Category Archives: Polarization

Activism

U. S. Customs House. Very welcoming.

I try to avoid writing about politics here, but recent events have driven me to be more active.  Usually the extent of my political action is giving money to causes I support.  I have to do more.  I think of my days at Colorado State when we would decide whether to go to the daily demonstration or do something else, like study.  The country was in turmoil over Vietnam and Watergate.  I did my small part.

Now I must again do my small part.  No more just watching Rachel Maddow and deploring the latest attempt at destroying at destroying anything remotely progressive.  I must act, take to the streets.  This won’t be the first time, I went to a rally supporting our Muslim neighbors and had fun wearing my Bad Hombre t-shirt.

Today it is the lunch time protest at Senator Cory Gardner’s office in downtown Denver.  I’m not sure these demonstrations and marches have a great impact, but they are a way to use my First Amendment rights, which seem to be under attack these days.  The current upheaval is in the NFL, and is a classic free speech issue.  The unfortunate result of the turmoil is increasing the polarization going on in our nation since the Reagan era.

I went downtown to a Federal office building where Senator Gardner has hidden his office.  As with most Federal buildings, you must go through security.  I always have to get wanded because my right knee is titanium.  I was alone in his office suite, no going beyond the closed door.  I talked to a nice young man acting as receptionist.  I stated my position and he took notes.  No drama.

The issues this week are about health care and race.  The Affordable Care Act needs work.  The impass in Congress is preventing any rational attempt at fixing the ACA.  Repeal attempts keep failing.  The reason for the attempts to repeal the ACA is, simply, race.  It is a black President’s program so it must go away.  Oh, and it is expensive.

When a new social welfare program goes into place there is always opposition, but. People begin to realize things are better for lots of people.  They just don’t get repealed, they get cleaned up.  Traditionally the Democrats come up with the programs and the Republicans do the housekeeping.  With race behind the Republican’s opposition they have blocked themselves from assuming their traditional role.  Nothing gets done and the status quo lurches along.

There is, of course, money involved as well.  Rich Republicans don’t want to pay for making poor people’s lives better.  Three reasons: greed, race, and Social Darwinism.  Republicans are always opposed to higher taxes.  They want to keep the money for themselves, even though they have plenty.  Poor blacks and hispanics don’t deserve a damn thing, they deserve to suffer.  The reason poor people are poor is because they are inferior to rich people.  Mitt Romney so much as said it.  It don’t work that way, folks.  Poor people are poor for lots of reasons, but not genetics.  The argument they are inferior is half a step from Naziism.

It’s not surprising the radical rightists are on the ascendancy.  We have always had them, but usually events shut them up.  They have to believe they are superior to others, usually because of a deep reservoir of shame.  They deserve our compassion.

There is the real problem.  Social welfare programs are a reflection of compassion.  Governments should be in the business of helping the people.  Good health care reflects compassion.  It is sad so many of our government’s resources are devoted to warfare, not compassion.  We are all in this together, so let’s give everyone a break, use loving kindness.   Hate and insensitivity are not the answer.

The Legacy of American Imperialism

Slave Auction

Americans do not think of their nation as imperialistic, even though it is a common epithet in many parts of the world.  From the day in 1492 when the first European set foot on American soil, the Americas were part of empires, and later established their own empires.  Currently the conflict the United States faces is the legacy of imperialism. 

Empires form when foreign territories are conquered.  Spain, Portugal, England, France, and Russia all took land from Native Americans.  In every case, natives were killed, enslaved, relocated, or died from alien diseases.  The situation has not changed 500 years later.  Indians remain at the bottom of the social hierarchy.  Labor is needed to exploit new land, so slaves were   introduced.  Cotton and sugar cane are examples.  The slaves also occupied the bottom of the order.  The same situation applies today.  Those people are black or  brown, and insulate poor whites from the bottom of the heap. 

Race is the problem.  If people are Quechua, Mayan, Sioux, Navajo, or African-American, they are born into discrimination.  Europeans rule.  Political systems reflect the racial divide.  In Latin America, the oligarchies in power are of Spanish or Portuguese heritage, with most Indians excluded.  In the U.S., the divisions are starting to blur, but Republicans are mostly white and Democrats are more somewhat more diverse.   

In the race to include minorities in the Democratic coalition, the white working class tended to be neglected.  Their economic status has weakened as many good-paying jobs have moved offshore.  Moves to include minorities tend to threaten the status of white working class people’s place in the social hierarchy.  Their anti-immigration stance results from the fear immigrants will take the good jobs.  In addition, immigrants tend to be brown and vote, a threat to white working class men. 

Mr. Trump won the election due to the racial divide.  In the rust belt (and swing) states narrow majorities for Trump tipped the Electoral College.  There is a paradox in this.  The Republication party core constituency is not working-class friendly, but the white tea party folks have joined them.  Trump’s cabinet appointments are mainstream Republican or Wall Street, and offer little to the mass of people who voted him into office. We will see how they react to Trump’s policies in the near future.   

Trump won claiming he can bring back those lost jobs.  It isn’t going to happen.  We are seeing a fundamental shift in our economy away from basic raw material and manufacturing to a service and information based economy.    The traditionally excluded minorities are now joined by poorly-educated white people, many who lost their socio-economic status during the Great Recession.  Neither party is coming up with any viable answers to this problem, which will be exacerbated by race.  The riots will return.   

Mr. Trump’s victory has also encouraged our white extremists.  We will see more racism, anti-Semitism, and violence.  Instant communication accelerates the process.  Tweets are a good example.  I avoid Twitter because I tend toward impulsivity.  Have an impulse, write it down in 140 characters, hit send, and it’s there for all to see.   Mr. Trump is ruled by impulse, therefore, Twitter.  And extremism.

What to Do Now?

President Elect Trump

President Elect Trump

I have a few strategies for dealing with the President-elect.   Why do I oppose him?  He is a Chickenhawk.  I am a veteran and don’t think much of people who dodge the draft and want to send our servicemen into combat.   

 If he requires all Muslims in the U. S. to register, I plan to register and encourage everyone I know to do so.  If millions of Americans do so, the registry will be useless.  What will they do, deport me to Kansas?  I think all religions are proper for people, so I won’t have any conflict with registering as a Muslim. 

The next plan I have is to be more active in organizations I support.  I am an environmentalist, so the Nature Conservancy, Clean Water Action, and the Environmental Defense Fund will have a new volunteer.  I think taking positive action with organizations is a better strategy than blind opposition.   

I am a Democrat, so I am debating becoming active in the Democratic Party.  Years ago I attended some meetings and wasn’t enchanted by the whole thing, so, maybe.

I write, and will continue to do so. I do not intend to go into attack mode.  I don’t think negativity is the proper course for my writing.  I may try to promote some of my writing.  Mr. Trump uses negativity as his main strategy, so my response will to be positive about promoting positive action in our weakened republic.  I will support good causes and good people. 

 

 

Cops and Repression

Cops are a constant presence in our lives.  When I was a young kid, the town marshal in Fruita drove a red Ford pickup with no lights or siren.  It wasn’t long before there were real police with a cruiser.  I have a lot of interactions with police officers because I am a lousy driver.  
Cops

Cops

The first really negative interaction was during all the demonstrations following the invasion of Cambodia in 1968.  We peace creeps stood across the barrier from helmeted Fort Collins police officers who could hardly restrain themselves from bashing heads.  They were putting up with a lot of verbal abuse.  The cop across from me was hyperventilating.  Fortunately, nothing happened. 

Cops today are shooting people and getting shot.  Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore showed the nation how the police are an instrument of repression in some cities.  Fortunately this is not always the case.  After 9-11, Denver Water placed armed guards at the gates to the water treatment plants.  Most of the guards were retired or off duty Denver Police Officers moonlighting.  They usually worked one shift per week, and I got to know many of them at the plant where I worked. 

It was a shock to me to discover that most of them were really nice guys.  That did not fit my stereotype of cops.  A couple of them, however, were not nice guys.  They were right wing bullies filled with fear and anger.  The hate they projected was almost physically tangible.  They did not make eye contact and their speech was formal with an undercurrent of menace. 

I am sure every police department of any size in the land has a contingent of those fellows.  They are the enforcers, using violence to deal with undesirables.  They are relatively safe form reprisal because of the need for police to provide mutual support to one another.  There is a code of silence and even lying to cover for a fellow officer.  This is more common in some departments than others. 

These men serve as instruments of repression, usually to minorities.  Their self-appointed job is to keep undesirables in line, using any method they think they can get away with, including murder.in the USA, their targets are usually black, with Latinos and other minorities as alternate targets.  

Ferguson Riot

Ferguson Riot

At one time, most of the racial repression came from groups like the Ku Klux Klan, with their cross burnings, beatings, and lynchings.  Today, those groups have waned, and another means of repression has replaced them-rogue cops and rogue police departments.  Cops and police departments have always been part of the system of racial repression, but now they are the default lynchers.  There are no cross burnings on South Table Mountain in Golden these days. 

This system has run into trouble because almost anyone with a smartphone can record police violence and get the recordings to the media.  The code of silence is broken.  In times of unrest like today, the violent incidents are on the television screen every evening, just like the atrocities in Vietnam were in the 1960s.  Change in technology has made those conducting the new lynchings vulnerable.  The old system of other cops and prosecutors allowing the lynchers to get away with their brutality is not gone, as  Baltimore has recently shown, but it’s days are numbered. 

It may be that one factor creating the Trump phenomenon is the breakdown of repression.  The white working class, already hit by the loss of industrial jobs, is facing competition from people who were once sentenced to remain at the bottom.  White working class men once had those minorities to look down on.  Now the minorities are on the City Council and the police department.   

 

More on Discontent

The Age of Steam

The Age of Steam

Our economy has been one of change since the beginning.  When the railroads came to Colorado in 1870, a lot of teamster jobs hauling freight from Omaha and Kansas City went away.  The automobile would not have happened without the new petroleum industry.  Coal retained its strength from powering locomotives, heating homes, and fueling industry.  Industry and manufacturing grew, making the American economy one of the largest in the world.

What a combination, land, natural resources, transportation, a growing population of people with ambition, mobility, and a willingness to try something new.  Some were left behind.  Native Americans, African Americans, and those new citizens in the Southwest who were once part of Mexico with its traditional ways.  As always, immigrants ended up at the bottom because of language and discrimination.

There were troubles.  Low wages, a turbulent labor history, drought, an unstable business cycle creating panics individuals were helpless to influence.  There were some adventures the government engaged in, such as Cuba, the Philippines China, Japan, all the trappings of empire.  In many ways the American West was an empire, won at the expense of those who were living there.

John Deere

John Deere

Agriculture was becoming more mechanized, displacing people who moved to the cities to work in industry.  All the change continues.  There is a tremendous amount of wealth in Silicon Valley, not so much in Michigan.

The West has been boom-bust from the start.  The fur trade collapsed, but the gold rushes started.  The government started giving land to the railroads and individuals.  The short grass prairie boomed with hopeful wheat growers, then the droughts came.  Oil and gas grew and grew, and grew.  As old fields played out, new oil fields were discovered.  A couple of big wars really heated things up.

It all looked great.  Yes, lots of change, but people could find good jobs and things steamed along.  The real upheavals were when the business cycle threw millions out of work.  The 1930’s were a terrible time, but a war healed all that.

The West That Never Existed

The West That Never Existed

The 1950’s seemed like a golden age.  Lots of jobs, the U.S. Ruled much of the world, and television built a myth of stability, prosperity, and a bright future for everyone.  the myth came from relative prosperity and the ubitiquous westerns on television promoting a life that never existed.

The 1960’s brought social upheaval accompanied by a growing shift in how people made their living.  Steel mills closed, imported cars were on the roads, and computer-driven automation started taking industrial jobs.  The word Yuppie became a term of derision, but the Yuppies were the wave of the future.  They possessed education and a skill set many people could or would not obtain.

The skilled trades fell out of favor. It is college or else.  The trade jobs are filled the way they have always been filled, by immigrants.  This time however, the immigrants are not easily assimilated Europeans.  They are Latin, and and bring their culture with them.  Many are just not as interested in assimilating, and many are undocumented.

All this change leaves a huge segment of our society out of the good life.  Many are rural, where big mechanized farms haven taken jobs.  Many just do not have social and intellectual requirements to move into the new economy.  What’s left?  Low-paying service economy jobs, often for an out of date minimum wage inadequate for one person, let alone a family.  It is hard to build a life mowing lawns and doing kitchen work.  Much of the time jobs that used to be stepping stones have turned into dead ends.

The trouble is just beginning.  Those people marginalized by an economy where they don’t fit can be radicalized and turn to violence and terror or Donald Trump, which may be same thing.  The discontent is just not with the marginalized working class.  There are lots of well-educated people from middle class families making pizzas and living in their parents’ basement.  They thought they were doing the right thing going into debt to get an education and found nobody wants them.

This is still a rich country.  There is a huge imbalance in the distribution of wealth which has to change.  The change agent must be government.  A true progressive tax structure and an end to the massive influence of special interests in government are desperately needed.  The nation has the resources to provide everyone with an income providing them some dignity and the flexibility to enhance their station in life.  Given a decent income, most will seek ways to do even better.

We will always have the wealthy and the poor.  Now, there is too much concentrated wealth for a few and too many poor.  Trying to revert to an American utopia which never existed will only add to social instability.

Happy Days Are Here Again

Happy Days Are Here Again

There should be no food banks or coat drives.  There should be no one sleeping on the streets.  People with mental health problems should not be cast out.  Everyone should have the time and resources available to build better lives for themselves rather than being trapped in poverty.

In other words, we need a new time of progressive change, not an attempt to return to a myth.  How to pay for it all?  A realistic progressive tax system to redistribute income.

The Summer Of Our Discontent

What a time!  It’s hot about two weeks early for this area.  I got a replacement toolbox for my Toyota Tacoma’s toolbox.  The old one failed because I haul so much stuff around.  Fortunately it had a lifetime guarantee.  We seem to be spending entirely too much time in doctor’s offices; me getting pre-cancerous patches frozen on my head, Carol with eye trouble, and her son with a broken wrist and atrial fibrillation.

On the positive side, our garden is looking great, no hail this year so far.   We are going to have a big raspberry crop, the flowers are beautiful, and all the veggies are growing away.  Things seem to be going fairly well for an old couple.

There is tragedy in the land.  Murdering large groups of innocent people just trying to have a good time is terrible.  There has to be some means in place to restrict weapons solely designed for killing large numbers of people.

Donald Trump Addresses GOP Lincoln Day Event In MichiganThe reason I am writing this, however, is about the current political situation.  The U.S. Has a long tradition of sending poorly qualified people to the White House, but this is getting ridiculous. This guy the Republicans have chosen to run has managed to combine all the worst qualities of American politicians in one outrageous package.  The man has no qualifications to lead the nation in any direction other than backward, and possibly into chaos.  Just his hair should be a cue.  What are those people thinking?

I understand the discontent.  A lot of people are not liberal and want leadership addressing their problems.  Stagnant wages, a lack of good skilled industrial jobs, and rapid change rather than a safe, stable, comfortable life like Ward, June, Wally, and the Beav lived.  They forget that the Cleavers didn’t exist, they were just a TV show.

They sit in front of the TV watching pretty people having a crisis which always has a happy ending.  Their lives aren’t so happy, and they are angry about it.  So here comes a TV show host who says he can fix everything.  He will get rid of “those people”, give them good jobs, make the country safe, and put steak on the plate and a nice diesel Super Duty pickup in every driveway.  If there is trouble, the Marines can stop it.  The country will regress or else.

The mainstream Republican approach is to make rich people richer, take away benefits, and cut schools, highways, parks, sell the government land off. and send their sons off to endless wars.  Congress is paralyzed.  That plan has run its course.  The only reason it worked at all is the rich ones spent lots of money fooling people and buying politicians.

The result is Donald Trump.  He says he can fix it.  Well, no.  The man seems to have no idea how our government works.  He thinks he can issue commands on impulse and get an immediate response, whether his commands are legal or not.  The only things he really wants are adulation and a chance to get rid of those who ask the wrong questions.

Hillary has done a lot of things well, but she has a past.  Trump will sling as much dirt as he can, hoping enough will stick to her to get him elected.  It worked with the primaries,  let’s hope it won’t work for the Big One.

Terror

Paris Terror

Paris Terror

The events in Paris this week bring back memories of all the terrorist incidents we have lived through for many years.  Why?  Why kill innocent people for some cause they have nothing to do with, or they are only making fun of political situations?

Terrorism works.  The goal of terror is to put a spotlight on a cause, to get people emotionally involved in an issue they would not usually care about.  They become passionate and affiliate themselves with the side of the conflict they agree with.  The middle ground, where truth usually resides, becomes obscured as fear and rage take over.

Most people are reasonable and just want to live and let live, whether Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Protestant, Catholic, black, brown, white, wealthy, middle, or working class.  Terrorism divides people into opposite camps, where people view others as suspicious and dangerous.  The others must be controlled, removed, or eliminated.  There is no longer any room for dialog.

This depiction is somewhat extreme.  We have seen decades of terror and hate end in Ireland as the two sides finally stopped the killing mostly out of sheer exhaustion and the work of excellent negotiators.  An example of where terror achieved its end was in 1950s Algeria, when years of bombings, repression, and hate in Algeria and France ended with Algerian independence.

The Battle of Algiers, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Battle_of_Algiers  a movie about that struggle, illustrates how terror works.  It has become either a textbook of terrorism or a lesson for those who wish to end the process of fear and hate.  Algeria was a French colony with a large population of relatively wealthy French amid a large population of mostly poor Muslim Arabs who resented French rule.

An Arab liberation movement began a campaign of terror, bombing public places where French people gathered.  The French army responded with a policy of repression.  People were arrested and tortured, curfews imposed, matters escalated and the bombings began in France, especially Paris.  The polarization, radicalization, and repression escalated as well, finally ending when the French government under DeGaulle granted independence to Algeria.

The parallels with Israel and Palestine are obvious.  The situation there is so divided that many view any peaceable resolution as unlikely, at least in the short run.  In Europe, the parallel is with Muslims living in a secular culture that are marginalized and discriminated against, just as the Catholic minority was in Northern Ireland.

The reasons for terror are not only religion.  Religion often becomes the justification for acts of terror, but race, class, ethnicity, and alienation are often the underlying reasons.  What is needed is tolerance, dialog, and human connection.

Keep calm and carry on.

 

 

Hate, Faith, and Polarization

War Children

War Children

I read recently that if people with strong conservative or fundamentalist beliefs have their beliefs challenged, their position hardens.  I don’t think that applies solely to conservatives.  When I see some outrageous statement form Michele Bachmann or others of her ilk, my negative feelings tend to strengthen my position.

Back when I was taking Political Science courses, the prevailing mantra was that the underlying strength of American democracy was a spirit of compromise.  Legislators on opposite sides of the aisle would come together and work out a deal that accomplished some of the goals of each side.  There was an atmosphere of give and take.

The nation has had periods of cooperation. The Truman and Eisenhower years may be an example.  Polarization has also been a repetitive theme in our history.  Slavery and race are the issues dividing the nation since the eighteenth century.  We seem to be inching toward a resolution, but don’t look for peace and harmony yet.

The current impasse in congress is, on the surface, Republicans versus Democrats.  The rhetoric on both sides is “The American People want this” or “The American people want that”.  The members of congress want campaign contributions and more money.

Most Americans don’t know what they want or don’t care.  Under the rhetoric is ideology.  One the one side are the dedicated progressives with a broad view of how the country should change.  They see social issues that need to be changed.  They like the money.

The other side is composed of two main groups.  The true conservatives just do not want change.  They want retreat to a simpler time without the complex, baffling issues a huge, diverse culture is facing.  Think Norman Rockwell.  They also like the money.  The other group is ideological.  They see themselves as engaged in a global struggle between the forces of evil and the true path they represent.  To compromise would mean giving in to temptation and the path to destruction.  They  like the money.   They want power to overcome the Enemy.

The true believers on either side are resistant to opposing views, and when confronted their views tend to harden.  The Karl Roves are mainly interested in power.  The true believers are preparing for the end times, the final confrontation between the Antichrist and the faithful.

This confrontation has, of course, been a constant theme in Christianity since the Book of Revelation was written.  It was written about Rome during the time of the destruction of the temple and the Jewish diaspora.  The imagery is about Rome.  The Beast, the seven hills, all refer to Rome, not today.  This theme came up again around 1000 A.D., at the time of the Black Death, and often in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, whenever some True Believer sees prophecies and does some calculations.

Almost every generation has applied it to their own time. Christ continues to tarry.  The faithful are not deterred.  The consequence of this hardened ideology is congressional gridlock.  Compromise is not an option when confronting demonic forces.  It doesn’t take too many fundamentalist Christians in Congress to lock things up.

The current trend goes back to the Enlightenment, which was followed by the Industrial Revolution and the beginnings of a secular and progressive society.  Concurrent with the secularization was the growth of literacy and people reading the Bible for their own selves.  Now there is a book with a lot of themes.  There is rich soil for a fundamentalist ideology, a return to the City of God.

The Bible and the Quran came from a region where people have always fought over for land and power.  They also fought over ideas, moving from paganism with a God for every purpose to a God wanting everyone to follow His purpose.  Jesus and Paul wanted us to find God’s law and purpose in our hearts. That takes a lot of work, and most are content with the law. Mohammed laid down a new law and people went right to war over who should enforce the law.

Those who want power use the law for their purposes.  They are not too concerned with eternal truth.  Check that with Dick Cheney and Karl Rove.  Some want to use to use the law and power for what they see as spiritual purposes.  Check that with Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann, and Sarah Palin.

The struggle in the Islamic world is much the same.  Secularization and progressivism   contend with a reactionary attempt to return to pure times that never really existed.  Old tribal and religious hatreds return with true believers armed with computers and AK-47’s.

There is a broad movement of people seeking to use the common bonds of humanity to work and pray for peace.  I hope the peace seekers will prevail.  I pray with them.  There is a universal web of love that can overcome hate.