I've spent much of my life trying to be a lot of things. Most of the time, I felt like I was settling for an identity that was foreign to me. I would attach myself for as long as I could, but eventually, I'd end up feeling lost again. Once I gave up trying to con myself into subscribing to identities I could only wear as costumes; I began discovering my soul. If that sounds witchy and cliche, it's because it is. This process has been my spiritual awakening. In searching for myself, I have discovered the divine within the truth of my being. These days I identify as bisexual/pan/queer, multiracial, cis male, and sometimes femme. And while I don't feel like gender as we know it is capable of defining how I feel sometimes; I identify as a cis man because that's where I've often felt most comfortable.
Getting here was agonizing because self-actualization is torture, which is why so many young queer people kill themselves when they have no help. When you add racism, femme shaming, body shaming, transphobia, and colorism to the picture, young people are forced to survive a superstorm of hate brewed and sustained by not only other young people but their adult counterparts. A UCLA Williams Institute study found that 23% of LGBT youth attempted suicide in the year preceding the survey. They also found that attempted suicide to be even greater among LGBT youth of color. Pediatric cancer takes the lives of 20%-25% of victims. Basically, an LGBT youth of color who also has cancer has a higher chance of attempting suicide than dying of that cancer. That's not just a problem; it's an epidemic. A key reason I made it to adulthood was because of the kindness and guidance I received from a high school friend who was gay, femme, and a person of color. Every time I hear tragic stories of LGBT people of color losing their lives, I remember what I went through and how someone from this community saved me from the darkest of places a young mind can go.
I wanted to know more people like me, but finding my tribe proved to be difficult. My divorced parents came from different backgrounds; my father was Portuguese, and my mother was mixed Mexican and white. An assembly of family members raised me: Mexican mother, Portuguese grandparents, Mexican grandfather, white stepfather (later), and a Mexican uncle. Even though I was more genetically Portuguese than Mexican, I always felt more Mexican because I was predominantly raised in that culture. I spent the most time with my mother. She was raised by her Mexican father and Mexican grandmother, with her white mother having little to no cultural influence on her, so when she raised me, that was who we were.
Despite my background, I look white because I'm genetically more white than anything else (I'm classifying Portuguese as white). Most people can't tell I'm ethnic unless they study my face carefully (believe me, they have), or see my middle and last name, which both ironically come from my Portuguese father, and not my Chicana mother. This created an awkward cycle of me having to not only factually convince others I was Mexican but prove my Mexicanness to other Latinx folks. Interestingly, white people have had an easier time with this than my fellow Latinx counterparts. I never spoke much Spanish, I went to English and Portuguese Catholic Mass, and I looked white. In a way, I was an outsider in a community that was already marked as the "other."
Many mixed people have experienced the unique struggle of having to prove their ethnic roots to a world eager punish appropriators and liars from Katy Perry to Rachel Dolezal. While the "one-drop rule" might have been historically enough for white people to regard a person as ethnic, it's often not enough today for members of a mixed person's own minority community to recognize them as a "real," fellow member. I am wholly aware of the immeasurable amount of benefits and privileges I've received as a result of my light skin and white features. In fact, because I'm Mexican, I was always hyper-aware that I was treated differently than other Mexicans around me. I didn't wake up one day, surprised I benefited from white privilege; I always knew it was there, and as a result, have lived with guilt. I don't feel white guilt in the traditional sense because I don't feel white, even though I'm mixed. I feel guilt over not being mistreated as often and in the same way as the darker members of my culture. It's a bizarre complex, but one that light-skinned or white-passing minorities experience all the time. I have sometimes struggled to make meaningful relationships with other Latinx people because of this tension. If discovering my tribe wasn't hard enough, finding a space where I could be myself within that tribe made feeling comfortable in the world nearly impossible. It was only complicated even further when I started to realize the complexity of my sexuality.
I was a very effeminate child. My single mother would take me with her to the beauty salon, and I would just revel in the glamour and grace of how women had their nails done. Black women, white women, Latina women; I wanted those nails. As a young boy, I would fantasize that I had long, red nails that tapped on marble counters or typed on a computer. I loved the way they looked on the receptionist at my dentist's office as she'd type with a pen in her hands. I made my mom buy me fake nails I spotted in the girls' section of the toys aisle. They were like thimbles produced to look like acrylic nails. When I'd put them on, I would wave my hands around, thrum my fingers on the counters, and tap away on an old typewriter my grandmother had until my fingertips got pruney under the plastic. I never felt like I was a girl, but something was comforting and soul-nourishing about embodying and adopting what I thought were the manneristic accoutrements of mature womanhood.
I still loved playing with toy cars and toy soldiers (I would make armies stretch out across my living room). I enjoyed sports (basketball and baseball), but I also was in dance as a boy. I was obsessed with Michael Jackson. My first memory of him was on MTV when they played his music video to "Remember The Time." His gaudy, gold costume captivated me. The regal, Egyptian aesthetic of the video from the magical grace of the all-black dance ensemble to Michael's own fluid performance completely enthralled me. I loved his long, black hair, and how it dangled in his face. The way his eyeliner and perfect eyebrows made his features pop created a soft yet harsh look. He was a god and a goddess at the same time. I knew he was a man, but only because that's what my mom told me. At that age, I was not putting people in boxes. Michael Jackson was aggressively masculine while being delicately feminine, and I accepted that without asking questions. He was almost genderless in a way that transcended traditional ideas of gender. That experience changed my life in that it set something in motion that would eventually revolutionize how I see the world. His music became my primary source of entertainment, and to this day, he remains very special to me. I also knew he was a black man, but didn't look black. I identified with this because of how I was Mexican but didn't look it either. His general separation from the confines of what society prescribes for us made me idolize his spirit of individualism. While I wasn't theorizing this as a child, my subconscious mind was drawn to his raw humanity.
When adolescence came around, virtually all my crushes were cis women. I had occasional and minor feelings of attraction towards the same sex, but never took the time to address what it all meant. In late middle school, I realized my same sex attractions were not a phase but an integral part of me that was growing more noticeable. My attraction to the opposite sex wasn't going anywhere either. This confused me. I found that my interests came and went in wave-like seasons. Sometimes I would feel more attracted to the same sex for months or just a few days even. Other times, I would feel more attracted the opposite sex. It was also typical that I would feel equally interested in both simultaneously. This was a frustrating time as I was regularly dealing with severe anxiety, depression, and a drainage on my creative spirit. I hated feeling uncreative because I did theatre in high school, which was the one thing I felt best at, even when I was still in the closet.
I couldn't figure myself out. If I was bisexual, why did the levels of my attractions fluctuate? I eventually began to think of myself as a non-traditional bisexual (at the time, the irony of that classification had completely slipped my mind). Once I accepted that I was different, everything started to get better, even though I still felt confused about the idiosyncrasy of my sexuality. I had always understood sexual orientation as heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and asexuality. Conventional high schooler wisdom led me to believe that "true bisexuals" were 50/50 attracted to both sexes, all the time. But I didn't feel that way.
College changed everything for me. I was introduced to feminism and the concept of fluidity in queerness, which more accurately described how I felt. This blew my mind as I had finally found an academically validated concept and theory that I could use to describe myself. This was important to me because identity was my shield against invisibility. I was not only looking for tolerance; I was seeking societal validation. This period led me to understand why LGBTQIA is such a long acronym in its more inclusive form.
In discovering more about myself, I also realized I was an outlier within the existing margins of society. I found that bisexual/queer representation was severely lacking in entertainment, the media, and in politics. Dating was hard. I accepted that because of who I am and how I love, finding partners would be much more complicated for me than it was for straight people or even gay people. Biphobia within the LGBT community was a serious problem along with misogyny and racism. I didn't fit in with any group. My straight friends thought I was gay, "or bi or whatever." My gay friends thought I was straight or secretly gay and closeted. I was in the same situation I experienced with my ethnicity, but this time, if I wasn't having to prove my queerness, I was pretending to be straight or straight-acting to appear less obvious as a queer person.
When I studied musical theatre as an undergrad, I had some professors and friends tell me I would get more work as an actor if I presented as butch and concealed my sexuality. When I started acting in New York, I realized how wrong they were. Trying to come off as straight and macho was as absurd as it was self-sabotaging. Faking who I was made my work suffer. To be an effective actor, I had to be my true self, as the characters I was playing. If I had ever auditioned for the role of a young, queer actor, pretending to be straight while auditioning for the role of a butch baseball player, I would have won an Oscar. Unfortunately for me, most writers don't create those kinds of roles. I had to accept that. If this meant fewer opportunities, so be it. Do dark-skinned, black actors paint their faces white to go in for white roles? Of course not. They could be classically trained, Shakespearian thespians and still have to settle on an industry that limits them to auditioning for two dimensional, do-rag-wearing caricatures, slaves, historical black figures, or animals in kids movies. So who was I fooling? I wasn't very effeminate, but I wasn't chopping wood in plaid either. This made "typing" (figuring out my character type) remarkably difficult. I didn't fit in anywhere, again. This yielded a lot of character roles, which was fine for me, because when you're an unknown actor, work is work, no matter how good you think you are.
After a while, my creativity turned to writing and stand-up comedy. I realized that what made me odd in society made me appealing as a comic. When it was just me onstage, I wasn't being compared to the rest of the cast because I was the cast. I was my own act. I wrote it, I hired myself, I directed myself, and I performed it. Like every other comic, it took years before I came into my own, but once my bomb to slay ratio (terrible to terrific performances) started tipping in favor of me slaying audiences, I began to feel even more comfortable in having a voice and not pretending to be something I wasn't. Most people who knew me up until that point would probably have said I was a fairly confident person. The truth was that I frequently wrestled with crippling self-doubt. Comedy has helped me find my way out of that dreadful cycle.
Like most queer millennials who moved to New York, I became interested in the drag scene. I knew who RuPaul was as a cultural icon but hadn't watched much of her show. Once I started regularly following drag, I began to have another revolution in my mind. I started realizing how silly gender was as a societal construct. I began to see artists who bend gender and other norms, like Michael Jackson, or drag queens, as the purest artists. The reflection of the world they reveal is so uncomplicated and spot-on; it's almost uncomfortable to face. I think this is where that emotional, funny bone feeling of shock and infatuated awe comes from when true art strikes the core of an audience member. The shock is like a disbelief that the artist could make us realize the meaning of what we see, while the infatuation is the lust for more truth or an encore. When the Devil tempted Eve with knowledge, he put on a show. He charmed her. As a snake, he was both phallic and effeminate. He represented everything, and that was why he was so compelling to her. People want to know everything. Bob Fosse recognized this dichotomy in his "A Snake in the Grass" performance from The Little Prince. Of course, this was later expanded and built upon by artists like Michael Jackson who was an unofficial disciple of Fosse. This is the epitome of drag: the artistic commodification of societal constructs into exaggerated representations so that they are on heightened display. This way, we realize how absurd they can be. This is why good art makes people uncomfortable; it has the potential to uproot long-held beliefs.
When all these pieces started coming together in my mind, I began to reexamine how I associated with gender. I realized how a lot of tumultuousness in my life had derived from my trying to live up to certain standards of "manhood" that were inauthentic for me. I had always called myself a man, but sometimes I felt like I was more than just a man. I didn't always feel like a "dude" or a "bro." I felt like a combination of feminine energy balanced by masculine energy, in a body of the male sex. These are merely descriptions of the fruits of my soul searching after working to let go of preconceived notions of gender in the wake of an artistic epiphany. The reason I identify as cis male is because I feel comfortable with the sex I was assigned at birth. What I don't feel comfortable with are antiquated societal expectations of manhood. I despise that so many people, particularly cis men and pre-transitioning trans women, are forced to wear butchness as a means to avoid being robbed of their humanity. It's particularly cruel in how toxic hypermasculinity is the fixation of an oppressive patriarchy that aims to dehumanize the same people who are forced to wear it as a means of survival.
Drag opened my eyes to this culture war. I soon realized that drag queens and trans people were the warriors on the front lines fighting it. Finding my appropriate space in this war was tricky. Being cis male and passing for white has measurable advantages in the world, which is unfair to those who are not. I cannot control that about myself; I can only use my privilege to gain access to those who otherwise wouldn't acknowledge me if I were darker or non-cis. With this access, I have the potential to change minds that will listen to me. I came to feel that doing anything less than aggressively using my privilege to help those without it achieve autonomy, would make me complicit in their oppression.
Being Mexican, queer, cis male, and sometimes femme are the politics of my identity. Anyone who would seek to deny my right or anyone else's right to associate with, participate in, or rhetorically identify as who they are is no friend of justice. This includes opponents of identity politics. It's easy to dismiss the identity of the "other" as divisive when the white, straight, and cisgender norm or ruling majority has managed to codify their identity as standard and everything else a deviation. If there's one thing White America cannot stand, it's being reminded of its legacy of oppression. As a result, these labels become "identity politics" and "divisive" because they recognize groups of people frequently subjected to discrimination. Identity politics do not divide us; they challenge the power of the ruling majority by reminding them that other people exist too. That's the reason why the ruling majority call it "divisive." It's a bad word to them. They also want to convince us that we are guilty of the very social crime we seek to rectify: causing suffering by dividing minorities into groups where they are more easily subjected to oppression. It's a dirty, Nixonian and Trumpian trick where the perpetrator accuses an opponent of the very act they are guilty of. Its aim is to be so galling and shameless, the victim of the attack would never consider the possibility that the perpetrator would themselves be guilty of their own accusation. When I realized how deplorable bigots could be, my resolve to beat them in the culture war only made me more hopeful for humanity, because for once, I knew for sure there were others like me. They are trans activists, drag queens, social policy makers, relentless pragmatists, and progressives that aren't afraid to beat the right wing at its own game. This was my tribe.
My journey to arrive where I am today has been everything but easy. It took an artistic revolution for me to realize my next step in life was to be creative through a different muse than art. Now, I'm a student of public policy. My motivations and desires to make change are driven by a culmination of personal growth as a multifaceted mosaic of humanity. I'll state it again; I'm bi-queer, multiracial, cis male, and sometimes femme. I am a lot of things, and that's OK. The world is more complicated than my identity, which is why people like me are an easy target for those to wish to vent their frustration with their fear of enlightenment. Realized, complex people are human manifestations of questions many are mortified to ask. That's why the more a person discovers about their sexual and gender identity, the more hated they are by opponents of sexual liberation.
The survival of the "other" is a demonstration of a resilience that threatens patriarchal white supremacy. My Mexicanness is different from my queerness just like it's different from someone else's blackness or transness. In the midst of our differences and intersections, one thing is indisputable; the same people who want to stop all of us from flourishing, do so for the same reason regardless of who we are. We threaten their power. If that doesn't unite us: survival; then nothing will. I can't adhere to puritanical standards of resistance because my autonomy doesn't fit into one file. My identity is too complicated for that. Yes, that makes me unique; no I don't want a trophy; please, let me be who I am.
Just don't be a fascist unless, of course, it's a part of your drag routine; in which case, you should end it with a lip sync of Ivanka Trump's Republican National Convention Speech matched against a Russian pop song.
That would be hilarious, and it would slay, girl.
*Photo from Buzzfeed
Professional sports are at the heart of American culture. Many of us grew up playing some kind of sport, and still have childhood memories of serene, summer evenings, shooting hoops in the backyard, counting down the invisible game clock as we dribbled the ball around fantasy defenders until we got the final shot off at the buzzer. At least, that was my experience with basketball. The love for my home team, the Golden State Warriors, was real. Warriors basketball is almost tribal in Northern California. Bay Area sports fans are some of the most devoted and lively people to their teams, and I was no exception.
Warriors basketball has been a tumultuous journey for the team's die-hard devotees. For millennial fans like myself, the team was a laughing stock for most of the 1990s and 2000s. But after several grueling years of patience, player development, and the addition of an exceptional staff the team became one of the greatest in NBA history, most recently winning the 2017 NBA Championship. But that's not the only triumph of the Warriors. There's something more at play with this team that goes beyond the competition of professional basketball. We are not only witnessing a historic assembly of athletic talent and organizational success; we are beholding a transformative moment in the identity of professional sports as they relate to American culture.
The Warriors have taken on toxic masculinity in sports. With gay professional athletes like Jason Collins and Michael Sam coming out of the closet to play openly as who they are, we have seen magnanimous strides in the right direction for what professional sports can accept and subsequently, achieve. But what about the work of straight allies in professional sports? That's where the Warriors come in.
NBA basketball has been on the front lines of political speech as a league. NPR's Michel Martin points this out in how players are now more confident in their rights and abilities to speak up and speak out on what's on their minds. From the league's Latin Night's Program, featuring player jerseys with team names in Spanish, to players' speeches on police brutality and gun violence at the 2016 ESPY awards, the NBA has demonstrated the caliber of its membership. But what is it about the Warriors that has set them apart on political speech? Some would argue it was the news of the team's potential plans to skip a Trump White House invite after their most recent championship win. Some would argue it's the way Coach Kerr and two-time MVP, Stephen Curry have personally, criticized President Trump. I would agree, but I still think this goes even further.
The answer is in the Warrior haters. When you have fairly popular sports commentators like Jason Whitlock dissing the Warriors as an "extra-suburban, soft basketball team... [with] Rick James and Tupac tatted all over... I ain't really feelin' that", clearly, the team has struck a chord with some. Hypothetically, what is wrong with a man having a tattoo of another man on his body? What about that idea makes Jason Whitlock uncomfortable to the point he has to publicly assert that he "[does not] feel that"? God knows Whitelock isn't the only Warrior hater in the world, but his criticism speaks to the root of what I feel many have against the team.
The Warriors don't play beat-you-over-the-head-with-brute-strength-basketball. There is no Shaq backboard breaking going on and no Lebron post-up bulldozing either. The Warriors are the epitome of finesse, grace, and measured skill. Watching Steph Curry with the basketball is like watching a ballet dancer paint the stage with magic through movement. This is antithetical to the "hard" and butch aesthetic many professional sports try to embody, particularly ones like basketball and football, so it makes sense that someone uncomfortable with being challenged on their idea of masculinity in sports, would call the Warriors "soft".
So yes, there is definitely something less macho about how the Warriors play which is exactly why this team is so special. Stephen Curry, as the team's leader, has embraced this completely. He's not afraid to be silly and cute when he celebrates one of his science-defying, three pointers. He always manages to balance out the competative monstrosity of Draymond Green with a suave wink to the crowd that never feels smarmy, but genuinely goofy in the most endearing way, and he knows it. The guy posts videos on social media of him lip syncing songs from musicals with his wife. He sang a duet with James Corden on his Carpool Karaoke series. Unbelievable! Steph Curry singing a love song with another man? I wonder if Whitlock and the haters would not be "feelin' that" either. Curry had also recently joked to reporters that when it came to questions about his Finals MVP teammate, Kevin Durant: "I feel like I'm on a dating show". This may seem like nothing to some people, but imagine someone in the NBA making that joke thirty years ago? Even ten years ago? Most people wouldn't even make jokes like that now without injecting the "no homo" nonsense, you know, to make sure we all know they aren't actually gay. Not Curry. This is a man who seems quite comfortable with who he is, and didn't feel any threat to his sense of masculinity in jokingly putting the image in our heads that he is on a dating show with another man, his teammate! A special someone he probably has seen without clothes on in a locker room. Yeah, that's how cool Steph Curry is. What makes this so important is how popular Curry is. He is one of the greatest players ever, some have even said he is the greatest, or only second to Michael Jordan. Many might disagree with that, but there is no denying his contribution to basketball, which is why acknowledging how he carries himself is so important, because he's so visible in professional sports.
How about when Warriors' top bench contributor, Andre Iguodala made a similar joke during the team's championship parade speeches, on another player "James Michael McAdoo... rubbing off on me... pause"? Iguodala literally said "pause", as if to facilitate the audience taking in his innuendo. Some might have thought this was inappropriate; others might have thought it was offensive as if physical affection between two men is funny. But ultimately, it is important to note that a joke like this would never have been made in the past. As a queer man, I was not personally offended by what Iguodala said. Perhaps I should have been, but something in the way he said it made me feel included somehow. I felt this way not because he made a gay joke, but because he was willing to put himself at the center of one and seemed unafraid of how it would make him "look". It might have been a microaggression to some, and I would understand that, given how what he said was problematic, but I still feel like there was love at the root of it.
And let's not forget about the big anti-toxic masculinity move the Warriors made in bringing in Rick Welts as the team president after he came out as gay. Most of us remember the NBA standing up to discrimination and hate when it moved the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, NC when the state passed an anti-LGBT bathroom law. Many aren't aware that while a lot of people in the NBA supported this decision, it was the Warriors' Rick Welts who certainly drove the league to act.
Professional athletes aren't perfect, but we love and idolize them because they're winners. They not only triumphed to get to the pro level of sports, they make a living off of beating the bad guys on the other teams once they've arrived. It's an American recipe for major fandom and a multi-billion dollar industry. For people like me who love basketball but sometimes feel sports culture has no place for us because we're queer, the Warriors are beating the bad guys in another way as well. There is a place for us at the table of fans when the players we cheer for, see us. Maybe it's because the Warriors are the premier San Francisco/Bay Area basketball team, and you know, San Francisco is super gay. Or maybe it's because people in pro sports are just changing with the times. Either way, when the Warriors do things like embrace being "soft" while winning championships, it makes people like me, who have been called "soft" because we don't adhere to toxic masculinity, feel included and vindicated. We need all the straight allies in sports we can get, and that is the embodiment of strength in numbers.
*Photo from CSN Bay Area
Some Democrats never felt the Bern. In fact, most did not. While Bernie's magic and zeal ensnared the coveted passions of millennial voters, the majority of Democratic voters did not wish to go along for the ride. Unfortunately, many Democrats did not understand this phenomenon. Subsequently; this ignorance led many pragmatic liberals to underestimate the power of what Bernie Sanders had unearthed. This does not mean to generalize that all Sanders supporters were and are somehow dangerous. It simply means that what Senator Sanders came to bear, also came with great responsibility. Unfortunately for the country, he botched and squandered not only his responsibility but chance to make a difference. This has not stopped many Sanders loyalists from completely flipping this reality into a masterclass in witch burning, accusing Hillary Clinton of ignoring the working class, being crooked, or being unlikable. This would just be silly if it were not so brazenly stupid, given how the Sanders campaign attempted to steal Clinton campaign data, the FEC flagged Sanders' campaign for fishy contributions, the Senator's wife, Jane Sanders, is currently being investigated by the FBI for bank fraud, and Bernie Sanders himself, still refuses to release his tax returns. Sound familiar? And let us not forget how Senator Sanders introduced the nasty word "corrupt" into the 2016 election, smearing Secretary Clinton through innuendo with that stinking, yet effective jab at her for not releasing the contents of her paid speeches. The hypocrisy of this dynamic is breathtaking. Essentially, Bernie Sanders may not have worn a tuxedo to the White House Correspondents' Dinner, but that did not stop him from relishing lobster on a chartered plane to Italy for an excursion his campaign bankrolled. Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton was busy developing public policy and striving to expand the Democratic base in the South. And while that hypocrisy might be unimaginable for some, between the FBI and FEC, it has been the least of Bernie Sanders' problems.
What about the Senator's influence? Sanders flew out to Montanna to stump for the Democratic nominee, Rob Quist, in the special election to replace current Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke's congressional seat. Quist lost to an assaulter who body slammed a reporter. And how about Nebraska's famous anti-abortion candidate, Heath Mello, who Sanders stumped for, alongside DNC Chair Tom Perez? In an NPR piece by Scott Detrow, Sanders claimed: "If we are going to protect a woman's right to choose, at the end of the day we're going to need Democratic control over the House and the Senate, and state governments all over this nation". Perhaps what Sanders meant was that protecting a woman's right to choose in Omaha, Nebraska, must arise with the endorsement of an anti-choice candidate? I still scratch my head at that one. And what about Tim Canova, the Florida professor who was challenging Debbie Wasserman Schultz? Well, he lost too. And let us not forget Zephyr Teachout, another Bernie favorite, who also lost her congressional race against Republican, John Faso. Finally, how about Russ Feingold? Politico's Nolan D. McCaskill reported in a piece that the Sanders campaign thought Feingold should thank Sanders, should he unseat incumbent Republican Senator, Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. Clearly, the Sanders campaign got way ahead of themselves there, but what does this say about Bernie Sanders? His camp assumed all those young Sanders voters were going to turn out for Feingold. The revolution never showed up. What does it say about the "Our Revolution" movement? While there are some winning candidates that Sanders campaigned for, his support has a track record of not going so far in high-profile elections, which must be inconvenient for his brand.
Maybe it is time for Bernie Sanders to sit down. Maybe he should back off a little, and leave the whole Democrat thing to actual Democrats. I only say this because he is not a Democrat. Let us never forget that. Do you allow your neighbor to dictate how you run your home and raise your children? Of course not. Let us not forget how Sanders went back on his pledge to join the party after he lost the nomination to head the party, which brings up another point. Bernie Sanders could not even win himself. Remember that terrible and unrelatable candidate Hillary Clinton? Yeah, she beat the pants off of Bernie Sanders. She beat him by six times the margin she beat Donald Trump in the general election. The point is that in the midst of the passion and frenzied disruption that Senator Sanders poured into progressive politics, he still does not know how to win elections for himself, let alone for other people, which begs the question: why are Democrats still listening to him? Seriously, why? Because of him, a lot of people are still hung up on adhering to the whims of the "working class", dog whistles and all, which surely means, placate white working class voters at the expense of anyone who is not. If you don't buy that, just watch any Sanders town hall hosted by Chris Hayes, and look at disproportionately white representation. The use of this classification, "working class", in our political lexicon has in itself become a dog whistle. I wrote about this in a previous piece going through the exit poll data in the catastrophic aftermath of the November election.
The most glaringly likely cause of this quagmire is fear. Again, Democrats are scared. Democrats are scared to tell Bernie Sanders to take a hike because the party is mortified at what his supporters might do. The cult personality Sanders allowed to blossom gave way to a wave of conspiracy theorists, anarchists, and privilege deniers, calcifying into what we now know as the alt-left. That does not mean to say that every Bernie Sanders voter was a member of a cult, it means the ones who push Seth Rich conspiracy theories alongside Sean Hannity, are cultish. This is where Sanders blew his responsibility and chance to make a difference. He was reckless with the power he amassed. He used it to sew discord, regardless of the disastrous consequences that followed. Every sleazy thing the Russians did had a Sanders campaign echo chamber to pass it around, fermenting the vitriol for Donald Trump to pick up when the primaries ended and the general election began. Anyone who would argue he worked his heart out for the Democratic nominee and establishment candidates would be intellectually dishonest to do so. Sanders seemed OK with a lukewarm movement towards Clinton in the wake of his epic primary loss. How do we know this? He did not turn up the heat himself. It is very convenient to blame Secretary Clinton for not spending as much time in Wisconsin and Michigan, particularly when those states turned out big for Sanders in the primaries. But where was Bernie's role in all this? Why wasn't he out there barn burning on her behalf? It was almost as if he was giving the OK to the #BernieOrBust crowd to make good on their ransom. What did this result in? It was many of his supporters just not showing up in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. I blame his mercurially fickle endorsement of Clinton for this. And since November 8, it has been the "I told you so" attitude he, his surrogates, and many supporters gleamed with that has illuminated their sentiments. It was his refusal to share his donor list with the DNC. It has been his trolling of establishment candidates through endorsing primary opponents to their left. This is not coalition building, it is self-serving, childish, revenge politics.
The complete disregard for the consequences of his behavior is exactly why Democrats need to stop feeling the Bern. Sanders blew it and Dems know it. The party needs to collectively stand up to the anti-reality, alt-left. In the same way liberals were sharing all those think pieces on social media about how to deal with your Trump loving friends and family; we need to do the same with those individuals who sabotaged Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine from the left.
If Democrats want to start winning, they cannot simply rely on anti-Trumpism to carry them into office. If Democrats are serious about taking back the House in 2018, they need to let this white working class thing go. It is not just tacky and racist, it is ineffective. The Democratic Party has always stood up for the working class. If working class voters, particularly white working class voters went for Trump, it was not because the Democrats did not have a message for them. It was not "economic anxiety" either. And continuing to play make-believe will lead to more Rob Quist losses. A cowboy chicken match with Republicans is one Democrats will always lose, but that is because Republicans care more about aesthetic than policy. That does not mean cowboys do not have a place in the Democratic Party; it means that black and brown Americans, LGBTQ Americans, and women matter too.
Even if Democrats looked at potential political success through a purely amoral lens, prioritizing multicultural and diverse perspectives at the forefront of the progressive movement will lead the party to victory. This is not just conjecture. It has proven to be successful before. It worked for Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and it looked like it was going to work for Hillary Clinton, that is, until Susan Sarandon, James Comey, Trump, and the Russians completely changed the rules in the middle of the game. Focusing on building a multicultural coalition, or just adding to the Obama coalition (what a novel idea), would make life so much easier for Democrats. Ignoring the work of the previous president is not only is an insult to him, it is self-sabotage. Any attempt to rebrand the Democratic Party as a white working class party is beneath the dignity of its legacy. And while party has changed so much throughout American history, the one truth it has always stood for, from Jackson to Obama, is the power of the common man. What has guided Democrats into the light of progress is the expansion of who the "common man" is. Today, the common man may not even be a man. She could be a black mother and business owner whose family goes back to our nation's founding. The common man could be a gender non-conforming, queer person who watches NFL football games AND RuPaul's Drag Race. The common man could be the Dreamer who wants to join the military and serve the country she loves. The common man could be the suburban, middle class, white man who just wants to make enough money to send his kids to college.
Why would Democrats, particularly under the leadership of Tom Perez, allow the party to succumb to the bullying of those outside of it who wish to rebrand it as a white working class party? Perhaps this question is cynical, but what other conclusion is there to draw when the leader of this movement categorically defends Trump voters in response to racist, sexist, and homophobic behavior with, "I don't think they're racists, sexists or homophobes"? What does that even mean? The data clearly paints a completely different picture. Trump voters and Republicans have been polled for a while now. However unsettling this may be, it is important to point out that this does not mean to suggest that every single Trump voter was a bigot. It just means that voting bigots likely went for Trump. Why would Bernie Sanders spend political capital going to bat for these individuals? Does he defend black women that way? Latinx immigrants? Muslims? The disabled? I do not have a subscription to Bernie Sanders magazine, and while I believe he probably supports many of these groups in his heart, why is he seeming to salivate at the opportunity to peel off some of Trump's supporters at the expense of who makes up the Democratic Party? And why does he even think that will work? Why is he not holding those same town halls with Chris Hayes, seeking the advice of underrepresented minorities? Why is he not using his platform to talk about institutional racism and how to fight it? Why is it always about coal miners, teeth grinding at Wall St., and posturing alongside white, blue collar men? Of course, when people of color, black women, in particular, were coming through for Hillary Clinton in the primary, Senator Sanders went from his current aesthetic to deploying those Martin Luther King Jr. era photos of him marching in the 60s. But now that the primary is over, he is back to town halls with lots of white faces. He is back to bucking questions about race away and wriggling his way into reshaping them into answers about "economic anxiety". How courageous. Bernie Sanders is not trying to expand his base, he is cementing its confinement by chasing Trump voters, and that is a disasterous strategy for the Democratic Party.
Therein lies the problem. Democrats should let Trump voters be Trump voters. Let them vote for their racist, sexual assaulting, savior in peace. Democrats can try to speak to Trump's base, but not at the expense of our base. Not even a little bit. I love President Obama with all my heart, but I am sorry, we do live in two Americas. We are in the middle of a culture war, and Democrats will lose politically until they try to win morally. If the party wants to survive, it has to heed Hillary Clinton's warning and recognize the power of the alt-right and white nationalism. And Democrats have to go even further by recognizing the overlap between the alt-right and the alt-left. Democrats must believe the bigots when they reveal themselves. Donald Trump did not get the Klan vote on accident, and those are not ghost costumes either. America is dealing with hardened, racist monsters who exploit the fears and cultural anxieties of white Americans who do not necessarily ride at night. President Trump is merely a symptom of an ignored rot that has infected its way into the highest levels of government. The Democratic Party is the only viable option to fight back. Democrats have the numbers. The troops are in plenty. Democrats have a political army of black women, black men, queer people and young people, Muslims, Jews, Latinx and Asian Americans, Native Americans, and yes, white women and men who love everyone on the list because they are all beautifully American. Democrats need to listen to these voices. They need to let these folks take up space and call shots within the party. If white America knows anything about the "other", it is the other's power of creativity, resilience, and survival.
If the Democratic Party is truly the gumbo party of everybody, why not let non-whites have more control? Democrats can start this process by resisting the fetishization of the white working class, and that starts with putting some cream on the Bern until we feel it no more. This is now about the survival of our democracy. I won't even go into Russia and the Trump campaign, but the picture is clear. This is serious. I am sure some Bernie supporters might feel condescended in my suggestion that they did not take this as seriously as they should have, and I am sure many thought they did, but in the symbolic way they might have supported the disruption of the Democratic National Convention or went full-on #BernieOrBust after their candidate lost, I say to them now, too bad. If you did not support Hillary in November or continue to bash the DNC because your candidate lost, I would like you to think about all the people you threw under the bus in doing so, because there is blood on your hands. Trump is real. He is the president. We are lucky the GOP has been incompetent thus far, but should Trump survive scandal and their draconian bills start rolling into the Oval Office, life will be very different for a lot of people if it is not already. And what is most sick and cruel about Trump and the Republican Party, is that includes white working class voters as well. This is not some revenge of the establishment exercise in grandstanding, it is an acknowledgement of reality.
All I am saying is listen to the voices who have called this from the beginning. If I could compile this prescription into one, tangible recipe for success, I'd say, listen to black women. Follow their leadership, voting patterns, experiences, and concerns. The Democratic Party will be better for it. Black women have been the most loyal base of the Democratic Party. Black women led the spirit behind the Civil Rights Movement and carried Democrats to victory in election after election. That does not mean everyone else is irrelevant, it means, if we are going to be honest about how we look for leadership, let us please, please, please, give more black women the reins. Yes, there is room for everybody to make a difference, but Democrats have allowed white progressivism to call too many shots, and it is not working, clearly. If this sounds like an embracement of identity politics, that is because it is. Identity politics has existed ever since we recognized we were different from each other as children. Perhaps, embracing our diverse and complex identities is the unique kind of politics that can save America.
I am sure the Bern was a cathartically incredible experience. Believe me, Barack Obama was the first person I ever campaigned and voted for. I understand that love. But what Bernie is doing is different. He is not only hurting Democrats; he is hurting America. It's time to stop feeling the Bern; it has caused enough damage to our republic.
Step aside, Bernie Sanders, step aside.
*Photo From Queerty*
What a macabre exercise in irony it will be when Disney commissions its "Imagineers" to build an animatronic Donald Trump for its Hall of Presidents. Will it grope Abe Lincoln? Randomly kick out a patron? We are going to have to ask ourselves a lot of questions in the coming weeks, months and years, but let's start with a basic one; What the hell happened on election night?
America got in the car, handed the keys to the driver, then the doors locked. The sky turned orange outside the windows; thunderstorms began converging in the air and suddenly, like a nightmare, the car elongated backward, trapping us inside a vehicular funhouse. And just like in the movie, Freddy Kreuger was the driver, but instead of scaring us into fearing him, he's trying to convince us to fear Mexicans, Blacks, Muslims, powerful women and anyone else he doesn't like. By the time Hillary conceded to President-elect Donald J. Trump, Democrats had to finally accept our country's collective throwback to the old days. Conservatives realized that no, Hillary Clinton had not "rigged" the election, and liberals were reminded that the only way you could prove you weren't a witch was to be drowned.
The doom and gloom of what a Trump presidency prescribes for the country are unknown at this time. The best liberals and Democrats can hope for is that Trump lied to his supporters and won't enact the dictatorial, draconian nightmare he promised the nation. Now we're left with defeated reflection. Everything we thought we knew about polling, GOTV and messaging was wrong. It wasn't just off the mark; it was existentially flawed. It was so bad that now, we're stuck with a tawdry jingo in President-elect Trump.
Why did this happen? There has been a knee-jerk, flash autopsy among some liberals and Democrats on why Secretary Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election. The most common theme I'm hearing is that Clinton failed to appeal to working class America. It has a nice ring to it. It's perfectly melodramatic and novelistically tragic. It sounds cowboyish, which is a comforting feeling for Democrats after we're always made to feel spayed and neutered by Republicans because we're not as good at pretending to spit chew and kick our spurs as they are. Many Democrats, from disaffected Bernie supporters to the pundit class are jumping down that rabbit hole. Should we go with them? No, because not only is it nonsense, it's offensive.
Let's look at the data. Clinton won incomes under $50,000 by about 10%. Trump won every other income demographic. He won the majority of Americans making $50K-$99K, $100K-$199K, $200K-$249K and $250K or more. He won these groups by a respective average of about 2%. In an election where unemployment is at 4.9% with 80 consecutive months of job growth, totaling 15.5 million private sector jobs, $2.20 per gallon gas prices, a stock market up 120.6% since President Obama took office and a record median household income growth of 5.2% to $56,616, the concept of economic anxiety existing as what pushed Trump over the finish line falls flat to me. Those in economic brackets that would feel the most pain of an economy not working for them supported Clinton by a larger margin than any economic bracket that supported Trump.
Therein lies the paradox of popular liberal punditry and reality. President-elect Trump won white college graduates by 4%, and whites without a degree by 39%. Secretary Clinton won nonwhite college graduates by 48% and nonwhites without degrees by 55%. The idea of economic anxiety being the key to winning over the working class seems to present two factions with conflicting ideas of reality within the working class: a white working class and a nonwhite working class. How is it that nonwhites who might feel economic pain, supported Clinton, yet whites in the same position supported Trump? I think the answer lies in the next part of the exit polls.
In cities with populations over 50,000, Clinton beat Trump by 24%. But in the suburbs, he beat her by 5%. And here's the whopper; Trump beat Clinton in rural America by 28%. Now, those margins aren't necessarily incomprehensible by any means, but when you factor in turnout, they proved deadly for Clinton's chances at becoming the 45th president of the United States. Turnout for Trump in rural counties throughout the country threw a pipe in Clinton's bike wheel. Take Florida for example. Jane Musgrave and Mike Stucka at the Palm Beach Post report that in Pinellas, Lee, Pasco, Sarasota and Manatee counties on the western coast of the state, about 112,000 more votes were added to Trump's tally than were added to Governor Mitt Romney's in 2012. Rick Reitzel of NBC4 in Ohio, reported that Delaware County, where 75% of the population turned out to vote, went for Trump by a 16% margin. These were only a few of many rural parts of the country who delivered a similar blow to the Democratic ticket.
I don't think these numbers reveal economic anxiety. I don't think President-elect Donald J. Trump "tapped into" the money woes of working people. Trump lost working people. He lost them by 10%. He might have won white incomes under $50,000, but think about that. Trump didn't win in the cities. The data suggests that whites living in rural areas were more likely to support Trump than whites residing in the city. He won the presidency in rural America and the suburbs, particularly the former. By its geographic nature, rural America is isolated. In fact, that's what many folks like about it. This separation can create an opportunity for someone who has a compelling message for the community, and if executed precisely and correctly, it becomes a tough block to crack if you're on the other end of the argument.
The margins within the data suggest President-elect Trump won lower incomes in rural areas, and higher incomes everywhere else. What sizable group of voters lives in rural stretches and makes less money, but also lives in the suburbs and makes more money? White voters. Trump won whites by 21%, similar to Romney's margin in 2012. However, this time they turned out in even higher numbers in some counties, lop-siding the figures so much that while a birds-eye view of the data might seem to reveal traditional turnout, the micro-minutia unveils a phenomena too many liberals and Democrats would like to ignore. Trump appealed to a racist, misogynistic, deplorable sentiment in America that romanticizes antebellum tradition and "heritage". We all read his tweets and watched the speeches. We saw what he was doing, but we passed it off as a joke that would never operate. Well, it worked, which leads me to my next point.
Democrats stayed home this election. We were missing a good 4,000,000 votes. Brendan Smialowski of the Detroit Free Press, which called Michigan for Clinton, before rescinding their projection, reports how in the state of Wisconsin, Clinton only won voters under 30 by 4%, compared to Obama's colossal 23%. In Milwaukee, an unassailable bastion of Democratic votes, Clinton received 27,000 fewer votes than Obama did in 2012. The same fate occurred in Michigan, where Detroit cast 50,000 fewer votes for her than it did for Obama when he faced Romney. Clinton lost Michigan by 12,000 votes, and Wisconsin by 27,000. She lost Pennsylvania by 68,000 votes and Florida by 120,000, states affected by a similar turnout deficit. Smialowski goes on to reveal how in Wisconsin, Romney won whites without a college degree by 8% in 2012. Trump won them by 28%, and after all the votes had been counted, Trump won rural voters by 29%. He won the supermajority of the counties in Wisconsin. About a quarter of its voters who supported Clinton said: "life will be worse for the next generation" compared to 59% of voters who supported Trump. That is a snapshot of two Americas. Two realities, one which President-Elect Trump was able to incite, feed and cosset with xenophobic resentment, racism and misogyny.
Unfortunately, Democrats still didn't vote. We lost key states because our base didn't turn out. Many fault third party candidates, and while that blame is well deserved and infuriating, the daggers ultimately lie in the chamber of enthusiasm. Why weren't people excited about Hillary Clinton? Sure, she wasn't President Obama who is a living force of political nature out of a Gore Vidal novel, but she didn't have to be. She had her own personal appeal. She was everyone's mother or grandmother. She was the kind lady who always brought the best potato salad to the church's Easter party in a gaudy pantsuit. She was the teacher you loved because she deemed herself hip and cool, an endearment that made you always behave. She was funny, witty, and a walking "yaahs" meme. What was the problem? Why did so many people choose to sit this one out? Why did the 22-year-old potential voter from Arizona I phone banked say when asked if she was still supporting Hillary Clinton, "uhhh, ya? ... mhm"? Did Hillary Clinton not try to reach out to her? Yes, the campaign was focusing on Florida, North Carolina and Ohio more so than Wisconsin and Michigan, but there is a difference between taking states for granted and honing in on battlegrounds. Clinton didn't visit California hardly at all, but she cleaned Donald Trump's fraudulent clock in the sunshine state. So what the hell happened?
The Clinton campaign wasn't perfect, but it definitely wasn't this bad. I think some of us are overlooking what has been glaring us in the face since she stood on the stage in Philadelphia and accepted the Democratic nomination. Hillary Clinton is a woman. Not only that, she's endured over 30 years of character assassination by a feckless, vapid cesspool of fear and chauvinism by the Republican Party. And let's not forget the deadly sin of sending electronic mail. The media's complacency and even encouragement of the witch-hunt and slow motion auto-da-fé of this qualified and talented woman are exactly why the American people were subject to a year-long negative ad that looped on repeat. With the exception of Lincoln, no person running for office in the history of this country has ever been subjected to such contempt and scorn. And despite this onslaught of vitriol, she still won the popular vote, while losing the Electoral College.
Let's not forget about how the Russian government led by a Trump-loving KGB tyrant, hacked the DNC's emails and laundered the stolen property through Wikileaks who released email by email, exposing absolutely no criminal activity whatsoever, but the personal and private dealings and conversations among Democratic operatives. Let's not forget about FBI Director James Comey and how the bureau was strategically leaking information to the press and the Trump campaign about the fake scandal surrounding her email server. Rudy Giuliani, a frontrunner for President-elect Trump's pick for Attorney General, bragged on national television that he was being fed privileged information from the FBI about their "investigation" into Hillary Clinton. When Director Comey released that turd-bomb letter to the Republican leadership in Congress, the pixels on their smartphones hadn't even lit up before the "story" and narrative was fed to the press who covered it like the death of Michael Jackson for an entire week. How did that affect the race? Back to the data. Voters who decided on a candidate in the last week went for Donald Trump by 12%. That is huge.
While turnout problems can be attributed to an enthusiasm gap, I think Democrats would be making an error to throw all the blame in that box. This election marked the first in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. Since the Supreme Court of the United States literally declared that racism was virtually over when it gutted the VRA in Shelby County v. Holder, in a 5-4 decision, Republican-controlled state houses and governors had been able to have an unchecked bacchanal with suppressing minority voters. The VRA specifically required federal approval for changes in voting laws in the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. After the decision by the Supreme Court to gut that specific provision, we saw voter ID laws pop up in five of those nine states. In others, enforced voter suppression laws either remained or were added to the books. These states include Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. This type of constitutional intimidation and sabotage of communities of color, who traditionally support Democrats has been a consorted effort by Republican lawmakers all over the country. What's most horrifying is how nonchalantly cavalier they are about their work. Jamelle Bouie from The Daily Beast wrote in a piece that in 2012, Pennsylvania's Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai bragged that voter ID laws would "allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania." Florida's GOP chairman Jim Green was quoted by the Palm Beach Post saying that "early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates... we've got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us". That's a real statement. Republican lawmakers have been telling us who they are and we needed to have believed them. President-elect Donald J. Trump was able to capitalize on these laws and further drive down Clinton's numbers in pivotal swing states.
Secretary Hillary Clinton did not lose the presidency because she ignored white people. She just refused to hobnob with hatred, perhaps to her detriment. She declined to placate cultural resentment and fear. She chose hope, plurality, inclusion, love and kindness as her message. In light of what the data suggest, arguing that Clinton and the Democratic Party "didn't do enough" to corral the white working class, is hackish at best. It's an argument that ignores a stinking reality we didn't need exit polls to smell. President-elect Donald J. Trump has been spewing hatred from day one. The fact that Democrats and liberals are now rushing to "understand" the "economic anxiety" of folks whose Twitter photos are confederate flags is not only an ignorant and avoidable mistake; it's an insult to the millions of black and brown voters who actually did turn out for Hillary Clinton on November 8, 2016.
Let's face reality and borrow a little aggressive, "real-talk" from our future President, Mr. Trump. Racism, misogyny, xenophobia and know-nothingism prevailed in this election. And it happened because Democrats ignored it. We abandoned our current president when he needed us to support him and the Affordable Care Act in 2009-2010. Instead, we ran away from him, sprinting on a path that sent us face first into a big, red brick wall that knocked us on our donkey-asses and sent us back into the minority in Congress. We better learn and we better learn quick, because President-elect Trump doesn't seem like a guy who's just kidding. He might have been a joke to us, but the ink from the pen he uses to sign every piece of legislation the Republicans send him, is real. Obamacare is now on the line. Reproductive rights and marriage equality are on the line. The Supreme Court is on the line and is probably gone. The change and progress we achieved over the last eight years is on the line. It no longer hangs in the balance; the scale tipped to Trump. It's now completely in the hands of the far right.
What do we do now? We have to #MakeAmericaHopeAgain. We carry an obligation to ground ourselves in the valuable truth of hope. We have to mobilize like never before. President Obama told us in 2008, "in the unlikely story that is American; there has never been anything false about hope". Democrats are the ones who need to come home. We need to wake up and actually fight the very hatred that won on election night, not pretend it wasn't real. We can't fall into the trap of rebranding it as "economic anxiety" or "whites being left behind". We need to take responsibility for our failings as a party. We have to acknowledge that we abandoned our base a long time ago. Democrats didn't fail white America; the party failed the Obama coalition. Hillary Clinton made a strong effort to win back the trust of African Americans, Latinos and the rust belt, but we were too late.
Now, Democrats need to start doing what we do best; think of the future. Plan. Invent new strategy, commission a new, invigorated generation of consultants and thinkers who can take our party into tomorrow. If we don't, we aren't worthy of the power we seek. We are on the verge of codifying our organization as having been unworthy of the Obamas, and many already feel that way. We need to return to our values as progressives and think big again. It's imperative that we remember who we are. We are Democrats, but only if we can keep our principles.
*Photo from ExtraNewsFeed
Thursday evening, August 6, 2015, was an anticipated night at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. FOX News, serving as the moderating host with Megyn Kelly, Brett Baier and Chris Wallace, was set to reveal an epic showcase of seventeen Republican candidates running for the highest office in the land in what became a battle royal more akin to a professional wrestling, Pay-Per-View event than a traditional presidential primary. The very first question posed to Donald Trump was from Megyn Kelly; “You’ve called women you don't like, ‘fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals’. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?” To the surprise of some (me, not one of them), the audience in the arena cheered and hollered versus yielding boos and heckles. Trump responded with a thinly veiled threat to Kelly; “If you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably, maybe, not be, based on the way you’ve treated me, but I wouldn’t do that”. Of course, that statement was a lie. Trump’s threat to Megyn Kelly came to fruition when he called into Don Lemon’s show on CNN the following evening, declaring, “I have no respect for her (Kelly)… you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her ‘wherever’…” According to The Donald, Kelly’s debate question was the product of her menstrual cycle rather than Trump’s past choices to bombastically insult women he didn’t like.
Despite Trump's support among Republican voters, there has been a consorted effort within the party, made up of Trump’s supporters and detractors, to rebrand his message and aesthetic as antithetical to conservatism and the true character of the GOP. The problem with this worldview is that Donald Trump won his party’s nomination with 45% of all votes cast in the Republican Primary, only 2% lower than Senator John McCain’s portion in his 2008 primary win. It’s also important to note that 90% of Republican voters support Trump now that he is the nominee. In the wake of the new audio of Donald Trump bragging about committing sexual assault by how he can “grab her (women) by the p***y”, it’s conceivable that number could drop, but most pundits don’t see it dipping anywhere lower than 80%. The Republican establishment (what’s left of it), along with even more radical hard-liners have been spinning like music box ballerinas to fasten an asterisk next to Trump’s name within the GOP. They would have us believe that Trump is an aberration who hijacked their party versus a democratically elected Republican candidate for president. Unfortunately for their strategy, he is the latter.
Donald Trump is no exception to Republicanism. The faux-shock and awe of Republicans to Trump’s demonstratively deplorable behavior and positioning is something we should take note of and prosecute. For decades, the GOP has courted factions of hate into the party, from the anti-LGBT and anti-choice Christian Right to white nationalists like David Duke, who’s running as a Republican for Louisiana’s open Senate seat, to the birther driven Tea Party. The legislative ambition of this increasingly unbecoming tent is no rogue chapter in American history either. The legacy of the post-Eisenhower Republican Party is fundamentally consistent with everything that is Donald Trump. From the hard right beeline towards embracing southern segregation in the 1960s to the intentional and deliberate neglect of the AIDS crisis during the 1980s, the Republican Party set itself up to pave its way for future radicalism. The historic empathy gap within the GOP made extremism, timeless. After President Obama’s election, the GOP began a new chapter in governing… still on brand, just with new tactics: obstructionism, know-nothingism and unapologetic hatred. The media surely didn’t help matters either. When newspapers, pundits and magazines weren’t complicit, they were outright culpable in their nourishment of the Republican Party’s behavior. When the GOP began embracing the Tea Party (even electing many of its members) and fanning birtherism, the media would simply report it as if it were a standard, debatable assertion. When Republican lawmakers thwarted efforts to pass equal pay for women and refused even to entertain the idea of comprehensive immigration reform, news outlets found it more propitious to report these stories as defeats for Democrats. This led to segments and op-eds on why President Obama and the Democratic Party are incapable of “working with Republicans" to pass legislation. When the GOP worked to gut the Voting Rights Act and implement as many anti-voting laws as possible, the media spent more time covering riots and looting than it did covering the fact that Republicans pushing for voter I.D. were operating under false statistics. When the GOP began perpetuating myths about “death panels” in the Affordable Care Act, the media not only reported it without any scrutiny, journalists balked at the idea that they should. This attitude was illustrated by Meet the Press host, Chuck Todd when he went on MSNBC’s Morning Joe in 2010, to say “It’s the President’s fault for not selling it (ACA)”. It was as if the media had zero responsibility in correcting misinformation perpetuated by Republicans. When President Obama and Democrats would invite GOP members to the negotiating table in good faith, Republicans RSVPd with a middle finger and the gall to position themselves to the American people as victims of tyranny, and guess who reported the latter as the real story? The media. As the press increasingly handled the truth as subjective, the goal of the Republican Party became clear: burn everything down until we win back the White House. When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Heritage Foundation in 2010, “Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term”, it was clear the Republicans had decided to dedicate their efforts to disloyally oppose the administration. As the Tea Party flourished, even establishing an official congressional caucus, this style of governing is how some of its members made names for themselves. After the 2008 and 2012 elections, Republicans decided their problems weren't policy based but rather, messaged based. They didn't want to ditch the extremism; they just wanted to do a better job at selling it while never compromising on anything. While some Republicans objected, the majority went along for the ride and their base sanctioned the move.
The Republican Party has a modus operandi they have been operating on for a while. When Donald Trump says that pregnancy is an “inconvenience” to employers or that Rosie O’Donnell deserved to be called a “fat pig”, it should come as no surprise. Remember, the initial question Megyn Kelly asked Trump during the first GOP debate was precisely about this insult, and the audience rejoyced. Why did they cheer? Perhaps it was because they finally had a candidate who would resolutely stand up for the culture behind the party's legacy of discriminatory public policy. Trump's ideas aren't secrets but sooner are the driving force of his appeal. Republican voters have finally found a candidate who agrees with them. And through his success thus far, he has legitimized hatred and unveiled the shame of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia. Trump could never have gotten to this place if it weren't for a fitting promenade, anointed and smoothed for him to travel down. In this way, Donald Trump was perfect for the Republican Party because the Republican Party was perfect for Donald Trump.
The Donald’s ability to annihilate his sixteen opponents was a product of his fundamental and unapologetic adherence to Republican values. While not all Republicans are bigots, it’s no coincidence that voters who chose a bigot to represent the Republican Party were in fact, Republicans. Donald Trump is the Republican nominee because the GOP is the only party that would have him. The candidacies of his opponents highlight this chilling reality. Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin championed union-busting and voter I.D. laws that targeted black and brown communities. Dr. Ben Carson said being gay was a “choice” that would pave the way towards legal pedophilia and bestiality. Senator Ted Cruz has said, “(in) The last 15 years, there has been no recorded (global) warming”. Even Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a bill outlawing state-funded rape crisis organizations from providing abortion references. While the list goes on with these candidates, what separated Donald Trump from the pack was his direct case to Republican voters that his opponents were phonies and imposters, too politically correct and not harsh enough on the issues to “get stuff done”. Trump cited his business and “deal-making” experience as his credentialed qualifications to make policy come to fruition. Trump’s entire argument was that he alone would be able to determine and enact policy that spoke to his voters and the Republican Party as a whole.
How anyone could buy the argument that Donald Trump’s rise to power was unpredictable or out of place within the context of the legacy of the modern GOP, is fatuous. The Republicans have been trying for years to push almost everything that Donald Trump is calling for, just in more covert ways. They have used dog whistles whereas Trump uses a bullhorn. The people like a bullhorn. Republican voters felt hopeful in supporting Trump over his opponents because through him; they were able to speak directly to their private desires and sentiments, no longer having to keep them quiet or pretend to feel like they don’t want to ban Muslims from America or deport Mexican immigrants. They didn't just vote for the man who happened to propose a Muslim-ban and a mass deportation force; they did so because of those proposals, and Republican establishment knows it, which makes the trove of Republicans withdrawing endorsements from Donald Trump, feckless and ironically, undemocratic. Republicans can unendorse Trump but why did they support him in the first place? If Trump’s strategy was successful (which it was), how could other Republicans have come to power within the ranks of the party without similar exploitations of their bases? If they represent the same populace as Trump, how does Donald Trump have 90% of Republican voter support? How is it compatible for millions of voters to support a prejudiced candidate because of his bigoted proposals while simultaneously supporting other Republican lawmakers who now oppose Trump because of those bigotries?
Are there millions of amnesiac Republican voters in America? Is this an anomalistic double standard of historic proportion? The GOP would have us think so, but I don't buy it. When Secretary Clinton described half of Trump’s supporters as being in the category of "a basket of deplorables”, she was almost correct. She has since apologized for that characterization, though she shouldn’t have. Her statement wasn’t morally wrong; it was factually wrong, given that she underestimated her statistic. The truth is that about 66% of Trump supporters believe President Obama is a Muslim, according to PPP. While Republican lawmakers may not like the way this makes them look, they don’t seem to mind appealing to these same voters in down-ballot elections. The most reasonable conclusion I can come to is that denouncing Trump is panicked posturing meant to salvage as many down-ballot candidates having to run in the same election as him.
I don’t buy the Republican outrage over his most recent, lewd comments caught on tape. I don’t buy the collective Republican epiphany that Donald Trump is an anathema, completely incongruent to Republicanism. Are we all to believe that suddenly Trump doesn’t represent Republican values because a piece of audio over a decade old revealed him saying vile things about women? Was it not vile when he said Rosie O’Donnell deserved to be called a “fat pig”? Was that not a vile comment about a woman? Was it not vile when he continued to assert that the Central Park 5 should be executed even though DNA evidence had exonerated them? Was it not vile when he attacked Heidi Cruz's looks? Or how about when he said John McCain wasn’t a war hero because was captured? What did the Republicans think of Trump’s harangues over the years, fanning the lie that President Obama was not born in the United States? Why didn't the GOP condemn this behavior? Perhaps the reason is that many of those same Republicans perpetuated the same racist lie about the President. Perhaps it's due in part to Republicans not understanding that rape is rape and "legitimate rape" is not a thing. Perhaps it has something to do with the systemic neglect and undermining of black America and its sovereignty from the poisoning of Flint, Michigan residents to discriminatory voter I.D. laws, all overseen and codified by Republican lawmakers. The picture is accurate, but the GOP is attempting to gaslight America with a historically revisionist defense mechanism that only makes Donald Trump’s point; Republicans have failed their base because of political correctness and a reluctance to embrace the hard-right policy that would purify the party.
Donald Trump has always been an Orwellian nightmare. He's made a career out of branding himself, priming him to successfully win the GOP nomination. Pretending Donald Trump isn’t the candidate Republican voters have waited for and been craving for some time is even more embarrassing than not defeating him. The GOP created this mayhem, and they will have to suffer the political consequences if we choose to hold them accountable. The election is in a month. The Republican Party is Donald Trump, and Donald Trump is the Republican Party, just more vulgar. This isn’t rocket science, its basic political science.
Donald Trump is a liar of the likes we have never seen before at the presidential level. He’s branded a type of speed-lying that serves as an ambush to anyone who could possibly scrutinize what he says while simultaneously coming across as a bastion of knowledge to those who look to find it only through him. His debate performance, while incoherently infantile, was no exception to this strategy. In many ways, it almost seems difficult to lie as much as he does. Either way, he’s certainly forcing his campaign to put in work just to keep up with everything that comes out of his mouth.
From Trump’s rambling harangues to his jingo lingo, Secretary Hillary Clinton has no choice but to treat him like a formidable opponent lest she succumb to the star of THE APPRENTICE winning the White House. That would not only humiliate her, it could mark the beginning of the unraveling of our country. Fortunately for us, she’s no stranger to political wit and effective strategy. Clinton managed to not only remind us of how terrible Trump is, she conveyed a steadfast recipe of public policy, packaged palpably to all Americans. In other words, she did her job.
When Trump quintupled down on his vicious attack in calling Rosie O’Donnell a “fat pig”, instead of pivoting away to virtually anything else, he dug his heels in that cow pie by adding that “she deserves it!”. We know Trump has an 8-ball for a brain and thankfully Hillary Clinton knows it as well, which is how and why she was able to let Trump be Trump; all he needed to do was find a shovel to dig his own debate grave.
Secretary Clinton managed to hit the Donald on his loans, housing discrimination, birtherism, multiple bankruptcies, deadbeatness and even served a late September, October surprise with the bombshell story on his sexist, racist, harassment of a Latina, former Ms. Universe winner, who he fat-shamed and called “Ms. Housekeeping”. When she wasn’t highlighting the stark differences in humanity between herself and Trump, she made the case for her own plan for the future. She reiterated how the United States must catch up to the rest of the world with paid family leave. She promoted profit sharing for employees who actually make the goods that bring money into the companies they work for. She proposed a progressive tax system where the rich will end paying more so that we can rebuild the country, finance projects that create jobs, rebuild schools and invest in renewable energy, a solution to the globally existential threat of climate change which Trump calls a “Chinese hoax” (he later deleted that tweet after the debate). Hillary Clinton actually gave us a reasonable, tangible and robust plan. That’s what prepared and qualified presidential candidates do.
While she is doing everything she can to earn our support, it’s important that we also do our part in holding Donald Trump accountable. We need to not only vote for Secretary Clinton, we need to have tough conversations with each other, our conservative uncle, our friends, neighbors, and even ourselves if we are on the fence with third party candidates, or God forbid, Trump. Records matter; we need to remember that while Clinton was Secretary of State, US exports increased by 30%. She has laid down the ground work and proposed an even more extensive intelligence surge in our fight against ISIL and global terrorism. She wants to continue the progress we’ve made against ISIL in the Levant. In the last twelve months, the Islamic State has lost half of its territory in Iraq and 40% of all its territory, pushing it further and further toward the Syrian border, increasing its constriction. The current administration, which endorses her, is facilitating the pressure that has caused ISIL to lose control of Tikrit, Ramadi and most likely, Mosul, by early October, their largest occupation. It’s important to note that crime in America is down to half of what it was in 1991. It’s important to know that in 2015, the United States exported more oil than it had imported. It’s important to note that Secretary Clinton used the debate to argue her case to the American people, not to plug golf courses and new hotel projects. The difference between the two candidates couldn’t be more clear and there is a lot to be proud of in the work Clinton has done over her career and as Secretary of State.
While we should remain hopeful toward our chances of defeating Trump, we should be hungry to elect Secretary Clinton. This election is not a decision between two evils, it’s between good and evil. It’s between progress and tired, failed policies. As James Carville writes in his new book, WE’RE STILL RIGHT AND THEY'RE STILL WRONG, it’s between a legacy of American GDP growing 30% faster under Democrats and 25% slower under Republicans. This election is not just about rejecting the vitriolic hatred of a candidate propped up by a base that believes President Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya. This election is about showing the world and ourselves that we still can work toward becoming the reflection of our better angels.
*Photo from Breitbart
Does the repeated attack on Hillary Clinton—asserting "she'll do or say anything for power" exist because of her womanhood? No man has ever been seriously challenged on that front. Is our obsession with the tabloidesque destruction of her candidacy through this feckless and unfair accusation a demonstration of something deeper? Is it a patriarchal demon creeping up to a boiling point that we are now having to address? It may be that our culture's antiquated lust for the perceived preservation of female "purity", rooted in misogynistic traditions tracing back to our origins might in fact be at battle with our natural human inclinations towards progress.
Are we uneasy with seeing a woman roll her sleeves up and make a choice to engage in a realm historically dominated by men? Why? Does that make her "dirty"? Do we assume that politics and deception are synonymous while we continue to engage politics with that alleged "reality" out of sight and out of mind?
It appears clear that while we address this dichotomy, we are met with having to face a formidable female presidential candidate, which unearths another anxiety—the emasculation of our "traditions", one that we assume is inherently corrupt, and one that a woman like Hillary Clinton seems to dominate. It feels as if this jumble of conflict within ourselves sends our intellect into fight or flight mode, more often the latter. I think we can agree that one of the the most detrimental weaknesses of our society is an inability thus far to shake that blockade to progress that we so desperately covet and need.
The easier path seems to be the one which brands Hillary Clinton and successful women in general as cunning, conniving and inherently wicked. In our struggle with facing this flawed thinking, why do we gravitate towards the worst of its faux implications? Why do we run with our deepest fears of what we believe politics might be, and use them to paint distinguished and successful women as corrupted, megalomaniacal wretches who will stop at nothing to achieve power?
In some ways politics have become more corrupt; but thanks to social media, progressive regulation and oversight, that corruption has become more transparent. While we've known this shift, why have we chosen to address this existential crisis now? And why do we brand the problem as Hillary Clinton? Is it a coincidence? Is it her gender that has brought us to an ethical coming to Jesus? And in that quest, that purge and crusade towards purification, have we not brought back the tradition of witch hunting? And who is the target of this zealotry? Could it be Hillary Clinton, the accomplished woman? Could it be her candidacy for President of the United States? Would we do it to a man in 2016, or is this just misogyny?
*Photo from CNN
Perception is everything. We are influenced by where we live, who we are related to, what restaurants we eat at, where we grocery shop. We learn how to react in the circumstances we find ourselves in, based on the factors of our personal histories. When we witness others going through hard times or even the simple routines of life, we relate because we have similar stories. So as a rule, it would seem that the more each person experiences the complexities of the world, the more likely we are to understand the world through the eyes of each other. We learn empathy.
The ability to empathize is something that matures with time and experience. Some advance quicker than others, depending on our life stories, yet occasionally, we reach road blocks. Inevitably, there will always be experiences we cannot relate to. Some elements of one’s life are inapplicable to that of another. What we do in this dilemma is the catalyst to either developing a normal character trait or a serious character flaw. Here, we debate, “I can either allow myself to be educated by listening to the experience of someone else or l can isolate myself from the situation because it simply will never apply to me”. Unfortunately, many of us choose the latter; the “no homework” version. Who needs to learn art when you do math? Well… you, if you ever want to have a conversation with an artist about art. This is the underlying problem America is facing with our response to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
For generations, racial divides existing everywhere from cultural differences to geographic segregation, have enabled the ever growing isolation of groups. Even after the groundbreaking civil rights accomplishments of the 1960s, segregation, notoriously between Black and white Americans, has been allowed to expand and flourish. Fear, a lack of exposure and sneaky systemic tricks, aimed at keeping both groups separate and homogenous within each other, have not only divided us literally, but convinced many that division does not actually exist. This illusion has more significantly affected white America. Today, white life continues with the same advantages and privileges that whites have historically enjoyed. Whites did not have to struggle for simple rights and privileges, they just always existed. So it makes sense that many would take what they have for granted, unable to see how many of their fellow citizens are fighting to have granted rights.
We know Black America has never enjoyed the smooth train ride that whites have been privileged to have. Keeping with this analogy, the African American train has been thrown in multiple directions, hit bumps, had derailments and needs for repair, meanwhile, whites seem unaware that derailment is a possibility. This is because whites designed the train tracks not only for themselves, but for everyone else. Reconstruction, social programs and the general limits and conditions to which whites were willing to share access to the American Dream were always up to the white establishments that facilitated the progression of history. This has enabled so many to become detached and ignorant to the historic legacy of the foundational sabotage of Black life and progress. The journey ahead for whites was to remain the focus of what became the American Dream, while Blacks were to not only be left behind once the cages of slavery were unlocked, but intentionally and institutionally disenfranchised.
This unfortunate lack of awareness exists because while white America has “learned” about the injustices of the past (although they have transformed and linger today), they never learned about how the white train tracks were built to be smooth from their inception. Too many have failed to understand the intricate, maniacal schemes of superiority and inferiority politics, elevating a platform for which whites can thrive on the existence of something they deem lesser. This has created a present-day milieu where it has become appropriate to assume that since everyone can “have” a train in 2014, if you get derailed, it is your fault. You did something wrong. You have to deal with it on your own. In fact, you might even deserve what happened to you. This “equal playing field” myth, completely ignores a racial dichotomy afflicted by the fact that white America has had a 400-year head start in building its legacy.
The translation of our history has a coy way of impacting contemporary society. When an unarmed teenager is gunned down by police, the immediate universal response, predictably, is sadness. Everyone can empathize with death. It is the only thing guaranteed to all humans, regardless of who we are, from the moment we are born. Where we start to get into trouble is when we ask questions about why Michael Brown died. While we do not know every detail about what happened that day, many of us are aware of the systemic disadvantages People of Color face in America, particularly concerning young, Black males. Back to the train analogy, some of us think, “Hey! I have a train, so do you! Problem solved! Racism is over! Let’s strike down the Voting Rights Act!”. That would make sense and be an appropriate response if it were true.
Michael Brown was born into a society poised to demonize him before he could learn to walk, let alone run from a police officer who was shooting at his back. Michael Brown was born into a society that dehumanized him. When many media outlets were circulating a rhetorical picture of the incidents leading to his death, Michael Brown was often described as charging Officer Darren Wilson like a “bull”, leaving Wilson with no choice but to fatally shoot him. This well exchanged depiction is the posthumous dehumanization of Michael Brown. Being described as a “bull”, an animal, something that is not human, is the kind of character manipulation that makes it easier for many to absorb the shady circumstances of his death. Sure, many people might think that simply describing him as a “bull” is not a deliberate attempt to liken him to an animal for the purpose of dehumanization, but it does not have to be intentional to have the same effect. In doing this, we are having an easier time coping, even if our white privilege prevents us from knowing that is what we are doing.
Now, the fact that such a mechanism exists is evidence that American society, particularly white America is at least subconsciously aware that People of Color are intentionally dealt Jokers while white Americans routinely receive pocket Aces. The fact that we attempt to justify injustice is an indication that somewhere, there is a nerve in the anatomy of America that knows this was a terrible thing that happened. Releasing a sketchy surveillance video of Michael Brown “strong-arm robbing” a convenience store, focusing conversation on him having THC in his system, describing him as a “thug” or a “bull”, spreading photographs of him flipping off cameras or posing provocatively with money and paraphernalia, are all efforts at painting a specific picture of him. These are attempts at redefining him in a way that makes our society feel more comfortable with the fact that he was killed by a member of law enforcement, someone we employ. While Michael Brown may have smoked marijuana, may have shoplifted cigarillos, may have even mouthed off to a cop or two, it is highly unlikely that he indulged in the vices of youth in a way that young whites do not. But when we paint a thick-brushed image of Michael Brown as being nothing but vice, he is no longer someone we can address with. He becomes a caricature and an archetype, defined by white America. He becomes a monster, and dead monsters do not make people feel as bad as dead kids.
So why do we do this? Why is there a sharp divide in the public from social media to casual conversation, where whites seem more inclined to be comfortable with the idea of Michael Brown, the “thug”, versus Michael Brown, the unarmed, eighteen-year-old, gentle-giant? There is no way to answer that concisely, but a major element here is insecurity.
White America is insecure. As Attorney General Eric Holder put it in 2009, “Americans are afraid to talk about race”. What he was truly saying was that white Americans are afraid to talk about race. It is not that only whites are afraid of getting into it, but that nonwhites often find themselves without a choice. Too many whites, young and old, are afraid to confront the skeletons of American history that haunt society today. Too many are afraid to confront and be honest about their own prejudice and privilege. This is what I have always believed “white guilt” to be. White America’s inability to deal with it responsibly thus far has caused insecurity and subsequent hostility towards any reference to racism being an issue or factor in anything. Forget having an in depth discussion about race. We pretend that everyone has a fair shot at success, opportunity is equally available, cultural appropriation is just a “Blackademic” talking point and that Black people just “complain too much”. Pretending that we all live in this utopia is not only dishonest, it allows the travesties of the past and present to fester and grow. Getting real with ourselves and our society does not feel too good, but guess what? Too bad.
White folks are going to have to get over the “#WhitePeopleProblems” of feeling sad and blue when discussing race. Whites should realize that in feeling uncomfortable, upset, even angry with the system and themselves, they are actually being a part of the solution, because they are being honest. Accepting reality and being truthful with our feelings is the first step. People of Color do not have the luxury of being able to simply remove themselves from racial situations the way whites can. The least white Americans can do is be honest about the fact that while we are not all rich, we were born with a sort-of-silver spoon in our mouths with respect to opportunity and how it is affected by race. Basically, unless you are auditioning for a production of The Color Purple, being white is never, ever, ever, ever a disadvantage…. That’s right dudebro, it’s actually working in your favor.
Ignorance to these societal constructs, be it blissful or willful, seems to be what is holding so much progress back. Unfortunately for us, our society does not have the time to wait for the privileged to feel comfortable enough to face this. The moment is not now, it was before Michael Brown was shot and killed. The sooner we are all honest about who we are and what we may be privileged to, the sooner we will collectively, as Americans, be able to mature our ability to empathize with each other. Once we get there, if we have the courage to get there, we might start hearing about more police interactions with civilians kin to: “you kids be safe, now” … versus “Bring it! All you fucking animals!” Perhaps I am wishfully thinking. Maybe the same white privilege I reference is behind a naiveté that plagues my perspective. If this proves to be true, I will accept it and try and learn from it. I know that I have privilege, I just wish more white people would be honest about their own.