KingMidget's Ramblings

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Thank You Andrew Sullivan

Last week, after I wrote Stand Up! I retweeted it at Andrew Sullivan and suggested people with a platform and audience like him need to start spreading the message. I have no idea if he read my post, but yesterday he published America, Land of Brutal Binaries in his regular column in New York Magazine.

In his Andrew Sullivan way, much more intellectually presented, he makes the same points I did. His final paragraph is a perfect example of his talents. Drawing in a quote from the past, tying it to the present, and connecting it all to a well-stated conclusion that gets right at the core of the problem.

“When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them,” Martin Luther King said, which is why today’s cultural revolutionaries have so little time for him. But he made a huge practical difference in moving everyone forward a little. He made things better by including more. That was also how we won marriage equality, the biggest civil rights victory of my generation. We did it by drawing larger and larger circles, by treating the other side as arguing in good faith, and appealing to a shared humanity, to what we have in common as citizens, rather than what divides us as members of a tribe. Today’s well-intentioned activists — the ones driving much of the conversation around Kavanaugh and, on a much smaller scale, Buruma — in contrast, are drawing an ever smaller, purer, more tightly policed circle, in order to wage a scorched earth war against another, ever-purer, tightly policed circle. And God help anyone who gets in their way.

There is a reason I consider Andrew Sullivan to be one of the best thinkers and writers on our modern society, culture, and politics. This column is another example.

It’s a shame that the progress described in that paragraph is being torn down in record time by a return to virulent tribalism in our country. So much progress being wiped out in the blink of an eye.

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On Kavanaugh

I know I’m supposed to care about this. One way or the other. But instead, it is a perfect example of why I’m losing interest in our nation’s political wars and believe we need to find a different way. We need to grow up and start doing the right thing.

On the right, she is a loose, lying, whacko who is not to be believed. Over on PowerLine, either the blog’s authors or its commenters have “reported” on the following:

1. Kavanaugh’s mother, who was a judge, ruled against Ford’s parents in an action foreclosing on their home.

2. According to RateMyProfessor.com, she is a horrible professor, a raving lunatic, a professor to be avoided.

Both of these stories have been thoroughly debunked. In fact, in the foreclosure action, Ford’s parents were able to refinance their home, the creditor moved to dismiss the action, and Judge Kavanaugh (the mom, not the nominee) granted the dismissal. So, instead of ruling against Ford’s parents, they kept their home, and she confirmed that through her granting of the dismissal.

The RateMyProfessors story? Equally false. The ratings were for a different Professor Ford at a completely different university, one that the relevant Professor Ford never taught at.

But does that stop the allegations that are designed to tarnish Ford?

Nope.

The site now has several posts about the possibility that Ford’s allegation is based on a case of mistaken identity. That it was not Kavanaugh in that room that day. It was somebody else. And the leading purveyor of this allegation is perfectly fine with providing a name and a picture of who that other person might be. The allegation is based on nothing more than the suggestion that Kavanaugh and this other guy look alike (looking at the pictures, probably 75% of white males at prep schools looked similar) and he lived in the area where she believes the party took place. So, somebody else has now been thrown under the bus by the Right in their quest to discredit Ford.

In comments to one of the posts about this mistaken identity allegation, others are bringing up information from her high school yearbooks that suggest her school was party central, encouraged binge drinking, and she was right in the mix of all of it. Because, you know, all high schools aren’t like that. Only hers.

My point — there are so many false stories about her cropping up, but the right-wing is perfectly fine with launching them via their megaphone out into the world where they will become part of the inevitable narrative. Why? Because everybody believes the allegation and remembers it, many people don’t stick around to hear the response and demonstration that the allegation is unfounded. It is these kinds of stories that fuel a false narrative about people and issues. Throw it out there and the ripples will go on regardless of the truth of the thing.

On the left — well, those of you who have read my fiction know that my first novel is about an allegation of sexual wrongdoing made by a woman that was … false. It’s fiction, but I have no doubt that there are true stories everywhere about false allegations made in these types of circumstances.

But on the left, they are using their megaphone to tell us she has to be believed. No matter what, in the age of #metoo, you must believe the woman and act accordingly. This is something I simply refuse to do, not because of the novel I wrote, but because that is not how our country is supposed to work. I don’t care if we’re not in a court of law at the moment, but I fundamentally believe in the idea that somebody is innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof is on the person making the allegations, regardless of whether criminal charges have been brought.

And here is where I’ll say something that is likely unpopular among some of my readers. We’re talking about an allegation of behavior that occurred 35 years ago when Kavanaugh was 17. There has been no suggestion, no evidence presented anywhere that I have seen, that suggests this was more than a one-time incident. Unlike the President who has numerous allegations of questionable behavior stretching back for decades. This appears to be a one-time event, if true. If that’s the case, I’m not sure it’s disqualifying.

The time to hold Kavanaugh responsible for such behavior was back then. I get that reporting such incidents does not always happen and there are very valid and legitimate reasons for that. But … in the absence of credible evidence he engaged in similar behavior at some point later in his life, is this where we have come as a nation? Do we really believe that only the perfect are qualified for such offices? Is that really where we want to be?

I get it. The allegation here is more serious than typical teenage misbehavior. It’s not setting off M-80s in garbage cans. It’s not heavy drinking. It’s not a high school prank (putting a car on the roof of the gym) gone wrong. It’s an allegation of attempted rape.

But still. 35 years later and no credible evidence anywhere of anything else similar. And we are just supposed to believe her and ruin his career? Sorry, I can’t do it.

Nor can I buy the right-wing narrative on this as it is fueled by such a disregard for the truth. Similarly, I am bothered by other things about him and believe he should be disqualified for other reasons. Primarily, that back in the middle part of the last decade, Kavanaugh testified before Congress and claimed not to have been involved in matters that emails from the time showed he was definitely involved in. Senator Leahy’s emails were hacked, Kavanaugh testified that he knew nothing about it, emails showed he received copies of the hacked emails. There were other similar situations in which he testified that was not involved in something and contemporaneous emails demonstrated otherwise. It’s just kind of stunning that we will likely see the confirmation of a Justice who was so willing to lie to Congress.

What ultimately bothers me about the Kavanaugh-Ford imbroglio is that both sides are playing it for every partisan purpose and gain they can identify. Republicans have only one objective — to secure Kavanaugh’s appointment to the court. Democrats have only one objective — to prevent that. Neither side is interested in the truth or uncovering the facts. No, it’s all about scorched earth, no-holds barred, take no prisoners, all out war.

And besides Kavanaugh and Ford, who have both been victimized by this, all Americans are victims as well. It’s another sad day in the life of the United States.

A Song For Today, Next Week, Next Month, and Next Year

I went to a concert last night. The opening act was Forest Blakk. He was a really good singer-songwriter type who I hope to hear more from in the future. The headline act was NeedtoBreathe. They put on a non-stop 2+ hour set that included an hour or so of guitar-driven rock, followed by an acoustic set, and then a rocking song or two to close things out.

In between the two was the band I came to see. Johnnyswim. Although they didn’t play my favorite song of theirs, they still knocked my socks off. Their final song was today’s song. They introduced it by explaining they wrote it with Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors somewhat accidentally. It is their response to the ugly political discourse in this country. Now you know why it is such an important song to me. So, Stand Up or Ring the Bells. You decide.  (Lyrics are below the video.)

 

[Verse 1: Abner Ramirez & Drew Holcomb]
Ring the bells, this time I mean it
Bid the hatred “fare thee well”
Give back the pieces of my Jesus
Take your counterfeit to hell
Bang the drums, this means war
Not the kind you’re waiting for
We say mercy won’t be rationed here
That’s what we’re fighting for

[Pre-Chorus 1: Amanda Ramirez]
If all is fair in love and war
Then what the hell is loving even for?
If we can’t sing it loud enough
We’ll keep on adding voices up

[Chorus: Drew Holcomb & JOHNNYSWIM]
Ring the bells
Ring the bells
Ring the bells
Ring the bells

[Verse 2: Drew Holcomb & Abner Ramirez]
Move your feet you tiny people
You’ve been hiding for so long
Behind your statues and your steeples
Does that hit too close to home?
I got faith to move a mountain
And to watch that mountain move
It’s time for words to fall like thunder
Sound of justice breaking through

[Pre-Chorus 2: Amanda Ramirez]
If all is fair in love and war
Then what the hell is loving even for?
The world laughs and the martyrs sing
But love breaks through the cavalry

[Chorus: Drew Holcomb & JOHNNYSWIM]
Ring the bells
Ring the bells
Ring the bells
Ring the bells

[Verse 3: Abner Ramirez & Drew Holcomb]
You called me boy instead of son
And I ain’t the only one
Was in the throneroom of a kingdom
Where I found that I belong
I ain’t scared to face a fortress
I have seen them fall before
With broken bones you’ve built it
But it crumbles board by board

[Pre-Chorus 1: Amanda Ramirez]
If all is fair in love and war
Then what the hell is loving even for?
If we can’t sing it loud enough
We’ll keep on adding voices up
[Chorus: Drew Holcomb & JOHNNYSWIM]
Ring the bells
Ring the bells
Ring the bells
Ring the bells
Ring the bells
Ring the bells
Ring the bells
Ring the bells

[Outro: Abner Ramirez]
Ring the bells, this time I mean it
Bid the hatred “fare thee well”
Give back the pieces of my Jesus
Take your counterfeit to hell

Making Friends Instead of Enemies

Berthold just put up a post about why he doesn’t blog about politics as much as he used to. I only started following his blog recently, so I never saw his posts in real-time. I have checked out a few in his archives and found his posts to be very thoughtful and well-written.

Berthold’s recent post bemoans the futility of trying to engage in political discussions and that he has found more rewarding interactions on his blog through posts about other things like writing, entertainment, and reviews. As he says:

If you can get people out of the political sphere, however, you’ll usually find a lot of room for communicating, making deals, and exchanging knowledge that is useful to everyone involved. 

I had a recent experience that relates to this idea.

Over on the right-wing blog I have read religiously for years, I comment regularly. It’s not a very enjoyable experience. The few liberals who comment there are attacked pretty relentlessly. For instance, one liberal commentator who goes by the name of Jane regularly gets a response from one commenter referring to her as an ignorant slut.

At one point, I commented on some posts about the Middle East with a perspective that didn’t match the perspective of Israel and its propagandaists. One commenter branded me an anti-Semite and hammered at me relentlessly with that charge. When I pointed out my wife was Jewish, that I had raised my kids in the faith, and many of my friends were Jewish, he accused me of lying, of making up my Jewish family. From that point on, frequently when I have commented on posts completely unrelated to Israel, he has replied simply to repeat the charge and accuse me of lying in virtually every comment I made.

Much of the interaction there is some degree of that. Why do I continue? Well, I’m trying to stop, but the truth is I am drawn to political debates and crave the types of political discussions I had back in college and then on the first internet bulletin board I participated in back in the early 90’s. A range of people with different political views engaged in political discussions that could get heated, but ultimately were respectful. Did we solve any problems or change any minds? Not in the immediate, but here’s the thing that happens when you expose yourself to different views — yours begin to change as well.

And guess what? Change is good.

And guess what else? Challenging your own beliefs and opinions is good. Most people seem completely unwilling and incapable of believing that such a challenge will be good for them.

Among the commenters on that right-wing blog is another one with whom I got into it quite a bit in recent months. I’ll call him Joe. There were times when Joe and I almost came close to agreeing on a few things. He occasionally would acknowledge agreement with me on something and I would say the same about his comments every now and then. But more often than not we criticized each other in personal ways that didn’t leave much room for respect or consideration.

My contribution to that was this — for a long time, the blog used Facebook as its commenting platform. You had to have a Facebook profile to comment. All sorts of commenters created fake FB profiles in order to do so. One commenter, an old doctor, regularly attacked liberals who commented behind fake profiles. But never questioned the many conservative commenters who did the same. Hypocrisy is one of the things that drive me crazy in political debates and I would regularly criticize the old doctor for his and pointed to Joe as an example of a conservative commenter posting behind a fake FB profile.

Eventually, at some point when something between Joe and I got heated, I turned the fake profile issue on him and accused him of being a coward for not posting under his real name.

The thing is, I get why he might not want to. A couple of years ago, a couple of commenters clearly used Google to find out some details about who I am and made vague comments regarding their knowledge. Given what can appear to be a “no holds barred” nature of some of these “debates,” it concerned me.

Once I called Joe a coward, the wheels on the bus pretty much fell off. He and I only exchanged criticisms and attacks after that.

Fast forward a number of months … the blog changed its commenting platform so people can comment via Disqus, a platform that easily allows people to hide behind aliases. Very few commenters on the blog now post behind their real names, and the vitriol has gone up even more.

It’s helping me step further away from the blog. But an interesting thing happened on the way to stepping away. In one of my last comments there, Joe replied. In a much different way.

He indicated that the last time I referred to his posting under a fake name (a charge that, up to this point, he had denied), he had decided to look into who I was. My commenting nemesis found out that I’m a writer. He loves books and purchased The Marfa Lights, one of my collections of short stories. He wanted me to know he thought the story was great and he was enjoying the collection. Joe offered that, in the future, we should agree to treat each other more respectfully if we comment again on the right-wing blog.

It’s like Berthold suggests … it seems in our overheated political climate, we forget that the people we “debate” with aren’t human. This dehumanization is enhanced by social media in which people post behind fake names and believe the “privacy” of the internet gives them the ability to be as outrageous, unforgiving, and disrespectful as they realllly want to be. Far too many people believe that is the way to score points and that’s what it is really about — scoring points and getting the cheers from like-minded people. It is not about doing the hard work of getting to know those on the other side and finding common ground.

But, as Berthold also states … maybe if we get to know each other through other things. Books, movies, sports, cooking, whatever. Maybe, once some rapport is established we could go to that other thing. Maybe what we need to do is more humanizing of each other and not accept the fake narrative of others that is so prevalent on social media. (Or maybe not, I’ve lost a couple of friends in the last couple of years because of an inability to talk respectfully with each other about politics.)

The reality is that, for the most part, social media as it has broken down into tribal cliques, doesn’t really allow for actually getting to know people. It offers an easy path to disagreement and conflict. The path to understanding and friendship is much harder. It is the great misnaming of social media — it is the furthest thing from social.

Joe and I are beginning the first tentative steps of what I hope is humanizing each other. Why? Because he stepped away from the political war and found out something about me that he could relate to. Who knows? Maybe we’ll be able to talk about politics without spitting on each other.

I apologized to Joe for calling him a coward and I do it again here now. My apologies, Joe, for doing so. My hope is that you and I can find a way to engage in a respectful discussion about the issues of the day. Whether it is here, on the right-wing blog, or in some other venue. That we can Stand Up and do the right thing instead of the easy thing.

Center for the Political Future

Regarding my last post, if you don’t believe me maybe you’ll believe a couple of experts. Bob Shrum and Mike Murphy, two long time political strategists, one Democratic and one Republican, have formed a new program at the University of Southern California.

It’s called the Center for the Political Future. Shrum and McCarthy plan on bringing in political professionals to engage in civil debate on political issues. The intent is to show college students that it isn’t necessary to scream and that good things can happen when people talk and listen to each other.

It’s just kind of amazing to me that we now have to teach people how to be civil in their discourse, how to engage in “civil, fact-based dialogue,” but this is exactly the kind of effort we all must undertake and support.

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