Let’s talk about Melania

I cannot condemn anyone for personal attacks on President-Elect Trump’s appearance, speech-patterns, tiny hands or orange face.  Honestly, maybe I should, because what is wrong with Mr. Trump has nothing to do with the color of his skin or the size of his appendages.  But given that he’s made the appearance, disability, speech and size of others the subject of ridicule, I say, “Have at him.”

melaniaThe attacks on Melania Trump, however, are different.  Slut-shaming, mocking her accent or criticizing her appearance are just not okay.  Doing it makes us no better than her husband.  In fact, I think about the criticism that she likely faces from her own husband, and I wish someone would tell her that she has value that goes beyond her appearance.

With that said, we can (and should) criticize Mrs. Trump for her actions, when it is warranted.  Plagiarizing a speech, defending her husband’s participation in the rape culture with his language (if not his deeds), and not recognizing the hypocrisy in a platform of anti-bullying as a First Lady — her actions within this political space are open to critical review.

Melania Trump is unlikely to live up to expectations as a First Lady after Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, or Rosalynn Carter.  (Yeah, I skipped one.)  If she chooses to be a less visible, less active First Lady, that’s her right.  There are no Constitutional requirements for the spouse of the American President.  If she does choose to be visible, we have a right and an obligation to evaluate her deeds, her actions and her words.  Everything else is off the table.

LBJ, Eggs and the Power of the Presidency

This post is not about President-Elect Donald Trump. At least, not directly. This is a post that has been in my brain for months now, and it may be more relevant now than ever.

LBJ was an interesting President. His push for the Great Society left us with a significant number of the federal programs and regulation that we still have today—and those programs are still often hotly debated. He was a “big government” politician, and he was successful in executing on his vision. That much of his legacy is tied to the Vietnam War is warranted, but clouds some of this other accomplishments. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

47344195_sIn 1966, President Johnson decided that the price of eggs was too high. He was actively manipulating the economy by directly appealing to industry leaders to control things like the supply of goods or the prices of goods. But in the spring of 1966, he decided that the price of eggs was too high. (I can’t remember why he cared specifically about the price of eggs. I’d look it up, but I don’t think it matters.) His advisors and the Department of Agriculture told him that there really wasn’t anything that they could do. Americans loved their eggs.

So President Johnson got creative.

There had been a recent study that would have otherwise been published in medical journals and mostly forgotten about, but Johnson encouraged the Surgeon General to release the results in a different way. That study found that eggs are high in cholesterol, and that high cholesterol is not healthy.

Media outlets played their role perfectly, if unknowingly, and spread the story far and wide. Eggs were bad for you! Eggs are unhealthy! The demand for eggs dropped immediately and substantially, and the price of eggs dropped with it.

The takeaways from this story are this:

  • The President of the United States has influence and power, and sometimes chooses to use it in really weird ways.
  • The media manipulates us and is itself manipulated.
  • Sometimes it is not enough to look critically at information and think, “Is this true?” Sometimes you also have to think, “Does this matter?”
  • Words and actions have long-term consequences.

Every time I think about eggs or cholesterol, I can’t help but think about politics and LBJ. And now I hope this story haunts you the way it haunts me. You’re welcome. 😉

What now?

52448907_sThe reality of a President-Elect Donald Trump has not yet fully sunk in.  At the same time, I seem to be consumed with the thought of nothing else.  I am grateful and humbled for those of you who have given me your trust and a platform to express those thoughts.

It might sound like a cliche by now–the election of Donald Trump is a wake-up call.  This campaign should have been a wake-up call, but many just did not believe that his message resonated as strongly as it did.  Coming from a county that ultimately had 71% of voters casting their vote for Trump, I can tell you that the support is strong.

What I and many others are struggling with is why voters chose Trump.  Many on the left will say that it is a vote for racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia.  For some Trump supporters, I have no doubt that this was the reason that they voted for him.  But for many others–and I’m personally counting on it being most of his supporters–it was something else.  

I’m hearing the voices of my Liberal friends who are thinking, “Maybe that’s not why they voted for him, but his sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and xenophobia is going to have a huge impact on his administration and presidency, and ultimately our lives.”  I agree.  And it scares me.  But as crazy as this sounds, that’s not what I want to focus on right now.  If that is your focus and the advocacy route that you are taking, I support you.

I have deliberately been focusing on staying positive–not positive in the sense that there aren’t serious, potentially catastrophic, concerns about a Trump presidency, but positive in that I am focusing on the things that I can do and on the best ways that I know to impact change.   For now, my focus is on these things:

  • What are the factors that have led us to this place?  What is it that makes Trump’s message so compelling and why have Democrats failed to engage many of the very people that they (we) purport to fight for?
  • What do supporters of President-Elect Trump really believe on critical social issues, like LGBTQ rights, civil rights, police brutality and the need for improved training, gun control, healthcare and welfare?  How can Democrats (or me, personally) engage with those moderate, reasoned Trump supporters to advocate for these critical social issues that lift up all Americans?
  • How can we (I) encourage reasoned conversation that comes from a place of kindness and friendship, and minimize the hate and anger that is lying under the national conversation right now?
  • How we we (I) encourage every individual to get involved at all levels of government and engage with their local, state and national representatives?  How do we ALL go back to a system of government that allowed elected officials to represent their entire constituency and make decisions that they felt morally good about, rather than a two-party system that doesn’t allow for deviations from the party line?

I’m honored that so many of you have trusted me and given me a platform to try to make sense of some of this for all of us, and I’m going to do my best to live up to that trust.

I took out the trash tonight.

9590924 - close up of a garbage bag on white background with clipping path

I took the trash out to the curb tonight.  Six large garbage bags of trash.  And when I came into the house, I got a little bit emotional because I was proud of myself.

You see, I haven’t taken the trash out in weeks.  Every week, trash day would come and go, and I wouldn’t do anything.  I wanted to.  I thought about it.  I would give myself pep talks. I would berate myself for being lazy and a slob.  But every week I didn’t do it.  I didn’t have the energy.  I didn’t care enough.

Everyone who suffers from depression suffers differently.  For me, the clearest sign is my trash.  For the past few months, I’ve been battling a bout of depression and I am just getting to the other side of it.  It took me awhile to recognize it for what it was, and then it took me a little while longer to schedule an appointment with my doctor.  And then it took a couple more weeks for the new medication to start working.  And every week, the trash piled up.

I’m not sharing this for sympathy or attention.  I’m sharing because talking about depression is really hard.  It’s virtually impossible to do when you are suffering from it, and when you get past it, you really don’t want to dwell on it.  For some, admitting that you are taking medication for it feels like weakness.  For others, you are just too afraid of the judgment that comes with mental illness of any kind.  For anyone, talking about depression is hugely vulnerable.

So maybe I can shine a little bit of light into someone’s darkness.  If you haven’t taken out the trash in weeks (or whatever that represents in your life), it CAN get better.  If it feels like you are living under a blanket that you just can’t shake off, there are people who want to help. Maybe medication isn’t the right step for you, but talking to someone almost always is.

If it helps, that someone can be me.

Original Intent, the Second Amendment and my nerdy love for James Madison

James Madison Memorial, Library of Congress, Washington, DC

James Madison Memorial, Library of Congress, Washington, DC

James Madison, father of the United States Constitution and co-author of the Federalist Papers, once said in a letter to Judge Roane (Virginia judge and member of the Virginia House of Delegates),

It could not but happen, and was foreseen at the birth of the Constitution, that difficulties and differences of opinion might occasionally arise in expounding terms and phrases necessarily used in such a charter . . . and that it might require a regular course of practice to liquidate and settle the meaning of some of them.

Or to put it in current, less founding father-y language: The US Constitution is necessarily vague and will need to be continuously interpreted throughout history.

Madison knew from the outset that anything that was written in the Constitution would have to be interpreted through the lens of the current period in history.  While I know better than to speak for the “founding fathers” as though they were of one unified opinion, in this they were mostly in agreement.  The Constitution would need to be a living document.

Of course, that idea is still the source of much debate.  (Interestingly similar to the debate about how literally we should take the Bible, really.)  But let’s assume for a moment that we SHOULD interpret the Constitution using original intent.  (We shouldn’t.  But let’s do it anyway.)

What was the original intent of the Second Amendment?

The text of the ratified version of the Second Amendment states,

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Most people understand this to mean that citizens should be permitted to arm themselves for their own protection.  We often think about the needs at the time of the ratification of the Constitution – protection against Native American attacks, protection against wildlife, the need to hunt for game, etc.  Many people understand, correctly, that this was also an intent to allow the citizens to protect themselves against tyranny, based on the phrase “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…”

What is misunderstood, however, is that the original intent of the Second Amendment was to appease the groups of Americans who opposed any sort of “standing” army.  A very large contingent of Americans believed that the United States should have no permanent, regular army or armed force.  They believed that protection of the new nation should be in the hands only of state-based, primarily volunteer, militia.  To many, an army that was funded by the central government was the very core of tyranny.

Madison wasn’t totally on board with that.  He knew that a central military that was funded by federal tax revenues would be necessary for viable protection of the country against foreign enemies, but like most US citizens until WWI, foresaw a very small, centralized force supported by volunteer corps when needed.  But to appease those who feared the central military, he included in the drafted Bill of Rights the specific rights for militia to continue to exist.

If you are going to go with original intent, you have to know what the original intent actually was.

I often hear arguments against any revision of gun control policy that point to the “original intent” of the Second Amendment, citing a citizen’s right bear arms in protection against tyranny.  Maybe that was true, but the original intent of the Second Amendment has been invalidated, unless you also prefer to also abolish or drastically minimize the US military.  Of course you don’t.  That’s insane.  Few US citizens today would argue for a smaller military.

I’m not in favor of abolishing the Second Amendment.  I think it has value and I think citizens do have a right to bear arms for protection.  (Yes, even “protection against tyranny”.)  I also believe, as James Madison did, that the US Constitution is necessarily a living document, requiring re-interpretation as the world evolves and changes.

 The world has certainly evolved and changed, and it is time for re-interpretation.

Hope and Love Last Longer

rainbowhands

Some days the madness in this world takes my breath away.  And some days it simply breaks my heart.  After the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, to say that my heart is broken feels like an understatement.  But more than sadness, there is anger – and an almost desperate need to take action.  To create change.  To promote healing.

But I’ve struggled with what to say or if I should say anything at all.  There’s too much and anything that I have to say is not enough.

Do I focus on drawing attention to the victims?  Young men and women gunned down, many of whom were just at the beginning of their lives.  What could they have accomplished?  What have we missed out on because they were taken from us too soon?  Take a moment to listen to the names of those who were senselessly murdered.  (Anderson Cooper, CNN.)

Should I talk about the attack on the LGBT community?  A community that I feel so personally connected to and yet I sometimes forget how dangerous it is for my friends and loved ones.  I forget how brave you have to be, even in 2016, to be out, to be proud and to still choose love in the face of hate. (Kevin Chorlins, Facebook post)

Is now the time to remind everyone that your words matter?  Every time you marginalize the LGBT community, you feed the hate. Every time you sneer at affection between same sex couples.  Every time you insist that the Bible tells you that someone else’s love in invalid. Every time you use the words faggot or dyke.  Every time you equate homosexuals or transgender individuals with pedophiles and sexual predators.  Maybe you are just joking.  Maybe you are just uncomfortable.  Maybe you think you are doing the right thing.  You wouldn’t pick up a gun and shoot someone you don’t understand, so why are your words important? Your words are seeds that get planted in the fertile soil of someone looking for a reason to hate and to act on it.  Choose them carefully.

Do I get angry and lash out at those who insist on placing blame?  Was religion a factor?  Was the shooter a IS sympathizer?  Is right-wing Christianity as much to blame for the persecution of the LGBT community?  Was the gunman mentally ill? Does any of that even fucking matter?  Call it terrorism.  Call it a hate crime.  It is both.  Blame society, but we are all “society” and if we aren’t working to be a part of the solution, then we are, indeed, a part of the problem.

Is it too soon to pull out the soapbox and talk about gun control? I see the Facebook posts about how President Obama (the Democrats, the Liberals…whoever) want to take away the guns from law abiding citizens as a reaction to this violence.  That is complete bullshit and perpetuating that myth keeps us from making any real progress.  There’s a real debate to be had about reasonable gun control and how we protect the second amendment, but we can’t have it until the lies coming from special interest groups are taken out of the discourse.  (PBS Newshour, President Barack Obama to gun owners.)

Can I bring myself to put all of the negative aside and ask you to choose love?  Is it naive to have hope, even now, that that world can change for the better?  Now, more than ever, we need to remember that “hope and love last longer”. (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tonys acceptance sonnet)

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.*

 

(This blog post should be subtitled,  Holy shit, what have I done?)

About a month ago, I was talking with my therapist about risks.  I have always thought of myself as risk adverse, while she pointed out that some of my decisions could be thought of as risky to others.  On my recent weekend in Gettysburg, this came up again when a fellow traveller thought my solo travels, which are restorative for me, were brave and awesome.

My therapist and I landed on a theory about my perspective on risk: For me, putting together a plan, communicating and sharing that plan, and being held accountable for the execution of that plan is what I find to hold the most risk.  I’m not talking about a project plan at work or a planned vacation.  I’m talking about a life plan that requires me to communicate what I want to accomplish to other people, who could then potentially see me fail.  I have rarely furiously pursued things that I was passionate about because of a fear of failure.  Not that I haven’t failed.  I have.  Spectacularly.  But it’s easier to fail when you were pursuing something that didn’t matter all that much in the first place.

(Oy.  Stephenie B – as I wrote that I realized that you and I talked about the same damn thing the other day with perfectionists and exposure, and I just now made the connection.  Now I want to rethink everything I’m about to say, but I still need to just get it out there!)

prettyfastLast Tuesday, I was accepted to graduate school.  Not just to audit a history class that was never going to be my life’s work, but to get my master’s degree and ultimately be licensed as a mental health counselor.  To change the direction of the rest of my life. And I really want this.  I want it so badly that I’m willing to go to school full time and work full time.  I want it so badly that I’m willing to tell all of you about it, put myself out there, and risk the possibility that I might fail.  I don’t think that I will–this isn’t about pessimism versus optimism–but I could, and I’m still pursuing it.

Today, I bought a house.  My mom, my dad and I are moving in together, just a few doors down from my sister and her family.  Our houses aren’t even on the market yet, but the perfect house came up and I needed to take a risk, make a long term plan and commit. Sharing a house with my parents in shouting distance of my sister, brother-in-law and nieces?  If that isn’t risky, I don’t know what is.  But I’m all in and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it great.

What is the connection to Ferris Bueller?  I have jumped right into the deep-end of this risk stuff this week.  It’s happened so fast, but I want to stay present and aware of this moment and this shift that is happening in myself and in my life.  I think in two or three years, I’m going to look back on this period of eight days as the moment my storyline shifted.

 

* If you didn’t already know the origin of the quote, you haven’t watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off enough times.  How many times is enough?  It’s never enough.  Watch it again.