A Time to Refrain from Fighting

14 July 2017

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Tuesday afternoon I had just completed one of our weekly civil rights bus tours of Portland. I’m a presenter for the Fair Housing Council of Oregon ride through our state’s tortured racial history. My part of the program is about hate crime that now links the 1988 bludgeoning death of an Ethiopian immigrant by racist skinheads to the brutal attack by an “alt-right” lunatic on a Portland Max train last May. The bus rolls from the street where Mulugeta Seraw was murdered to the Hollywood Max station where three heroes were stabbed for standing up to hate, two of them paying for it with their lives. I try to connect the dots and have yet to do so without choking back the tears.

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I end my part of the tour by talking about the difficult work of reaching out to the haters and leading them to the side of love. That that’s where the true justice is. I talk about an organization called Life After Hate, a group of “formers,” who used to be members of white supremacist groups and now do important anti-racism and de-radicalization work. I mention how this group was awarded a $400,000 grant by the Obama Administration that was just rescinded by the Trump Administration. (Gee, why would Trump want to stop the work of a group that drags people out of right-wing hate groups?) And I talk about the 16-year-old girl with the swastika tattoo who, in 1988, handed her skinhead boyfriend the bat used to bash Mulugeta Seraw’s skull in. She’s now one of my most cherished friends. She served her time, befriending an African-American girl she was locked up with, and now speaks powerfully about what sent her down the ugly road of hate.

Tuesday’s tour was for a group of fresh-faced graduate students at Lewis & Clark. Afterwards a young woman approached me and said, “I’m a radical feminist anarchist and I think these people should be attacked, physically attacked.” I tried to explain to her that that approach only pushes them farther into their little Nazi boxes, making them into the victims of another kind of hate. That it makes more sense to try to make a connection with them and bring them to our side. That I’ve been doing this work for almost thirty years and this is the only thing that actually works to reduce the hate and threats of violence. She was having none of it, harumphed, and stormed off.

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I’ve been reflecting on that interchange this week. One one hand, I don’t think she understands the concept of “radical feminism.” If you think the appropriate response to a social problem is more macho violence, then you are not a radical feminist. On the other hand, I get it. If someone had knocked the crap out of Jeremy Christian before May 26th, maybe he would have thought twice about opening his hate spewing mouth on a crowded train that afternoon.

And I was thinking about it last night. Andrea and I were celebrating our wedding anniversary at a great new jazz bar in Portland called The Jack London Revue. The Jim Beam was settling into my veins as the Mel Brown Quartet played. I looked at my wife in the dimly lit club and thought of how lucky I am to be her husband. We are a team on multiple fronts: parenting, home-maintaing, creative projects, financial struggles. We’re in this together. And we’re stronger when we come at life as a partners instead of rivals. There are fights, when somebody is convinced they are right. I would love it if she rinsed her plates and I’m sure she would love it if I stopped thinking farts were “funny.” She’s very Antifa on that one. (Anti-Fart)

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But there’s another way. I jokingly think of it as “feminist husbandry.” There’s a challenge when we are so committed to our position that there must be a “winner.” My charge is to just stop. Just stop. Lose the ego and remember we’re a team first. My job is to take care of my partner, not win an argument. We can find our common ground. I don’t always do it, though. It’s easy to let the anger win and just want to (like my “radical feminist anarchist” rider) attack. That’s why I’ve put little reminders up in our house. Signs that say,  “appreciate,” “acknowledge,” and “be loving” are taped up on walls. (It’s cheaper than getting them tattooed on my hands.) There is time in life to take a breath and remember what the mission is.

One of my favorite songs growing up was The Byrds’ version of Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!” The lyrics are actually from the Christian Bible; Ecclesiastes 3. There is a time to fight, but also a time to refrain from fighting. Love wins out over hate. Ultimately, we are all on the same side. That includes the haters and those that hate the haters.

Please support Life After Hate here (click). Maybe someday I will form Life After Farting.

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Should we care about Donald Trump’s marriage? (Or anybody else’s?)

May 25, 2017

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The only thing more sporting lately than trying to guess when Donald Trump’s house of cards will collapse has been trying to guess when his wife will dump him. The numerous swats and cold shoulders Melania gave Donald that were caught on camera during their recent trip abroad (leading one to believe there was something that wasn’t caught on camera) have tongues wagging. Even the Pope seemed reluctant to touch the “pussy grabber’s” hand. What had Trump done this time? Stories swirled that the divorce papers were already drawn up. Is Melania Trump the real life Claire Underwood.

Will Donald Trump be the first sitting president to be divorced?

Why should we care?

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It’s not like Donald Trump is the first philandering president. Some are legendary, like Thomas Jefferson and John Kennedy. Some forgotten. (Warren G. Harding made Charlie Sheen look like he wasn’t even trying.) I’m still not sure why Hillary Clinton stuck with cigar-screwing Bill. I guess some couples can just work through having one partner’s sexcipades splashed across the front page. Is oral sex “sex”? In the 1990s, every man, woman, and child in the country got to participate in that discussion. It was so much fun.

Donald J. Trump’s sexual boasts are nothing new. He’s bragged about his sexual adventures on Howard Stern and probably still does to any (Russian agent) person who will listen. His “locker room talk” about groping women is it’s own Wikipedia entry. It’s clear that he cheated on his first two wives, so why should it be any different for Melania Knavs? As the President has said, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

Who cares?

Obviously, when it comes to the Trump presidency, there are bigger carp to fry. (Do Russians fry carp?) He’s going down and the even more sexually freaky Mike Pence will be in the high chair by this time next year. Should we waste time on Trump’s doomed marriage? It’s private business. Maybe we should document this doomed presidency for future generations and leave his weird marriage to the highly-paid lawyers to sort out.

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On one hand, we know that Trump is impulsive, narcissistic, kinda dumb, and needs to tell the world that, despite his tiny hands, he has an at least average-sized penis. That’s a bit frightening for a guy who commander and chief of the American armed forces. You get the feeling that he’s just itching to nuke North Korea, or Iran, or California, just to prove he’s big boy. His personal insecurities play out daily in his mishandling of national security issues, his reverse-Robin Hood budget, and his dealings with our enemies (“I’m gonna win Vladimir’s love!”) and our allies. (Who can forget his refusing to shake Angela Merkel’s hand?). That fact that he tweets more about his ratings and portrayal on TV shows than issues Americans care about is a reflection of how emotionally deprived this guy is.

On the other hand, every marriage has its rough patches. When some silver-haired couple is celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, you better believe there were plenty of moments where they were close to killing each other. Those happy smiles might mask parallel dark thoughts. (“How is this asshole still alive? I need my freedom!”) Most of us suffer through it in anonymity, maybe sharing our woes with a bartender or on an instantly regretted Facebook post. The President’s life has become the People’s life. JFK is lucky there was no social media 55 years ago. #jackkkennedygavemecrabs You almost feel sorry for the first couple. What did those swats from Melania really mean? Let’s ask Rachel Maddow!

Trump and I have one thing in common, we’re both on our third marriages. I often have to pull back from immediate criticism because I know that loving marriages can fail and sometimes it takes a while to figure out how to actually “do” marriage. My wife is also younger and, like Melania, might have been an illegal immigrant at some point. But there are some serious differences after that. Unlike Trump, I’m a committed feminist who works to make marriage an equitable partnership. As a stay at home dad, I’m happy to take a back seat as Andrea builds her career in the legal world. As I told her this morning, I’m happy to be the guy riding on her coattails. And I have zero desire to be unfaithful to her. “So much winning” for me is to be with her at the end of the road. Also, I’m not the President of the United States.

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Feminists seem torn on how to frame Melania Trump’s situation. Some see her as a victim, trapped in a loveless marriage to a cad who collects sexual assaults the way Bill Cosby collects, well, sexual assaults. (Google: rape culture.) She likely signed some contract that said, if Donald won the White House, she wouldn’t legally divorce him but could stay away from his icky hands in their penthouse in NYC. The other narrative says she’s a smart cookie and knew exactly what she was getting into when she married America’s favorite rich pig and that any woman who props up a man while he rips away women’s health care and goes after reproductive rights around the globe deserves exactly what she gets.

Is Melania Trump a tragic figure or a villain? Should we send in Seal Team 6 to rescue her or ask Robert Mueller to investigate what links she has to Russian ambassadors?

The gossip part of my brain wants to hear all the sordid details. But I’ve been the victim of that type of gossip so why should I fuel the fire? Anyone reading this will more than likely outlive Donald J. Trump (What happened to that “stamina”?), and I’m sure they will outlive his presidency, so we can read all the books then. I don’t doubt that Bill O’Reilly already has a contract for Killing Trump. After eight years of the blissfully scandal-free marriage of Barrack and Michelle Obama, it’s tempting to go all TMZ on this circus sideshow. (If he’s not sleeping with his wife, where does that mighty Trump penis go at night?”) Let’s just focus on how he’s screwing the country.  Let’s let his marriage suffer in silence. Absolute, stone-faced silence.

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Coming of Age in the Watergate Era and Awaiting the Trump Impeachment

February 24, 2017

I’m kinda old (I turned 53 this week), so forgive me if I appear a bit jaded by the current state of corrupt politics. You see, I came of (political) age in the Watergate era so I know exactly how this Trump mess is gonna end.

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When Richard Nixon won reelection on November 7, 1972, I was an 8-year-old third grader at Atherton Elementary in Dekalb County, Georgia. Please do not tell anyone this, but I supported Republican Nixon over Democrat George McGovern. The truth is Nixon’s nose reminded me of Bob Hope’s. That’s all it took. I was unaware that the “White House Plumbers” had already broken into the Watergate Hotel and begun their crime spree under the guidance of Tricky Dick and his funky beak. In those days Republicans couldn’t get the Russians to break into Democratic National Committee files. They had to do it themselves. (Ah, those were the days.)

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By the following spring, the Senate Watergate hearings were being broadcast live on all three networks. (That’s all we had, folks!) I was 9 and, instead of running wild through the Georgia pines, I was glued to the boob tube, fascinated at the collapse of the highest power in the land, John Dean’s cover-up-cracking testimony, the president of the United States asserting “I am not a crook,” missing minutes of secret Oval Office recordings, and the whistle blowing of black security guard Frank Willis. (John Lennon was glued too and even showed up, with Yoko, to witness the hearings on June 27, 1973.) It was as if my beloved country was breaking in half and trust in authority was evaporating. When Vice President Spiro Agnew (who hated the news media before it was fashionalbe) resigned on October 10, 1973, I was just a fourth grader, but I knew Nixon would appoint a vice president who would later pardon him. My first Latin was “Quid pro quo.”

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The following spring, hearings for the impeachment of the president began. That summer I finally made it to Washington DC and had the honor of taking a crap in Nixon’s White House. Soon after that historic dump, before congress could finalize the ugly task of impeachment, on August 8, 1974, the President of the United States of America resigned. His recently appointed VP, (now President) Gerald Ford pardoned him. I freakin’ told you so. Nixon rode off to the Orange County sunset with one last victory sign but the nation was forever broken. He was a crook. And now aren’t they all?

Much has been written about how the Baby Boom cohort lost its idealism because of Watergate. That the Woodstock generation caved in to self-serving narcissism and nostalgia paving the way for the Reagan “revolution” in 1980. If you can’t trust the President, who can you trust, Dad?  But it affected more than baby boomers. Us little Gen X kids grew up believing that absolute power corrupted absolutely. Whether it was Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal or Congress impeaching Bill Clinton for lying about a blow job. They’re all a bunch crooks. Why bother to even vote? What’s on the TV?

That’s why the relatively scandal free eight-years of Obama was such breath of fresh air. Is it possible that our elected officials might be capable of not disappointing us on each corner of the calendar? His kids didn’t even get wasted. One time Amy Carter came in to the record store I worked at in Stone Mountain and bought two tapes, Janis Joplin and The Clash. “My dad hates this shit,” she said. The Obamas gave us a weird sense of hope.

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Then here comes Trump, probably the most corrupt president in American history. He’s still doing business deals and hiding God knows what in his tax returns, his advisors are winking at Neo-Nazis and Russian dictators, and his spokeswoman is hawking his daughter’s fake bourgeois clothes (made in China) on live TV. It’s like the White House has been turned into a giant dumpster fire. Meanwhile, Americans, desperate to hold on to their healthcare and not blow billions of taxpayer dollars on Trump’s vanity wall and a new nuclear arms race, are secretly hoping Justin Trudeau will quietly annex the Lower 48. Save us, JT!

It doesn’t seem like much of a question if Trump will get impeached but when. And will there be enough dirt to get creepy Mike Pence out, too? I think any sane American would gladly take Paul Ryan as president over this incompetent gang of shysters who are making our country less secure every day they are allowed to control the executive branch. (Is it too macabre to imagine Trump, Pence, and Steve Bannon being crushed to death in a tragic golf cart rollover?) I remember when I was a kid some conspiracy nuts thought the Soviet Union was somehow mixed up in the Watergate scandal. There’s an awful lot more evidence that Russia has its claws all over this administration. But the formerly Russian-hating right could care less. Maybe it’s because Russia is white. Now about those Mexicans and Muslims…

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For those of us who grew up in the time of Watergate, it’s easy to get jaded. Why not turn off the political noise and become whatever the 2010s version of a yuppie is? But we saw what that got us in 1980, and for millions of Americans who didn’t have stock in IBM, it was pretty ugly. So let’s stay focused and drive the rats from the people’s house before they destroy it and let’s replace them with something beautiful. How about a vegetable garden?

 

Obama has been to the mountain top (and so have we)

January 13, 2017

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I’ve been thinking about what to write this week as Portland has been buried under a record snowstorm. The most accumulation since the winter of 1943, when America was at war with fascists and emperors. (Insert joke about contemporary fascist emperor wannabes here.) I was thinking about a passionate defense of Donald J. Trump’s right to engage in golden showers with other consenting adults, but I kept getting that Frank Zappa song about not eating yellow snow stuck in my head. Maybe after things melt around here. (And the Russian video comes out. Will Billy Bush be in it?)

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Watching Obama’s farewell speech this week was such an emotional passing. It’s been a tortured presidency, scandal free and full of class and poise, but marked with so many “You almost did it” moments. You almost closed Guantanamo. You almost created a health care coverage system that all Americans saw as better than the previous mess. You almost ended the war in Afghanistan. You almost created a national dialogue on race that conservative white people felt invited to. You almost shut Trump up for good.

Of course there have been a ton of accomplishments, too long to list here. People seem to forget that eight years ago, we were in the Great Recession, headed straight for another Great Depression. Unemployment was skyrocketing and the stock market was plummeting and the value of my house fell by over 50%. One of my colleagues was set to retire in 2008 and cash in his 401K. He couldn’t. Obama’s risky moves got the economy (and the American car industry) back on track. My home equity is above where it was and the predatory lenders have been banished from the hood. Whew!

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But for every drop in the mortgage foreclosure rate there’s been another drone attack, often involving civilian casualties (aka, somebody else’s kids) and peaceniks debate whether bombs in the sky are better than boots on the ground. Obama’s gotten hell from the left for being too friendly with Wall Street and gotten hell from the right being a big government socialist. And then there are Trump’s racist alt-right gang that think he’s a Kenyan Muslim who is married to an orangutang and wants to institute “Sharia Law” across the country. Whatever happened to those nut jobs. Oh…

This week I just find myself flashing back to 2008. I was leading discussions in my Contemporary Theory class at PSU about which Democratic candidate was more in line with core feminist values, Barrack Obama or Hillary Clinton. I made the case for Obama because, like radical feminists might, he argued we should talk to our adversaries instead of bombing them; that Clinton was falling for a liberal feminist hang-up by trying to “out-male” the hawkish males in Washington. (On a side-note: doesn’t Mitt Romney seem like a completely competent commander-in-chief compared to the buffoon coming in?)

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The fall of 2008 offered so much promise; an end to the Iraq War and a return to proven Democratic economic policies. A moment in history when The White House, built by slaves, could be occupied by highly qualified black man. It was a stunning prospect. A true moment to transform the country and repair some of the cracks in our national mirror. To see ourselves as better people than we were. I needed to mark the moment in some Northwestern fashion.

So on September 11th, I took a solo hike up to the top of Mt. Saint Helens (elevation: 8,366 feet). I was going through my own transition as my marriage was ending and I was thinking some of that hope and change might rub off on me. I had never made the climb and really had no idea how treacherous it was. The day I went up, a climber fell in the boulder field and had to be airlifted out. The following week a climber was standing on the rim at the summit when the volcano rumbled. He fell into the crevice and was killed. All I knew was I had to make it to the top to see what was on the other side.

It’s a four hour hike. The previous week, I thought I’d be a rebel and take the trail less traveled and ran into a black bear. So on 9/11 I went up the right way. An hour in the woods, an hour in the boulders, and two hours up the volcanic ash, two steps forward and one sliding back in the grey powder left over from the great eruption. That climb would become of metaphor for the next eight years. This includes a shrinking supply of fresh water from the melting glaciers on the way up.

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I spent some time at the top, admiring the view and looking over my cheap hiking boots at the tortured route to the summit. I asked another hiker to take my picture with my “Oregon for Obama” t-shirt and extreme hat-hair. I made it and so did we. Now whenever I see Mt. Saint Helens on a clear day, including in the winter when it’s covered and snow, I think, “Yeah, I made my way up there and stood on top. The journey made me a better person.”

Congratulations, President Obama. You made it to the top. And we are all better people because you did.

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