Jukebox Hero 3: Right Here, Right Now Watching the World Wake Up

I’m occasionally posting some chapters from my “rock memoir,” Jukebox Hero. This seemed like a relevant piece in the wake of Generation Z’s moment in history. Here are some others:

Jukebox Hero 1: Queens of Noise

Jukebox Hero 2: I Will Follow

Jukebox Hero: Bridge Chapter A– “Right Here, Right Now”

I took a break from my trips to Europe after 1987 when I got the job managing the Atlanta band drivn’n’cryin’. The Europe I knew was on the frontline of the cold war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The Frankie Goes To Hollywood song, “Two Tribes” was more of a cautionary tale than a dance hit. “When two tribes go to war, one point is all that you can score.” I had marched in CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) parades in London and a cheered when 70,000 protestors blockaded the RAF Greenham Common nuclear missile base in Berkshire, England in 1983. The window of my squat in Brixton looked out at a massive mural of a nuclear holocaust. Western Europe was Ground Zero for the beginning of the end.

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I met a Russian kid named Yuri in Denmark in 1986 who had recently defected to Finland and told me that the Soviet people were deathly afraid of the madman living in the American White House, Ronald Reagan. In 1984, I had tried to see George Harrison’s English house in Henlely-on-the-Thames only to be told that Beatle George had moved his family to Australia out of fear of nuclear war. I made it to West Germany twice, only to witness a heavy presence of the American military and anger that American and Soviet egos were pushing Europe towards nuclear annihilation.

The U.S. policy that was just a budget item or back page news story to most Americans was more than life and death to Europeans. It was mass extinction.

By 1989, I had a good 7-years in protesting the Reagan-Bush arms race under my belt. In 1983, at the tender age of 19, I became a lobbyist in Washington DC for the nuclear freeze movement. When Mikhail Gorbachev began the Soviet period of Glasnost in the late 1980s, it seemed like World War III might be avoided and, more, importantly, that I could finally get into the Soviet Union with a duffle bag full of Levis.

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So it was with intense excitement that I watched the Iron Curtain begin to crack in the last minutes of the 1980s. I watched East and West Germans take sledgehammers to the Berlin Wall from a TV in my apartment in Atlanta with tears streaming down my face. People were escaping the oppressive regimes in Romania and Hungary and by 1991 the Soviet Union was collapsing.

I had to get back to Europe to be a part of this moment in history. Just like I had to be in London in 1985  for Live Aid, I had to be back at the frontline for the end of the Cold War. The door to Eastern Europe was finally open and their was a blank slate for the new decade. When I was offered a teaching assistantship in London for an Emory study abroad course, I packed my bags.

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In 1991, I was 27-years-old and fully invested in the rock-and-roll lifestyle. I had been teaching undergrads at Emory but spent most of my time on the road or in the studio with drivin’ n’ cryin’. With my long bleached hair and black stretch jeans, I probably didn’t look like the typical university TA.

Once in London, I tried to turn on the American students to the city I knew and loved; shopping in Camden Market, seeing bands at the Marquee Club, and endless pub crawls. While there, I got hooked on going to the theater in the West End, seeing Les Miserables four times. I sent a postcard to my girlfriend, back in Atlanta, that said, “I’m still straight but I LIVE for the musical theater!” And it wasn’t just American university kids in those seats. I started to notice a new subculture in the West End, Russian tourists.

One of the places I loved to take the students was my favorite dance club, the Camden Palace.  The hall opened in 1900 as the Camden Theater but had been the Palace since 1982. It was at the Palace in 1983 I had met a nice German girl at the bar. I was trying to chat her up when she realized the guy at the bar next to me was Limhal. Limhal was the poofy-haired singer of Kajagoogoo who were topping the pops that summer with the airy hit, “Too Shy.” Despite the rumors that he liked boys, Limhal scooped in and purloined my fraulein. Damn you, Limhal!

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In the summer of 1991, Thursdays were “guitar rock” nights at the Palace. Kids from around the globe met to dance to R.E.M., Happy Mondays, and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. There was a song by The Wonder Stuff, “The Size of the Cow” that always filled the dance floor; Americans, French kids, Italians, and the ever-trendy London scenesters. I loved Thursday nights at the Palace because the music kicked ass and you didn’t need a partner to dance with. It was like being at a rock concert. You just hit the floor of the old theater and felt the energy of the crowd.

One particular night in late July, I dragged a few students to the ornate club. I wanted to share the fun of dancing to the new music of the decade with the youth of the world. London always felt like the center of the hipster planet. In London, you can find the best African music, the coolest Middle Eastern late night cafés, and the most over-the-top South American dancers. Going to London, was never like going to “Merry Old England.” It was always like being present in all that was important to the world.

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On that night, the floor was particularly rocking. There was a new wave of kids making it to London from the newly free Eastern European countries. You could identify the “Easterners” because they grew up completely removed from any black culture and danced like it. It didn’t matter. For the first time since before Hitler fucked everything up, Europe felt truly united. The next song was Jesus Jones, “Right Here, Right Now,” which was inspired by the fall of communism. The Russian kids and the Czech kids crammed on to the dance floor. Taking their lead, the German kids and the Swedish kids followed.

There were so many people on the dance floor for this song, no one could move. Instead, everyone hugged and jumped up and down and wept. This is what freedom felt like. We weren’t East and West anymore. We were kids who wanted to dance and not get nuked. I had danced at the Palace in 1982 amid fear of atomic bombs. In 1991, I danced in love with the world. We had all survived the long war. You know it feels good to be alive.

I was alive and I waited for this

Right here, right now, there is no other place I want to be

Right here, right now, watching the world wake up from history.

I still get chills every time I hear that song. I’m sure there are Baby Boomers who have one song that crystallizes what it meant to be a part of that generation, but for me it’s that Jesus Jones song that finally plugged me in to my time on Earth; a song that would later become a K-Mart ad and a Ford commercial.

Later that summer, while traveling through Eastern Europe, I was on a train pulling into a station in East Berlin. It was 3:30 in the morning and there was one East German kid on the platform with a beat up boombox. He was playing a tape of the Scorpions’ new song “Winds of Change” over and over. I just listened to the lyrics about the new Europe bounce around the crumbling old regime. Music had the power to ferry us through massive historical shifts. For the rest of our human existence, historians would muse about this massive global right turn, but, in the moment it occurred, it all came down to a song.

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In 2003, Vladimir Putin told Paul McCartney that it wasn’t Ronald Reagan that ended the Cold War, it was The Beatles – that once Russian kids heard that sound, they stopped caring about the Communist Party and just wanted to join the world party. When they grew up, they pulled the plug on the USSR and came out to dance.

 

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America is eating its young. Maybe it’s time to get the hell out.

February 15, 2018

As parent, my gut instinct is to get my family out of America as soon as possible. There are lots of places this doesn’t happen. This country is fundamentally broken. If we didn’t address American males’ obsession with gun violence and the “right” to own weapons of mass carnage after the Sandy Hook massacre, we never will. That 2012 Connecticut shooting left 20 six and seven-year olds dead. Is my three-year-old safe in daycare today, or will find out on the news that some boy or man exercised his 2nd Amendment right by blowing her and her little classmates heads off?

Yesterday’s carnage in Lakeland, Florida is just the latest. Seventeen dead. People are offering the “thoughts and prayers” (accomplishes nothing) and #GunReformNow is trending on Twitter (accomplishes nothing). Pundits and presidents talk about how the shooter was “deranged” (accomplishes nothing) and it will be open season on anyone with a mental health issue (accomplishes oppression, because people suffering from mental health issues are actually less violent than the general population.) It’s the same circle jerk that will dominate the news cycle until the next “big story.” Stormy Daniels? Trump’s tweet? Another shooting? Does anybody remember the Las Vegas shooting? 2017? Hello?

When my co-authored book about suburban delinquency and gun violence, Teenage Renegades, Suburban Outlaws, came out in 2001 we were (like now) picking up the pieces of young gun casualties. The book addressed the lessons learned from the cluster of school shootings at the turn of the century that peaked with the 1999 slaughter at Columbine (13 killed). I was honored to be a part of the national discussion about toxic masculinity, bullying, and the easy availability of high powered weapons. We licked our wounds and went to work and school shootings declined.

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The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School yesterday dwarfed Columbine, something young males have been promising for 19 years. We’ve averaged about one of these events a week in 2018. (I wonder how bad next week’s shooting will be.) That this teenage shooter was linked to a white supremacist group also connects the body count to the elevated racist climate in Donald Trump’s alt-right America, where violent white males have become emboldened (God, I’m sick of using that word). But while we focus on the race of the shooter, we will miss the more important discussion about the gender of the shooter.

All these mass shootings are committed by males. There was a school shooting earlier this month in Los Angeles by a 12-year-girl but it was ruled unintentional. Except for the Brenda “I don’t like Mondays” Spencer case in 1979 (2 dead), girls don’t go on shooting sprees. I’ve written endlessly about the connection between masculinity and gun violence, including in this blog. Let me bring the message home.

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The same toxic masculinity that allows a boy or man to take an AR-15 to school and vent his rage at the world on some “soft targets” is displayed by our elected officials who think they are defending something by allowing that boy or man access to an AR-15 in the first place. There is a reason that women (and female politicians) are at the front of the sensible gun law cause. Women don’t need AR-15’s to make their dicks hard. Women, and men not suffering from EPE (Extreme Penis Envy), want sensible gun laws to reduce (not eliminate) the regularity of this horror. When it was black children being shot in America’s cities, their solution was just to lock everyone up (for anything possible) and put them to work in the prison labor industry. When the juvenile shooter demographic flipped to white, well, they must be crazy and you can’t really do anything about that. Do not expect men to fix this gun problem. Do not. It will be women who get this done.  But they have a mountain of patriarchal bull to remove first.

I’m sick of the gun “debate.”

I’m sick of hearing about “deranged individuals.”

As parent, I’m thinking it might be time to get out while we still can. America is sinking under the weight of its own testosterone. Our male politicians, funded by the gun lobby, have gerrymandered political boundaries to such an extreme that there is no longer much hope of compromise. Districts are permanently Republican or Democratic and moderates are jumping ship. We’re in permeant deadlock with a president who only cares about his ratings and applause from his sub-moronic base. Welcome to Idiocracy. You can pick up your kid after school at the morgue.

On the bright side, the contentious Baby Boom generation is dying off. If the Millennials can put down their phones (and their guns) long enough, this country might survive to its tricentennial. Your “thoughts and prayers” make me sick, but your action plans have my full attention. In the meantime, I’m exploring my options.

“America when will we end the human war?” – Allen Ginsberg (1956).

HOW TO TALK RATIONALLY ABOUT GUN CONTROL

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER MASS SHOOTING IN AMERICA

 

 

Let’s End Duality: Make America Grey Again

January 4, 2018

To start off 2018, I’d like to take us back to a moment in 2004 when Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama said these words:

“The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.”

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It seemed like a shift away a from the Bush-era divisiveness and surely played a role in Obama’s election in 2008. It’s worth pointing out that 14 percent of registered Republicans voted for a black Democrat in that election. It seems unimaginable now as we tweet and post from our red and blue state fortresses, rejecting anything that requires acknowledging the complexity of these issues. Remember Donald Trump in February saying,  “Nobody knew that healed care could be this complicated.” Oh, they knew.

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Queer Theory has been instrumental in helping people break through their binary thinking. When we are young we are taught that the sexes are “opposite.”  We are brainwashed in gender attributes that are mirror reflections. Boys are strong, girls are weak. Boys are stoic, girls are emotional. Boys are active, girls are passive. And on and on. It continues into adulthood. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Men care about foreign policy and women care about education. Most adults figure out that we have more in common that in opposition. “You have a pancreas? So do I!” Gender is not black and white. It’s many shades of grey. (A little bird told me that Vice President Mike Pence wears frilly pink panties and Donald Trump actually has a mangina.)

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I was thinking about the persistence of this bullshit dichotomy over the holidays when I read my old pal Bono kavetching that today’s music was “very girly;” that there wasn’t enough loud rock ’n’ roll like when he was a teenage boy. I flashed to the moment that a local Atlanta rock star I worked with in 1981 described the first U2 album as “whiney.” He should try saying music is too girly to Joan Jett’s face. Bono might turn off the Taylor Swift and check out bands like Savages, Diet Cig, Daddy Issues, and War on Women. There’s an explosion of women in rock right now. When I was 13-years-old I thought Kiss rocked and then I heard The Runaways’ Queens of Noise album. I’d put “Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin” against any of U2’s “guitar rock” without hesitation. If that’s girly music, give me more. The girls I know love the loud guitar. I’m a huge U2 fan but Bono is stuck in an antiquated binary.

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We don’t live a black and white world of evil doers and God’s pious peeps. We’re all sinners. One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. Context matters. The yin-yang symbol makes for a cool tattoo, but Buddhism does not reduce the world into a simple duality. Taoism is based on the paradox of simultaneous duality and unity. God vs. man? The Gnostic Texts excised from the Christian Bible, make the case that Christ ends that duality. The kingdom of heaven is within you. But you don’t get that message from the Christian Church. Man keeps constructing boundaries. Here’s how you get through heaven’s gate…

Duality makes sense in the abstract world of Boolean algebra, but here in reality things are rarely occurring in opposites. It’s only freaking Thursday?? And yet it’s 2018 already! Time can move fast and slow simultaneously. Even the distinction between life and death is a blurry line at best. We let those man-made boundaries define us. A person can be born with a penis, see themselves as a female identified person, AND be attracted to women. And maybe men occasionally.

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The issue of gender queer persons makes binary thinkers’ heads explode. You have to fit into a nice socially constructed category. It’s either/or not whatever. You have a penis? You belong in the heterosexual male box. Anything else is a “transgression” against nature, or God, or that old Oxford English dictionary your grandmother gave you for your ninth birthday. Those boys and men who stray into the pink zone must be punished. You’re watching The Crown instead of the Sugar Bowl? Smear the queer! I remember it well.

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The same is true with race. You’ve got a box to fit in and that’s who you are. You are either white or non-white. Again, reality has other plans. In the 2010 U.S. Census, 2 percent of Americans identified as two or more races. That’s 9 million people. In fact, multiple-race Americans grew at a faster pace than single-race Americans (32% vs. 9.2%). More and more Americans do not fit nicely into a demographic box. Is my half-Mexican daughter “white” or “brown”? Well, when she is applying for college scholarships, she’s gonna be “Latina” when it helps. But her light skin will privilege her the majority of her “white” life.

But here we are are, in a world where the President of the United States tells transgender Americans they are not allowed to serve in the military. (Another of his many failures in 2017.) Lower-level dualistic simple thinking rules the day. Either you are with us or against us. America, love it (our way) or leave it.  Sorry, simple people; it’s just not that simple.

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The reason this is the first post of the year is that I’ve noticed a creeping problem in 2017. Both sides are stuck in a binary deadlock. If you are a conservative, anyone who identifies themselves as liberal is just a “libtard” and anything they say will be dismissed out of hand. The other side is not much better. “You voted for Trump? You must be a complete moron and incapable of rational thought.”

Americans are not red or blue. They are mostly purple. Numerous surveys show that, despite political polarization, most Americans hold both liberal AND conservative opinions about things. Not only is it a scale, it’s a sliding scale. I imagine people get more conservative as April 15th approaches and more liberal over the holidays. Some people are socially liberal and economically conservative or vice versa. Some may change their political position after a good movie or a bad arrest. I spent much of my college years hanging out with Marxists, but I don’t want to live anywhere that looks like North Korea. I think capitalism is inherently corrosive but I appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit of my local Portland businesses. I even bought something in a Wal-Mart last year. (Long story.) Am I a hypocrite or just a complex person? Most people are complex. People who voted for Obama also voted for Trump and might vote for Elizabeth Warren in 2020. My dad likes to say he’s a “Republicrat.” Make your case. He’ll listen.

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I’ve written about the need for political civility in this blog. But this is something bigger. This is about breaking away from the us vs. them lie that’s been fed to us. I’m a post-modernist. I want to destroy these artificial barriers that confine us politically, sexually, spiritually, and any other way. We are trapped in our dogmatic partisan perspectives, fearful of the natural complexity of things. This is nothing new in this country. Our founders divided themselves into federalist and anti-federalist camps. Surprise, surprise – the best reality was somewhere in the middle.

There are things we can do to break through this artificial dichotomy. Ask questions of people making opposing arguments. Find the shades of grey you can work with. Keep an eye out for polarizing language. I tell anyone who uses the word “libtard” in a Facebook debate that there is no point to engage after that. Others should do the same when I use the word “moron.” Don’t make assumptions about people in different camps. You probably have more in common than you know. Instead of trying to “beat” them, help them to understand your position. Break out of your bubble. Diversity is good for plant life and party conversations. Don’t be afraid of encountering strong arguments that undermine the position you’ve taken. Don’t be afraid.

2018 is going to be a hell year. Perhaps the most important mid-term election in this nation’s history is only eleven months away. It’s going to be emotional and people are going to be combative, defensive, and needlessly inflammatory. We could divide ourselves into two opposing factions, a new civil war. Or we could reject the red and blue traps we’ve created for ourselves and make America fully human for the first time. “Hi, I’m Ying Yang, Yeah, it’s complicated. Get to know me.”

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The emotional fatigue of liberation work

October 13, 2017

Sometimes I have to remind myself of my own advice. When we are trying to be allies or accomplices in liberation movements that are not about our liberation, there’s gonna be some big bumps in the road. It you’re a man who cares about smashing sexism or a white person who wants to dismantle racism, don’t expect to be welcomed with open arms as the great savior. I advise people to be prepared for uncomfortable situations and let folks know that they’re going to be mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up too much. Just stay on the path.

Most of my classmates at Emory University went off to Wall Street, or law school, or medical school and are now making six and seven figure incomes and probably vote Republican. I chose a different path. My road has been to dedicate my life to unmasking and upturning forms of oppression in my world. It started the day I turned my back on the Klan town I grew up in and really took off when I began my undercover research in the white supremacist subculture. That path may have earned me a PhD and some media notoriety, but I’ve also got over 30 years of committed racists threatening to kill me and attacking me in ways that have severely impacted my family.

A white activist friend recently said we do this anti-racism work because we have to and she was exactly right. This work is woven into my being now, but I still have a lot to learn. For my senior high school ring I chose Mother of Pearl for the stone as a subtle nod to the “white power” vibes in my school. That was 1981. By 1984, I was working on Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign. I just needed that first sociology class to help me understand how I had become an agent of others’ oppression. I cast off that yoke but all these years later, there is still more to learn and it gets hard at times. I can’t count the number of racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, agist, classist (and whatever the body-shaming “ist” is) things I’ve done or said over the years.

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To do this work is to deal with emotional fatigue because you never “win.” There’s always another battle and you wonder (especially with a president who today is speaking at a conference of an actual hate group) if any progress has been made. I was at the Portland Max train station last a May after the brutal attack by an alt-right racist that left two men dead and a third clinging to life. I was taking in the candles, flowers, and messages in what had become a makeshift memorial to these three Portland heroes. I suddenly was overwhelmed with desperation. What was the point of my decades of work on this issue if people are still being murdered by Nazis? Had I wasted all this effort? I was going to be a dentist. It was 2017 and the hate mongers were stronger than ever with an ally in the White House. I walked towards some shadows so I could bawl my eyes out.

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I do regular educational tours with the Fair Housing Council of Oregon. We put a bunch of people on big Blue Star bus and drag them on a tragical history tour of Portland. Here’s where the black community was redlined, then displaced by “urban renewal” and gentrification. Here’s where Japanese-American men, women, children, and babies were imprisoned as “enemy aliens” after Pearl Harbor. Here’s where a community of working class people were wiped out by a catastrophic flood. We visit the spot where Mulugeta Seraw was beaten to death with a baseball bat by racist skinheads in 1988, and around the corner is the Hollywood Max station, site of the 2017 version of the same damn thing. We finish at Clyde’s Prime Rib, the great jazz bar and restaurant that in the 1940s was the Coon Chicken Inn. After the four hour tour, half of the bus riders look like they want to slit their wrists. It’s draining and deflating.

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In this work, I’m used to being attacked by people on the right. It comes with the territory. White supremacists have labeled be a “race traitor” and were doxxing me long before that was even a word. Conservatives call me a “libtard,” and a communist and are convinced that white privilege is a hoax and that discussions of implicit bias is a liberal tool to generate a false white guilt.

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It’s the attacks from the left that are more debilitating. It’s very in vogue for self-proclaimed radicals to bash “white liberals” these days, and much of it (as a self-proclaimed radical) I must say is deserved. As James Baldwin once said, “White people are trapped in a history they don’t understand.” But my work is about bringing people into liberation movements, so I worry attacking the people who are trying to be part of the solution will have an opposite effect. The (young) left can be very dogmatic and humorless, not allowing people to find the most effective path for themselves on this collective path. “Oh, you made an inappropriate comment? You’re out and I’m going to get my righteous posse to kick your ass out the door. Whose streets? Not yours.”

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I was on a panel this week for an amazing program called Race Talks; monthly community conversations about issues related to race and racism. This month’s talk was about how to be a white ally. The organizer called me and asked me to participate and who else should be on the panel. I suggested a young African-American activist who had recently been on my podcast. His position on the issue was provocative but important. My interview with him really helped me grow. So I was excited when we were all up on the stage together in front of a crowd so big they had to create an overflow room. I was prepared to talk about lessons learned about being a white ally and how to take a back seat in others’ liberation movements. I even wrote some notes. I never got to use them.

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Instead of the the woman who organized the panel moderating the discussion (as she had planned), our one black panelist, the young activist, decided he would ask the questions (in what could be framed as an act of male privilege). Questions like how the white people on the panel had burned people of color with their efforts to “help” and what reparations were we paying to make amends for our white privilege. I told you he was provocative. And these were important, valid questions. I’m not sure how it helped the standing-room-only crowd learn to be racial allies (in fact it probably scared a few folks away from the whole idea), but it certainly gave me one of those uncomfortable situations I encourage people to put themselves in.

One of his points is that his time is valuable and he should not be expected to help white people with their racism without compensation. I totally agree. Before the event, I messaged him and said I was looking forward to the panel. I wanted to thank him for taking the time to  be on my podcast. In the South we do that by buying folks beer.

Me: I owe you a beer. Let me buy you one tonight.

Him: I don’t drink. I accept cash though!

Me: How about a salad. LOL

Him: I find salads offensive.

I thought the cash line was a joke so I made a joke about the salad. Apparently, I offended him. He trotted out this interchange to the packed room (and streaming on line) about “this white man” offering him a salad. I apologized for the offending comment and took it as a cue that I should probably think about my use of humor, something that has gotten me in trouble before. (I tried to acknowledge his point by getting out my wallet that only contained 3 bucks, which I placed on the table in front of him. In retrospect, that was probably seen as being a bit rude.) After the talk, I went to the ATM and got out $20 to give him because I really do think his point about being compensated for his efforts is valid. As the crowd thinned, some of the older African-Americans in the audience asked if I was okay. One said it was unfair that I had been ambushed like that. But I want to grow on these issues, so I’m trying to not go into a defensive mode and take everything as a learning experience.

I was still bruising when I got home and in true Trump fashion turned to Twitter and posted something that I would have not posted if I’d gone straight to bed.

“Tonight I learned my white guilt cost $20.”

He screen-shotted it and posted on his Facebook page and it became open season on me from his fan base. But I engaged in the conversation that lasted into the following morning. I learned a lot, including about the meaningful discussion of reparations. The income gap between whites and blacks due to generations of oppression is real and continues to widen. I believe that any reparations should come from the government (the collective “us”). It’s unfair to expect some poor white person to shoulder the responsibility. But there are lots of ways white people can participate that are meaningful.

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I mentioned that I would address this issue in my blog and included a link to a recent blogpost on white privilege. I desperately wanted these fellow ant-racist activists to see I was not the enemy, just in a parallel lane on this journey. I got accused of invading a “black space” to promote my blog. It seemed anything I did or said, I was already convicted of being the bad guy. I was trying to understand their landscape, but I was somehow now the enemy. I offered to link my interview with this young activist to his PayPal account in hopes that people that listened would consider supporting his work through contributions. He said no. “I have been severely traumatized by your self-promotion over the last few days,” he wrote.

Sometimes you feel like you just can’t win. It sucks not being perfect in the eyes of others who apparently are perfect. Sometimes you are tempted to give up and let others do the work. When I was in grad school, I almost did my masters thesis on Appalachian quilt makers instead of Nazi skinheads. Think how different my life would be. Think of all the quilts I would have! But this is my life’s work, so I soldier on, learning from my mistakes.

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In the last few years I’ve learned the concept of “self care” and that it’s okay to be mindful of how hard this work can be and sometimes it’s okay to take a day off the fight and gorge on ice cream. One of the other panelists from that night, No Hate Zone founder Sam Sachs, called me to make sure I was alright after the panel/Twitter/Facebook public thrashing I got from my friends on the left. He told me my work is vitally important and has changed lives. It was just what I needed to hear.

To all those engaged in the struggle for human liberation, it is important that we keep each other’s feet to the fire, so we come from a place of empathy and not ego. It is also important to remember that we are all imperfect in our humanity and in our path to our common goals of equality, so treating each other with kindness and love is key. I am not one to suffers fools gladly, even when that fool is me. We can be hard on ourselves for our imperfections and mistakes and our failures. The moral arc of the universe is long, but we’ll get there. Give us a break.

And since this will likely be picked up by some of those young radicals who will confidently accuse me of being a “self-promoting” asshole, let me just say I love you and will see you a little further down the road.

Super important endnote: No matter how much fatigue a white person feels doing this work, it’s always going to be more fatiguing to be black in America. People of color don’t get to take a “self-care” day off.

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Donald Trump as the Slave Master of the Black Athlete Plantation

September 29, 2017

Sports can reveal so much about where we are in American racial progress: Jackie Robinson, the Mexico City Olympics, Derek Jeter dating white women. White sports fans have made themselves the referees for what black athletes are allowed to do to move the racial equity ball down the field. And they’ll be more than happy to shut down a spectacular rush. And that’s the end of my sports metaphors.

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Enough has been said about Trump’s weird obsession with “ungrateful” NBA players and “ungrateful” NFL players. Except for white people who are in deep denial, anyone that has followed Donald Trump from his Central Park 5 ad, through his relentless Obama birtherism, to his comments about the “fine people” in Charlottesville, knows the man is a racist. He’s the modern kind of racist who says, “I’m the least racist person on earth. I have black friends!”

The way to frame the “I’m not a racist, but…” racism that is flowing down from the White House and across the Facebook feeds of white America is to think historically. They want to make America great again. And for “again,” let’s choose 1857. This was a time when one in four white families in Virginia owned African slaves. And, like the NFL, the best team owners made the most money. There were over a hundred planation owners who owned over a hundred slaves each. The slave labor on those plantations generated millions of dollars in revenue for the white elites, and it wasn’t just cotton sales.

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First, let’s get this out of the way. The NFL kneeling protests have nothing to do with the flag or the anthem. They are about the persistent problem of racism in America, especially with regard to policing. Trump and his army of racist overseer trolls can try to spin it anyway they want, but it’s about racism. (Trump lamented that white NASCAR drivers don’t bother us with this nonsense.)  They can act all butt-hurt about how much the flag means to them, but it’s not about the flag. It’s a common racist trick to make any unwanted racial protest an “attack on America.” Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights activists of the 1960s were routinely called “communists” who wanted to “destroy” America. Trump’s pathetic attempt to make this about the flag only reinforces the fact that this is about racism. “It’s not what the black people say it is. It’s what I say it is.” And I could spend thousands of words talking about how we disrespect the flag on a daily basis. Ever seen a Kid Rock concert?

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President Trump has fashioned himself as the ultimate plantation owner and these negroes better get back to work. He (and white America) owns them.  Black players are chattel. Trump’s Treasury Secretary,  Steven Mnuchin, made that clear on ABC’s This Week when he said, “They have the right to have the first amendment off the field.” As if the Constitution is suspended when the beasts are on the field. I guess these black bucks should be “grateful” that Trump is giving them their first amendment right when they aren’t picking cotton.

Obviously, racist whites don’t like any type of black protest about the persistence of racism, whether it’s a football player peacefully kneeling during our national anthem, written by a slaveowner, or Black Lives Matter protestors peacefully marching down a street. Racist whites didn’t like it in the early 1950s, when Trump said America was “great,” and they surely don’t like it now, after a black president. Racism has been solved and these blacks are just being ungrateful, right? They should be grateful “we” freed them, right? (Does “we” include the white guys waving Confederate flags? Post-racial America is so confusing.)

I spent some time on sports discussion boards this week, trying to get the pulse of the hard core sports fans. There was a lot of anger at Trump for inserting his weird version of patriotism into a multi-racial game, loved by many demographics. (Ask some of my Mexican family members about the role the Dallas Cowboys plays in their lives.) Many even recognized that when Trump referred to the protesting black players as “sons of bitches” to a roaring crowd of white supporters in Alabama, he grabbed a third rail. The mothers of football players are beloved, much more than ratings-obsessed politicians. There were obviously a lot of racists posts that moderators were working overtime to delete. However, plenty of “I’m not a racist, but…” posts slipped through.

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A trip through Twitter was more revealing. Not that these knuckleheads are actually going to do it, but a survey of #NFLBoycott posts was pretty harsh. Plenty of discussions of “ungrateful niggers.” And how much “we” pay them to entertain, not annoy, us. One white Facebook friend said she almost walked out a restaurant because they had an NFL game on. Of course she didn’t and if she did it would have had zero effect on the NFL or the need to solve America’s racial issues. But the blatant racism on Twitter has certainly been given a green light by Trump and his call to have these ungrateful negroes fired from their jobs.

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The term “ungrateful” is key in this issue. White men earn their income. Eli Manning earns his $21 million dollar salary. Black men are given their income. They should be grateful for their millions. I don’t have millions. Who are they to complain? (The average player in the NFL makes $1.9 million, so there are a majority of players who are not getting payed millions to cover Matthew Stafford’s $27 million dollar salary. If fact take a look at the 15 top paid players in the NFL. Thirteen are white guys,)

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Another friend on Facebook, who was angry about these “ungrateful athletes” said, “But we pay them millions!” (Something one of the indigent white hosts of Fox & Friends also claimed.) I asked, “Who is ‘we’?” Nothing. But the message was clear. White people pay them and the team owners own them. The don’t own Ton Brady, but they own Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, and any other black player raising a fist or taking a knee when they should be picking cotton and swearing allegiance to the the slave owner’s anthem.

In my nearly thirty years of research on white supremacists, one of the recurring themes is the anger directed towards African-Americans who made more money than them. In my original study of skinheads in Orlando, Florida, racists were completely obsessed with the fictional middle-class Huxtable family on The Cosby Show. Their parents had been laid off from a Florida textile mill, but every Thursday night there was this black family on TV that had everything they thought they deserved. “What’s wrong with this picture?” I remember one saying in 1988. During that study, the movie Mississippi Burning was released. There’s a powerful scene in it which Gene Hackman’s character is trying to explain the racist white mentality to Willem Dafoe’s character. It perfectly summed up the skinheads I was living with and many of the NFL fans burning Colin Kaepernick jerseys (who, apparently, has not punished enough).

Donald Trump clearly has a number of personal issues wrapped up in this circus act, including his legacy of driving the USFL, a football league meant to rival the NFL, into the ground. His Twitter barrages rile up his under-educated white base while distracting the country from his numerous legislative failures. Perhaps there’s also some admiration for Rocket Man Kim Jong Il. Nobody takes a knee during the national anthem in North Korea. Trump doesn’t have his dictatorship (yet), but if he can get enough of his knuckle-dragging followers to demand that these ungrateful savages be fired from jobs they’ve worked their entire lives to have, he can call it a win.
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Ratings for all sportscasts have been on the decline for the last few years. It’s because young people would rather watch YouTube videos instead of sports, not because a handful of athletes want to make a peaceful statement about the race problem in America. Watching these idiots burn their sports crap in protest reminds me of the same idiots who burned their Beatles albums 51 years ago because someone told them the Beatles believed they were better than Jesus. (John Lennon had just tried to make a valid point about the declining role of religion in young people’s lives, but DJ’s in Southern U.S. states and the KKK didn’t care about context.)

Racism is real and continues to traumatize Americans on a daily basis. A black millionaire football player is still a black man in America. Malcolm X once said, “You know what a white man calls a black man with a PhD? A nigger.” And here we still are. Those who are peacefully protesting racism by kneeling are honoring the flag and the men and women who died for the right that gives them the freedom to do it. They are the patriots, not Trump and his racist cult.

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It’s not the KKK in masks and hoods: Fighting hate without violence

September 15, 2017

I’ve been doing this anti-racism work for a long time. Thirty years ago I walked into the middle of a Klan rally in rural Georgia and held up a sign that said, “Racism is ignorance” and was dragged out by a National Guardsman. Racist skinheads set my scooter on fire, left threatening notes on my doorstep, and stalked me at my gym and outside my classes at Portland State. One night they plotted to severely beat me at a meeting in a bar, but I was tipped off to the plan and slipped out the back door. (I said I was going the john and just kept going.) I’ve had neo-Nazis post pictures of my house and car on the internet, post lies about me on gossip websites, and even post a fake Wikipedia entry about me. I was antifa before antifa was cool.

So when some snot-nosed teenage (white) anarchist tells me I’m a “privileged white guy” who doesn’t know how to stand up to racists, I just laugh. It’s kinda cute.

I’ve written in this blog about the legitimate political philosophy of anarchism as opposed to the black masked kids who think setting trashcans on fire will somehow “smash capitalism.” I’ve also written about how violence against the alt-right idiots only helps the alt-right idiots. And I will keep banging the drum of civil political discourse as long as there is something to (non-violently) bang on.

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The alt-right gang was back in Stumptown this past Sunday, bleating about “free speech” and not making much of case for anything, other than how much they hate the “communists” who don’t like their free speech. Of course, being Portland, lots of amazing folks came out to protest them, to make their case loud and clear that Portland stands united against hate. There were Buddhists meditating, and school kids, grandmothers, and clergy, peacefully marching in opposition to the alt-right’s message of intolerance and division. I’m proud that my city’s values are so clear here.

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But there were also thugs. “Anti-Racist Thug,” as one of their t-shirts said. I don’t believe these are the core activists of Rose City Antifa. Antifa is not an organization, let alone a “terrorist organization.” Antifa is a movement against fascism and fascism has never seemed more like a real possibility in my lifetime than it does right now. Movements are inherently disorganized and can attract people for many reasons, including those who care more about thrill of the moment (and being in a riot can be a real hoot). Some are motivated by their own completely unrelated psychological issues. (I hate my father so I’m going to throw a rock at a cop!) Some are just followers, much like their hate group counterparts on the right, who are looking for a simple analysis of the world and a simple action plan to go with it. Like I said, I’ve ben doing this work for a long time and I have seen all of the above. Antifa has attracted all of the above and it might destroy their movement like so many movements before it. Calling Occupy Wall Street. Hello? Anyone there?

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The events on Sunday were a mess. Alleged “Black Block” members allegedly threw bottles at cops and knocked down police barricades. Police allegedly threw a distraction grenade at counter-protestors and pushed a person allegedly video-taping the skirmish to the ground. An alleged Trump supporter in a parallel event across the river in Vancouver, Washington, backed his pick-up truck, with its confederate flag, into a group of counter-protestors, evoking the deadly car-attack in Charlottesville on August 12th. There were seven arrests made after some counter-protestors threw rocks and smoke bombs at the police. The guy that drove his truck into the crowd, strangely, was not arrested. I was glad I allegedly stayed home. Donald Trump has already used Portland’s “antifa violence” to justify his ignorant comments about Charlottesville, making more calls for Nixonian law and order. The greatest gift to fascists in this country might just be the thugs antifa is attracting.

I was frustrated that these agitators in masks and black hoodies were hurting our cause by driving away potential allies and giving Fox News more footage for their “violent liberals” narrative. Who wants to come out to a rally when masked trustafarians are throwing bottles at cops?  I administer the Facebook page for the Coalition Against Hate Crime and I posted, “FYI: When I protest racism, I don’t hide my face under a mask like a Klansman.”

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I should have expected the blowback from the fascisticly anti-fascist gang, one calling for me to be banned from the page (that I’m the admin of). When I tried to explain that one should be proud of protesting and showing their face at these rallies, I got accused of being a privileged media whore. When I said becoming a parent has reinforced my desire for nonviolence and empathy for the haters themselves, one woman said she couldn’t wait for my daughter to be old enough to call me on my “bullshit.” When one said they could care less how their violence played on Fox News, I said maybe they should if they care about the end goal. One antifan said I didn’t have to worry about Nazis coming after me.  I tried to let him know I’ve had to deal with Nazis coming after me for 30 years. I could hear Beyoncé singing, “You must not know about me.”

But there were some valid points made, including the fear of alt righter Nazis coming after counter-protesters, trolling them on the internet, or showing up at their workplace. They have a reason to fear this as it’s been their tactic against racists for years. Here we go round the mulberry bush. An eye for an eye. I get that much of this is a radical performance for radical peers. “Look how well I defend the black flag. I told Blazak to STFU!” And we get absolutely nowhere.

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I ended up taking down the post because it just became an attack on me by people who I had assumed were my allies in the struggle against racism. They consider me a collaborator because I work with the police and not against them. I might have accused some of them as being agent provocateurs working for the Trump camp, handing the alt-right evidence of their claims on a silver antifa platter. It wasn’t very productive. They’d ask me my solution to the problem and I said the hard work to reform the system. “Fuck that, revolution!” You let me know how that goes. How many burned-out cops are watching department budgets shift funds from community policing to over-time for this week’s alt-right/antifa wrestling match? How many city resources are spent cleaning up after the extremist boys on the right and left masturbate on our streets?

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In the end, I think there are many paths and tactics in this cause. I admire the youth who are taking to the streets to stop our slide backwards. I was them at one point. Idealistic with simplistic solutions. I was fueled by the music of The Clash, not the analysis of NPR. Those kids are a big part of the struggle and should be supported but also guided by those of us who have done our time in the trenches. The one thing that we know absolutely does not work is violence. If fact, it only makes things worse. Young males have long romanticized marching off to heroic macho combat. Older veterans know nothing is won in the end. There’s a reason Martin Luther King, Jr. adopted the non-violent resistance tactics of Gandhi. Of course there were casualties in Gandhi’s struggle of Indian independence (and King’s). Heather Heyer, killed in Charlottesville, was just one of many casualties in the long non-violent struggle against violence in this country. And there will be more.

Hating the haters is not the solution. Understanding the haters is. I’ve said this many times; inside almost every alt-right Nazi white supremacist/separatist/nationalist asshole is an amazing anti-hate activist waiting to be released. You don’t stop a Nazi by punching him. You might by hugging him. Only love undoes hate.

A friend saw me in the weeds with these “revolutionaries” on Facebook and bailed me out by posting a video from a musician I dearly love, Michael Franti. I’ve followed his career from the Beatnigs, through the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, to Spearhead. I don’t doubt that most of these beautiful radical youth know his music as well. In a voice much more articulate than my post, he said exactly what I was trying to say. Stand up for love.

I’m working on crafting a statement of non-violence for our coalition. We can’t sink to the fascists’ level. We have a right to defend ourselves but if the alt-right is not actually using violence and we are, it just makes Donald Trump (God, I hate to say this) appear to be right. We have love on our side. We don’t need smoke bombs. If you want to wear a mask, that’s your choice. But I hope you will stand proudly as my ally and willingly be counted. Dr. King didn’t wear a mask, but the people he marched against did.

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#PowerToThePeaceful

Postscript: It’s an important point that I, as a privileged white person, can walk away from the anti-racism struggle when I need a break from it. People of color cannot.

We must now ask if the President of the United States is a psychopath

August 31, 2017

As a criminologist of extreme acts of violence, I spend a lot of my time talking about psychopaths and sociopaths (essentially the same social types with different focuses on causes). I’ve lectured about psychopathic serial killers and sociopathic hate criminals. My 2000 book with Wayne S. Wooden, Teenage Renegades, Suburban Outlaws: From Youth Culture to Delinquency, included a large piece I wrote about the psychopathic tendencies of school shooters. Boys with guns and without impulse control in places like Springfield, Oregon and Littleton, Colorado.

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Now it’ time to talk our president and sociopathy. His visit to Texas on Tuesday in which he didn’t visit with a single victim of the devastating bomb blast of Hurricane Harvey raised a giant red flag. (Such visits are a typical response from the consolers in chief).  He didn’t even mention them. He did mention the crowd size that came to see Him and how big and expensive His disaster was. “What a turnout!” he said. Nothing for the millions of Americans suffering . To be fair, a day later in Springfield, Missouri, he did read a speech that someone prepared for him, after much hand-wringing over the president’s lack of empathy, mentioning the flood victims. “All America is grieving with you,” he read.

Donald Trump has shown this cold lack of empathy before. Refugees fleeing war in Syria, the children of undocumented immigrants, families that will lose health coverage if Obamacare is repealed, our men and women in the military who are transgender, females he was accused of groping; he could care less about their stories. Women who get cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood? Meh. People who live downstream from deregulated chemical plants? Screw ‘em. DACA kids in college? Criminals.

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Lack of empathy doesn’t make you a psychopath. It makes you an asshole. But the lack of empathy is one of the hallmarks of sociopathy. Psychopaths often have an early history with animal cruelty. Most of us see a puppy and think, “How cute! Snuggies!” A psychopath sees the same puppy and wonders what it would look like doused in gasoline. The clinical diagnosis is Antisocial Personality Disorder. The APA estimates that it impacts about 1% of the population (although in prison populations, it can be as high as 23%) and I’m guessing our president is one of them.

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The best way to explain sociopathy is with some Freudian imagery. Imagine a cartoon character with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The devil is the primitive id that acts on basic impulses and the angel is the social superego that restrains those impulses with society’s rules. That’s why Freud put so much emphasis on potty training. It’s the first real attempt to put the “If it feels good, do it” idea in social check. You can’t poop in your diapers forever. There are rules up in here.

Most of us have a nice balance, and we know when to listen to the angel and when it’s okay to listen to the devil. But psychopaths are dominated by their ids. They say and do whatever they want. They can say something and they say the exact opposite minutes later just because they want to. They can grab women by their genitals just because they think they’re entitled. They can threaten nuclear war just because it’s kinda fun. They never apologize because they never feel guilt. It’s everyone else’s problem. They’re the greatest person in history.

The research on sociopathy is fascinating. Some of it explores the role a dysfunctional cerebral cortex plays in preventing psychopaths from seeing themselves in other’s shoes. Some of the research looks at the role of early childhood trauma, like sexual abuse. Research has demonstrated that the more comfortable a person is, the less empathy they show to others who are less comfortable. We also know that sociopaths tend be both narcissistic and compulsive liars. It’s all about them and what they can get away with. Sound like anybody we know?

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Not all sociopaths become serial killers or school shooters. It’s a continuum. Mild sociopathy might be rewarded on Wall Street or in the military, or anywhere where there’s a “take no prisoners” or “show no mercy” value set. Psychopaths are common in the world of hate as it rewards the ethic of cruelty without guilt. If you ever wondered about people who make Hitler their role model, like Trump fan James Fields, who drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist protests in Charlottesville, there’s a good chance they’re a psychopath. These “evil” people tend to show some red flags early in life, including what’s known as the Macdonald Triad. Kids who engage in animal cruelty, fire-starting, and bed-wetting are at a higher risk of later sociopathic behavior. Is Trump’s nanny still alive? I have a few questions.

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So sociopathy can range from a cruel boss who could care less about your sick kid to a serial killer who has sex with the heads he’s chopped off. The scariest part of sociopathy is how little we know about it and, therefore, how to treat it.  While I was working on my book on the subject, I read Jonathan Kellerman’s Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children (1994). Kellerman, a psychologist, argues that until a reliable treatment for Antisocial Personality Disorder is found, the best course of action is to lock up psychopaths at the earliest opportunity, even if they are children, to protect society from their impulsive acts of terror.

My PhD is not in psychology, but I’ve been studying sociopaths long enough to know the red flags when I see them. Donald Trump’s trip to Texas, that served as a campaign stop instead of a sincere effort to understand the on-the-ground suffering, is one flag too many. He seemed more concerned with hawking his $40 USA hats than wading in the dirty water with Americans who have lost everything. I don’t know if Donald J. Trump is a psychopath and therefore unqualified to lead this great nation. I just think it’s a vitally important question to ask and answer as soon as possible.

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Postscript: There’s a pattern where Trump does or says something stupid (Remember his initial comments about Charlottesville earlier this month?), but then his handlers set him back on script. Trump is going to donate one million dollars OF HIS OWN MONEY to flood relief. But the True Trump always comes back to undercut Teleprompter Trump.