John Pavlovitz: I Am the Alt-Left, Mr. President

Heather marched on behalf of people she didn’t know, but valued greatly.
She spoke for people who are so often silenced by people like you.
She stood for those who are pushed to the margins of this life by people like you.
She declared the worth of all people, regardless of the color of their skin or their sexual orientation or their religious beliefs.
She lived this way; open-hearted, generously, sacrificially, humbly.
She died proclaiming that another life was as precious as her own; that every human being is intrinsically valuable, that every person is worth dying for.

And if that is the Alt-Left, Mr President—you can count me in.

Come Get Your Boy

Donald Trump isn’t a Republican issue or a rich people issue or a human issue. Donald Trump is a white people issue. Whenever Ben Carson says batshit crazy nonsense, Black people rise up, and let him know that he needs to STFU. Whenever Raven-Symone pops off, we put her cap back on. We even handled Rachel Dolezal for you. Yes, we also make jokes and come up with clever memes and hashtags, but at the core of all that is that we are letting these people know that they are embarrassing us as Black people. It is time, white people, for you to finally step up and recognize that you also (even more so) have a responsibility to your race. It is up to you to silence Donald Trump. Don’t just insult him and make fun of him. You have to connect it to your race. Recognize that he is embarrassing you as a white person. Simple snark won’t win here. You have to feel it. You have to use words like “as a white person” and “he is an embarrassment to my race.” Stop acting like Trump isn’t the pinnacle and the result of America’s history and tradition of white supremacy. And again, P.S.: Simply put, white people, come get your boy.

W. Kamau Bell

As a rule, I try not to write about things that are happening right now. This is especially true when there are big issues at play. I’m a slow thinker. I need time to let ideas percolate, to find the right words, to parse complicated ideas into simpler terms. And, of course, there are other people who are more gifted at saying the right thing in response to events quickly. I think both approaches are important. Someone to say something now, someone to keep talking after everyone has moved on to the next big thing.

But, right now, I need to say something: white people… we need to come get our boys.

This weekend, white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia. They did not wear hoods or masks. They marched with weapons. They marched with flags. They marched with salutes. They marched with banners and slogans. They marched in polo shirts carrying tiki torches.

As a friend of mine put it on Facebook: “So… I’m a white man in my 30’s. Today I’ve seen photos and videos of men who look just like me actively inciting violence against anyone who doesn’t look like they (we) do.”

Those of us who are white – and, especially, those of us who are white men and who are white Christians – need to take action here. We saw people who look like us television representing us in a way that is awash with hate and ugliness. Some of us saw people we know. Some of us saw friends and family members. And we need to do something about this.

We need to tell people that it is shameful to fly the flags of hatred. We need to tell people that it is shameful to give the salutes of genocide. We need to tell people that it is shameful to threaten the innocent and the oppressed and the marginalized. And not just in general terms. We need to tell our brothers and sisters and parents and children and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends and colleagues and everyone.

These people who marched with the symbols of hate and oppression should feel ashamed. They should feel stigmatized. They should feel marginalized. They should repent of their ways or skulk back into the shadows.

We need to take responsibility for these people to look like us. And we need to do that every day. We need to come get our boys.

I Am Pleased to See That John McCain Did the Right Thing

The Senate rejected an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act last night. And, despite my somewhat cynical expectations, Senator John McCain did the right thing and voted against the bill. Credit where credit is due: well done John McCain, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski.

As usual, the folks at Lawyers, Guns, & Money put it best:

This blog is proud to have always recognized and admired John McCain’s fiercely independent statesmanship.

…Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski deserve a lot of credit too. Deserving even more are every member of the Democratic caucus, who were unwaveringly opposed. And the most credit goes to ordinary citizens who went to the streets, called, and wrote, and made this bill politically toxic. Cheers. The war for universal healthcare is far from over, but this is a huge win for the American people.

Esquire: The Price of John McCain’s Republican Loyalty

But the ugliest thing to witness on a very ugly day in the United States Senate was what John McCain did to what was left of his legacy as a national figure. He flew all the way across the country, leaving his high-end government healthcare behind in Arizona, in order to cast the deciding vote to allow debate on whatever ghastly critter emerges from what has been an utterly undemocratic process. He flew all the way across the country in order to facilitate the process of denying to millions of Americans the kind of medical treatment that is keeping him alive, and to do so at the behest of a president* who mocked McCain’s undeniable military heroism.

The Concourse: You Can’t Balance Out Racism

Here I am writing an essay pointing out that racism is bad. This is kindergarten material. We should not have to have these conversations. Our national media’s instinct to normalize whatever is happening among the politically powerful is so strong that they are now writing stories giving positive reviews to a speech in which the president just proposed one of the most baldly racist official government actions that I can remember. The fact that he stuck to the teleprompter does not balance this out. The fact that he did not insult the media as much as usual does not balance this out. The fact that a widow cried does not balance this out. This sort of determined, poisonous persecution of a minority group is not just one more factor to be weighed for its public relations value. Nothing balances this out. Go ask an immigrant how presidential Donald Trump seemed last night.

Governing and Calvinball

For Christmas, I received the complete boxed set of Calvin and Hobbes, the great newspaper comic strip by Bill Watterson that ran from 1985 to 1995. This was easily my favorite comic strip growing up (its only serious competition being Gary Larson’s The Far Side) and many of its ideas have stuck with me: the wagon rolling down a hill at breakneck speeds, Spaceman Spiff, the transmogrifier…

…and Calvinball.

Calvinball, if you’re not familiar with the comic strip, is a game where players make up the rules as they go along. Except for the rule that rules cannot be used twice, rules cannot be used twice, so every game of Calvinball is different.

To Calvin and Hobbes, the point of Calvinball is to have fun, unhampered by the rules of formal sports. In real life, there are people who play Calvinball for the same reason. But in a lot of areas of our lives, the principles of Calvinball are used for another reason: we change the rules of the games we’re playing so that, whatever we do, we win.

Lately, this is how the principles of Calvinball have been applied to government.

Last week, Elizabeth Warren was sanctioned for reading a letter from Coretta Scott King regarding the nomination of Jeff Sessions. The original letter was written in 1986 in response to Sessions’s nomination to Federal District Court Judge for the Southern District of Alabama. Warren, of course, was using it as an argument against his nomination to United States Attorney General.

Mitch McConnell invoked the rarely used Rule XIX.2: “No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” It’s a rule used so rarely – usually, senators just threaten to invoke it as a warning to another senator – that it’s easier to find examples of times when it probably should have been used than times when actually has been.

But this isn’t the only recent example of the rules (suddenly) being used or changed to suit those in power.

The Republican-controlled legislature of North Carolina, for example, moved to severely limit the power of the governor after a Democrat won the election. A court recently blocked this legislation, but that doesn’t change the attempt or the motive: to change the rules so that Republicans could keep their power.

Similarly, when senate Democrats boycotted the Finance Committee’s votes on cabinet nominees, the committee abandoned the rule that said members of both parties had to be present. The Democrats insist that they would have been happy to move forward once certain questions were answered, but Republicans preferred to change the rules to suit their desires.

I don’t mean to pick on Republicans here. I’m sure both sides play Calvinball to some degree. But this kind of rule-changing (or highly selective rule enforcement) creates serious challenges for responsible governance. Changing the rules so that one side of the debate has always already won undermines democracy: it ensures that the minority voice can never be heard.

So how about we make a deal for both parties to follow: no more Calvinball.

Donald Trump’s Executive Order on Refugees

On Friday, January 27, Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending the admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely, suspending America’s refugee program entirely for 120 days, and barring all people from certain ‘terror prone’ countries for 90 days. The list of ‘terror prone’ countries – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia – are all Muslim-majority countries where Trump does not have business ties.

He signed the order on Holocaust Memorial Day, a time when we should remember that millions of people were murdered in Europe because they were Jewish. And because no one – including the United States – would give them refuge.

As a Christian, I believe that the only requirement for receiving help is the presence of need. I cannot and will not discriminate on the basis of religion, ethnicity, national origin, or any other criterion. And I believe that it is immoral and unjust for the United States to do so.

As the writers of the Soviet Jewish Refugee Solidarity Sign-On Letter say, we “must not turn our backs on the human beings who are fleeing violence and persecution… nor abandon our highest national values and the demands of basic decency.”

Amen.

Note: Between writing and publishing this post, a federal judge issued a stay on Mr. Trump’s executive order. While I’m thankful for this, it does not mean that the fight is over.

Talking about Doom in the Present Tense

Like many of my friends and colleagues in ministry and the nonprofit sector, I’m deeply troubled by the prospect of Donald Trump’s presidency. I’m especially concerned given that every branch of the federal government, along with numerous state governments, will be controlled by the Republican Party. I believe that we’re facing at least two years of conservative policy proposals – from repealing the Affordable Care Act to privatizing Social Security – becoming law.

I am concerned about those policies, of course. I’m concerned about Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest. I’m concerned about his potential cabinet’s conflicts of interest. I’m concerned about the presidency of the United States becoming a tool by which some people who are rich and powerful will become richer and more powerful. I’m concerned about democratic norms being thrown out for the sake of power.

I am worried about my friends. I’m worried about people of color who will be abused by emboldened white supremacists. I’m worried about non-Christians who will abused by Christian nationalists. I’m worried about members of the LGBTQ community who will be abused by homophobes and transphobia.

I am, in short, deeply troubled by the prospect of living in Donald Trump’s America.

But I take hope in the fact that, despite what some of those friends and colleagues have suggested, I do not yet live in Donald Trump’s America or Paul Ryan’s America or Ayn Rand’s America.

There is still time to feed the hungry, to give something to drink to the thirsty. There is still time to welcome the stranger and give clothing to the naked. There is still time to care for the sick and visit the prisoner. There is still time to deliver good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free. There is still time to proclaim a time of God’s favor.

And, of course, there is still time to work for policies that will do just that.

So this is a message for all of my friends who are worried about the doom that might come. Let’s not talk about what might happen in the present tense. Let’s not pretend that a world we don’t want to see – a world that we must fight against – is already here. Let’s roll up our sleeves, get to work, and make sure that the world we fear never becomes a reality.