Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Rudy, and the Selflessness of the Majority

I recently watched the movie Rudy.  While I had seen it before, it had been a while.  For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, Rudy is based on the true story of Rudy Ruettiger who defied the odds and became a walk-on football player at the University of Notre Dame in the mid 1970's.

Rudy spends all of his career on the practice team, meaning he plays defense while the first team offense runs their plays over and over in order to perfect them for live action.  Rudy is undersized, so he is beat up regularly by the much bigger, faster, scholarship players who are the starters.  While Rudy knows he may never actually play a down during a regular game, he is relentless everyday in practice because he understands his role on the team.  His only goal is to dress for a game so that he can run out of the tunnel onto the football field with the other players.

As the day of the last home game for Rudy approaches, he is still not chosen to dress for the game, but unbeknownst to him, many of the starters approach the coach and offer to sit out the game so that Rudy can dress.  In the end, the coach acquiesces, and Rudy gets to watch his first game on the sidelines, with the players and coaches.

It is this gesture of self sacrifice by some of the starters that reminds us that it is only through the selflessness of those who have, that the have nots might be granted their due.

I don't believe it a reach to suggest that if not for the white population of America, the accomplishments of the civil rights movement may not have happened.  This is not to say that the efforts of the great black civil rights activists, along with the unheralded thousands of everyday people, were not necessary.  Indeed, a suppressed minority must always take the first step towards earning equal treatment.  But it is my contention that without the realization of enough of the white majority that separate but equal was onerous, the movement may not have succeeded.

Similarly, a significant percentage of heterosexual people support the idea that an American should be able to marry the person they love, regardless of gender.  One might argue that it was legal arguments that helped progress both civil rights and gay marriage, but without the support of the majority, I contend that those legal decisions were meaningless.

As an example in the other negative, I would offer the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Clearly, few would argue that the middle class workers of America have realized very little of the benefits of capitalism in the past 30 years.  Wages are stagnant, three income households prevalent.  Even worse, one of the paths to income equality, education, has grown so expensive that the middle class finds itself caught between attending schools with lower name recognition, not attending college at all, or massive debt.  Yet, not only did this movement fizzle out, not only has the top 5% continued to garner the lion share of the improvements in the economy since 2008, but Americans elected a self proclaimed billionaire to the highest political office in the land, who in turn has appointed other billionaires to govern.  The haves not only have not bought into the need to provide more to the have nots, they have convinced many of the have nots that subsets of the have nots are to blame for our problems.

Through rhetoric inspired by all the negatives of nationalism, racism, and xenophobia, the haves have successfully turned the ire of enough of the have nots against the poor, the immigrants, the refugees, and all other people who have been doing with less while waiting for the crumbs of trickle down economics to fall upon them.  In doing so, they have awakened our most selfish of inclinations, turning the phrase do unto others as you would have them do unto you on its head; do unto others before they do it to you.

So, how do we energize the selflessness of the majority to allow for those who deserve it to attain their goals when the rules dictate otherwise?

First, we must begin to see them as individual people.  As is the case whenever we choose to consciously kill other humans, the first thing we do is dehumanize them.  Japs, Krauts, Gooks, Commies, terrorists.  Once we have reduced them to a derogatory term or class, it is much easier, psychologically, to justify actions that authorize slaughter.  Even when actual killing is not involved, it is much easier to participate in prejudice when we can find a derogatory label such as nigger, faggot, or raghead.  Once identified, it is easy to blame all the ills of society on those who resemble that group.  The fact that many of them might be children doesn't matter.

Second, we must recognize that there are bad people in every group, but that does not make the group as a whole bad.  Would we characterize all priests as pedophiles because a small percentage of them have been accused as such?  Would we condemn all firefighters because some have been guilty of arson?  Or spit at all police officers due to the inappropriate actions of the few?

There are Muslims who are jihadists, and they must be dealt with, but the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists.  There are illegal immigrants who are criminals and they must be deported, but the vast majority of illegal immigrants are regular people seeking a better way of life.  It is only by differentiating those who wish harm, regardless of their physical traits or culture or religion, that the majority can work to guarantee freedom and opportunity for all people, haves and have nots.

Finally, and perhaps this is less selflessness that self preservation, the vagaries of economics, demographics, and culture, may one day turn against someone who presently finds comfort in being part of the majority.  Eventually, all of us are in the minority.  Perhaps when we find that we must move to a different country or different area of our present country for family or for work.  Or perhaps when one of our children chooses a partner of a different race or sexual preference.  Or perhaps when our perspective of governing becomes our of favor.  Or perhaps when we find ourselves at an advanced age, a bit more dependent on those younger than us who are creating the economic rules of the land.

Will we then wish we were treated the same or better than how we treated those in the minority when the majority looked and thought like us?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hidden Figures, not so hidden prejudice

I saw the movie Hidden Figures last weekend.  Truly inspiring.  It reminds me that HIStory is the version of what happened in the past through a male perspective.  Perhaps one day, the complete stories might be told - or at least a HERstory version.

Anyway, the movie reminds us that it wasn't that long ago that there were colored only toilets, water fountains, areas on the bus, and even schools.  Not long ago that being black in America automatically relegated you to limited opportunity and a limited shot at achieving the American Dream, regardless of your abilities or work ethic or ambition.

But the movie also reminds us that despite such obstacles, the women depicted in the movie persevered.  They fought the silent battle that occurred in black households all across our nation, sometimes by sacrificing their goals for those of their children, sometimes by being the first to accomplish something and then suffering the consequences of being the first, sometimes by ignoring the ignorant whose only yard stick was skin color, and resisting the temptation to fight fire with fire by condemning all white people for the actions of some.

Now that the two terms of the first black president has ended, we are experiencing a backlash to the progress that was just beginning in the 1960's and which culminated in Obama's election. A backlash against a man of decency, insight, and vision who, by being the first, is subject to all the nastiness that assailed all those who broke the color barrier.  We hear coded phrases bandied about in the media, and by some of our elected officials about making America great again, phrases that underlie a desire to return to a time when minorities knew their place, and laws were created and enforced to maintain that status quo.  Of course, we have progressed as a society in that today, a much smaller percentage of white people believe in white supremacy as a natural rule of law, but have not progressed so far that a similar call to prejudice cannot be whipped up against those with a different religion, or culture, or sexual preference.

Does it matter that those of us with one or more grandparents who were born outside of the United States are descendants of a wave of immigration during the early 21st century which faced open prejudice from the "native" American families of the time, who themselves could only trace their heritage as Americans five or six generations at most considering that before 1776 America was not even a country?  Does it matter that President Trump himself is the child of an immigrant mother (Mary Anne MacLeod was born in Scotland), and immigrant paternal grandparents (both born in the Kingdom of Bavaria, now Germany)?  Good thing for President Trump that his grandparents came to America in 1902 and not 1942.  I would imagine they would have been treated in a much different manner considering Germany was not considered a friendly nation at that point in time.  Similarly, does it matter that two of Donald Trump's three wives are immigrants which means that 4 of his 5 children are first generation Americans?

Did it not dawn on those who lapped up Trump's association with the "birther" conspiracy, that questioning Obama's birth nation only gained traction because he was black.  I would imagine that some who thought it was a legitimate question to ask do not think they are racist, but when Obama's GOP opponent in 2008 was, in fact, not born in the United States, it sure seemed like racism in action.

That is, in fact, the problem with racism and prejudice.  When it is overt, like lynching a black man accused of a crime without a trial, it is easy to spot and condemn.  But when it is covert or subliminal, when it festers just below the surface, and needs just a bit of a nudge to spring forth, that is when it can be used effectively by those who wish to inflame our passions in the battle of us versus them. The danger is that "them" can be defined any which way.  Germans and Japs.  Commies.  Gooks.  Fags. Ragheads.  First we dehumanize, then we break out the pitchforks.

There is trouble brewing in America when a bill called the First Amendment Defense Act, as innocuous sounding as one could imagine, is introduced in the United States House of Representative (HR 2802), and that similarly worded bills have been proposed in almost 1 out of 3 states houses.

Make no mistake, these are attempts as obscene as the Jim Crow laws of the deep South, which legitimized racial discrimination except in this case it would "prevent the federal government from taking action against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage".

In effect these bills would legalize discrimination against the LGBTQ community, making it possible to deny jobs, housing, business services, health benefits, pretty much anything one might seek in a free society, to people who believe that, in America, they should have the right to marry the person they love.

Be wary, fellow citizens!



Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The GOP agenda begins

And so the GOP agenda, confirmed at the polls last November, has begun.  While it is no surprise to me, I wonder if those who voted for our current President while also providing him with a GOP controlled Congress, were expecting some of the recent bills which were passed.  Of course, many of Trump's supporters won't be cognizant of the details of their voting, but will instead only know of those issues splashed across their favorite Fox news show or internet conspiracy website.  They will support the ban on refugees in general and Muslims in particular, even though that policy will inevitably do more harm than good.  They will support the firing of all those who might offer a balance of opinion, even though that results in a myopic view of the world and a reduced pool of solutions towards resolving our problems.  They will support the recent Supreme Court nominee, even though his far right agenda may tilt the court towards rulings that restrict individual rights rather than protecting us from the tyranny of the majority.  They will support a "wall" and a tariff on imported goods, even though the wall will result in more deficit spending and tariffs will produce higher prices for everyday Americans.

Voting along party lines, HJ Res 38 nullifies a federal rule aimed at protecting streams and drinking water in Appalachian states from pollution caused by mountain top removal coal mining.  I wonder if those who voted assuming Trump would bring back coal mining jobs also knew they were voting to allow coal companies to blast mountaintops and then dump fractured rocks and other debris into their streams and valleys.

Voting along party lines, HJ Res 41 nullifies an SEC rule under which publicly traded companies must disclose payments to foreign governments for access to oil, natural gas, coal and other mineral resources.  I wonder if those who voted assuming Trump would work for average Americans also knew they were voting to allow fossil fuel companies like Exxon, which coincidentally used to be run by our new Secretary of State, to secretly bribe foreign governments while possibly creating conflicts of interest for American businessmen who influence foreign policy.

Voting along party lines, HJ Res 40 nullifies an Obama administration rule designed to keep the mentally ill from passing federal background checks on gun purchases.  I wonder if those who voted for Trump in support of gun rights also knew they were voting to allow all Americans, regardless of mental stability to have access to a gun.  Makes all those gun rights advocates who frequently sight poor mental health services in America as the problem rather than guns, seem like hypocrites when they prefer arming those people while often also voting to cut community service funding which goes to mental health clinics.

Voting along party lines, HJ Res 37 nullifies federal regulation aimed a keeping federal contractors in compliance with workplace laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, Americans with Disability Act, Civil Rights Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act, and Age Discrimination in Employment Act.  I wonder if those who voted for Trump to help create good paying jobs for Americans and knew they were voting for the removal of worker protections against employers who would discriminate in their hiring as well as place them in harm while performing their job, and subsequently, face fewer legal challenges when an employee was treated unfairly or hurt.  I guess they expected different from an ex-real estate developer?

Finally, voting along party lines, HJ Res 36 nullifies a regulation aimed at reducing losses of natural gas through venting, flaring and equipment leaks being mined on federal land.  I wonder if those who voted for Trump to reduce foreign dependence on oil by helping domestic oil and natural gas companies, also knew they were voting to allow those companies to spew waste into the air and water on land in our national parks and land designated as tribal.  Of course, abusing Native Americans is nothing new for our government, especially when profit comes into play so perhaps this is not a surprise, but to allow the possible ruination of land which is supposed to provide respite and recreation to all of us seems a bit short sighted, if not greedy.

Just so you know, the Senate voted in favor of these new laws as well.  In addition, the Senate voted to confirm Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, 56-43.  One could argue that travelling the world making business deals to buy oil for Exxon gives Tillerson ample international experience in making a profitable deal, but one might wonder how these experiences will help when he has to deal diplomatically with a nation which does not share our values or perspectives.  

Lastly, I wonder if those who support President Trump's philosophy of draining the swamp, understand any better that Trump, how important it is to have consistency in government in regards to those who do the actual, everyday work.  Of course, it is a new President's right to change the players at the top to reflect his beliefs.  But the backbone of how the federal government works are the career people at State, Defense, GAO and the other agencies who do the work.  Inflaming the belief that all government workers are lazy, overpaid, or any of the other disparaging remarks that Trumps' supporters throw at them, belies the facts that we need competent, patriotic people in these posts to make the system work.  Improving the functions and efficiency or government is one thing. Assuming it is not necessary, or actually detrimental is another, because in the end, someone will still be introducing and passing laws, and if we fail to pay attention to those laws or fail to understand the importance of the process, then we truly will get the government we deserve, as opposed to the one we elected.