What Comes After Trump?

I posted this on Reasonable Creature, but I wanted to share it with you as well.

Now that we’re about nine weeks away from the general election, it’s time to start considering what comes next. More likely than not, Hillary Clinton will be elected president, along with many Democrats. The election will likely confirm the status quo, with little immediate shift in power between both parties. But I wonder how the media and the rest of us pivot post-Trump. I fear we’ve become too used to politics as a kind of grotesque theater of perpetual outrage, and not as an important outlet for debating and solving problems. Every Trump tweet or dumb comment takes attention away from serious issues. Clinton may have detailed policy plans, but if her opponent has no interest in debating her on the merits – only calling for her arrest and promoting conspiracy theories – then how can average Americans make informed choices based on anything other than disgust? She may be elected by 10 points and will still be viewed as illegitimate by tens of millions of people. Once elected, Clinton will struggle to address real issues, like poverty and wage stagnation, because whether her policy ideas are good or bad, the anger-industrial complex is too deeply invested in their failure.

Similarly, I’m worried we’ll be dealing with the consequences of reduced civility and sensitivity for a long time, particularly as it relates to women, people of color, people with disabilities, and toward middle and lower class whites that liberals scoff at and who Trump resonated with. He’s made liberals more likely to write off all Trump supporters as bigots, when as Arlie Russell Hochschild’s incredible story shows, their narrative of unfairness must be reckoned with. Further, Trump has empowered people who view all Muslims as terrorists, Mexicans as rapists, blacks as criminals, who despise women, especially the successful ones. A nation where former Imperial Wizard of the KKK, David Duke, feels comfortable running for senate again is a weaker, more dangerous one. While not in every instance but always for Trump and his ilk, condemning political correctness has been about preserving their power to dehumanize people who aren’t them. I envision a country that gradually removes the structural barriers for disadvantaged groups to participate economically and politically, only for them to be discouraged by barrages of personal attacks.

Beyond that, I worry that we will start to think and act in groups at a dangerous level. Trump has encouraged whites to view only themselves as “real Americans” and view prosperity as entirely zero-sum. We’re in trouble when Americans stop believing their success is mutually dependent.

What gives me hope is that my generation, for the most part, doesn’t buy this crap. While we have grown up profoundly segregated by race, class, and even politics, we are also incredibly diverse, educated, and liberal. We won’t put up with people like Trump and the alt-right; a recent Pew poll shows that 76% of millennials say “immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents. I won’t overstate our increased racial tolerance; the General Social Survey conducted by NORC found that white millennials are only slightly less racist than their parents. But millennials are only 55% white, those under 18 are 51.5% white, and those under five are minority white. I look forward to the day when there is no majority ethnicity or race in this country; perhaps, then, we’ll find something better that unites us.

I invite both of us to consider what that might be.

On Trump, Irrational Hate, and the Philosophical Difference Between Sanders and Clinton

Hillary Clinton at a campaign event for Jeanne Shaheen. COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.

I’ve been quiet on what’s been happening politically. Not on a personal level, as you know from talking to me and from the volunteer campaign work I’ve been doing. But I haven’t been engaging much with it online and in writing. I’m witnessing such an intense dissociation from facts and values that I believed were common and among people I thought shared my views. I see millions of people deciding that Donald Trump, a man who:

Equally disturbing, I see Sanders supporters, who ostensibly believe in ideas like justice, fairness, and equality, and issues like immigration, climate change, and poverty, saying how much they despise Clinton, that her nomination would be illegitimate because superdelegates would help, and that they’re considering not voting for Clinton because of how much they dislike her. They’re impervious to the facts that Clinton has 3 million more votes than Sanders and that the nomination system they’ve railed against (correctly, in my opinion), advantages Sanders. (About half the contests he’s won have been caucuses that make it difficult for anyone with a life to vote and result in dismal turnout.)

I’ve always liked Bernie Sanders. We’ve both been familiar with him years before most of his supporters even knew who he was. He’s been ahead of most Democrats in defending LGBT rights, calling out the vastly unequal distribution of wealth, and advocating for a government that does more to give working people a leg up. But he is and always has been a socialist. This country has never been particularly warm toward socialism in any form. The most successful American socialist candidate was Eugene Debs, and he got the highest total number of votes (913,664 votes) while sitting in a jail cell. Over 100 years later, a 2015 Gallup poll found that 50% of Americans would not vote for a socialist. Clearly, Sanders has attracted a ton of support, especially among the youngest generation of voters, who are friendlier toward socialism than capitalism.

But now, in late May, it seems like Sanders’ support is fueled more by an irrational hatred of Clinton than a desire to create change. I see people on Facebook conflating Clinton and Trump as if they have remotely the same personality traits, beliefs, and goals. I was never a big fan of Hillary, but I always respected her experience, her excellent understanding of policy, and her commitment to women’s equality. None of the scandals she’s involved been involved with (Whitewater, Vince Foster, Benghazi, the emails, etc.) have proved her to be the snake so many people believe she is. She’s way too secretive and cautious, and that makes her look dishonest, but I think that was borne out of decades of vicious attacks on her and her family. If I had garbage continually lobbed at me for 25 years, I’d probably develop similar traits.

But there’s an important philosophical distinction between Sanders and Clinton that I’ve been conflicted about, and is often the subject of arguments between me and a certain friend.

While Sanders has a bipartisan record, he is more of an activist than a policymaker. As Congresswoman Slaughter said to me during my internship, in the 16 years they were in the House together, he passed three pieces of legislation, and two were naming post offices. I read an article in Politico today that delved deeper into Sanders legislative record. It found that Sanders had relatively little influence on major liberal policy achievements. He did make small, meaningful contributions, like increasing transparency of the Federal Reserve in Dodd-Frank and successfully advocating for funding for community health centers in Obamacare. But he was never a major player in crafting significant laws, and his influence on policy has paled in comparison to other senators, like Elizabeth Warren, who’s made protecting Dodd-Frank a hill to die on.

Hillary Clinton has always taken a more policy centered approach, and while she hasn’t always been successful, it has produced results. Looking up what Clinton has actually done, I was surprised to find a laundry list of legislative and diplomatic achievements. As First Lady in 1997, she was instrumental in passing the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which had bipartisan support, and has improved health care access for millions of children in poverty. As a senator she helped write and pass the Pediatric Research Equity Act, which requires pharmaceutical companies to study the effects of their drugs on children, which has made crucial drug information available for hundreds of drugs. She fought to get billions in aid for 9/11 first responders to get needed medical treatment. She sponsored and fought for the original Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which became law shortly after she left the Senate. As Secretary of State, she rallied the world to put tough sanctions on Iran that forced them to the table, while pressuring countries like to China to cut their emissions, which have led to the US-China Climate Agreement and the Paris Agreement.

We can argue that her policies have come up short, that her instincts are too hawkish, and that she’s too cozy with Wall Street, but there is no question that the woman gets shit done, and that much of it has been really good.

That said, the political system needs to be shaken up. It is rigged in favor of the wealthy and the status quo. Sanders is right: we need a political revolution. Of course, that requires more people voting in presidential and midterm elections than have ever done so, and voting Democratic. Our present two-party system is deeply unsatisfying, but until we change our voting system, which won’t happen anytime soon, the Democratic Party is the only electoral vehicle capable of affecting liberal policy change.

I sometimes wonder whether I’m too pessimistic, lacking in imagination, and too willing to compromise. I certainly give up too quickly in my day to day life. That hasn’t stopped me from getting involved and fighting though, if for a candidate that is far to my right. Let my contribution to the revolution be to motivate others to stand up and fight.

What really makes the US exceptional

I know I’ve been horrible about posting on our blog, but I wanted to respond to your reactions to the San Bernardino coverage.

I’m reminded of FDR’s famous quote, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I know, cliché, right? But what we’re seeing lately illustrates its timeliness. What we become when we react to terror has always been more dangerous, more debilitating, than the acts themselves. The Japanese internment camps are long over, but there’s no legal framework preventing that from happening again. Osama bin Laden may be dead and gone, but the Patriot Act and the modern surveillance state are as strong as ever, and support for torture remains high among Americans.

Terrorism exists to create fear. As Chancellor and former Sec. of Defense Robert Gates said, it’s weapon of the weak against the strong. I think we become weaker — less than ourselves — if we give in to that fear. And I think banning Syrian and Iraqi refugees (or all Muslims) or deporting 11 million illegal immigrants would be doing just that. It isn’t just that it’s overkill as a policy: it’s not who we are. As a certain Emmy award winning writer points out, there are very few things left that make the United States truly, positively stand out in the world.

But the sheer number of people we’ve welcomed, assimilated, conscripted, enriched, uplifted, and relied upon makes us truly exceptional. If you are a Muslim in America and you go to school or start a business or pay taxes or join the military or exercise your freedom of speech or go to a mosque or join the PTA or eat a goddamn slice of pizza, you are making this country exceptional. My rights are your rights, and anyone who says otherwise can go fuck themselves.

Uncertainty on the metro

I left the Library a bit later today. For the last week or so, I’ve been sleeping in, and getting to work about 30 minutes to an hour later than usual, which I means I leave later, too. This wouldn’t be worth mentioning, except that today, my lateness (presumably) allowed me to board one of DC Metro’s shiny new trains.

Very rarely, have I even seen these trains. When one arrived on the orange line, I braced myself: what would await me inside? The exterior is more homogenous than its predecessor: a deep, consistent metallic silver. The interior walls are pale and brightly lit. The varying shades of orange coloring the old cars’ seats are replaced with blue ones. The seats themselves are flatter, but definitely look more comfy. (My car was standing room only, so I didn’t get to test them.)

Two things, however, caught my eye. In the car were displaying each stop on the orange line. On each stop, the screen listed the number of stops it would take to get to each one. On the bottom, updates scrolled like a CNN newsfeed. It also provided information about what was located at the next stop, including carpooling, buses, biking, and parking. Another screen, lining the upper wall, also showed what stops were next, only it was bigger.

Screen 2

PHOTO BY GREATERGREATERWASHINGTON.ORG

PHOTO BY GREATERGREATERWASHINGTON.ORG

PHOTO BY GREATERGREATERWASHINGTON.ORG

I couldn’t help but marvel at the dumb simplicity of it. Someone with no metro experience could get on this train, read one of those screens and know how many stops it would take to get to any station on her line and where she could transfer to any other line, without ever looking at a map. The screens tell you exactly what you need to know, except where you are in the city.

It reminds me of Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head. Not only are those screens yet another distraction (which I’m sure will be used for ads in the future), but they don’t promote the sense of place one acquires through carefully studying a metro map and actually riding the metro. They’re useful… mind-numbingly so.

Who among us, in our ignorance as subway novices, hasn’t had to pause and consider where the fuck he was going?

Who hasn’t had to jump off their car at the last minute only to realize they exited at the wrong stop?

You need those moments of uncertainty and panic – to learn, to live, to make life interesting, dammit. Those moments keep you engaged in the act of traveling and build your confidence. Having had many of them, I feel surer in my judgments when boarding the metro, even in a less familiar are of DC.

I worry these screens will prevent future riders from making the mistakes that will enable them to master the metro. Or maybe I’m just hearkening back to the good old days of two months ago. Only time will tell.

Spontaneity and Awakening in DC

(I wrote this in response to Stray musings on openness, optimism, and pleasant surprises.)

“Good things happen. But more of them happen if you’re open to the possibility. And if you start from that premise, you’re less likely to miss the good things that might be happening around you while you’re grumbling and staring down at the sidewalk.”

Funny you should say this, because I’m finding that more and more in my own experience. I had a similarly positive experience on Amtrak from DC to Hartford the same day as your trip. We were only four minutes late. But this summer has been an education in being open to the new and the good in whatever forms they take.

Being in DC exposes you to a lot. I’m still terrifically shy, but I’ve managed to talk to loads of interesting people. And the most memorable encounters have been unplanned and spontaneous – not exactly in my social comfort zone.

For instance, one night I needed to get out of my apartment. I’d been sitting in my room too long staring at a computer screen, and it was too late for any kind of excursion. So I sat on a bench outside the lobby of my building. A tall, dark-haired man with a wide build approached me, offering me a cigarette in passable English. I declined politely. He told me that I looked like I had something on my mind. (I guess that’s my default.) We proceeded to talk for almost an hour and a half; I learned that he had been studying English in America for only a few months, and that he was from Saudi Arabia. We discussed everything from American and Saudi culture to women and dating. He admired America’s religious liberty, something he found his own country lacking. He did, however, scoff at many American women he perceived as promiscuous; all the while, he was working up the courage to ask out a girl who was moving out of the building imminently. (I could relate.)

He asked me whether I believed in God and I told him I didn’t really know. As a Muslim, he tried to address some of my doubts about the existence of God and said that prayer made him feel good, knowing that Allah is with him.

This whole conversation happened because I left my apartment. He started talking to me, but it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been out there.

And then there was my day at the Supreme Court, which was as close as I’ve come to a political and personal baptism.

I’d been checking Scotusblog like clockwork, Monday/Thursday/Friday, physically and psychologically bracing for the impact of King v. Burwell. I’d been thinking about the utter lunacy of the case and how a badly written sentence could have thrown millions of American lives into chaos. One headline after another read the same thing: “we’re probably fucked.” Eventually I had to just let it go – whatever would happen would happen. When the 6-3 ruling was announced, I felt relief, not just because of the result, but because of John Roberts’ reasoning: he interpreted the passage in the context of the law. It seems that common sense can still prevail, on occasion.

I remembered that another big case had yet to be announced: Obergefell v. Hodges. I’d assumed the Supreme Court would rule in favor of gay marriage, and I’d barely given it a second thought. However, it occurred to me, like the other case I’d been watching so intently, it was happening right outside my cubicle. There would be a crowd of thousands, elated or devastated, depending on the verdict, and I had to be among them. For some reason, I knew it would be decided that Friday, the day after King v. Burwell. I just had a feeling.

That day, the Library of Congress interns had a mandatory tour of the stacks from 9:00am to 10:00am. Having already been in the stacks (and seen your contributions to the Library’s collection) I was annoyed that the tour might prevent me from being outside the Supreme Court the moment the decision went down. The whole tour I was distracted. When it ended, I made a beeline for the first door I could find out of the Jefferson building.

Running parallel to me was a girl from my intern group, who up until this point I had not spoken to. I gathered from her velocity that she was headed the same way as me. I asked her if she was and she said yes.

I saw young people in suits sprinting toward the Capitol building, packets in hand. (I would learn that these were congressional interns racing to deliver decisions to their respective members, a time-honored tradition known as “the running of the interns.”) In front of the Supreme Court was a crowd of hundreds, probably thousands, cheering with an immediacy and urgency that made me think gay marriage had just been legalized.

Approaching the crowd, I introduced myself to the girl. Her name was Kyra, a rising junior government major at William and Mary. This was not her first time at the Court. She lived nearby, and in her high school years she’d been an LGBT activist. She had just taken the same Civil Rights and Civil Liberties class that I did last year. We had quite a bit in common.

As we talked, we inched through the crowd. It heartened me to see so many different kinds of people there: the young, the old, whites, blacks, the well-dressed, the hideously dressed, the LGBT, and the straight; signs that read “Catholics for Marriage Equality,” “Baptists for Marriage Equality,” and “Evangelicals for Marriage Equality.”

Christians showed up in full force.

Christians showed up in full force.

People right in front of me were being interviewed, with tape recorders in their faces. A woman offered Kyra and me signs that said “America is Ready for the Freedom to Marry.” We held them high and melded with the crowd. A man with what looked like a TV camera asked if he could shoot us holding the signs, and we agreed. Somewhere out there is footage of me in a very good mood.

After about 45 minutes, we started to head out, but stopped to listen to the Gay Men’s Chorus sing. Their peaceful, melodic harmony enriched the celebration.

The Gay Men's Choir.

The Gay Men’s Choir.

Kyra and I approached the Jefferson Building, and I knew I needed to ask her out. We had too much in common, and I had just had too much fun to let that moment just slip by and become just another lost opportunity. So I asked if she wanted to hang out over the weekend, and she said yes.

I feel like, to some people, that moment would have just been a given, but it’s never been so easy for me. I had never been able to so effortlessly bypass the anxiety and fear that prevented me from doing that. I got the fuck out of my own way for once.

And in less than an hour, I witnessed massive political change happen. The buildup of decades of activism and fighting against overt hatred and the even more powerful bigotry of the status quo that Doug Muder of the Weekly Sift talks about. Even I had been getting pretty cynical by this point, but to see it actually happen, in front of me – it felt life changing.

Good things happen.

Reflections on Watching Grandpa Age

This was my latest essay for my Advanced Expository Writing class. While this isn’t addressed to you, or really to anyone, I thought this would make a good blog post, seeing as how it’s been too damn long since I posted, and these are issues that I’m sure you’ve been thinking about as well.

Now that I’m at college, I think about my grandpa less. It’s almost six years since my grandma, his wife, died and he moved in with us. In that time, he’s shown me what it’s like to age — or at least one version of it. He has dementia, and in the last six years I’ve seen him become less of himself — and it’s forced me to ask daunting questions about how I’ll age and who I’ll become.

As I watched my grandpa age in high school, I found him intolerable. He was (and still is) pathologically impatient, obsessively compulsive, and childishly petty. He could never stay in one place for long, which meant we could never stay in one place for long. He went to bed at 7:00pm, and the fear of waking him kept me from inviting my friends over on the weekends. He consistently made unfair demands of my mom, and often treated my dad with disdain or indifference, even when he tried to make my grandpa’s life easier. This was not the grandpa I had known, who for fourteen years had been fun, playful, and compassionate. Of course, he was still more or less the same man, but he had lost his wife and hated that he had to rely on us. (Not to mention that he already possessed those traits and living with him only made me more aware of them.)

On some level, I knew all of those things, but I still resented him, even hated him at times. And I hated that. Years passed, and I watched him gradually become weaker physically and mentally. The first few years he was with us, he could walk down the street to the nearby church; he could be engaged by movies and television. The walks became shorter and shorter and finally ended. Visual media could no longer hold his attention. He began to forget more and more. Having conversations with him became futile endeavors.

Watching him degrade, I started feeling more sympathy for him and seeing him more fully. I began to find humor in his quirks and better understood the interaction between his personality and his aging. He was still all the things I loved about him and all the things I couldn’t stand. This summer I spent a considerable amount of time with him — taking him to virtually every diner in northern New Jersey, just to get him out of the house. He was insufferable in trying to get me to take him places, but once we left, he was grateful. We didn’t talk much, but I could tell he was glad to be with me.

Who’s to say I’ll be any better in my nineties, if I even live that long? To what extent do any of us get to control how we age — whether we’ll be a burden to our families or retain our independence? I doubt much at all. My dad’s dad, my other grandpa, lived alone in Queens, NY for nearly 18 years; his mind stayed sharp, and my parents called him almost every night. He only needed our help in the last months of his life, and his decline was relatively swift. Whether he could have used our help in the years prior to his death, I don’t know, but he managed to convince us he didn’t. I assume it’s desirable not to need help from others in old age, and I respect my late grandpa for his resilience, but there is also strength in being able to accept help from others.

I look at my parents, both 58, and wonder how long it will be before I have to take care of them. They generally take good physical care of themselves — my dad in better shape than most men his age and my mom working hard to lose weight. Where on that old age spectrum will they fall? I wonder whether I’ll do as good job as they have with their parents. Mine have exuded patience and attentiveness, and while I believe they have passed on those traits to me, I don’t know if it will be enough.

All of this I consider as my grandpa lies in the hospital having just had a successful angioplasty and soon to receive a pacemaker, something that kept my grandma alive for years. I hope it will do the same for him, even though I wonder how long he will be able to live with my parents as he declines. Part of me hopes that he dies before a nursing home becomes necessary. I feel guilty about that, because I don’t really know what he wants, and I don’t think he’s capable of knowing what he wants. I just don’t want him to suffer too much. I guess that’s what I hope for me, too.

What do I want? Oh so many things!

I’m glad you asked me what I want, because sometimes I forget to ask myself that question. We can get into a rut where we’re completely focused on all the shit we have to do that we forget why we’re doing it (or that we should be doing something else). Once I thought about it, I realized I want a lot of things.

I want to improve as a person. I want to keep expanding my comfort zone. I want to get more comfortable with failing and rejection. I often avoid or ignore opportunities because I’m afraid one of those things might happen. Sometimes, I even throw away my ideas without considering them thoroughly enough because I fear they’ll go nowhere.

I want to develop more self-discipline and a stronger internal drive. I find it difficult to get motivated when other people aren’t expecting me to do things; that’s not to say I don’t work hard, but I struggle with the work I need to be doing for myself – searching for jobs and internships, personal writing, figuring out what I want.

I want to procrastinate less. I never finish things early, so I’m always scrambling put out fires and not preparing for the future.

I also want to learn how to be a journalist. I’ve written for newspapers for five years, yet I’ve never written a news or feature story. Even if I never become a journalist, it’s a valuable skill to have. More broadly, I want to become a better researcher, not just for my academic career, but so that I can market myself to future employers and write something meaningful and valuable.

I’d like to work for something greater than myself. Whatever that something is, I want to be an essential part of it, and I want it to benefit people. I want to use my natural talent for reconciliation to make a difference. Further, I want to contribute to and foster dialogue, rather than enflame it, but also have the courage to stand and fight when it would be easiest to sit on the sidelines; I want to be true to myself and keep building myself.

I want to be a good husband and father. I want to connect and I want to be happy.

Is that so much to ask?

What do you want, Dad?