery. Georgia’s proclamation of secession, signed January 29, 1861, referenced slavery 35 times. Confederate president Jefferson Davis routinely cited Lincoln’s attempt to abolish slavery as the reason for the war (as did Lincoln himself). It’s an Orwellian rewrite by whites wishing to diminish the savage and divisive nature of slavery to try to claim the war was about “state’s rights” (to preserve slavery) or the “southern way of life” (built on slavery). This what you get when people think Gone With the Wind was a documentary.

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But I go back to the trauma. The experience of that black family having their picnic under the gaze of the Confederate “heroes” who defended lifetimes of torture for their ancestors. As Dr. Joy DeGruy writes about in her brilliant book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, it is unrealistic to expect African-Americans to just “get over” the traumatizing effects of generational slavery when the reminders of that campaign of dehumanization are all around, from Confederate flags, to increasing hate crimes, to police brutality, to the simple micro-aggression by whites who deny that racism is still a problem. Black lives don’t matter. The fact that we are even having this conversation is proof.

I had a white student once tell me, “Racism ended in the 1960s. Black people are just complaining now.” I responded, “What day? There must have been a day that racism ended, so what day? I mean we should make that day a holiday! The day racism ended in America and black people just started complaining. What day was that so I can mark it on the calendar?” He didn’t say anything after that. If these white people (and they aren’t just in the South), bothered to ask an actual black person about the persistence of racism, their fragile picture of a “post-racial” America would crash.

Transforming a mountain

So what to do about Stone Mountain? Nobody’s going to blast off any faces. Half of the guys up on Mt. Rushmore owned slaves (Washington and Jefferson). Do they get blasted, too? These whites who worry that any of this is “erasing” history obviously don’t know what the fuck a book is. There are thousands of books on the Confederacy. But don’t worry, those three ghosts will be on that mountain long after we’re all gone.

My solution has always been to add to the carving. Leave Lee, Davis, and Jackson up there, but add Martin Luther King, Jr. to the mountain. He’s from Georgia and it was his “I Have a Dream” speech that put my little town on the map in a way the KKK only dreamed about. Maybe a larger MLK wagging is finger at LD&J or just looking down on them with pity. Racist rednecks can have their carving and African-American families can be reminded that progress happens. This country is not stuck in the past.

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I’ve been hanging out on a Facebook page called I Remember Stone Mountain When… It’s populated by those of us who grew up there and it’s mainly reminiscing about cruising the K-Mart parking lot or eating fried catfish at Rio Vista Restaurant. But bring up the issue of race and suddenly we’re back on James Veneble’s property with crosses burning. I’ve been called a “stupid liberal” more times than I care to count, just for asking people to acknowledge the truth about the carving and the pain it causes.

Amid all the yeehawing about “preserving our heritage” and my failed attempt to raise the issue of white privilege came the most sane rational post from a guy named Tom Malone;

May I invite you, gentlemen, to join me in an idea I’ve been developing over the past few years? To enhance Stone Mountain Park by making one of its missions to serve as a center for racial reconciliation. How? Not by removing anything, but rather by adding statues, historical markers, and a museum, etc. honoring and remembering the contributions, sacrifice, and suffering of the slaves who were also an integral part of the Confederacy. This way, the WHOLE story would be getting told, and we could all go there for honoring, reflecting, and reconciling.

Bam. There it is. Problem solved. The carving stays as a recognition of the horrific sins of the past and our dedication to right those wrongs. We desperately need a real national conversation on race and Stone Mountain, Georgia could be where this could happen. It’s not beyond the pale that Johnny Reb embraces the depth of his implicit bias in the shadow of Jefferson Davis. And it’s entirely possible that little black boys and little black girls may be able to transcend the trauma of racism from a mountaintop in Dekalb County where the KKK burned its first cross. That would be the realization of Dr. King’s dream. There have been incredible racial reconciliation projects in South Africa, Rawanda, and the former Yugoslavia that have brought real healing. We need this in America and we could start it in Stone Mountain.

It’s so funny when I hear white people blather about “heritage.” If you are a European-American, your heritage includes everything from Neanderthals to the Renaissance. The fact that you fixate on the disgusting eras of slavery and Jim Crow says an awful lot about your values. You know what is a part of your “southern heritage”? The civil rights movement! Where Americans put their bodies on the line to fight for justice and equality. Preserve that history. Be proud of that history.

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In 1997, Stone Mountain elected its first black mayor. Mayor Chuck Burris ended up moving into the house once owned by KKK wizard James Venable. To bring the point home, Burris put a freedom bell in the town square to celebrate the progress of MLK’s dream. That’s the Stone Mountain I love. I don’t have to wax nostalgically about fried catfish in the good old days. Stone Mountain’s good old days are straight ahead and I’m proud of where it could go. I have a dream, too.

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I’ve been given a small space, against the wall

November 19, 2018

There’s only so much space in our queen-sized bed and as our daughter gets bigger, the little queen annexes more territory. Cozy’s history as a co-sleeper has not yet ended. She started life swaddled in a cradle next to our bed and then Baby C just moved into the bed. But then it was off to the crib and a room of one’s own. Then she did a stint on the couch in her room and finally her own bed. Bedtime for Miss Bonzo with a few books read, the lava lamp on, and the dreaded Mickey Mouse Fun House CD on play. Good night, sweet child of mine.

But there’s a plot a foot. Do we have our marital bed back? Is there the hope of the return of mornings rolling in the sheets? Can I have a chance to stretch out like Abe Lincoln as the sun rises on the new day? Nope. She’s back in our bed. Like a thief in the night, she creeps back in (with a posse of stuffed animals), often waking me up by putting her hand over my morning breath. We never hear her enter. We never feel her climb under the covers. She’s just there. It’s kinda creepy. Cute but creepy. I reach out to sleepily put my arms around my wife and there’s a 4-year-old in her place.

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Because Cozy has moved past the princess problem by just assuming her role as queen, she demands the majority of space in the bed. Which means I wake up each morning pushed up against the wall. That’s my space. When I bought this house in 1999 it seemed so huge, too much space for one guy. Now I have a little space against a wall. “Up against the wall, Daddy, I’m trying to sleep.” The ladies rule this house. I have a drawer and this space against the wall and that’s just fine.

I tried to talk to Cozy about the situation and that she was a big girl now who should wake up every morning in her own bed. She then said, “I want you to understand how much I love you. That’s why I climb into bed with you every night.” What could I say to that? The truth is that the rare night that she stays in her own bed, I wake up in a panic. Where is she?  Did she leave home in the middle of the night? Oh, she’s just asleep her bed. I love seeing her beatific face first thing in the morning, even it is from my tiny space, smushed up against the wall.

There’s a lot of mixed information out there about co-sleeping. It makes sense that older kids who co-sleep probably are less self-reliant and may develop attachment issues. And parents need time away from even the most cuddly child. But what about the kids who creep in at 5 am? I don’t have the heart to ban her from her late night epic journey across the hall. Would that lower or increase her anxiety level? I feel like we might be front-landing issues for her therapy sessions later this century.

But for now, I’ll just be crammed against the wall. Let the queen have her way.

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At which massed shooting will your loved ones be killed?

November 8, 2018

Cozy and I were at the zoo this week and she was really excited to see the fruit bats. To get to the Oregon Zoo’s bat cave we had to pass the giraffe enclosure. She was so focused on the bats she could have cared less about the giant giraffes. “But Cozy, there are two huge giraffes right there! Let’s stop and look at them.”  She looked back at me, like “meh. I’ve seen those giraffes before.”

Her blasé attitude about giraffes is how America feels about mass shootings. So what?

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When I went to school in the UK in 1980s, people would often be amazed that, as an American, I didn’t live in constant fear of being killed by a mad gunman. “Aren’t you terrified you’ll be in a McDonalds and some guy will walk in and just start shooting?” This is the world’s picture of the United States. It’s a shoot out at OK Corral every day as boys and men unload their sacred weapons into soft targets at schools, synagogues, and college bars. “Meh,” we say, as the bodies stack up. Some of the victims of last night’s shooting in Thousand Oaks were also at last year’s shooting on the Las Vegas strip. How many mass shootings will you survive? Or not?

It’s more than disgusting that this is the hallmark of American culture. We are a nation of boys and men who see homicidal violence as an appropriate way of expressing pain and anger. Most of these boys and men are suicidal so the “good guy with a gun” myth only fits into their plan. Another day, another mass shooting in America. I have written about this too many times and the need to focus on the masculinity-gun violence connection. There will be so many more shootings, so many more grieving family members on TV. And then the next shooting will happen. This is America.

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Pioneering sociologist Georg Simmel (1858-1918) foresaw the “Meh Effect” in his 1903 essay, The Metropolis and Mental Life. He wrote of a relatively new phenomenon he called the blasé attitude. Life in the city had so much stimuli that we become overwhelmed and just tune everything out as sort of a coping mechanism. I remember the first time I saw a homeless person laying on a sidewalk, I jumped out of friend’s car to help. I thought they were having a medical emergency. My friend grabbed me and told me, “That’s just a homeless person. You see it all the time in the city.” Meh.

Nothing is shocking anymore. We see so much carnage from random gun violence in this country, it’s barely worth looking up from our phones. It must be how kids in Aleppo respond when they hear another bomb drop on their neighborhood. We are immune. Until it happens to us. Until the deep trauma has dropped on our doorstep.

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Because I do this work, I pay attention to the exit signs. Especially when I am out with my kid. When Cozy and I were wandering around Times Square last month, I made mental notes about where to go if a bomb went off or some guy just opened fire on the crowds. I did not, however, make a plan of how to respond if my daughter had been killed and perhaps I should.

The good news is violent crime in America has been dropping since 1993. The bad news is boys and men who shoot innocent people in orgies of violence has not. You are not safe anywhere. Not the movie theater. Not the mall. Not a yoga class. Not a church. Not a kindergarten class. So you better prepare yourself. If you are not willing to work to change the culture of boys and men who do this, you better be ready for when they do and kill someone you love.

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President Trump is not smart enough not to throw America into a civil war

October 29, 2018

This has been a week like no other for the ascendant violence of right wing extremism. Not since the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 have we seen right wingers so fueled by a commitment to unleash their violent vision on America. And if that weren’t enough, Brazil just elected a neo-fascist who promises to out-Trump Trump. I hate it went I start thinking those Antifa kids might have been right all along. It suddenly feels like Trump has made America 1940 again, when the original America First Committee was founded in a wash of anti-Semitism. It suddenly feels like all rednecks who have told me that the “South will rise again!” might have a fighting chance. It feels like America is dying on the kudzu vine.

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The week’s (this time legitimately-based) fear-driven headlines were propelled by a Trump fanatic and self-self-professed white supremacist (even though he is biracial) mailing over a dozen pipe bombs to the “enemies” of Trump, including CNN. Then on Wednesday, an armed white guy in Louisville, Kentucky tried to get into a black church, failed and killed two African-Americans in a Kroger parking lot. Finally, on Saturday morning, while I was preparing a talk on hate crimes for the convention of the Oregon Court Reporters Association, the news came down about Pittsburgh and the worst anti-Semitic hate crime in this nation’s dark history. I wanted to throw up.

We have a right to ask what the hell is happening to our country. There have been those on the (formerly) extreme right who have begun openly calling for an armed civil war, especially if their richy rich man-god Donald Trump is impeached or loses in 2020. I spend too much time lurking on deep web chat sites and have seen them echo his conspiracy theories about “deep state actors” who want to control the MAGA agenda. Their apocalyptic time bomb is ticking. To be fair, this talk of impending doom and the violent call to action far predates the daddy-made billionaire from Queens, but it’s been turned up to 11 of late.

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There’s so many parts to this moving disaster, it’s hard to focus on just one threat matrix. What’s clear is that Donald Trump is far too stupid to understand what’s actually at stake and he’s willing to push us that much closer to collapse if it feeds his narcissistic psychosis. He can read some good copy when there has been a horrific massacre and mouth the word “unity” off the teleprompter, but then drops right back into masturbating in front of his adoring MAGA cult. Not only does he not have the intellect to understand the true magnitude of the cliff he has perched us on, he doesn’t care to know. His closest advisors hide paperwork from him in hopes he will forget that it exists and have referred to him as a “fucking moron.” Trump himself has said he doesn’t read his Presidential Daily Briefings. I doubt he has ever read an actual book. So how can this TV huckster have any clue how to lead us forward? He’s best served by his “imported workers” at Mar-a-Lago and leave governing to the adults.

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So let me try to simplify it as much as possible. As someone who has over thirty-years of studying right-wing extremism, both historical and contemporary, let me try to explain this in a way that even the redcaps can understand. Saturday night I was live on CNN International trying to explain the context of the slaughter in Pittsburgh. They gave me four-and-a-half minutes. Give me at least that here.

Trolls of the alt right

The alt right subculture that spilled out from the internet in 2014 is a many splendored thing but generally feels the GOP is not “conservative” enough and mired in the swamp of mainstream politics. While building their trolling skills on line, they were characterized by random racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia. Fragile white boys can be kind of dicks when anonymously posting from their mommy’s basements. Trump’s racist campaign rhetoric gave them permission to hit the streets and after the election alt right godfather Richard Spencer had them chanting “Heil Trump!” in our nation’s capital. Soon gangs of thugs, like the Proud Boys, were acting like Trump’s Brown Shirts, pledging to “clean the streets” of liberals and other “pansies.” Trump’s hyper-masculine calls to “knock the hell out of ‘em” was playing out in real time and the President never told them to stop.

But there is a split in this dark world of extremism and it’s scary as hell, so let me try to lay out the landscape of what’s being foisted on our increasingly less civil society.

Before I go any farther, let me explain something to the intellectually challenged who have a difficult time time with complexity: Not every Trump-supporter is white supremacist or member of the alt right. And not every white supremacist alt right Nazi is a Trump supporter. And I know that the KKK was founded by Democrats 150 years ago. Shit changes.

The Trumpists

Camp #1 are the white supremacists who believe Trump is their guy. That this spray-tanned rich guy with dyed hair will advance the cause of white nationalism farther than any skinhead or Klansman ever could. This camp includes Spencer and former Klan Grand Dragon David Duke. Trump’s Muslim bans, opposition to civil rights movements like Black Lives Matter and kneeling NFL players, and hyperbole amount Mexican “murderers and rapists” and caravans of Central American “invaders” is music to their ears. Most white people are murdered by other white people but find a story of a white female killed by a brown male and Trump will used that as “proof” of the need to go medieval on the savages. As I said over three years ago, the Trump rhetoric perfectly parallels the rhetoric I heard at Klan rallies during my field research.

Trump’s racism is nothing new and predates his call for the executions of the (exonerated) Central Park 5 in 1989. Camp #1 eats it all up. Calling Africa the land of “shithole countries” or dismissing claims of sexual assault as “locker room talk,” they know MAGA means MAWA – Make America White Again. When Trump told CNN that America was “last great” in the “late 1940s and early 1950s,” they heard of a mythical country before Brown v. Board of Education, feminism, Stonewall, and “multiculturalism.” They’ll even tolerate a minstrel show from Kanye West if it means preventing the “white genocide” they fear is coming. Any black guy with a MAGA cap, gets a close up. See? They’re not racists! (wink)

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Camp #1 includes the hyper-violent Proud Boys and Identity Evropa, who has been heavily targeting white college students, claiming they are the victims of “political correctness” (aka, the long effort to create a more fair and equitable society) and need organized advocates for the white males, the “new minority,” on campuses. This camp can now claim bodybuilder, strip club DJ, and Number 1 Trump fan who lived in the Number 1 Trump van Cesar Sayoc. Sayoc’s mail bombs for Hillary Clinton, Cory Booker, and other Trump critics (it must have a rough week for Michael Moore) took Trump’s screed about “enemies” to its logical conclusion.

The McVeighists

Camp #2 is even more frightening. Camp #2 sees Trump as a buffoon and an opportunist. Even though our president has now proclaimed himself to be a “nationalist” and is icky-chummy with white nationalist icon Vladimir Putin, he’s too deferential Israel for these neo-Nazis. Very early on they expressed revulsion that he would “let” his daughter marry a Jew. They are steeped in anti-Semitic conspiracies that see both Republican and Democratic parties controlled by a global Zionist cabal, beholden to the international money lenders and hellbent on destroying the white race though multiculturalism, abortion, and even circumcision.

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The most notorious member of this camp was Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber, who killed 168 Americans, including 19 children who were in a federal daycare facility. McVeigh was operating from a racist playbook called The Turner Diaries, and had hoped to inspire a wave attacks by fellow “patriots” to purge the Jewish control of the American government. The playbook ends with racist patriots infiltrating the military and launching nuclear missiles at Israel and New York City, as the two seats of global Jewish power. McVeigh failed and was executed in 2001, but in the process became a martyr to countless racists. This includes Jeremy Christian, the Portland Max Train Murderer, who posted an ode to McVeigh on Facebook in 2017, on the 22nd anniversary of the bombing. Every federal worker knows that the threat of another McVeigh is a daily concern. The recent increase in anti-Semitic incidents must only add to their anxiety.

Camp #2 includes neo-Nazi groups like the Aryan Strike Force and Atomwaffen, who have been linked to murderous violence across the country, including the murder of a gay Jewish teenager in California. Camp #2 now includes Robert Bowers, who screamed “All Jews must die” as he opened fire in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday morning, killing eleven worshipers. Bowers had a massive social media footprint, ranting about Jews and Trump’s Jewish connections, posting on the alt-right loved app Gab, “There is no #MAGA as long as there is a kike infestation.” I’m gonna guess they’ll find a copy of The Turner Diaries and pin-up of Timothy McVeigh in his footlocker. Camp #2 will ride on Trump’s coattails until it’s time to launch their second American revolution.

Where is the President?

Both camps merged last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, where young men in red MAGA hats chanted, “You will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!” and ended in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer. Her killer, James Fields, was a vocal supporter of Donald Trump because of what he perceived of as Trump’s racial views. Afterwards, Trump said that there were “fine people” on both sides of the conflict between neo-Nazis and protestors. I was live on CNN that afternoon and the anchor asked me if I was President Trump’s speechwriter what would I have him say. I laughed at the thought. I wanted to say that he was just not smart enough to understand the depth of the problem.

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In the wake of this past week, it should be 100% clear there is a void in the leadership in this county. I remember in 2001, being so grateful to George W. Bush, a man who I thought was completely illegitimate as president and incapable of performing the task. After the 9/11 attacks he went to the National Mosque in Washington, DC and, on live TV,  read from the Koran and said that this fight was not against Islam. Immediately hate crimes against our Muslim and Arab neighbors decreased. Trump is incapable of this type of humility, instead escaping his work in the Oval Office for the limelight of his adoring fans. He wants us to know that hate is a problem all over the world and was happening before he ever came to town. It has absolutely nothing to do with him. He reads a well-written prompt about unity and then goes right back to attacking the media (which neo-Nazis believe is controlled by the Jews) and his laundry list of the “enemies” of America.

After the arrest of Cesar Sayok on Friday, I spent a few minutes listing to conservative radio, anxious to how they would spin the revelation that the mail bomber was one of their own (and not a false flag like Rush Limbaugh had hoped). I tuned into local host Lars Larson to hear the expected chat that the bomber was just a “nut” and not a true conservative. Larson tried to defend Trump’s language about “enemies.” “If someone hurts you, aren’t they your enemy?” he lectured a seemingly rational caller who cow-towed to Larson’s booming voice. I thought, no, of course not. If I give a student an F on their mid-term, I’ve hurt them but that does not make me their enemy. I could say government policies have hurt me in some way, but that doesn’t make those lawmakers my enemy. What is behind this hyper-masculine need for enemies to fight? It seems like the psychological profile of little boy soldiers not grown adults.

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Added to this are the looney conspiracy theories that come from Alex Jones (who Trump has supported), QAnon digbats (who flock to Trump’s rallies), and Trump himself. Did you know there are secret Middle-Easterners in the Central American refugee caravan, which was organized by the Democratic party to smuggle illegal voters into this country for the midterm election? A stoned college freshman didn’t come up with this theory. It was the President of the United States of America.  It’s only a hop, skip, and jump from that wack-a-doodle to “You know the Jews run the deep state.” The fact that GOP majority leader Kevin McCarthy recently tweeted, “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election! Get out and vote Republican November 6th. #MAGA,” makes the anti-Jewish conspiracy theory all the more “legitimate.” (I won’t even get into Fox News’ obsession with George Soros that regularly smacks of anti-Semitism.)

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To be clear, I don’t think the majority of Trump-supporters are Nazis. Neither were the majority of Germans in 1933. But there is a certain personality profile that falls for a strongman and his cult of personality, and you don’t need a numerical majority to drop a once great nation down the rabbit hole of fascism (Olá Brasil) or push it to the tipping point of violent civil war (Rais Rawanda). The US is not guaranteed eternal stability. Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale recently? Trump loves “his generals.” The complexity of political work, not so much. The man is just not smart enough for the job, but those who are equally moronic exalt his simplistic style (even if it is built on a house of post-factual cards). And those who are a bit smarter but deeply sociopathic will wait for that house of cards to collapse and then make their move and Saturday’s synagogue attack will pale in comparison. White supremacists call it Rahowa – Racial Holy War and they’ve been fantasizing about it for a long time.

The threat is real. The body count is already mounting from right-wing terrorism. Our nation needs leadership not a narcissistic man-child who constantly needs his ego fellated. William Safire once wrote a line for Richard Nixon’s 1968 speeches that referred to a sign held by a 13-yer-old girl that read, “Bring us together.” 2018 is 1968 with even more at stake. Trump is incapable of this demand. He is the product of this division, has magnified this division, and benefits from this division. We need a actual leader and we need one quick.

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Taking Manhattan with a 4-year old

Oct. 23, 2018

My first experience in New York City was the summer of 1982. I was 18 and my dad and I were driving to Kennedy Airport from Stone Mountain, Georgia. I was heading off to go to school in London and we made it a leg of the journey. That first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline, with the looming World Trade Center towers and the Statue of Liberty floating in the foreground, injected me with an energy. So much bigger than the biggest thing I had ever seen. And somewhere in there was Lou Reed singing, “Take a walk on the wild side.” I would soon return to explore every corner.

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I’ve probably been to NYC fifty times since, but never like this trip. I was booked to speak at a forum on extremism in mid-town Manhattan and we thought, why not bring the kid? She had just spent a week in Mexico with Andrea and was fine traveling with one parent. Why not the Big Apple? I’ve been traveling so much this year without her I thought it would be fun to bring her along. So I called a travel agent and got her booked on my flight and we started planning what New York City with a 4-year-old and a 54-year-old would look like. No Russian bars. Can you tell me tell me how to get to Sesame Street?

Cozy is great on planes. She’s been flying since she was a baby. But navigating JFK airport was a challenge. I forgot how huge it was and she was tired of walking before we were anywhere near Baggage Claim. I should have taken that as a sign of things to come. Our first night was at an AirBnB up in Spanish Harlem and she fell asleep on the subway ride across Queens and Brooklyn. Once in checked in she was more excited by her bunkbed than the city streets outside. What to see first?

We took the 6 Train down to Grand Central Station and rode a pedicab to Times Square. Her eyes exploded. It’s a pretty overwhelming site for any first-timer, more lights, more people, more out-of-shape Spidermans than the kid could imagine. (And she’s been to Mexico City.) Fortunately, there were no drunk Elmos to contend with. We stopped in the Disney Store that I remember was a dildo store in the mid-1980s. I wanted to tell the kids working there but it seemed inappropriate. 

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Then we caught a train down to the East Village where I had a meeting with an old friend and his colleague who are turning a novel of mine into a stage musical. But first we happened into a diner on Broadway that just happened to be called Cozy Soup ‘n’ Burgers. “When I grow up, I’m gonna be a chef here!” said Cozy, munching on her grilled cheese sandwich. The kid seemed to immediately take to the city, bouncing with its energy, as I had in 1982. I wondered what it would have been like if I had gotten that faculty job at CUNY and this was our life.

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She slept through a noisy night in Harlem. That’s a lot in one day for a 50-month-old. The next morning we moved into our hotel in midtown and started another day of adventure that included going to the Met to where we had a date with Picasso, a trip to the Central Park Zoo, where she saw her favorite animal, the impressive snow leopard, and then dinner in Greenwich Village with some of friends who had kids who were super NYC-savy. Seeing Cozy run around Washington Square with her squad while nobody tried to sell me pot made me reflect at how much New York had changed since the Lou Reed days.

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Day 3 we had breakfast in bed and then headed downtown to hop the Staten Island Ferry for a gander at the Statue of Liberty. She wasn’t prepared for the cold wind off the water as we wandered around Wall Street and tried to compete with a huge crowd of Chinese tourists for a picture with the Fearless Girl statue in front to the Charging Bull at the U.S. Stock Exchange. I don’t know if the tourists understood its significance but Cozy got it. Later, during my keynote, an old friend whisked Cozy off for a matinee of Frozen: The Musical on Broadway and a trip to the M&M Store (apparently her highlight of the entire trip). We topped the day off with a trip to the top of Rockefeller Center and an ice cream sundae from room service.

Our last day we had breakfast with feminist scholar Michael Kimmel at Veselka in the East Village, picking up an order of pierogis to take home to Andrea. Soon we were in a cab for LaGuardia and beginning our journey home.

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I had so much fear about bringing a 4-year-old to the big city, but Cozy was amazing. She mastered riding the subway (including the Lexington line during rush hour). She also loved catching cabs, no booster seat needed, and always had a good conversation with the driver. “Do you like kitties?”  When I go to NYC I just like to walk most places, but after a day Cozy reminded me that her feet were smaller than mine and that I should carry her, “because it’s good exercise.” After a few blocks she’d ask, “Do you feel stronger, Daddy?” Sort of, not really.

Manhattan has evolved so much since I started coming to hang out in the 1980s. Did I ever tell you about the time I accidentally bought heroin in Alphabet City? I was hanging out with the Portuguese boyfriend of a college friend of mine when he saw somebody he knew. “Man, I don’t want to talk to that guy because I owe him money. Would you give him this $20 from me?” I handed the guy his 20 and ended up with a small white packet in my hand. Not cool. But I’m sure there’s a Starbucks on that corner now and we can be all romantic about the drug infested days of the Lower East Side. New York is now a city of families, and it’s not just the Disney-fied Times Square. As a parent, it’s nice to see so many kids inhabit the city and I can still cherish my memories of barfing in the toilet at CBGBs on the Bowery. I’m glad Cozy got this version, because she could see herself in the city.

John Lennon ended up in New York City in 1971 because it was the center of the world. He became a father and househusband here and died on its streets. NYC might not be the center of the world anymore, (Nǐ hǎo, Beijing), but the Big Apple still feels like the place to be. Even though much of it’s twentieth century character has been gentrified into oblivion (I mean, a Target in the East Village?), much of it is still iconic and I could see Cozy soak it up like a Sponge Bob costume in the Hudson River. She gobbled up Denino’s pizza on MacDougal and asked if we could spit on Trump Tower on Park Avenue and threw a mean right arm up to hail a cab. She’s 4 and has been to one more Broadway musical than I have. It’s already her kinda town.

Manhattan is life. It is the culmination of American grit and diversity. It is the world on one island. I’m glad my kid has begun her New York story.

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Columbus Day: Celebrating child rapists

October 7, 2018

Who discovered America? The correct answer is NOBODY! It’s estimated that there were 10 million people living in North America in 1492. They knew they existed. When Columbus first arrived in the Bahamas, the local Arawak didn’t the think, “Holy crap, we’ve been discovered! Now we really can start living!” More likely they thought it was the apocalypse and for them it was. The indigenous population of the Americas was virtually erased in the next 300 years.

I still find it shocking that we celebrate Columbus Day knowing what we know. But then again, in this country with President Pussy Grabber and Supreme Court Justice Kavanbro, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised we exalt the father of rape culture. My hope is that the year-old #Metoo movement will take on this genocidal maniac that made Harvey Weinstein look like Al Franken. (I’ll admit that is a weird joke, but you get the idea.)

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Over two million people have read Howard Zinn’s earth-shattering book, A People’s History of the United States of America (first published in 1980). I’m guessing it’s a lot more than two million. That book gets passed around like a rap mix tape. I was first handed a copy in my freshman dorm by a sophomore who just said, “Start reading.” The first chapter, “Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress,” forever ended my Eurocentric mythologizing of the little Italian that could. The brutality of the invaders to the Americas made me wretch. Local people who would not engage in the white man’s obsessive search for gold had their ears, noses, and hands hacked off or were ripped to shreds by the explorers attack dogs. And it just gets worst from there.

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Columbus was the world’s first slave master. On his first voyage, he recognized the bountiful supply of free labor among the unarmed Arawaks, needed to replenish the slave supply on the Canary Islands, writing, “We could subjugate them all.” He sent 500 captives back to Spain and another 600 enslaved were to serve the Spanish men remaining island. Those that fought back or escaped to what is now Cuba were slaughtered or chased and the inhabitants of the next island experienced the same fate. Those that weren’t murdered by the European invaders, were killed by the diseases they brought, or committed suicide rather than live under the brutal subjugation of the white Christians. By the time of his fourth voyage to the region in 1502, there were barely any indigenous people left.

The savagery of Columbus includes documented widespread rape of local women and girls. Columbus routinely “gifted” women to his men, whose rapes produced the first mestizos of the Americas. One such rape was recorded by Michele de Cuneo on Columbus’s second expedition. 

While I was in the boat, I captured a very beautiful woman, whom the Lord Admiral (Columbus) gave to me. When I had taken her to my cabin she was naked — as was their custom. I was filled with a desire to take my pleasure with her and attempted to satisfy my desire. She was unwilling, and so treated me with her nails that I wished I had never begun. I then took a piece of rope and whipped her soundly, and she let forth such incredible screams that you would not have believed your ears. Eventually we came to such terms, I assure you, that you would have thought she had been brought up in a school for whores.

Because of the growing problem of sexually transmitted disease, Columbus and his men began the sex trafficking of younger and younger girls. This great American hero wrote to a friend in 1500, “A hundred castellanoes (a Spanish coin) are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.” This pimp is upheld to school children as our first great hero.

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This fall I’m having my students read Lies My Teacher Told Me (1995) by James W. Loewen. His chapter on Columbus asks a provocative question – If Columbus is the true discoverer of America (and Loewen details all the travelers who arrived before Columbus, including Africans and Vikings), then why don’t Latin American countries celebrate Columbus Day? The answer is these countries don’t identify with the European conqueror but the indigenous conquered. They include the millions of mestizos who are the result of the raping and pillaging of the Columbus and the subsequent waves of European invaders. In the United States, we identify with the conquering rapists.

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I’m waiting for President Pussy Grabber to tell us what a “very fine man” Christopher Columbus was and promising to make it safe to say “Happy Columbus Day” again. In the meantime, the truth is out about Columbus. As our nation becomes more brown, the white-washing of history is falling apart. Already five states, Alaska, South Dakota, Vermont, Hawaii and my own Oregon, have ended the celebration and many cities have renamed the occasion Indigenous Peoples Day. Columbus Day has only been on the books since 1937, so we should be able to rid ourselves of this shameful observance long before it hits 100.

Now if we could just do the same with the rape culture that defends it.

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