Monday, November 14, 2016

Thoughts on Being and Elitist Asshole

Looking back on election coverage over that last year and a half, I am embarrassed by the arrogance. Aaron Sorkin wrote a letter to his wife and daughter apologizing for Donald Trump and promising to do a better job of protecting them. I could write a similar letter but instead of apologizing to my daughters for not being a better liberal, I would apologize for being such an elitist asshole. And if you live in the same NPR, MSNBC, Late Night Comedy and New York Times echo chamber that I live in, you just might be an elitist asshole, too.

Eight years ago, on November 5th, 2008 I woke up elated. I took my car in to have the oil changed and there was an older black woman waiting with her grandson and she was showing him the photo of President elect Barack Obama addressing the crowd. “Yes We Can” was the headline. I caught her eye and we shared a smile. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel embarrassed in the presence of a black person. For the first time, I felt like the stain of privilege and implied racism wasn’t the first thing she saw because this white nation elected a black man to the highest office in the land. I felt pride in my country that perhaps wasn’t as racist and bellicose as I thought.

I was elated when the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed and when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed. I even changed my Facebook profile picture to the rainbow filter when Same Sex Marriage became the law of the land. I smugly pointed to the stemming of the tide of widespread job loss and the slow but steady economic recovery as evidence of the superiority of the Democrats and the strength of the liberal agenda. The questions about the President’s citizenship and demands to produce his birth certificate were just indications that his opponents were ignorant racists.

While I still believe that questions about the President’s legitimacy are indicative of ugly racism, I also think we should have been much more gracious in our victories and worked harder to bring people along with us. Instead, a cottage industry based on making fun of poor white people in the middle of the country emerged. We have spent the last eight years reflecting the religious and cultural diversity that we on the left embrace and admire while mocking the people clinging to their guns and their religion. “Modern Family” wins Emmys year after year while “Duck Dynasty” and “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” are snarky punchlines and Tea Party favorites like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman are ignorant boobs on “Saturday Night Live”.

Over the past few years, more than a few of my right of center friends and family members have said, “This is not the America that I grew up in…” or “It’s time we take our country back” and silently rolled my eyes. Now that my candidate lost, I hear myself utter the exact same sentiments almost verbatim. I woke up disoriented and shocked on Wednesday morning, disbelief that a gaudy reality TV star who does not share my values will be the President of the United States.  It’s like I woke up in the Upside Down from “Stranger Things” – everything is in the same place, but I’m on a different plane or frequency where everything is dark and ugly. But for many, the Upside Down for them is Obama’s vision for America. I don’t understand why they feel that way, but I would like to learn.
I find Donald Trump abhorrent and feel betrayed by my neighbors and friends who voted for him. I struggle to understand how anyone could vote for such a gross and venal man. I can’t bear the thought of listening to him for the next four years. What I have come to realize, though, is that there are many in this country who have the same sense of loathing for President Obama, Secretary Clinton and all of us “elites” who have been pointing and laughing at them for the past eight years.  

There is a lot of work to be done to stitch our commonweal together but I would like to make a radical proposal: Let’s stop calling each other names and be willing to listen to each other and feel each other’s pain.  

Monday, September 12, 2016

Take a Knee

I understand the visceral reaction that many have to the collective protest of our National Anthem and Flag. When my home team quarterback Colin Kaepernick set off the firestorm by sitting for the anthem, I felt stung and my sensibilities were offended. Kaepernick, I thought, is an example of our meritocracy – a black man growing up in a struggling Central Valley town who by hard work and skill was able to lead his team to America’s greatest stage. He is an example of America when it works. My reaction was anger and annoyance, how dare he insult our vets when he has benefited so much from their sacrifice? Who the hell is he to complain? He seems to have it pretty good…

First of all, why not Kaepernick? Why not use his position as a successful (albeit currently challenged) athlete on the national stage to make a strong statement on behalf of those who are silenced? Until he sat down for the anthem, no one was paying any attention to him, either. Tweets do not make a movement. Tweets and Facebook posts did call attention to the number of black men who are killed in the street by police officers who later face no trial of their peers. A movement erupted but the comfortable ignored it or made fun of it, insisting that all lives matter when clearly they do not. If the lives of these black men mattered, then there would have been indictments and trials.

He sat and we finally paid attention but we still ignore the statement. We latch on to the hagiography of what the flag means to us without truly questioning what it should mean. Kaepernick made me think hard and my mind was changed. Fundamentally, we a nation of ideals. We a nation based on the political ideology of equality under the law.  We are not a nation defined by our borders and our cultural identity. We are not a nation defined by nationalism; we are defined by our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution that codifies our equality under the law.

By taking a knee for the anthem, Kaepernick asserts those ideals and makes a strong and painful declaration that we are not living up to them. Our nation was founded by those who wanted to leave behind the blood and boundary nationalism of Europe. There is an England, there is a France, there is a Germany that transcends the political system of the moment. Vichy France was never not France and the Democratic Republic of Germany continued to be German even under Soviet control. These were and continue to be nations that are defined by their cultural identity and nationalism. We are not.

With my initial anger at Mr. Kaepernick I lost sight of America’s great legacy. We are not a nation founded on boundaries and ethnicity. We are a nation that is founded on the ideas of equality and liberty. If the flag is only a symbol of the sacrifice of our soldiers during war time, then we are nothing more than the physical borders that must be protected, not our principles and not our ideals. Our nation is much greater than our boundaries and we should demand respect for those ideals, especially from sworn officers. Extrajudicial murders in black communities, carried out by the very officers who are meant to protect us, are a perversion of the ideals our nation is built on. The integrity of those ideals are more important than the integrity of our national boundaries, if not more so.

Opening Day of the NFL season fell on the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Nine Eleven. Even after defending my quarterback for the last couple of weeks, I felt ambivalent about the appropriateness of continuing the protest on a day where our nation mourned the greatest attack on our national integrity since the Second World War. Our homeland was attacked. We went to war to protect our ideals and our way of life. Surely sitting down on 9/11 is disrespectful to that memory, isn’t it? And yet, surely it is disrespectful to our ideals to accept that entire communities are not afforded the rights enshrined in our founding documents. To accept that citizens of this country can be killed with impunity, where there is no accountability for the taking of their life, is to deny the concept of our right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

If our flag doesn’t stand for those ideals, then what does it really stand for?

If our flag doesn’t stand for those ideals, then we should all sit.