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Don’t get me wrong – I have always despised health and wealth ministries, and I hated them even as I was training to be a preacher myself – but something about the hive-minding, mob-justice-style of dogpilling directed at Mr. Osteen just isn’t right. I felt the allure of the pitchfork, too. To date, I have ‘liked’ only one sardonic Tweet about Osteen, but rest assured, my fingertips hovered longingly over so many more. I wanted to hate Osteen. I wanted his nose to get bloodied in the public forum. I wanted him exposed for the self-serving rat I know he is. What was I willing to sacrifice to get that? What did others sacrifice to get it?

Five or six hours into the Osteen’s social media crisis, Facebook pictures began to surface from inside the church, showing some significant flooding, captioned with the haughty rebuke of a purported church elder who explained sneeringly that ‘our leadership makes these decisions for good reasons.’ The church wasn’t rendered inoperable by the weather, as it turned out, but for the sake of argument, let’s imagine that it had. What would that have said about each and every one of us, hate-tweeting the Osteens before we even knew if the building was safe?

The impulse to “name and shame” is attractive and appealing, like nearly all other harmful impulses. I miss the aroma of a lit cigarette desperately, and that particular habit would be easy to relapse back into. Rushing to judgement is fun, alluring, addictive, and once that habit starts, it is quite difficult to quit. I wanted to like the incisive, bitter, and mocking Tweets about Joel but pulled away, reflexively. I knew it was bad for me, inwardly. I knew it was counterproductive. It was the candy bar on the impulse buy rack; I wanted to partake because it would make me feel good, but I knew it was unhealthy.

Our Osteen-bloodlust is understandable, nearly forgivable, even. The Prosperity Gospel is predatory, conniving, and frustratingly popular. We are powerless to stop it. Some of us cannot make grandma stop giving her money to greasy weasels like Osteen, or Benny Hinn, or Peter Popoff, so we stew in our anger. We want retribution, we want revenge, and these desires can often make reason take a backseat. I have written at length about the American televangelist phenomenon in the past, and believe me, with every fiber of my being, I hate the Prosperity Gospel  even more than traffic tickets or going to the dentist. Ministerial greed is everything I loathe in this world;  it is painfully dishonest, tacky, and fatuous.

The theological fruit hangs so low that anyone can reach it. Of-fucking-course Joel Osteen contradicts the Bible. What tipped everyone off? Was it his $10.5 million dollar home, or his estimated $56 million dollar net worth? Jesus Christ would almost certainly laugh in Joel’s conflicted, distraught, and botox-laden face after telling him to first sell all he had before following him. Religious hustlers aren’t new. They aren’t special. They are grubby opportunists who wrestle spare change from the elderly. They have always existed, and they will always exist. This is a consequence of our long-enshrined separation of the church and state. The government doesn’t kick down the doors of churches, and doesn’t prevent dim-witted parishioners from being fleeced by wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Our knee-jerking can only strengthen Osteen. Shame has never changed the behavior of a religious businessman. Peter Popoff, for example, is still running his ministry decades after being exposed as a fraud. No publicity is bad publicity for them, and this experience will only widen Osteen’s audience, galvanize his supporters, and provide fresh content for a never-ending series of ghost-written books, webinars, and conferences for which Joel can charge top dollar.

What, exactly, is the value of our collective outrage? Joel Osteen acquiesced to the pressure building on social media and opened the doors to his expansive church after a few days. By addressing the concerns, Joel has used the hurricane to legitimize himself. He can now use words like ‘transparency’ when describing his ministries’ response to this tragedy. Joel gets more ammunition, not less, from this exchange, and he gets it because we liked how it felt to bash him. I don’t think that juice is really worth the squeeze. The public shame doesn’t stop the predatory minister, his laity won’t decide to leave the church because of it, and on account of our outrage, Joel Osteen is asked to appear on national television. All of this, every ounce of it, was as counterproductive as it was avoidable. Even the practically of the suggestion in the first place – that Osteen’s church should open its doors to hurricane victims – was really questionable at best.

Every second spent shaming a charlatan is a second often better spent elevating the profile of wholesome and forthright people. To the credit of the digital mob, they occasionally took a break from the Joel bashing to highlight the businesses who took in displaced Texans at their time of need. This is somewhat encouraging, sure, but I can’t shake that deepening sense of unease that has filled me since the beginning of the Osteen saga. I gazed into the abyss, and it gazed back into me.

I wanted to see the blood. I rejoiced in the spectacle, and desperately longed for Joel to be taken down a few pegs, to see his shtick exposed for what it truly is to the whole world. The actual truth, if only for a few moments, if only for a passing second, came in second to that desire. That scares me far more than the ravings of a spray-tanned charlatan, and it is an impulse that successfully ensnared so many of us. Emotions first, facts second. Isn’t that sort of reasoning exactly the problem with FOX News? Why are we falling into the same traps as our conservative counterparts?

If you believe I’m requesting crocodile tears for a televangelist schiester who had to be pressured into opening the doors of his church to victims of a hurricane, I fear you are missing the point. The break-neck speed with which the world rushed to judgement, the spigot of hatred that uncorked towards them in an instant; these expressions should concern us all. It is not karma, nor is it a case of a fraud getting what they deserve. This was brigading, dogpiling, and it was only a few small steps away from open abuse and harassment. This is the progressive, high-minded, and morally superior platform from which we lecture the likes of Joel Osteen?

And just in case you were wondering, I can absolutely guarantee that Mr. Osteen – a powerful and influential figure in an Evangelical community that already suffers from a delusional persecution complex – will exploit every inch of this social media deluge. He will hold it up as yet another piece of evidence that the secular world is out to get Christians. The right wing caricature of the political left as under-thinking, over-reacting goons begins to seem more and more reasonable, and doubly so in the minds of Christians who might be susceptible to the charms of the televangelist.


Imagine, if you will, the final moments of your own life, coming to an abrupt and violent end underneath the chassis of a grey Dodge Charger. Driven, with lethal intent, by a confused and angry white man, who, only hours earlier, might well have been chanting that a “Jew will not replace” him while holding aloft a tiki torch purchased, tackily, at a big box store, somewhere in Virginia.

As your bones begin to creak and crush, what might your final thoughts be? Surely, one must hope, they must orbit around those you hold dearest to your heart, those with whom you have shared laughter and joy, those whose bonds are forever cemented in your mind. All of it – every last ounce – smashed, crudely, into the ashy pavement, at the behest of a dullard, someone whose testosterone exceeded their brain matter, and whose anxieties ran wild with salacious, irrational conspiracies. It is, perhaps, the same thought process that runs through the minds of countless school shooting victims, who, might well have pondered in their last fleeting moments of consciousness, why such a hateful, deplorable act was lavished upon them personally, without any provocation on their part.

This new militancy is the dawn of our shared era; it is the yoke that we shall all now carry together. Those outside of acceptance and normality will naturally, as if driven by an invisible spectre, lash out at the rest of us on the inside. They will slather violence, death, and destruction upon us, upon our children, in the places and during the moments where we are soft, where we are the weakest. The out will kill the in. The in shall fear the out.

It is, perhaps partly, on account of this new reality, that our worlds have become increasingly individualized. Our rides have become Ubers, our spare rooms have become Airbnbs, and our food, delivered, by meal-prep services, or grocery delivery apps, and on and on, until the only thing we actually, desperately, need, is our screens, upon which we may display and perceive the world in the light it is most comfortable for us to see it in.

James Fields, no doubt, crafted his own screens in such a way, as to display the left-wing protester, that he would allegedly go on to murder, as an existential threat prior to him throttling her to death with his vehicle. She, in some twisted way, represented an obstacle to overcome, a villain to destroy, a helpless, defenseless target, worthy only of destruction. How did we get here? How did James Fields get there, too?

The cynic, at this juncture, might claim I have never waxed so sentimentally over a single life claimed by the car-bombs of the militant Islamist. One might, with a squinted, suspicious eye, accuse me of only becoming emotionally involved with the victims of terrorism when it suits my left-wing sensibilities.

What if all violence like this comes from the same source? Left, right, center, whatever? What if the jihadist in Yemen and the Alt-Right goon in Virginia are driven by the same intangible, nonsensical, dread and hate? Why – in an era thousands of years removed from the enlightenment – are so many of us falling victim to ideologies that delineate the truth on the basis of one’s religious preferences, or countries of origin? How on earth did the app-powered generation fall head-over-heels for the crusty myths of antiquity? How did we get here, and how can we find our way back?

Blaming Trump won’t get us back there. He stoked the flames, yes, and has cowardly refused to denounce white supremacy because he wants more votes, but racism was alive in Alabama before Trump, and it’ll be alive long after he’s gone. Nor is it sufficient to blame one political party in the United States for our current state of affairs; one is certainly worse than the other, but neither group bears the full weight of our collective sins on its shoulders. No, the horrible reality is far more uncomfortable than all of that. What played out in Charlottesville has been stewing within us all for decades, and all of us now stand back, shocked and dumbfounded, as if we all had no idea this vicious hatred wasn’t always percolating under the surface. It always was present, and I fear, gravely, that it always will be present in the future.

As I imagine myself being crushed underneath the Dodge Charger of white anxiety, I think my final thoughts would center around the absurdity of it all; how greedy billionaires backed a demagogue to save a few bucks, and how they sold out basic human decency and empathy in the process. I might, if I was feeling clever, ponder in that adrenaline-drenched moment, how a man with a shitty toupee led a racist revival of brain-dead Southerners that ended, improbably, with my body being smashed under the tires of a spurned 4-Channer’s pretend sports car. Whatever those final thoughts might be, I cannot escape that sinister suspicion that the fate that was always awaiting Heather Heyer will eventually claim more and more of our lives. Bit by bit, piece by piece, rational, sane, and wholesome society might well get chewed up by the skittish, anxious, and angry segments of the world whose rage is indiscriminate, and whose humanity, empathy, and decency have evaporated.


Disclaimer: Some readers may find this article troubling, discretion is advised. I am not a doctor, and this article is not presented as medical advice.

I do my best to open about the mental issues I deal with personally, both because it makes me feel better, and also because I’m far too lazy for dishonesty. One of my role models in this arena is Stephen Fry; his openness about his struggles with depression and bi-polar disorder is evocative and moving (his documentaries about “The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive”  are truly masterful.) I’ve always had a soft spot for Stephen, and long wanted to emulate his candor in some shape or form. Writing about my experiences is beneficial for me and, ideally, beneficial for my audience. It also underscores the sort of disjointed relationship we all have with vanity and appeals for attention.

 

“Ha, ha, ha! You will be finding enjoyment in toothache next,” you cry, with a laugh.”Well, even in toothache there is enjoyment,” I answer. I had toothache for a whole month and I know there is. In that case, of course, people are not spiteful in silence, but moan; but they are not candid moans, they are malignant moans, and the malignancy is the whole point. The enjoyment of the sufferer finds expression in those moans; if he did not feel enjoyment in them he would not moan. It is a good example, gentlemen, and I will develop it. Those moans express in the first place all the aimlessness of your pain, which is so humiliating to your consciousness; the whole legal system of nature on which you spit disdainfully, of course, but from which you suffer all the same while she does not.

We cry out from a toothache because it hurts, but we also cry out so that others can hear that we’re in pain. I’ve never been able to forget this passage from Dostoevsky’s Notes From the Underground. This impulse, especially for me (and, in all likelihood, other men like me who grew up with notions of masculinity that forbade vulnerability) is troublesome. When a good friend of mine recently passed, I wrote that I hated bringing my pain to the attention of other people. It felt selfish. It felt needy. It attracted all of the attention that I, instinctively, wanted to avoid.

Recently, I’ve been seeing a therapist for my struggles with some mild Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that arose from a gunpoint mugging nearly a decade ago. I am irritated by this affliction for so many reasons. First, because no one died during my incident, no shots were fired, and it seems unfair to give whatever I have the same name as paramedics, police officers, soldiers, doctors, and nurses who deal with far worse on a far more frequent basis. I always preface the word “PTSD” with the word “mild.” I resent myself for having this, and I can’t shake the feeling of shame and embarrassment that comes along with it all. Having two pistols shoved in your face isn’t great, sure, but it’s no where near as bad as what others have to endure. It becomes far too easy to compare myself to others, and downplaying my own suffering only serves to make it worse.

Secondly, I also loathe the stamp of my gender’s lowly origin, and the negative self-talk that seems to come pre-installed. You’re being a wimp. Man up. This isn’t that bad. You’re fine. Don’t be so weak. This is the manly, pseudo-tough-guy soundtrack that drones on and on in my head, and, crucially, is hardest to ignore during the moments where you most need to ask for help. Our cultural image of how a man should act, how he should behave, and how he should speak is, and has been, for some time, hopelessly broken. The phrase “toxic masculinity” leaps suddenly to mind; the only person being poisoned by my own emotional bravado is me. 

But my symptoms, over time, became more difficult to manage or conceal. The incident took place at night, and ever since, walking from the car to the apartment, or from a restaurant to a bar, became an exercise in controlling overwhelming bouts of irritability and paranoia. The sight of panhandling homeless or innocuous conversations with drunks outside a bar at night would send me into a fight-or-flight response in an instant. The symptom that became the most intrusive was the routine flashback-nightmares, and they occasionally came coupled with the terror of sleep paralysis during the most frightening dreams. In some desperation, I reached out to a therapist, explained my issues, and she recommended I find an EMDR specialist.

“Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories (Shapiro, 1989a, 1989b). Shapiro’s (2001) Adaptive Information Processing model posits that EMDR therapy facilitates the accessing and processing of traumatic memories and other adverse life experience to bring these to an adaptive resolution. After successful treatment with EMDR therapy, affective distress is relieved, negative beliefs are reformulated, and physiological arousal is reduced. During EMDR therapy the client attends to emotionally disturbing material in brief sequential doses while simultaneously focusing on an external stimulus. Therapist directed lateral eye movements are the most commonly used external stimulus but a variety of other stimuli including hand-tapping and audio stimulation are often used (Shapiro, 1991). Shapiro (1995, 2001) hypothesizes that EMDR therapy facilitates the accessing of the traumatic memory network, so that information processing is enhanced, with new associations forged between the traumatic memory and more adaptive memories or information.” [EMDR.com]

The treatment ends up looking something like this:

I wear the title “Skeptic” with some manner of pride and affection, so after some light Googling, I scheduled a cautionary appointment with my eyes very much open. The doctor went to great lengths to explain the soundness of the science behind EMDR (she lamented with some weariness that this technique is often confused with hypnosis) and after a few diagnostic visits, we began “processing” the incident.

The first appointment didn’t bother me all that much; I expected much worse after being cautioned by the therapist that patients can occasionally “have a bad reaction” to the treatment or can be haunted in the days and weeks between visits by newly rediscovered memories of the trauma. I escaped the first session without much fuss, and didn’t feel anything more biting than a slight unease that lingered for a few hours. The only forgotten detail that the treatment managed to shake loose was the color of the sidewalk where I got held up.

The second appointment was infinitely more painful. I fought off tears throughout the entire session, and it seemed to last forever. My eyeballs move left, and suddenly, there’s the color of the eggshell white hotel door. My eyeballs move right, and the vivid, deep-navy-blue hue of one the attacker’s sweatshirt comes into focus. The memories start rushing back in a torrent, bit by bit, image by image, piece by miserable piece. I don’t want to think about any of this, I mumble to myself. The nausea washes over me in waves, and the muscles in my neck and shoulders tighten. The treatment, mercifully, comes to an end, and I stumble out of the office and waddle to the car and start driving, choking back tears while trying to change gears. Why the fuck did I buy a stick-shift, again? 

I’m not a neurologist or a psychiatrist, (plainly evidenced by the alarming fact that I could not spell either word without the assistance of auto-correct) but it seems clear to me that our brains go to great lengths to grind the sharpest corners off of our most jagged memories. The mind buries these treasures for us to dig up later. I’m flabbergasted that any memory, however traumatic, can reduce me to a sniffling mess a full decade after the fact. This goes to illustrate just how powerful our memories can be, and how they can rule over us if we let them go unchecked. I can’t help but be struck by the fact that most of us carry invisible burdens just like mine; and each of us do our damnedest to hide them from the people we love. Therein lies the needless and counterproductive discipline most of us choose to keep; the stiff upper lip, the silent suffering, the quiet agony. We don’t want to bother anyone. We don’t want to cause a fuss. We don’t want to impose.

And once the levees finally burst, and we break down and tell someone close to us about our pain, to our infinite surprise and alarm we discover there are people in this world who genuinely give a shit about us, and want us to be healthy. So bother your loved ones. Cause a fuss. Impose on them. Bother and impose on me. Everyone’s got pain, and life is far too short to pretend otherwise. The truth is, like many of you, I don’t have it figured out, and most days, I’m sinking more than I’m swimming. The past isn’t ever very far away, and trauma you thought was dormant can rise up and sting you during the moments where you least expect it. Don’t be ashamed of your past; instead, make the choice to let your past enrich your character. We’re all so afraid that once we tell others about our trauma and finally let that cat out of the bag that the whole world will look at us differently. No one ever does, (and even if they did, do you really want that kind of a person in your life, anyway?) and the scars you have don’t need to be hidden. They’re benchmarks of how far you’ve come and how strong you really are. 

 

 

 

 


Yesterday, the city of St. Louis voted to reject a proposal that would have paved the way for a new soccer stadium. Judging by the frantic hyperbole being thrown around by soccer fans on social media, you could be forgiven for thinking the city voted against planting a money tree underneath the Arch, rather than nixing an expansion team for a league that is slightly more popular than the WNBA and hasn’t turned a profit in twenty-one years. I’ll say it plainly: I’m incredibly proud of this city for shooting down Prop 2, it was absolutely the right thing to do, and the deal the MLS2STL ownership group proposed was rotten from the very beginning.

“One of the group’s central claims is that city residents will pay nothing unless they go to a game because the stadium will be funded by a use tax paid primarily by businesses. Of course, this convenient factoid neglects to mention that revenue from the use tax currently goes towards “public safety, public health and affordable housing.” So rather than fund these essential services, the city will instead spend $4 million annually over the course of fifteen years for its stake in the stadium.

No need to worry about that, says MLS2STL, because the stadium could ultimately generate as much as $17 million in new tax revenue. The only problem: This shiny heap of money will take at least 30 years to accrue. And that’s only if everything goes according to plan and the stadium remains packed with fans and free of any larger issues.

Then there’s the matter of how the two stadium-funding ballot measures came about. The MLS2STL leadership originally wanted $80 million from the city to fund the stadium, a deal so bad that the alderwoman who originally sponsored the bill began to urge her colleagues to oppose it. Eventually the Board of Aldermen settled on two measures: one that raises the use tax along with another tax increase that’s ostensibly meant to fund Metrolink expansion. As city officials readily admit, though, it could take as long as a decade before they’re ready to start laying track for a new route. In the meantime, money that unsuspecting voters think will be spent on Metrolink will almost certainly go towards building the soccer stadium.

Finally, I’m of the mind that funding a professional stadium with money drawn from a city as poor as St. Louis is an immoral act, plain and simple. Although some neighborhoods have made great strides in recent years, thousands upon thousands of people continue to live in impoverished areas where basic services are already scarce. Our business and government leaders should be working to lift these communities up rather than straining them further by removing $60 million from the city’s coffers in the name of “civic pride.” [RFT]

Two of the main MLS2STL talking points, here, are flatly proven to be untrue. It was a tax increase. It won’t create new taxable revenue for at least thirty years. Lest we forget, the city of St. Louis is still making payments on the now-vacant Edward Jones Dome, and will continue to do so until 2021: 

“At the beginning of 2015, city and state taxpayers still owed more than $100 million in debt on the bonds used to finance the Edward Jones Dome, the stadium St. Louis put $280 million in public funds behind in 1995.

It isn’t scheduled to pay off that debt until at least 2021, and that could be more difficult without the Rams and the $500,000 rent payment the team made each year. The city itself owes $5 million per year over that period, and the loss of the Rams could increase costs in the short-term.” [HuffPost]

These MLS proposals were nothing more than a shakedown of the city taxpayer, and a shameless one at that. They started the haggling at $100 million, then $80 million, and finally settled on $60 large in a brazen attempt to subsidize yet another county-playground.

“In January, St. Louis officials and Missouri’s new governor rejected forking over $80 million in city money to an investment group known as SC STL so that they could build an MLS stadium. Undeterred by the rejection and the strong anti-publicly funded stadiums stance from Gatling gun-toting governor Eric Greitens, SC STL pushed ahead and got the St. Louis Board of Aldermen to approve voting on stadium funding by lowering their ask to $60 million.

There were two propositions on the ballot tonight. Proposition 1 called for a half-cent increase to the city’s sales tax, while Proposition 2 allocated $60 million of that new money to the construction of a new stadium for the rich bozos of SC STL. As Chase Woodruff pointed out for Howler, the tax increases were hikes to the city’s tax rate, which means that the poorer 300,000 residents within the city limits would have shouldered the tax burden while the richer suburban bulk of the metro area’s 2.7 million people would have gotten to enjoy the new stadium without paying for it.

Many powerful people endorsed the plan, including Taylor Twellman and MLS commissioner Don Garber, who essentially promised an expansion spot if St. Louis passed Props 1 and 2. Soon-to-be-former mayor Francis Slay even wrote a breathless op-ed for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch where he called the proposition a “moral and economic imperative.” That’s a really lofty way to say “I want you to pay these assholes $60 million for a building.” [Deadspin]

According to the prospective ownership group, there’s money to made around their tax-payer-funded stadium. You can make money after we get it first. Eat the crumbs from underneath our table. Reaganomics strikes again! Of course, they would have seen to it that the economic playing field wasn’t level. Small business owners wouldn’t have had the benefit of pillaging the public treasure chest to subsidize their own private ventures. It’s one set of rules for the wealthy, and another for the rest of us. In case I haven’t convinced you just yet, take it from John Oliver:

 

I’ll paraphrase (loosely) the interview that appears in the video above; who gets the revenue from the naming rights? The owners. Who gets the revenue from the concessions? The owners. Who gets the revenue from the ticket sales? The owners. Who gets the revenue from merchandise and memorabilia sales? The owners. How, exactly, does the economy get stimulated when all of the profits go directly into the pockets of billionaires?

Rest assured, soccer fans, if there is a truly insatiable hunger for the MLS in St. Louis, the MLS will come. One of the benefits of free-market capitalism is that supply is usually driven by demand. Starbucks doesn’t buy real estate and erect buildings out of the kindness of their hearts; they expect to make a healthy return on their risk and investment. If soccer in Missouri was a gold mine just waiting to be tapped, as MLS2STL would have you believe, then wealthy white dudes from all corners of the globe would be jostling for position to fund it privately.

The Winnipeg Jets (once the Atlanta Thrashers of the NHL) were moved back to Manitoba, in large part, because the minor league hockey team that sprang up after their original departure had terrific attendance figures (averaging 8,404 paying customers a game in 2010-2011). St.Louis’ current minor league football club averages about half that (4,923). Get the attendance up to 10,000 a game and the MLS would be tripping over its own feet to plant a team here. Literally, if the demand was that intense, the MLS couldn’t afford not to expand to St. Louis. This only serves to reinforce an uncomfortable truth for the MLS2STL crowd; this was far from a sure thing, and the proposal was a terrifically risky one, despite all of their assurances. Instead of trying to persuade us that if we build it, they will come, why don’t we build it if they come? 

When Robert Kraft wanted to cash in on the sports entertainment dollars that the New England market had to offer, he put his money where his mouth was and paid for the construction of Gillette Stadium privately. Why are the rules different for St. Louis? Because there was real money to be made in Boston, not here, and as result, some skittish millionaires wanted to hedge their very questionable bets in Missouri by gobbling up all of the tax dollars they could. Forget about what the city needs. Forget about the 90,000 people (out of a meager population of 300,000) living at or below the poverty line. Forget about our schools, forget about our crumbling infrastructure, (will it take a bridge collapse like there was in Minnesota or a highway collapse like there was in Atlanta to wake us up first?) what this city really needed was another stadium for another professional sports franchise.

“If you grew up poor — as this native of Compton, Calif., did — you might understand why I find it so disgusting to raise taxes on people living below the poverty level to fund professional sports stadiums.

On Monday, MLS ownership fraternity brothers Robert Kraft and Stan Kroenke, whom you may know, voted with the majority of NFL owners to approve the Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas. As the New York Times pointed out, Las Vegas officials committed to giving $750 million in public subsidies to build the Raiders a new stadium even though “Clark County school officials voted last spring to increase public class sizes and to close a school for at-risk students. There was simply no money.”

The SC STL folks would point out that their request is more modest than what the Rams and Raiders sought before deciding to bail on the cities where they settled after leaving their previous Southern California homes.

They are right, but $60 million can still go a long way toward fixing the community. Let’s put the figures down for you, $60,000,000. Those are a lot of zeroes. That’s just one of the public subsidies SC STL partner Jim Kavanaugh seeks now from St. Louis voters. He’s also a part owner of the Blues, who are hitting up the city taxpayers for millions to upgrade Scottrade Center.

It’s important to note that I’ve yet to see an independent study that says communities get the economic return that teams claim when seeking financial help with stadiums.

Most of the local MLS supporters want you to take a leap of faith and believe their projections. It’s almost as though everybody forgets that Kroenke exploited the bad deal St. Louis made to lure the Rams from Los Angeles.” [Post-Dispatch]

The rhetoric before election day was already divisive and incendiary. When Mike McHugh – a columnist for the Riverfront Times and avid soccer fan who I cited earlier – wrote an article detailing his opposition to the proposition, the comment section devolved into menacing threats. I was able to read one such threat before it was moderated. The author mentioned how he enjoyed watching English Premier League games at The Amsterdam, a local sports bar. Let’s see you show your face in there again after writing that piece of trash, one angry supporter commented. When the city refused to take this leap of faith, the MLS2STL supporters expressed outrage and contempt. All over a game. All over a stadium. Imagine if they were this passionate about ending poverty, fixing our healthcare system, or paying our teachers a living wage?

The failed bid to build a home for an MLS expansion team exposed a nasty fissure between the city and the county. The county citizens (as is often the case, former city residents themselves that fled to the suburbs of the county long ago) wanted another entertainment facility on the city’s dime. Citizens of the city made it emphatically clear – both through their words and through their votes – that this was not a prudent plan, and would not have been a wise expenditure. What’s stopping these spurned county citizens from building their own stadium in the county? Missouri is as red a state as they come politically (only a handful districts voted for Mrs. Clinton in the last Presidential election), and a tax increase in the county would be about as popular there, as, well, Mrs. Clinton. A publicly funded stadium is good business for the city, but not the county. Well, surely, this begs the question: if it’s such a fail-safe idea, why isn’t it on the county’s to-do list? The answer is simple – the county views the real problems of the city, like crime and poverty, as an annoyance – and the city exists solely to entertain them. We should cough up when they say so. Is it any wonder city residents (like myself) balked?

Unlike some people on the political left, I genuinely love professional sports. Team sports taught me character, and the lessons I learned on the field of play have deeply informed my professional and personal life. They aren’t meaningless hobbies for jocks. Sports are important, and if you’re a massive soccer fan, I understand why the results yesterday must have felt like a kick in the teeth. Yesterday’s vote wasn’t a vote against soccer, however, it was a vote against forcing the city pay for a team it didn’t need. Forget about soccer for a moment; how does a stadium become a sane priority for a city with a $20 million dollar budget deficit?  How could St. Louis – a city in which 25% of its citizens live in poverty – have possibly justified another stadium when they are already paying on the bonds for an empty one?

To be blunt, this entire saga has been illuminating, and says a great deal about the county’s priorities. Additional money shouldn’t be used for frivolous things like public safety, public health, and affordable housing because St. Louis isn’t entertaining enough, says the county. St. Louis isn’t loose enough with the purse-strings for the county. St. Louis has problems that could really be improved by adding another sports franchise (even though it has already lost two NFL franchises before), says the county. The county was, and is, completely wrong. Crime, poverty, and income inequality are far greater – and crucially, more mature – concerns than adding more sports entertainment. Good job, St. Louis, on making a responsible decision.


I am excited to introduce a new program for my small, but lovable readership. I am currently working on a non-fiction book about American politics. Like any author, I’m eager to get feedback from interested readers before it goes to print.

That’s where you come in! I’m opening 5-10 spots to early readers who might be interested in offering general notes and criticism of my work. Those who participate get a free copy of my book shipped to their (US only) address. Notes don’t have to be lengthy. Could just be a sentence or two of feedback. Write as much or as little as you’d like, every little bit helps me become a better author.

Sound good? Sign-up below:

 

(I don’t sell your data to anyone and I won’t spam you.)


Not dead, just working on a new project.


I spent the better part of five years as a technician for a telecommunications company, repairing mobile phones at a retail store just outside of St.Louis. In an effort to squeeze as much possible value out of this position, they saddled ‘lead’ technicians with the additional burden of inventory management. One afternoon, a sales representative handed me a case he had retrieved from an endcap, and instead of the newly minted, $50 case it was supposed to contain, inside the packaging was a dirtied and yellowed iPhone case. A customer had performed their own quick upgrade on the cheap.

“Looks like he did the ol’ okie-doke.” 

I chuckled at the phrase he turned, (pronounced properly, by the way, as oak-e-d-oak) and I’ve never been able to forget it, which is a testament to its accuracy and quality. We had been duped, distracted by one pressing issue or another, and underneath our noses, someone, more motivated, cunning, and creative than us, found a way to get what they wanted without arousing our suspicions or capturing our attention. It is with this lens – not with outrage, not indignation, not shock, nor horror – that I have chosen to view the future words and deeds of Trump’s administration. The game of American politics has been changed forever, and with it, comes a new set of rules worthy of study.

There aren’t many things on this planet that I loathe more than the conspiracy theory. It’s obsession disguised as intellect. It’s a refuge for irreparably bland souls in need of a cheap identity. It irritates me to no end, and doubly so, when I hear the distant crinkle of tin foil in my own words. Deceit and politics are inseparable like peanut butter and chocolate, but within the opening salvo of Trump’s Executive Orders, I cannot ignore my intuition when it says something more sinister is at play.

Trump lies for no reason, or perhaps lying is so innate within his vocabulary, that he simply does it unconsciously, or without intentional malice. The kerfuffle over the size of the inaugural audience, for instance, could well become the greatest debate over a non-issue in the history of mankind. Why did Trump’s press secretary waddle to his podium with his now infamous set of ‘alternative facts’ in the first place? President Trump’s electoral victory put him in unique company. Only five Presidents have been elected after losing the popular vote, and by a margin of several million votes, indisputably, Mrs. Clinton had won that meaningless battle. Even if we are to grant Trump’s insane allegation that ‘millions’ of illegal votes were cast in her favor, he would still have to admit that the result was a close one. If he needed any further evidence to the truth of this reality, his disapproval rating – the single lowest of any human being who would go on to hold this office – is hanging over his head at all times. Why didn’t Spicer walk to the podium and say that such a contentious election was bound to lower attendance, regardless of result, and simply move on? There is literally no utility to this lie, unless the purpose of it was to sow discord and division.

Incontrovertibly, many Americans did not want him elected. This is not a remarkable statement, nor is it untrue of any other President in American history. Yet, President Trump rambles on about the length of his standing ovations, or the fact that he has ‘papers’ on his desk, or any number of inane and superfluous comments that are neither unique nor noteworthy, and often, flatly and provably untrue. What, simply, is the reason for this type of baseless chatter?

“There is nothing subtle about Trump’s behavior. He lies, he repeats the lie, and his listeners either cower in fear, stammer in disbelief, or try to see how they can turn the lie to their own benefit. Every continental wiseguy, from Žižek to Baudrillard, insisted that when they pulled the full totalitarian wool over our eyes next time, we wouldn’t even know it was happening. Not a bit of it. Trump’s lies, and his urge to tell them, are pure Big Brother crude, however oafish their articulation. They are not postmodern traps and temptations; they are primitive schoolyard taunts and threats.

The blind, blatant disregard for truth is offered without even the sugar-façade of sweetness of temper or equableness or entertainment—offered not with a sheen of condescending consensus but in an ancient tone of rage, vanity, and vengeance…Starting this week, it’s vital that everyone who is trying to maintain sanity understand that this is so—that it is a myth that reason, as normally undertaken, is going to affect this process or that “consequences,” as they are normally understood, will, either.

Whenever there is an authoritarian coup rooted in an irrational ideology, well-meaning people insist that it can’t persist because the results are going to be so obviously bad for the people who believe in it, whether it’s the theocratic revolution in Iran or the first truly autocratic Administration in America. Tragically, terribly, this is never the way it works. There is no political cost for Trump in being seen to be incompetent, impulsive, shallow, inconsistent, and contemptuous of truth and reason. Those are his politics. This is how he achieved power. His base loves craziness, incompetence, and contempt for reason because sanity, competence, and the patient accumulation of evidence are things that allow educated people to pretend that they are superior. Resentment comes before reason.” [The New Yorker]

The left – your humble author fully included – leaped as high and as hard as we possibly could to condemn and fact check, and recoiled in confusion and horror as the blows failed to land. Couldn’t Americans with a brain figure out he was lying? How can they listen to him blabber about jobs when he outsources his own business to Mexico? We couldn’t figure out how to break the spell, but as the smoke cleared, it became obvious that we fell under its dubious power, too. People like Trump because of the lies. People like Trump because of the insults. People like Trump for all of the reasons that we were jumping up and down to tell every person on the planet about. We gave him the gasoline of free publicity, and threw up our hands in angry confusion when it fueled his campaign to success. When a good friend of mine sent me a link to the New Yorker piece above, it was a revelation. It said everything I had wanted to for months – we’re taking him literally and amplifying his appeal.

“This is the problem with the media,” says Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager. “You guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally. The American people didn’t. They understood it.”

Earlier that week, Mr Trump unleashed a series of tweets condemning Mrs Clinton for taking part in an electoral recount in Wisconsin and claiming he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally”.

I admit I fell straight into the trap of taking him literally, puzzling over whether he actually believes some of the crazy conspiracy theories doing the rounds on the internet, or whether he is happy to spread stories he knows are not true. Now I suspect there may be a deeper motive behind some of Trump’s more erratic Twitter outbursts. He knew that journalists would respond to his unsubstantiated claims with banner headlines attacking his total lack of evidence for these wild assertions. That may be just what he wanted them to do.

In previous years that kind of news coverage would have been deeply damaging to a president-elect trying to win the confidence of the nation. But now, his supporters are outraged that their guy is once again being attacked by a biased and hostile press. He is effectively turning the media into the opposition, therefore neutralizing their criticism of other, more serious issues, such as how his business interests could pose a very serious conflict of interest once he takes office. [BBC]

The ol’ okie-doke strikes again. Trump and his cronies agitate the same old fault-lines that have consistently divided humans since the Crusades, and both the left and the right take their eyes off the ball. When’s the last time you even heard anyone say anything about campaign finance reform? (Something most everyone agrees on, since Congress currently enjoys a 14% approval rating). The distractions are working, and every ounce of vitriol we spew at him only galvanizes his supporters against us. Our approach has to change. Our approach gave us Trump. Our approach didn’t work, and it won’t work again in the future. All of our academic confidence, all of our facts, all of our rationality, all of it was outweighed and outgunned by a seven-month whirlwind of sensationalism.

Not to say – as no sane person would – that the seemingly limitless outrages perpetuated by Mr.Trump and the Grand Ol’ Party aren’t doses of pure evil, they are egregious, but to claim that we have lost our empathy as a political movement is not to condone the policies of our opponents, nor does it make us complicit in their hateful actions. Far from it, and if we are to win back power, it won’t be the cities and the universities that make the difference. Our choir has been thoroughly preached to, and our audience must expand. We had the metropolitan vote, we had the intellectual vote, and it wasn’t enough.

Overlooked in the new national obsession over Trump is the disconnection between the rural America and the Democratic party. If the popularity of a reality television host with fake hair is enough to usurp your party from power, somewhere down the line, you have failed in a serious and significant fashion. Our new lexicon – now stuffed with fresh phrases like post-truth and alternative facts – reveal a glaring hole in our philosophy. Facts, figures, charts, academia, intellect, and truth didn’t speak to half of our nation, for better or for worse.

“Frustration led some steelworkers to break from their union, which supported Hillary Clinton for president. They were drawn to Republican Donald Trump’s promise to crack down on unfair trade and put steelworkers back to work.

Halbrook, a steelworker for 27 years, always voted for Democrats. But this time he went for Trump. “A whole lot of people are getting tired of the system,” he said. “This is the second time I got laid off under the Democrats.”

Ballentine also picked Trump. “I know he’s against unions, but unions don’t matter if you don’t have a job,” he said. [Post-Dispatch]

When push came to shove – rightly or wrongly – those who supported Trump didn’t see an ally in us. Hang on while I play the world’s tiniest violin for dopes who fell for the lies of a bigot, you might be saying to yourself. Well, no matter what caused this fissure, nothing is helped by pretending it doesn’t exist, or by blaming the depth on the chasm on the people who inhabit the other side.

What if the Democratic platform came to campaign stops with humility? What if they parked the bus outside the churches of the Midwest, stuck a microphone in front of the steps, and asked people directly what they thought of eight years of Democratic rule? What if we admitted – up front – that it was impossible to get everything right, and that we’re only human after all, and why not help us find the blind spots that we’re missing? What would it have hurt to listen? Perhaps this idealism is all well in good, espoused from the comfort of my quiet apartment, but after seven hours of abortion-related yelling, sure, I’d be out of patience and open-mindedness. Maybe when I travel to Colorado Springs, the still-beating heart of the fundamentalist, right-wing neoconservative Christian movement, I won’t be able to agree with the Focus on the Family hawks on policy, and maybe that’s alright. Maybe, hidden somewhere within their shivering fear and moral browbeating is a desire to participate without being shunned. Maybe they care less about changing laws, and more about being heard. Maybe we haven’t struck the right balance, and Trump is the consequence of our polarization. Maybe – after four years of Trump or Pence at the helm – we’ll understand their perspective with stunning clarity and have the good sense not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

 

 

 


I’m not one for protesting. What troubles me, to be blunt, is the utility of shuffling along a street somewhere. What does it tangibly accomplish? What changes afterwords? I’m a skeptic in all things, and organized complaining doesn’t seem to solve problems. Walking a mile in downtown St.Louis with twenty thousand women has changed my mind. To be blunt, this was a spiritual experience to me. The depravity of this election – boasts of sexual assault, sinister personal attacks, lies almost too varied and expansive to fully catalog – didn’t make me outraged, rather, it made me powerfully depressed. We’re truly in trouble, I thought, and what’s done by the Republican monolith in all branches of government will have permanent consequences. Our stable economy, now, no longer quaking from the sub-prime earthquake that nearly destroyed us, might crumble once again under the strain of expanded military efforts combined with sweeping tax cuts (a recipe first perfected by the second Bush administration.) These are practical concerns, and they aren’t changed by a leisurely waddle down main street, I grant you, but what was the cultural cost of Trump’s election? What message did it send to our daughters? How could American women rebound after such a crushing defeat?

What I saw at the march was a grizzled resiliency. Women are accustomed to the ebb and flow of setback, after setback, and they don’t quit. They aren’t quivering in fear, nor are they wallowing in liberal despair, like I was. They were emboldened to speak, and they heeded a clear call to action. I overheard, no less than three separate times, conversations from girls and women who were protesting for the first time. They’re awake, and their resolve is evocative and uncommon. The light is always brighter, and the color is always more vivid in our camp rather than theirs. Inclusion always beats exclusion in the end, and if you’re filled with doubt, like me, never forget that this battle is a losing one for the other side.

Half a million people marched on Washington, two days after President Trump was inaugurated. Sister demonstrations sprung up in St.Louis, Boston, Chicago, San Diego, and even Boise, Idaho. It wasn’t just confined to the United States:

“Worldwide some 670 marches were planned, according to the organizers’ website which says more than two million marchers are expected to protest against Trump, who was sworn in as the 45th U.S. president on Friday.

Celebrities including rights activist Bianca Jagger, singer Charlotte Church and actor Ian McKellen expressed their support for the protest on social media.

Several marchers wore pink “pussy” hats, and carried banners with slogans like: “this pussy bites back” after the emergence of a 2005 tape in which Trump spoke of women in a demeaning way sparked widespread outrage.

In Europe, marches also took place in Berlin, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Geneva and Amsterdam.

Around 2,000 people marched in Vienna, according to estimates by the police and organizers, but sub-zero temperatures quickly thinned the crowd to a couple of hundred.” [Reuters]

The wounds that this divisive election cycle opened up are still stinging. It’s all too easy to forget that you aren’t alone. The isolation was mind-numbing, and in many ways, I don’t believe I’ve fully shaken it off. Republicans won the White House. Republicans won the Senate and the House. Beset on all sides by the advances of neo-isolationism, sexism, and racism. It’s hard to believe things will be alright in the end. I expected a funeral mood – Roe v. Wade is going to be in danger, the highest glass ceiling still remains unbroken, and a greasy beauty-pageant financier beat out a qualified female diplomat for the most prestigious office in our nation. What I saw, instead of mourning, was excitement and energy. I saw renewal and vigor. Crucially, I saw focus, not on moaning about the results of this election, but of winning back the Senate in two years time. Ladies, your poise, your leadership, and your dignity under duress is truly remarkable.

 

 


 

What is feminism? Who is a feminist?

I think it’s fair to say a man can be pro-feminist, and I think he would be able to sufficiently defend this nomenclature in any context. The academic definition of feminism, many are quick to tell you, is the support of gender equity, and that this title can be carried by anyone. Hold on just a second – a million pedants cry out in terror – then why isn’t the movement and philosophy called ‘humanism’? Why mention gender at all?

To many, a feminist is simply anyone who works to advance gender equity, and by this definition, a person, regardless of their gender identity, fits underneath that umbrella. I’ve never been comfortable applying this title to myself, and I have avoided writing about this topic for a long time. To reject the title of a cause I genuinely support and whose goals I share feels cowardly, but to wear the uniform without earning the stripes seems even worse. To use the word would be to trivialize it, in my view, and I am convinced that you have to taste the blood in your mouth before you can say you were truly struck. More to that point, I don’t think those who have been struck could ever look at those who haven’t as true peers.

True, I’ve spoken to several women who were uncomfortable with the title of ‘feminist’ to begin with, and preferred that of a secular humanist. Fair enough, I suppose, but I have to wonder if the word itself hadn’t already been poisoned by sexist men unwilling to let their power and influence go without a fight.

“A lot of people don’t understand what feminism is. They think it is about advance and success for women, but it’s not that at all. It is about power for the female left. And they have this, I think, ridiculous idea that American women are oppressed by the patriarchy and we need laws and government to solve our problems for us. They have made their close alliance with the Obama administration. And they’re always crying around about things like the differences between men and women are just a social construct. So they’re really in a fight with human nature. I would not want to be called a feminist. The feminists don’t believe in success for women and, of course, I believe that American women are the most fortunate people who ever lived on the face of the earth, can do anything they make up their minds to do.” [Phyllis Schlafly] 

Ms.Schlafly was a vain and nasty hypocrite, content to enjoy all of the benefits of an unfettered professional life herself while spending every waking hour campaigning to press other women back into domestic servitude. This image of gender treachery was precisely the sort of cognitive dissonance I was seeking to understand, especially after the election of Donald Trump. What motivates women to undermine their own collective progress? Is it as simple as a lack of empathy? Do women like Schlafly fail to understand that their individual destiny is inextricably bound to the success of movements like these? Where’s the disconnect?

“When asked directly, Schlafly would scoff at the idea that she was held back by her gender, usually blaming liberals or the Democratic district in which she ran for Congress. There is one notable exception, though, when she ran for the presidency of the National Federation of Republican Women in 1967. The NFRW was riven by the same force dividing the rest of the GOP in the post-Goldwater years: moderates trying to wrest their party back and conservatives like Schlafly trying to hang on to control. In the end, moderate forces controlled the convention and Schlafly lost. Schlafly lashed out at the NFRW in her 1967 book Safe—Not Sorry. And curiously for a fight between women activists, this was the moment Schlafly chose to make the charge of sex discrimination. “The Republican Party is carried on the shoulders of the women who do the work in the precincts, ringing doorbells, distributing literature, and doing all the tiresome, repetitious campaign tasks,” Schlafly wrote. “Many men in the Party frankly want to keep the women doing the menial work.” And that, she concluded, is why they had arrayed themselves against her—because she would not keep to the prescribed role of women in politics. It was a decidedly feminist argument being made just as the forces of second-wave feminism were gathering strength.” [Politico]

Humans cannot be perfectly impartial or objective, and we all have blind spots, but I continue to return to the central idea that most humans have a mechanism that interferes with their basic ability to think rationally. Schlafly’s is on display here in a plain fashion. Sam Harris has the best argument on this dynamic I’ve read to date:

“Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence what so ever.” [Sam Harris]

In Harris’ example, a man can think critically and reach a reasonably objective conclusion about the infidelity of his wife or the powers of frozen yogurt, but when the topic shifts to the supernatural, it disappears. This type of thinking – where the ability to reason is alive in one aspect, but dead in another  – is what I’m attempting to highlight.

Schlafly had no use for feminism until it impacted her in a manner that defeated her own cognitive interference. She isn’t alone in this regard – growing up in Missouri, I have seen many friends and acquaintances start out as steadfast Republicans and end up as true and blue, union-loving Democrats because their personal prosperity begins to inform their political sympathies. We’re all pretty damn selfish if we’re being honest, and this isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, in a representative democracy, this is the way things ought to function. We compare our situations, raise grievances, and have them addressed in the order of importance.

All these explanations still don’t provide me with comfort – I can’t quite square the circle when it comes to feminism-hating women. I understand the motivation of men in opposition, who have something to lose in the fight. In every single expression of female subjugation, you will find a rigorous defense of its practice from women. The hijab is a perfect example of this principle in action. This issue, divisive in the extreme, to the extent that France starting writing laws that legislated beachwear, if you can believe the absurdity, illustrates the conflict plainly. Women should be free to wear whatever they want, and a dedicated citizenry would respond to this sort of religious discrimination by showing up en masse to the beach in hijabs. If you want to punish those who wear the hijab, well, today, we’re all wearing the hijab. This is how it ought to function, and a genuine republic beholden to the concept of secular pluralism wouldn’t attempt to infringe upon the free practice of religion, and a citizenry committed to its defense would rise up against any threat uniformly.

That said, the French have keyed in on an underlining and uncomfortable truth, however oafish and inappropriate their response might be. The hijab is rejection of French values. The hijab is rejection of gender equality. 400 years of French democracy have ingrained a respect and equity for women, and the fight hijab-proponents are picking with the nation invariably and inevitably leads back to the dark ages. It is an overt attempt to percolate a counterculture underneath a tolerant and representative one, biting the hand that feeds it. The society they rebel against was bought and paid for with the blood and sinew of patriots that died to preserve it against fascist campaigns to overthrow it, and it is altogether worth defending. The logic of the women who stab themselves in the back is obnoxious and reprehensible:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUHGCIW0Oes]
Hitchens was quite right to cast shame on a woman who espouses the veil, with her head uncovered, from the safety of London, while her sisters in Riyadh and Tehran have the hijab forced upon them. Many are surprised to discover (lest I am accused of being Islamophobic) that coverings for women are common across the globe. Orthodox Jewish women cover their heads, and even proto-Korean culture had hanbok dresses that were quite similar to the hijab, without the influences of any Abrahamic religion:

“It is easy to forget when you’re in Seoul and see schoolgirls wearing thigh-high tartan skirts that just a century ago respectable Korean women wore full-body coverings that would rival anything required by the Taliban…Isabella Bird Bishop wrote of seeing women in a village north of Pyongyang in 1897 wearing burqa-like contraptions that she described as ‘monstrous hats like our wicker garden sentry-boxes, but without bottoms. These extraordinary coverings are 7 feet long, 5 broad and 3 deep, and shroud the figure from head to toe.’ Women of the upper and middle classes were not permitted to leave the family compound except for specially designated times when the streets were cleared of men.” [Barbara Demick]

Men controlling the bodies, actions, and appearances of women is a universal feature of misogyny, regardless of religion or geography. For this reason, I find the defense or acceptance of these types of restrictive dress completely incompatible with gender equality, and you should too.

On sexist men

The primary problem, to be blunt, is not sexist women. The primary problem is us, men. We abuse the women in our lives, we put them in hospitals with our violence, we sexually assault them in brutal and cowardly fashions, and we smirk with incredulity when these facts are said plainly. Evil men are the cause of many of our problems as a species, and as man who is learning how to be a better man to all of the women in his life, I can only apologize for my gender and hang my head in shame. It shouldn’t be this way, and shame on us for making it this way.

After the tapes of President-Elect Trump boasting of sexually assaulting a woman surfaced, he issued a stilted half-apology and dismissed the chatter as ‘locker room talk’. Mrs. Obama would later call this remark ‘an insult to decent men everywhere’, and she is perfectly correct. Twenty years of my life have been spent in locker rooms, and our manly discussions, it may surprise you, do not often veer into this level of depravity. There is cursing, profanity, insults, and bullshitting, but generally it is good-natured and rarely devolves into anything resembling what Mr.Trump said.

Of course, there were times when it did. I remember sitting in a stunned silence as a backup goaltender described to me how he would use ‘a free ride home’ as a way of coercing sexual favors out of women. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on his face as he spoke, and I wish I would have had something good to say in response. I regret staying quiet to this day, even if he was lying. Complicity and silence are the best friends of evil men everywhere.

The principle of a ‘ratio’ applies here – most men are not violent towards women, most men do not treat women poorly, and most men do not actively try to oppose the progress of the women in their lives. ‘Most’ is the operative word, not all. Academic research into sexting provides the clearest example of this ratio in action.  Most people in my generation or younger are quite familiar and comfortable with sexting, it’s a normal aspect of modern dating, and virtually everyone on the planet has sent and received those kinds of messages. Nearly all of us would act responsibly with that sensitive data, and wouldn’t dream of using it for any other reason than the message was intended by the sender – but this study found that anywhere from 25-30% of people had admitted they had sent an explicit message from their partner to a third party. This is an illustration – in a smaller and limited scale – of the percentage of men that I believe would mistreat a woman, or could be sensitive to sexist ideologies. ‘Most’ of us are fine, but a lot of us are not. The conflict for gender equality will not quietly disappear over the next century – as we draw nearer to a victory, the battles will length in time and escalate in viciousness. The emergence, in the era of the digitally connected millennial who can fact check anything in milliseconds – of a brain-dead, neo-fascist movement that despises women is an alarming development, and stunning evidence of how far we have yet to go.

How should the 75% of us act, then? I think the best answer comes from a poignant article from Patrick Stewart about his own experience with hatred towards women:

“I witnessed terrible things, which I knew were wrong, but there was nowhere to go for help. Worse, there were those who condoned the abuse. I heard police or ambulancemen, standing in our house, say, “She must have provoked him,” or, “Mrs Stewart, it takes two to make a fight.” They had no idea. The truth is my mother did nothing to deserve the violence she endured. She did not provoke my father, and even if she had, violence is an unacceptable way of dealing with conflict. Violence is a choice a man makes and he alone is responsible for it. No one came to help. No adult stepped in and took charge. I needed someone else to take over and tell me everything was going to be all right and that it wasn’t my fault. I wanted the anger to go away and, while it stayed, I felt responsible. The sense of guilt and loneliness provoked by domestic violence is tainting – and lasting. No one came, but everyone knew. Our small houses were close together. Every Monday morning I walked to school with my head down, praying that I would not encounter a neighbour or school friend who had heard the weekend’s rows. I felt ashamed.” [Patrick Stewart]

I believe the answer is made abundantly clear by Mr.Stewart here – do not be silent, do not be complicit, do not be afraid to intrude, because the 25% are depending on your non-interference. You must speak up, and you must intercede when you can, however you can.

I think, men, we should also face up to the stamp of our lowly origin. We evolved as aggressive beings who take things with force. Over the course of millions of years of development, we have been rewarded for this type of behavior, and now that we have emerged from the swamp, it is high time we left those predispositions behind. We are not yet accustomed to seeing women as peers in the fullest sense of the word. Whether it is on account of our religion, or our culture, or the laws of our homeland, we have not completely accepted their right to equality in our own minds, and we can feel the indignation rising in our chests when we feel challenged or maligned by a woman.

I can only speak for my own kind (‘male, middle class and white’ as Ben Folds Five so accurately put it), but you would be hard-pressed to find a white man who would openly admit to being sexist or racist. Even when confronted of evidence of them actually being sexist or racist, they duck and dodge. President Elect Trump made it clear that his pussy-grabbing proclivities ‘didn’t represent him’ and I suppose the words that I say don’t represent me either if I get to live in his fairy-tale land too.

The problem, as I see it, is that the words ‘sexist’ and ‘racist’ are too toxic, and are avoided out of pride and self-preservation. I don’t see the shame in admitting that I have been sexist before, and I have been racist before, and that I am working on not being this way in the future. Some of my own predispositions are volitional – I make choices that are sexist or racist – and others are ingrained and instinctual, created by my own upbringing and exist in an unconscious manner. I discovered some of my own pre-existing prejudices hiding in my own language when I started to edit my novel.

I described a character that had a Spanish inflection to his speech, but changed it suddenly during the course of a conversion with a native English speaking American. ‘He returned to a normal accent’ – I wrote – and I thought nothing of it until I started to proofread. Normal? In my personal history, within my own life, sure, ‘normal’ to me was white men and women speaking without an accent or inflection. To anyone else of a different nationality or ethnic background, it would not have been normal, and you can begin to see how these types of beliefs can exist underneath someone’s honest ability to detect them.

Was my error in the same universe as joining the Klu Klux Klan or harassing a woman in the workplace? Of course not, but those bigger actions have smaller origins, and they start out as uncontested thought. Was I solely responsible for the conditions that caused me to write something insensitive? Well, no, not entirely. I didn’t choose to grow up in Foristell, Missouri, and I didn’t choose to grow up in a religious family that believed men were ‘the head of the household’, but these are merely influences that an intellectually mature adult can easily learn to outgrow.

I lose patience with my fellow white men who are so eager to explain to women and minorities about what constitutes discrimination and what doesn’t – as if they would know, as if they could understand, as if they didn’t carry about with them the same tremendous privilege that rests in my pocket each and every day of my own life. They might be able to fool you, but they can’t fool me. I know how good I have it, and I know how wrong it all really is.

I lived in Florissant with my wife for five years. It’s about a ten or fifteen minute drive away from Ferguson, and it gave me a unique bit of perspective about my own privilege. Two years ago, Michael Brown was killed by a police officer during altercation that originated because Mr. Brown was walking in the street. That aspect of the incident is unchallenged – he was jaywalking, and the officer wanted him to move.

I rented an apartment that was just a few blocks away from my employer. When it was warm, I would walk to work in about five or six minutes, depending on the traffic. On average, I would probably jaywalk at least twice a day across an incredibly busy artery of traffic. Often times, I’d jaywalk in front of an actual police cruiser, since the Florissant PD station was just an intersection away. Ask me how many times a police officer has bothered to tell me to get out of the street. Ask me how many times a police officer has grabbed me from a moving vehicle while I was walking. Zero, and zero, if you must know, and if that isn’t a privilege, tell me what is? Michael Brown, unquestionably, was not afforded the same slack I received on a daily basis, without exaggeration, for five whole years. 

It must be said plainly – I benefit from being a white man on a daily basis. I have never feared for my life during a traffic stop. I have never been told to ‘smile more’ while at work. I have never been sexually harassed while I was trying to do my job. I take perks like these for granted, and to pretend that much of the rest of the world does not have it this easy would be heartless and ignorant.

I’m opening the comments section for this article, and I’ll tell you why:

I don’t know how to use this privilege to advance equality for everyone. Genuinely, I don’t. It isn’t my struggle, I don’t know what it feels like, and I won’t callously pretend to understand your perspective, but I do know where to start –  I’m willing to listen. I’m willing to put my empathy above my own fears and insecurities. I’m willing to be humble, and I’m willing let you lead, and I know you’re all tired of being told how you ought to speak, how you ought to act, and how you ought to live, and it’s time white men started to listen in earnest.

 

 


 

Our national nightmare is now a painful reality. President Trump gets inaugurated in January. What the hell happened?

Losing the White House was one thing, but getting blown out of the House and the Senate are quite another, and we will face brand new problems in the Supreme Court. You can bet the Affordable Care Act and Roe v. Wade are firmly in the cross hairs, and the neoconservative agenda has been given a potent shot of adrenaline. The only thing Clinton needed to do was to bring Democrats to the polls. She has lost a general election to the single least qualified candidate in American history. It is a dubious failure, she should be ashamed of it, and it is one for which we will all suffer tremendously.

The sins of the Clintonistas have come back to haunt our entire nation. Whether it was the dalliances of her husband many years ago, or the questionable revenue stream they lovingly nursed from the Clinton Foundation, or her damn emails, nothing ever seemed to be completely above board with them, and that’s simply because nothing really is. We all know it to be true, and it was a fact we on the left all willfully ignored. Blame the GOP if you want, but Obama cruised through two victories over them with relative ease, so why couldn’t Clinton? The answer is clear – he has character and principles, and she simply doesn’t.

When Wasserman was deposed as head of the DNC, the Clinton campaign immediately hired her. Why? It was a contemptuous and petty point, and the message was as clunky as it was intentional: here’s what we think of your concerns about candidate collusion. Sorry, we’re not sorry. Why did Mrs. Clinton boot up that infamous email server in the first place? Because she didn’t want to carry a second phone, and didn’t like the NSA’s data storage guidelines, so she made her own rules and shirked the ones that others were stupid enough to follow. The warning signs were always there, and we zipped straight past them in our blood-lust to sink Trump.

I rolled my eyes, some ten years ago, when I heard Christopher Hitchens saying on C-SPAN that ‘character’ was the first quality he looked for in a presidential candidate. He took a turn to the right in his later years, especially when it came to Iraq, and this statement made me scoff, too similar in tone to the moral evangelical warriors I loathe. He was right then, and he’d be right now, and what’s done in the dark in the beltway will eventually be shown in full view of everyone.

There’s so much blame to spread around, but I think I shouldn’t dump it all on Mrs.Clinton. I didn’t do anything else except vote. I didn’t canvas, I didn’t phone bank, I didn’t volunteer, I didn’t get involved enough. I got outworked. I’ve learned my lesson, and I won’t make the same mistake twice. We’re all culpable for this, and the sooner we accept it and learn from it, the sooner we can all move on.

The Good News

In many ways, the White House is a poisoned chalice, and the Democrats will have time to rebuild in an effective fashion over the next four years. After such a crushing defeat, there is, truly, no where to go but up. Was this Republican rise inevitable? Even if Mrs.Clinton had dragged out a close victory yesterday, her unfavoribility ratings would all but preclude a second term. The executive branch was being gift wrapped for the GOP the moment the DNC nominated Clinton anyway, so what’s the difference? There is simply no way, after four contentious years with Republican majorities in the House and Senate, that President H. Clinton had any chance of going into a second term. If you thought this election cycle was bad, multiply that by four years, and tell me how good the DNC’s chances look then.

President Trump will be presiding over a nation that largely views him unfavorably – this figure could be as high as 60%  – and at the first sign of trouble, that number will likely rise dramatically. His administration will struggle to govern a divided country, and his inexperience in diplomacy will make itself evident immediately.

In fact, some of the campaign rhetoric he used will become a headache for him right away. Mexico’s currency dropped 8% in value over night on the news of his election. Mexico can’t be pleased. Our remaining allies (the ones he intends on extorting) won’t be pleased, and if he is able to wreak havoc on existing trade agreements throughout the globe, the majority of the planet won’t be pleased.

What’s more, the bad PR and legal trouble that has hounded Trump from the beginning won’t disappear. Much like President Clinton, these allegations of sexual misconduct aren’t going to vanish, and you had best believe some of the sharpest minds in the DNC are angrily sifting through these files in search of future ammunition. Judging by his character – and the lack of quality vetting from the Republicans – they’ll find something worthwhile, and soon.

Additionally, the notion that the GOP now has a rubber stamp to pass their sweetheart legislation might not necessarily be true. Trump often butted heads with the highest ranking members of the party, and his ascension into the White House won’t make him more timid. He’ll buck the party line when he wants to, and giddy Republicans who are counting on him to deliver on campaign promises might have the rug pulled out from underneath their feet.

Some of the alarmist rhetoric may need to be checked as well – Trump drew fewer votes than Romney, so this narrative of a groundswell of brand new conservatism is mistaken. The barren truth is that it has always been there, ever present in predictable and consistent numbers.

The hyperbole was suffocating on social media – suicide hotline numbers being shared, threats to leave the country, even Canada’s immigration webpage crashed under the strain of new page views. Not to diminish the importance of this election, but the Democrats have lost elections before, and they’ll lose them again, and it probably won’t be the end of the world and we should all relax a bit.
The Bad News

Egypt, Russia, and Turkey were the first to send their gleeful congratulations to the Trump campaign on their victory. Sisi, Putin, and Tayyip are all despotic dictators, and above all else they know a good mark when they see one. Their unbridled excitement for a Trump White House speaks entirely for itself.

While market fluctuations after elections are common, you can be certain that the American economy, if not the global one, will start bleeding soon, and if the experts are correct, his policies will drive the national deficit up, not bring it back down. Trump cannot bring manufacturing back to the United States, despite his campaign promises, and our currently stable unemployment rate of 4.8% will rise as automation slowly swipes jobs out from underneath the American labor market.

The divide, as it was with Brexit, is a generational one, and our elders have taken their last remaining moments of cognizance and used them to set our nation back decades. The scourge of the earth, it turns out, is not Millennials, but our torpid elders that harbored the racist and sexist sympathies that catapulted that sniveling baboon to power. We will be left to clean up their mess, just as we did with the collapse of the housing market, and the repercussions will be devastating, and they won’t care because they’ll be dead.

What keeps me up at night now is not the idea of Trump at the helm – democracies often elect national embarrassments (see Berlesconi and Duerte) – but that Mr.Trump will almost certainly have no idea what he is doing on a basic level, and his administration will be primarily driven by a cadre of faceless and unelected right wing aides. This is a recipe for disaster, and we need to look no further than Paul Bremer’s mismanagement of a post-invasion Iraq to see just how much damage this type of hands-off policy can inflict.

This is a blowout victory for American fascism. You don’t need to take my word for it, ask the Klu Klux Klan what they think. Their publication, of course, was one of only two that endorsed Mr.Trump. They are invigorated by his success, and instead of leaving them in the dustbin of the 1950’s, we have given them a needed shot in the arm.

I suppose I am most disappointed in the idiocy of the Evangelicals, who, in an insane attempt to solve a fundamentally unsolvable issue in abortion, threw away every pretense of moral authority and principle with unbridled excitement. I am warmly consoled, however, at the steadily declining numbers of church-goers. The religious right should enjoy the political influence they have now, because it is going to die off for good over the next two decades.

Perhaps most irritating are the ‘uncle tom’ voters – Trump secured 31% of the Latino vote in Florida, and his numbers among female voters, while still anemic, are mind-numbing. The wealthy have long been able to trick the poor into voting against their own interests, but this development – winning the votes of demographics you threaten to deport and of a gender that you boast of sexually assaulting with impunity – is truly unfathomable.

What makes me truly depressed about this election is not a Republican win, or a Democratic loss, but that millions of young women and girls, instead of seeing a qualified and successful woman elected to our nation’s most prestigious and powerful office, saw a bloated sexual predator, unrepentant about his flagrant behavior, coast to an easy victory. I don’t envy you, parents, because I don’t know how I’d ever explain this to a daughter of my own, and I have never been more ashamed of my country in all my life.
Media

 

Oddly enough, both sides of this political conflict feel slighted by the media. The right believes that American journalism displayed how biased they truly were by discounting Trump’s chances from the start (and failing to predict his win), and the left believes that the profit-crazed media saw Trump as a useful idiot that drove ratings and slathered him with free publicity. Both ideologies are mostly wrong.

To begin with, this faction of the right doesn’t seem to understand the basics of statistical analysis and probability. Polling isn’t an exact science, and it’s never presented as such. There was good reason to believe Trump would lose – and that’s because Clinton was polling into a double-digit lead in many of the states she would lose only hours later. This election was unprecedented in its volatility, and the results reflect this reality. A liberal conspiracy it ain’t.

Neither should the left heap scorn on the media for inflating Mr.Trump’s profile. Maybe you could blame this industry for his successful primary run, but beyond that, the blame lies with the people who elected him. He was the legitimately nominated candidate of one of the largest political parties on the planet, and this was newsworthy. Further, they confronted him fiercely when called upon, and never stopped asking necessary questions. “The media told you who he was,” lamented former Gawker gossip baron Barry Petchesky on Twitter, “but you didn’t give a shit.”

Was there a profit incentive for American journalism? Of course, but the timbre of this campaign proved to be immune to any barbs the journalism world had to throw at it – if the Times ran Trump’s tax returns, they’d lament more mainstream media bullying.

This, strangely enough, may produce Trump’s downfall. If he thought the media was unkind to him during the general, he has a rude awakening in store midway through his term. Especially when you consider these journalists might now feel complicit in his meteoric rise. If there was blood in the water before, there’s a new ocean of chum floating at the surface now.

Maps and Sexism

Say whatever you like about the outcome – I don’t dispute that ordinary sexism precluded many men from voting for Mrs.Clinton – but the undeniable and objective truth here is that Clinton failed to carry states she should have held, and failed to defeat the most vulnerable opponent in American history:

The 2016 results - where HRC loses Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida - all states Mr. Obama won in 2012

The 2016 results – where HRC loses Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida – all states Mr. Obama won in 2012

2012 results - where President Obama coasts to victory against 60 million Republican votes

2012 results – where President Obama coasts to victory against 60 million Republican votes

It must be said simply – she fucked up a cakewalk and she ought to feel bad for doing so. 53% of white women cast their ballots for Trump. Gender equality is being hamstringed by women too uneducated, delusional, or religious to vote for their own advancement.

Why was it easy for a self-professed molester to walk into the White House? Because President Clinton had a long line of accusers, and no shortage of accusations and court settlements. We gave the Clinton family a little ethical leeway, and President Trump wriggled through the same moral cracks we lovingly dug for Hillary. That, strangely enough, is the lesson I think we all ought to learn. Unethical behavior always catches up with you, and as our world becomes more transparent, it will catch up at an even quicker rate of speed.


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