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Giving Up Hate for Lent

I think it’s fascinating when you stop to consider what people “give up” for Lent. Americans swear off all kinds of things and I was no exception this year. More often than not the things we give up are harmless luxuries or petty vices that we can easily do without. The usual suspects like chocolate, fast food, chewing gum, smoking, alcohol, cursing, etc. seem to make everyone’s list. One year I gave up caffeine, but I really don’t think it made me a better person. All it succeeded in doing was make me very irritable. I wasn’t exactly engaging in solemn spiritual reflection. I was just jonesing.

Why do we do this? What do we accomplish, or hope to accomplish, when we give up something for Lent? More importantly, why do we keep choosing trifles to “sacrifice”? It matters more than we think. But the vast majority of us who give up something for Lent don’t give our decision a second thought. Lent comes and goes every year with all the life changing power of our New Year’s Resolutions.

The word “Lent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon “lencten”, which simply means “spring.” It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. It lasts forty days (not counting Sundays) and is intended to represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness to strengthen and purify himself before his ministry in the world began. For Christians, it is intended to be a time of repentance and self-examination as we await the coming of Easter. It is a time of spiritual renewal. It is a time to remember Christ’s sacrifice and if one pauses to consider what Christians believe he gave up for humanity on the cross, abstaining from eating candy bars seems a trifle immaterial if not completely frivolous.

Well, how about “giving up” something that might make a real difference to one personally? Something lasting that actually has meaning other than some painless self-denial. This year, the minister at my church presented our congregation with a far more compelling challenge this Lenten season.

How about giving up hate? How about giving up resentment, mean-spiritedness and bile? How about giving up bitterness? How about giving up anger? Think about that for a minute. Given today’s social and political climate, this is likely a far more difficult and daunting prospect for Americans than simply eschewing soda for a few weeks.

So this year, I gave up something different for Lent. I decided to give up being angry on social media and refrain from political commentary.

Do you know how hard that is? Especially if you’re somebody like me who reads the Washington Post and the New York Times daily, watches MSNBC and CNN whenever possible and generally tries to consume as much news as I can. It usually takes only about thirty seconds for me to become blind with fury at something this bone-headed administration has done, is doing or is trying to do. And usually, I vent that frustration on social media. When I stepped back, I saw that my Facebook feed was filled with politics and fury at Donald Trump. So were the feeds of most of my friends. They tend to be just as angry with the state of our country as I am and it fed my frustration and rage.

And you know what? I found that it wasn’t particularly healthy and furthermore it generally accomplished nothing. Not for me at any rate. I discovered I was one of millions in the choir preaching to millions of others in the choir. I hated anyone who didn’t share my views on Issue “A” or Candidate “B” or just posted an opinion contrary to my own personal orthodoxy. I was paying attention to the commentary on my favorite evening political shows only in the hopes of catching a snarky soundbite to post.

That ended, at least for a while, on Wednesday, March 6, 2019 and what a difference 46 days makes.

The only “current event” I posted about during Lent was the fire that all but consumed Notre-Dame in Paris. Everything from the college admission cheating scandal to the release of the redacted version of the Mueller Report to the failure of Congress to override Trump’s “state of emergency” at the US-Mexico border are things I normally would have spent a lot of time online railing about. And it would have accomplished nothing except making me upset and sick to my stomach.

In choosing to step back from the keyboard for a while, it occurred to me that nothing ever changes just because of social media anger. Everything was, regrettably, just as screwed up on Ash Wednesday as it was on Easter Sunday. The only way things really change is when people vote. And when we are between elections, things change when people march and demonstrate, volunteer, donate and make phone calls. When people give of their time and their talents to make this country the place that it should and needs to be, that’s when the ground starts to shake beneath the White House’s feet.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I don’t wish to imply that people who are politically active online and only post about current affairs are somehow wrong. I didn’t wander into the desert and have a vision that taking a break from political and social commentary is The Way Everybody Should Go. Make no mistake. It’s still important to keep writing. It helps keep people aware of what’s going on and is an important way to make our voices heard. But fundamentally, nothing good ever came from just bellyaching nonstop on social media (unless your last name happens to be Putin) and that became crystal clear for me personally during these few weeks.

I consider myself to be an educated man. I think I know the issues. I’m fairly certain know the candidates. I unquestionably know what’s at stake next November. But in no way does any of that mean I have to angrily broadcast what’s on my mind in all caps to everybody on the planet every chance I get.

During Lent, I continued to read Facebook but through a different lens and it was a joy. I learned some really neat things about my friends. I know a lot of very talented and creative people, full of humor, warmth and compassion. You just have to cut through all the garbage other people post, which can be a Herculean feat on some days. And life became better offline. I rediscovered my love of Stanley Cup playoff hockey. I spent more time on the phone. Not texting…actually on the phone talking with friends instead of just messaging them. I was able to dedicate more of my mental energy to helping my denomination, the United Methodist Church, fight a renewed effort from within the church hierarchy to crack down on gay marriage and the ordination of gay clergy. You can’t do that on Facebook. When there weren’t constant voices yelling about the issues, I could get more out of what I did read from “traditional” news sources. If you go away from social media for a while and then come back, it becomes really clear how easy it was for Russia to screw with our election process. It sometimes seems that everybody out there is a troll of some kind.

Not being so angry all the time also gave me the ability to focus on the more personal matters that came my way. A childhood friend who lost her husband and just needed to talk. Another who is dealing with the loss of his best friend and his mother in the same week. Trump’s Twitter antics seem really unimportant when you are confronted with things like that.

All of this is not to say I personally won’t get political again on Facebook. Of course I will. I’m me. I just will likely do it a lot less and let The Contrarian Blog do it for me. His job is to be an opinionated prick. Mine is just to try to be a decent person and a good friend.

Online and off.

For the Good of Virginia, and America, Ralph Northam Must Stay. But He Won’t.

9a8816bb-10e5-4b08-adc7-2708f31163aa-large16x9_AP19033530536053The outrage expressed against Virginia governor Ralph Northam over racist photographs dating from his medical school yearbook in 1984, which as of this writing may or may not even be of him, may at first glance appear to be a perfectly warranted reaction to discovering a horrible bigot is wandering the halls of power. On the other hand, the furor may also be hysterical and wildly overblown, given that his actions as a public servant since then are completely inconsistent with being a hopelessly irretrievable racist deserving of nothing but contempt.

Now in the interest of fairness, if upon closer examination Northam does turn out to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan and has a long history of quietly working to undermine the black community…wait a minute. What am I saying? Of course he isn’t really a racist Klansman. The tragedy is that many people in Virginia, regardless of race or political affiliation, seem to understand this. But at the national level, there is a near total inability to process one basic reality: Ralph Northam did an unbelievably stupid thing over thirty years ago but apparently nothing more than that. This essential disconnect is the reason why we’re experiencing this national freak out to begin with. If it was clear that he was and is just a hateful bigot, then there would be no controversy whatsoever. It would just be good riddance to bad garbage. But apparently it isn’t clear. Not clear at all, and the insistence of Democratic party leaders and progressives in general to have his head put on a pike outside the Capitol building in Richmond as a warning reveals something far more ugly than any yearbook picture from the eighties. It shows a Democratic party, and perhaps the progressive movement as a whole, in a state of disarray and division. We may be looking at a nation desperate to lash out at anyone who can represent Donald Trump in effigy. It’s a perfectly logical reaction. The foulest bigot America can’t be stopped, at least not right now, but we can still make ourselves feel better by taking down anyone who may resemble him, no matter how shadowy that reflection. It will help contain our rage until we get to step into the voting booth again in 2020.

I have watched bemused while many of my fellow progressives are rubbing their hands together with self-righteous glee at bringing down another fine and long-serving representative of the people for an unsavory infraction committed years ago. What, Al Franken wasn’t enough of a sacrifice for you? I guess I’ll just have to wait until Cory Booker’s 2020 campaign is dismantled for being too cozy with Big Pharma. But simply organizing another circular firing squad is not enough for Democrats, although the formation of one was wholly predictable. There is also, understandably, a longing to return to a time when we our politics weren’t so toxic. But nobody is quite sure how to get there or even if we can get there. A good case in point is the obsession so may of us have with restoring credibility to Michelle Obama’s notion of “when they go low, we go high.” This idea, marvelous though it is, now seems almost ridiculously naïve when confronted with the reality that no Republican would ever resign under similar circumstances that Northam is facing, and that official would have the entire GOP, locally and nationally, backing him up. Even the most hardened progressive must concede that the hypocrisy of Republicans calling for Northam’s resignation while their party’s standard bearer is the most powerful racist the country has seen since the Civil War is enough to make the gorge rise.

Have we learned nothing in the Age of Trump? An elected official’s past, as checkered as it may be, is something people don’t seem to fundamentally care about, at least not anymore. Our recent electoral history has borne that out. Consider the President himself. The “Access Hollywood” tape came out, his whole racist past as a New York slum lord in the 1970s and 1980s was a matter of long-standing public record and we still gave him the keys to the kingdom. Never mind final vote tallies or electoral mathematics. He shouldn’t have gotten anywhere near 1600 Pennsylvania. Trump attacked a Federal judge because of his Mexican heritage. The manner in which he has consistently referred to women is far too disgusting to be given the dignity of recall by this writer. And you know what? It’s not just him. Look at how close a pedophile like Roy Moore came to beating Doug Jones in Alabama. The protests against Brett Kavanaugh’s ascendance to the Supreme Court evaporated once he was sworn in. People are even now completely ready to give Bernie Sanders a pass even though women kept coming forward to report sexual harassment and abuse while working on his campaign. There was a $30,000 federal discrimination settlement with two former employees of the Sanders campaign but no reproach from national Democrats. I could go on, but nobody wants to be late for their dinner.

Now Ralph Northam is the enemy du jour. Some say he must be resign or drag down the re-election hopes of future Democrats in the state. That’s a disturbing and frankly cynical thought, as it implies that this issue is not really about racial justice, but about legislators keeping their jobs. Or just as problematic, the presumption that Ralph Northam can personally and single-handedly brand the entire Democratic party of his state as racist by remaining in office. I hate to say it people, but this is Virginia. Elected officials here of both parties are and have been racist for a long time and without any help from the likes of Northam. Some people who are particularly dense are calling for his impeachment. Never mind that having a racist yearbook photo doesn’t even come close to qualifying as “malfeasance in office, corruption, neglect of duty, or other high crime or misdemeanor” as stipulated in the Virginia Constitution. With progressives salivating daily over fantasies of Trump being impeached, it’s hardly any surprise that this has become a mythical panacea for all that ails America with respect to politicians you don’t like.

If you look hard enough, you can find a disqualifier for every legislator at all levels of government in this nation. There’s just one problem. Republicans aren’t purging their ranks of bigots. They didn’t even entertain the notion of calling for a vicious hatemonger like Steve King to step down. The GOP just stripped him of his committee assignments but the man is still in Congress. Democrats, on the other hand, keep eating their own and it’s liable to guarantee Donald Trump’s easy re-election in two years. Well, if we’re going to do down this path, and it appears inevitable that we will, then I would like to offer a word of caution.

I had better see all of the progressives calling for Northam’s head to be delivered on a silver platter working night and day between now and November 3, 2020 to bring down the occupant of the White House by hook or by crook because right now I don’t. I just see a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth. I see progressives hoping and praying Robert Mueller will swoop down and save America. But he can’t. I see fair-minded, honest, hard-working Democrats announcing their bids to oppose Trump in 2020 only to have other Democrats begin long lists of why they shouldn’t be elected or have no chance to begin with. In two years, Donald Trump has done more to sow division and discord on the national level than any major political figure in the last half century. In addition to his record of discriminating against blacks that spans his entire career, he has ardently defended white nationalists, incarcerated thousands of helpless migrants, including young children, because they are poor and have brown skin, effectively banned people from entering the United States because they are Muslims and disregarded the destruction of an entire island with over 3 million Americans on it because they speak Spanish.

And yet many progressives, the vast majority of whom don’t even live in Virginia (full disclosure: I live here), are demanding the resignation of a good and reliable public servant because of a yearbook photo from over three decades ago and replacing him with someone presumed to be beyond reproach because of the color of his skin, which is in and of itself patently absurd because all of us are subject to being prejudiced, regardless of what color we are. We don’t want to believe that about ourselves, but it’s true. The only ones who get the moniker are simply the ones who get caught in the act. So if you believe that Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, or any of us, have stainless histories or minds completely devoid of hate and bigotry, you’re deluding yourself. Maybe we should do a full background check on Fairfax just to make sure a conservative website doesn’t dredge up some horrible skeleton he’s got tucked away in his closet.

Whoops. Too late, it already did.

Accusations of sexual assault against Fairfax as recently as 2004 resurfaced just days after Northam came under fire and by the same outfit that found those now infamous yearbook pictures. To make things even messier, Fairfax admits the incident occurred but it was consensual, a stance derided as a convenient fallback for the guilty. With the #MeToo movement in in full vigor grappling with this latest dilemma, suddenly just showing Northam the door and giving the keys to the Executive Mansion to Fairfax becomes a much, much less easy option. It seems clear that the Democratic Party in Virginia is being subjected to a coordinated hit job by conservatives with all the efficiency of a Russian social media attack. We probably should expect the GOP in Virginia to pose the question rather soon: “Who do Virginians want to be leading our state? Do you want the Democrat who’s a racist or the Democrat who’s a rapist?” The answer will be obvious: choose a decent, moral, God-fearing Republican, pure of mind and spirit, of course. And we are falling for it hook, line and sinker. Anyone care to bet on when something disturbing will surface on the evening news about Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring? Because if Herring can somehow be forced from public office, then who becomes the next Governor of Virginia? Why, Speaker of the House of Delegates Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) would. And he would get to work with a General Assembly controlled by Republicans. Fancy that.

One of the most craven spectacles I have ever seen was sitting there watching every Democratic politico in the country giving us the usual cookie-cutter statement in near unison: we must stand up to racism wherever we find it, the public trust has been violated and because we hold our political leaders to a higher standard, Northam has lost the moral authority to govern and must resign.

That is a steaming load of crap.

We don’t hold our leaders to any such standard. American politics is today about hate and hypocrisy. We wave signs that declare “Love is Stronger Than Hate”, but we know deep down that isn’t true. And then we lie to ourselves about it. Shame on us. “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Good advice. Especially in America 2019.

The Washington Post recently wrote that Virginia must heal and that Ralph Northam has an important part to play in that process. “But not as the governor of Virginia”. I have a few questions to ask about that. How will it help Virginia to heal if we excise either of these men from political life while simultaneously believing that they are both fundamentally good and decent? How does it help Virginia to heal if we replace an accused racist with an accused rapist? How does it help Virginia to heal if we keep finding reasons to despise each other when it is clear that both of these men want nothing more than to dedicate themselves to serving the people of the Commonwealth they both love?

The answer is it doesn’t help. Not one bit. What we are witnessing are progressives looking for a pound of flesh that is not their own. It is the continuation of the search for someone to punish for a cataclysm we loosened upon ourselves. It is a reflection of how deep the anguish continues to run in a party still committing self-flagellation to atone for the sin of losing the 2016 Election to the monster who currently inhabits the Oval Office. This whole brouhaha isn’t about healing. It’s about revenge. It’s about electoral politics. And it’s about cowardice. It is far easier to come down mercilessly on a term-limited governor like Northam or a relatively obscure Lt. governor like Fairfax who can do little harm outside the confines of their own state (I’m looking at you Progressives who don’t live in Virginia) than it is to continuously rally, protest and demand the resignation of an autocrat like President Donald Trump, a man with a fanatically loyal and highly motivated base who just might assault or kill you if you oppose their Dear Leader.

That’s why you’re pissed off.

But if this is the way that Virginians want it, fine. Let Northam resign. Fairfax has already spoken out against him. Well, of course. Who doesn’t want a promotion? So when he eventually becomes the governor by reason of Northam’s resignation, making his predecessor the first Virginia governor to leave office early since Reconstruction, he better do a really damn good job and do it completely free of scandal or controversy, which is extremely unlikely given his own dubious past. If he screws up by one inch, in any way, shape or form over the next three years (possibly seven), or if the accusations leveled against him have even a shred of truth to them, I for one will call for his immediate removal from office by any legal means at the disposal of the Commonwealth.

And don’t say it’s not fair because under the current exigency, it is.

More than fair.

Baby, It’s Hypocritical Outside

The Left has unwittingly enlisted a new soldier in the conservative media’s much ballyhooed yet illusory “War on Christmas”. This time, however, there actually seems to be a legitimate threat, although the target isn’t really in a position to mount any kind of defense. Many far left progressives, flush with the heady thrill of collecting political and celebrity scalps from the #MeToo movement, have now aimed their sights…on a holiday song.

Upon closer examination, it’s not really even a “Christmas” song in the traditional sense. There’s no religious angle, which is usually what gets conservatives’ hackles up about when the Christmas holidays are supposedly under assault. The tune is actually played year round, but generally only during the holiday season because the action takes place on a dark and snowy night. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, performed by luminaries like Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles, as well as by contemporary artists including Vanessa Williams and Idina Menzel, was originally written in 1944 by composer Frank Loesser. The song became an American standard with the popularity of the film Neptune’s Daughter in 1949. But this cheerful tune, beloved by millions for generations, has now become a source of ire to many progressive activists: an emblem of America’s sinister and ceaseless effort to keep women sexually submissive and allow our insidious rape culture that permits men to be as emotionally, physically and sexually abusive as they wish to flourish.

OK, fine. I’ll buy that.

But, if we’re going to go after this song as being “rapey” (not my word), because I really don’t think anybody except the highly attuned, and hypersensitive, analyze winter songs this much outside of academia, then I’d like to add a few more ditties to our Stay Woke Christmas Song Ban List. If “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is actually a deeply disturbing anthem romanticizing date rape, then we have a lot of other tunes to jettison. Let’s start with John Denver’s “Please, Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk on Christmas)” and it’s about exactly what you think it is. Don’t believe me? Look it up and play it. It’s horrible. And while we’re talking about rape, how about abolishing Jon Bon Jovi’s cover of Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa”, which I actually heard on a pop radio station during their annual 24/7 Christmas Music Bataan Death March. “They call me Back Door Santa…I make all the little girls happy while the boys are out to play. I ain’t like the old Saint Nick. He don’t come but once a year. I come runnin’ with my presents every time they call me dear.” Really??? And we all are supposed to admire this creep because he has a few stylish pay-what-you-can restaurants in New Jersey?

Why not take a closer eye at The Jackson Five singing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” because nothing says Christmas quite like the thought of a child thinking he is watching his father get cuckolded by a man who sneaks into your house in the middle of the night. Even if you accept the premise of “Oh, it’s OK…it turns out to be his Dad at the end”, one is still left with the uncomfortable thought that this voyeuristic kid is spying on his parents being intimate. Where else is he skulking about at night? Hiding in the bedroom closet perhaps?

Let’s also acknowledge that “Do They Know it’s Christmas?”, the 1984 fundraising song by the “supergroup” Band Aid is, for all its good intentions, something that is truly awful. Especially when you consider that we’re all supposed to be more aware of issues like racism, poverty and famine in the 35 years since the song was released. Think about it. It’s a bunch of white British pop stars singing in turn about how nothing good happens in Africa. You know, that dreadful continent that Britain and most of Europe held in thrall for centuries? The one with Ethiopia, who can trace its Christian roots to 341 CE, more than three centuries before Britain did? So yes, Ethiopians know it’s Christmastime. But what does that matter to us? “...There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime. The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life. Where nothing ever grows. No rain nor rivers flow…” Not to worry, though. You can assuage your colonial guilt by buying our record. It’s easy to spot. Just look for the one that has the enormous wreath, hobby-horses and cheerful English tots in bright period costumes with two starving black African children front and center. “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you” sings the ever socially aware Bono of U2. Wow. Nostalgia sure isn’t what it used to be, is it?

Anybody want to take shot at Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby” or any of the other numerous Christmas songs that glorify our self-centered, greedy and consumerist society? No? Tell you what. Let’s go full out and stop playing “The Coventry Carol”, written by an unknown composer in the 16th century, which is about the slaughter of Bethlehem’s first born sons by Herod as told in the New Testament. It’s 2019 after all. Infanticide and brutality against children is all the rage in America today. Just check out the southern border to see it in action.

Alright, if I’m completely honest, I really have no strong objections to any of these songs, including “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. I suppose I’d be more inclined to understand the outrage against it if there weren’t so many other tunes we don’t give a second thought to that are far more deserving of our disdain during the holidays. We scrutinize and single out Loesser’s Academy award winning opus perhaps because it is merely a cause célèbre that our Woke Culture warriors bring to us every holiday season. Or maybe because we just look for things to irritate us. I would also be far more likely to take a hard look at the song, but any conversations we could have around issues such as sexuality, rape culture and society’s gender power structure collapsed when people simply wanted to ban the song…or change it to something more palatable to people on Facebook and Twitter. It’s easier to confront a song from the forties than confronting any real current issues that song might bring to the forefront. Out of hearing, out of mind.

As a final note, I can’t help but notice that when people on social media wail and moan that “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is still being allowed on the air, most if not all of them have also reserved a special place in hell for “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey. The hatred for that song seems to far exceed any of the bile reserved of late for “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, which is something I just don’t get.

So let’s ban the rape song…and Mariah Carey, too? This is why we can’t have nice things.

Standing Up for Football

This fall, when the air starts getting chilly and the leaves on the trees slowly but surely start turning shades of red and gold, tailgaters will return to NFL stadiums across America grilling hamburgers and chugging ice cold beer out of coolers schlepped all the way from home. Scalpers will be on the prowl for their next sucker. People by the tens of thousands in every football town will start streaming through the gates just before the game. Some will have painted faces and be sporting colorful costumes. Many will proudly be wearing the jerseys of their heroes. All of them jealously clutching the tickets that will get them through the concourses to see the game. Anticipation and excitement will be on every face. Come on, they have waited all year to see the Visitors, aka Those Expletive Deleted Guys who knocked us out of the playoffs last year, get their heads handed to them.

Do you know what’s not going to be on their minds? What the players are doing during the one minute and forty seconds on average it takes to play the National Anthem, that’s what.

Donald Trump, in his ceaseless quest to find adversaries and generate controversy to distract America from the dysfunction of his administration, has decided to add the NFL to his Nixonian enemies list. He has made what was a quiet and solemn protest designed to call attention to the issue of police brutality against minorities into a full-blown culture war over patriotism, the military and respect for the flag. His calculus is that if he gets enough people to pay attention to this particular shiny object, nobody will notice that he is likely to beat Gerald Ford as the shortest serving Chief Executive who did not die in office. But his plan has apparently run into an equally distracting and more compelling shiny object for people to focus on:

The Vince Lombardi Trophy.

The Philadelphia Eagles are Super Bowl champions. They hail from a city that has never experienced the joy of a Super Bowl champion in their town, and boy do they love their “Iggles”. Trump’s recent decision to disinvite the champs to the White House over a controversy that he himself created has instead blown up in his face. Without the team and hundreds of cheering fans, the “Celebration of America” Tuesday on the South Lawn had the excitement and thrills of an oil change. Looking more petulant than patriotic, Trump’s ceremony had all of the pomp but none of the circumstance.

Now if you love sports and especially if you love the Philadelphia Eagles, this should come as absolutely no surprise. Donald Trump is not going to get Eagles fans, or anybody else’s fans for that matter, to turn their backs on the teams they have loved for generations because players “disagree with their President” and decide to kneel or stay in the tunnel before the National Anthem, which is something the Eagles team never even did during the regular season. Nor are they likely to turn their backs on a sport that has become a quintessentially American tradition because Trump needs a political cudgel.

The NFL regular season is a grand 17 week passion among Americans. Its popularity has fluctuated in recent years, but still exceeds that of baseball, basketball or hockey. People pay hard earned money to get those jerseys and tickets Trump is asking us to eschew. The average NFL ticket last year was $172.00, running the gamut from $380.00 to see the New England Patriots to as cheap as $86.00 for the Cincinnati Bengals. Authentic jerseys average $99.00 each. And people are paying the money. Colin Kaepernick, who first called attention to police brutality against the black community by kneeling during the National Anthem back in 2016, still had his old San Francisco 49ers jersey as one of the best-sellers in the league months after he left the team. Even this year, sales rival those of five-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, and Kaepernick isn’t even on anybody’s roster. Americans watch football in stadiums and at home. We experience the agony and the ecstasy of winning and losing in restaurants, bars, airports and even on our phones. Anywhere a TV is broadcasting the local game, there are people watching who love football. Trump doesn’t love football. It’s extremely likely he has never even seen a game in his life unless it was in a luxury box to impress business associates. So why are we listening to him?

I was in Colorado when the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl XXXII against the defending champion Green Bay Packers in 1998 after four previous failed attempts. If then President Bill Clinton was waging a personal war against the NFL and told Broncos fans to give up their season tickets and stop rooting for the team because players were showing disrespect for the flag, I can personally guarantee you that each and every one of those fans would tell him to get stuffed. Gen. George S. Patton was right. “Americans love a winner” and right now Trump is looking like the field goal kicker who just missed a chip shot to win the game with no time left on the clock.

During the season, there’s really only one question on the minds of true football fans and it has nothing do with the fixation the President of the United States has on whether or not players are kneeling during the National Anthem.

“What down is it?”

Seriously, that’s it. “What down is it?”

Well, in fairness there are other burning questions. “How many yards do we need before a first?” “Are we in field goal range?” “Did the ball cross the plane?” “Did he strip the ball or was it an incomplete pass? (Spoiler alert: it’s an incomplete pass. Tuck Rule, you know.) “Why didn’t he just throw it away instead of taking the sack?” “Who’s leading the division?” “What’s our ‘Magic Number’?” And by the way, if you don’t know that the “Magic Number” refers to in football, you aren’t actually a fan so what do you care anyway? We argue about whether or not the ground caused a fumble. We want our team to go for it on fourth-and-inches. We are madder than holy hell when the refs don’t call what was clearly pass interference.

But you know something? Thinking about how patriotic we are or how great the American military is just doesn’t cross our minds. Nor are we thinking about whether the President is right or wrong when he tells us to despise what he perceives are overpaid and uppity black men on the field who should be fired for engaging in social activism, which has been part of the fabric of sports for years. I’m sorry if this upsets some people, but this isn’t a political rally. This is a football game. It’s a sporting event and the most important thing is whether or not your team is beating the crap out of the other team.

Period.

Trust me. I’m a sports fan. More to the point I’m a football fan. My family members are all football fans. So are my friends, my old classmates, the people I work with and so is the guy sitting next to me at my local bar on Sundays in October. Except he’s wearing a Seahawks jersey and I hate the Seahawks. But one thing we all have in common is that we love the game. We adore our teams. We shower affection on the players because they make our cities proud when they win. The one thing that seems to be missing from our national discussion on this issue are the opinions of football fans themselves. Sometimes it seems the only people having this “discussion” are the President, who started this nonsense to begin with, and the players, who have been dragged unnecessarily into it because they believe in social justice. Everyone else who is preoccupied with this debate are either members of Trump’s base, the majority of whom demographically don’t seem live in places where there is a professional football team, or highbrow intellectuals who didn’t watch football to begin with because of its hard-hitting play and potential for injury. Football fans, like most fans of sports, don’t concern themselves with political arguments. Sunday mornings are for politics. Sunday afternoons are for the gridiron.

Will people be upset with football this year? Will they hate the NFL? Absolutely. But winning wipes away a lot of sins. The great Chicago Bears coach George Halas once called a win in the National Football League “a thrill that lasts a whole week…and what a thrill.” Sure, they’ll always be booing and plenty of it. But if you think people are angry when they see a player taking a knee before the game even starts, try experiencing the fury of over 80,000 Giants fans at the New Jersey Meadowlands if Eli Manning throws a watermelon you can read from a lawn chair in Secaucus for a pick six against the Cowboys.

Now that’s football anger.

Meghan Markle is Lipstick on a Royal Pig.

meghan-markle-1526401559In the interest of fairness, I would like to preface this by saying that I don’t object to the institution of marriage. I’m a married person myself and it’s an arrangement that I highly recommend. I certainly don’t object to the happy couple. By all outward appearances they are two charming young people and very much in love. A good fairy tale escape is something we can all appreciate. God knows everyone on this side of the pond needed a break from the daily trainwreck on television that is Donald J. Trump administration. But make no mistake, this was far from the storybook fantasy all of us in America make it out to be. There were a lot of problems around the Royal Wedding that nobody likes to talk about. None of which are necessarily about the two people involved, but rather with the institution surrounding the ceremony…and what it represents. As pretty as it was to watch through eyes made bloodshot from waking up too early on a weekend, I found the Royal Wedding to be objectionable, and while the flush of the champagne and Earl Grey tea everyone was drinking on Saturday is still rosy on our cheeks, I may as well raise them.

First, I object to the British Monarchy as an institution. It’s an anachronistic colonial relic whose usefulness in the modern age has long since worn out its welcome. Political legitimacy today no longer arises from a hereditary sovereign. It comes either from republican institutions that place the authority to govern squarely in the hands of the people themselves or by the imposition of brute force by a despot both within and outside his borders. The power of the “constitutional monarchy” in Britain exists on paper alone. The Royals themselves are now merely conduits for a massive national commercial enterprise aimed squarely at tourists; a way to sell cheap tea sets and every other kind of bric-a-brac you can name. It should also be noted that what it costs the British taxpayers to maintain the luxurious lifestyles of those in the House of Windsor does not justify the income that is being generated from tourism and merchandising. Yes, people come to visit Britain because of the Royal family. But they come to see the castles, suits of armor on display and buy tchotchkes emblazoned with the Royal seal. They don’t come hoping to bump into the Queen.

Other great nations in Europe have done away with their royal families and prospered. I can see the Palace at Versailles in France without having to concern myself with the affairs of Louis Alphonse, the Duke and Anjou and the French Royal pretender. The fact that the British refuse to jettison their royalty is a reflection of just how differently they perceive themselves from their cousins on the continent. They’re not European. They’re British. Either that or they realize that their once great and vast empire has truly collapsed and all they ultimately have to prop up their economy is the reliable stream of starry-eyed yokels from America yearning to see men in frilly collars and buildings made before 1900.

Second, I object to the already “celebrity obsessed” society that exists in our country today that this media spectacle only exacerbates. I will concede that a healthy curiosity about institutions that don’t exist here is only natural. But ever since the days of Grace Kelly, Americans have become more and more fascinated with European royalty. The late Diana, Princess of Wales cemented our obsession with the current generation of British royals to the point where I honestly wonder if we as Americans want a real, hereditary aristocratic class of our own. Don’t the rich, famous and powerful in Hollywood and elsewhere already constitute a de facto one?

Consider the guest list. Why were Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney there? Are they friends of the family? No. It’s because they are as close to aristocracy this country has. The only thing missing are hereditary titles. Think about that for a moment. There are people today with enough power and wealth to beg the question as to whether they should, by birthright, command deference and servitude from the rest of us. That is a thought that should revolt you…in more ways than one. As for the rest of the attendees: David and Victoria Beckham, Idris Elba, Serena Williams and James Blunt…well, it appears they were there just to be seen and not because any of them knew the bride and groom since they were knee-high. I presume Elton John was there simply because, wedding or funeral, you can’t have a regal British ceremony of any kind without him anymore. Maybe he should have married one of the royals.

I would have been able to stomach this extravaganza more if we could at least admit what we were watching was just fun and fluff. It’s not, though. You got up before dawn on Saturday to watch the nuptials of taxpayer subsidized, ultra-rich people with no purpose in life other than to stand and wave at polo matches. The British taxpayers had to shell out approximately £32 million ($43 million US) for this, of which it is estimated that at least £30 million ($40 million US) was just for security. Part and parcel of the nearly £368 million ($494 million US) they pay just as an allowance for the expensive clothes, jewelry, luxury holidays and highbrow educations the royals get by virtue of just being born. Let’s be honest with ourselves. This wasn’t a wedding. This was a taxpayer-funded costume play to keep the tourists happy. It’s absurd to pretend otherwise.

Third, I object to notion that Americans have that somehow Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, is a transformational figure: an American woman of color destined to turn the monarchy upside down and boldly usher it into the 21st century.

No she isn’t and no she won’t.

This is a dance the British have done before. Americans marrying into the royal line is not unprecedented, but when it happened, it was not a story that Walt Disney would have approved of. In 1934, Wallis Simpson of Baltimore began a love affair with the future King Edward VIII. Their romance ultimately forced his abdication in 1936 after only a year on the throne so he could marry the twice-divorced native of Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania.

Now, at first glance, that may sound terribly romantic. The King relinquishing his crown to marry a simple woman he truly loves. In reality, however, the story was less fairy tale and more protracted catastrophe. Her ambition to change the monarchy by sheer dint of will; to force an institution that has been in place with little interruption since 1066 to accept her, a foreign commoner, as Queen Consort left her marriage in shambles. Rumors of affairs and a clear disdain for one another left the Duke and Duchess of Windsor miserable for the rest of their natural lives. They smiled very nicely in public, but according to one observer, they became “international society’s most notorious parasites for a generation”, the result of having no purpose in life except to attend cocktail parties.

That may have been fine for Edward. But as a woman, Simpson was even more useless than her husband the former king. The monarchical system in Britain is such that a woman’s true usefulness lies only in her womb. That is assuming, of course, that your womb is of any use to the kingdom in the first place. And yes, the word is use. Kate Middleton’s only function in the royal family was to have children who would one day sit on the throne. Afterwards, she would become useless. Possibly even a nuisance…much like her late mother-in-law after she gave birth to William, the father of her children. If this sounds less like Cinderella and more like The Handmaid’s Tale, you aren’t far off.

This is the world that Meghan Markle now finds herself in. Her husband will never be king and so at least she will be spared from the obligation to raise progeny to continue the royal bloodline. That fact, however, will not free her from the extraordinarily tight controls that being a member of the House of Windsor demand. Her travel will be rigidly scheduled. Her friends and associates carefully vetted to even be in the same room with her. What she wears, what she eats, and yes, what she says, will be carefully choreographed and scripted according to protocols hundreds of years in the making. She isn’t even granted the basic dignity of a last name.

Meghan Markle no longer exists. She is Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. It doesn’t matter in the slightest to her new family that she was once a California-bred TV actress. Her education from Northwestern University, her internship abroad with the US Embassy in Argentina and her popularity among people of color in the United States are of no consequence. Even her social media presence as an individual has been deleted in its entirety by Kensington Palace. All that is left of what was once an intelligent and vivacious young woman is a persona; part of a peerage that King George III, America’s first sworn enemy, created for one of his wayward children in 1801. But won’t she look great on a collectible serving tray?

This is the price of the fairy tale that everyone got to squeal with glee at on a bright May morning in London. A woman who few people had heard about until recently, unless you were a fan of Suits on the USA Network, has been permanently lost to her native country for the affections of a man, although wealthy and famous beyond comprehension, has no actual purpose in life. They are both forever relegated to acting as mere ornaments; backdrops for his older brother, the future King William V, who is himself doomed to rule a Commonwealth over which he has no real authority.

If you are hoping that she will the instrument by which the British Monarchy will be led into a new millennium, then you’re nursing a delusion. It is an outmoded behemoth, buttressed over time to withstand unwarranted change from any one person. It’s not something you can just throw a new coat of paint on and make it seem new. It is old and ugly, fundamentally irrelevant and totally unnecessary. The introduction of a biracial American woman into the family is just putting lipstick on a pig. No real change can occur. She likely would have had greater influence if she remained a minor television celebrity in this country. Her newly acquired title will grant her no greater platform to speak from. Her celebrity will surely fade as she will eventually have to cede the stage for King William and Catherine, the Queen Consort. The issues that she is currently so passionate about will now no longer affect her in any meaningful way. The things she cares about will simply be dictated to her from Buckingham Palace. Her big day is now over. Things will go back being all about William and Kate again…the way it was always meant to be.

If anyone had the power to change such an entrenched system, it would have been Diana Spencer. She tried to be her own woman, speaking with conviction about important matters to herself and a great many people from across the globe. A passionate advocate for children, a fashion icon, beloved by millions. As exceptional as she was, however, it was ultimately impossible, even for her, to break loose from the role she had been cast in on another royal wedding day in 1981. Her exit from the House of Windsor was heartbreak, scandal, a failed marriage and death in a Paris tunnel.

I hope I’m wrong, but I think it would have been better for today’s Royal couple to be together simply as Meghan Markle and Harry Windsor. Ordinary people with the ability to make your own way in the world is better than one day as an international spectacle that defines who you are for the rest of your life followed by obscurity and silence.

The fact it isn’t this way for them makes the Royal Wedding objectionable.

Progressives, You Need to STOP (or…How the Democrats Can Save Themselves in the Age of Trump).

Enough is enough. My fellow progressives, we need to quit navel gazing, break up the circular firing squad and just stop. Especially you…and you know who you are.

You need to stop quoting Federalist Paper 68, which not a single person here has probably read. If you had you would not be trying to hinge a wholesale Electoral College revolt on this all too brief of an essay (one of 85) written by Alexander Hamilton among others, under a pseudonym no less, for the benefit of making an argument to ratify the Constitution…in New York. There will be no abolition of the Electoral College. It will not happen and why? As I once wrote, it’s very difficult to alter the Constitution to accomplish that. The Founding Fathers designed the Constitution to make that sort of thing extraordinarily hard to do. If it was as easy as you are hoping and praying it is, then the Republicans would have already changed it to get rid of gay marriage, ban abortion, flag burning, etc. and all of the other culture war issues they have threatened to use Constitutional amendments against. As for us? We would have abolished “dark money” in electoral politics, enshrined universal suffrage, guaranteed equal pay for equal work, etc. and all of the other issues we have threatened to amend the Constitution for over the years. The last time the Constitution was amended was in 1992 and it was regarding Congressional salaries. Look it up. It took 202 years for that to get ratified. The drive to abolish the Electoral College is a waste of time. Just stop.

You need to stop leaving scripted phone messages and sending canned emails addressed to members of Congress, the U.S. Attorney General or the Attorneys General of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida or whomever. Absolutely nobody except some poor unpaid interns are going to read prefab emails sent from terrified liberals who still can’t accept that millions of people simply didn’t vote on Election Day. Quit trying to find excuses for why we didn’t come out in large enough numbers for Hillary Clinton, or wound up voting for people like Gary Johnson or Jill Stein who could never, repeat, never win the Presidency. It’s over and done with. Donald Trump is the going to be the 45th President of the United States. We put him there and no public official, court officer or arcane law is going to come and save you from him. You were warned. All of these emails and electronic petitions you are “signing” on sites like Change.org or MoveOn are worth absolutely nothing. The electors will not read them and God knows Trump and the GOP, who are still in charge of Congress right now incidentally, do not give a damn about these petitions. It’s a waste of time. Just stop.

You need to stop trying to change state laws that govern how their electors are chosen. It’s far, far too late for that now and besides, in doing so we may shoot ourselves in the foot again one day. Do you really want to risk this nightmare a second time? You can’t hope for or rely on “faithless electors” changing the result either and you really shouldn’t. This is how we choose our Presidents and Democrats, I’m sorry…but we lost. As appalling and frightening as his administration is going to be, this country earned and deserves this President because we weren’t paying attention. We thought this would be a cakewalk. It wasn’t and it is completely our fault. Not the Russians. Ours. We took our eye off the ball. Well, never again. We all need to admit that over the last 8 years, we have been in a bubble. We are still in a hermetically sealed media bubble telling us exactly what makes us feel good as surely as conservatives were over the last 20 years. If you are in this bubble (God knows I was), you need to get out and now. We were listening to the talking heads at MSNBC and reading progressive “news” sites like Blue Nation Review and US Uncut and we stopped fighting as if our lives depended on it to stop Trump. These “Daily Actions” everyone is taking on Facebook are terrific, but they are aimed at completely the wrong target. They are a waste of time. Just stop.

Fellow progressives, you need to START. You need to start thinking about the real target which is 2018. After that, the target is 2020.

You need to start raising money, making phone calls, sending emails, signing petitions in ink, knocking on doors and all of the other things you are currently doing in some vain effort to deny Trump the White House. Break out your wallet, checkbook, PayPal account or the sock under your mattress stuffed with rainy day cash and start giving until it hurts. The rainy day is here and the storm’s name is Hurricane Donald. You need to give and give and give to all those organizations who will be taking fire for us over the next 4 years. Organizations like the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center  will need dollars now more than ever. So will Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign and the Sierra Club to name a few. Money talks. Even a moron like Trump knows that. If progressive values are to remain alive under his regime, it will mean being in court. A lot. Lawyers cost money, even progressive ones, so don’t be stingy.

You need to start putting your time and effort into helping Democrats capture the House and Senate in 2018 and later the White House in 2020. There needs to be a progressive legislature as a check against Trump because without one, this lunatic and his administration will have virtually zero obstacles to destroying everything we have fought for generations to achieve. Do you really think a Republican controlled Congress will have any meaningful investigations into anything Trump does that are blatant violations of law, ethics…even the Constitution? We all know what’s at stake. We all know what the issues are because God knows we debated them long enough among ourselves during the year. Everyone needs to immediately cease and desist from any more finger pointing because in the end we will wind up right back where we started, with Kellyanne Conway’s stupid face gloating on TV that “I’m a winner”.

You need to start supporting good, strong candidates who believe in the issues…and in the people whose lives they affect every day. Find candidates who have broad appeal among all progressives who can win. Here’s a good test. If you have run for the Oval Office before, go away. Hillary Clinton is never coming back, people. Ever. Start looking for someone else to be President. And in case you get any funny ideas, Bernie Sanders isn’t coming back either. He might have shown up with Chris Hayes recently, but come on. The guy will be 79 in 2020. He may very well be dead by then. And leave poor Joe Biden alone. He is never going to run for President because it’s not in the cards for him and he has told us as muchQuips on the Senate floor are simply not enough to start making yard signs, OK? Hasn’t he been through enough? Gary Johnson is an idiot. If you insist on somebody from the old Libertarian ticket from this year, try Johnson’s running mate who is a lot smarter than he is. Jill Stein has gotten rich over our foolish panic to grasp at any straw that could deny Trump his victory and it was stupid of us to fall for it. She also can’t win any elected office above town council and she has the last 8 consecutive losses including this year to prove it. Let her go. How about finding some new, fresh and great candidates every progressive can rally around? How about Elizabeth Warren? How about Cory Booker? How about Tammy Duckworth? How about Sherrod Brown? Hell, show me why we can’t get behind Kamala Harris? We need to start working to fight Trump’s administration at every turn and at the same time do all the hard work we failed to get done in 2016 to make sure this does not happen in 2018, 2020, or ever again. We need to do this now and enough with trying to undo what has already been done.

The first step to beating the son of a bitch is to admit he that beat us. Period. STOP your crying and START getting to work.

Illegitimi non carborundum. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Contrarian Guest Contributor: How Poor Whites See Themselves

I live in a Post-Explanation America and so do you. This is a country where if you are wondering about how a real estate developer and television personality with virtually no qualifications for elected office (outside the Constitutional requirements) ascended to the Presidency of the United States, you are liable to be sitting like Rodin’s “Thinker” wondering for all time. There a million theories as to how this happened and regrettably even more finger-pointing and blame than theories. Since Election Day, progressives have been groping for answers as to why so many white working-class Americans, once Democratic mainstays, voted overwhelmingly for a man who shows little interest outside of media stunts in pursuing policies that will work for their economic benefit. But maybe that was never the basis for their vote. Maybe all of us, sitting on our high horses with our fancy educations, completely misunderstood these people and what motivates them.

The following was reprinted with permission from John Paul Brammer, a writer, speaker, and activist based in New York City. His work has been published in The Guardian, Slate, Vox, BuzzFeed, NBC and many other outlets. According to his website, “His work blends the deeply personal with the political.” Mr. Brammer brings personal experience and profound insight to help answer a question that all of us need to consider at length. Follow him at johnpaulbrammer.com and on Twitter @jpbrammer.

 How Poor Whites See Themselves

So I’m a Mexican-American from a poor, rural, mostly white town in Oklahoma. What’s missing from this debate? How poor whites see themselves. If you’re wondering how poor, exploited white people could vote for a guy with a golden elevator who will fuck them over, here’s how.

They don’t see themselves as poor. They don’t base their identity on it. They see themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires”. The stigma against poverty is incredibly strong. It is shameful to be poor; to not have the comforts of the middle class. So they pretend that they aren’t poor. They purchase things to make it seem like they’re not. They are willing to lie to make it seem like they aren’t poor. In my town, wealth wasn’t associated with greed, but with hard work and inherent goodness. You are blessed if you have material wealth. When they see Trump, they don’t see an extortionist who is rich because of the very conditions that keep their own communities in poverty. They see someone who worked hard and was justly rewarded with wealth. Most men, especially, think they too could be Trump were it not for the unfair obstacles put in their way. White men who don’t consider themselves successful enough have so many excuses for their “failures”. The idea that immigrants are the reason they are poor and not wealthy like Trump is so appealing. It takes all the shame and blame away. And here we have a man who, they think, “tells it like it is” and is willing to name the things stealing prosperity out of their hands. If these people saw themselves as an exploited class of people, if American culture didn’t stigmatize poverty so much, it might be different. But America has so entangled wealth with goodness and poverty with moral deficiency that they can’t build that identity. They won’t.

Trump is rich, and so according to American criteria, he is also:

  1. Wise
  2. Fair
  3. Moral
  4. Deserving
  5. Strong
  6. Clever

He has to be.

Capitalism and the American Dream teach that poverty is a temporary state that can be transcended with hard work and cleverness. To fail to transcend poverty, and admit you are poor, is to admit that you are neither hardworking nor clever. It’s cultural brainwashing. So if an exploited class of people doesn’t want to admit that they’re exploited, to blame themselves for their oppression, what manifests? Xenophobia. Hatred of anyone who is “different”: queer people, people of color. These people are eroding the “goodness” of America. And if they would just stop ruining America, then the perfect design of America could work again and deliver prosperity. I’m telling you, as someone who has spent almost his entire life in this environment, that if you think cities are a “bubble”? Good God. But the reality is, of course, that these exploited people are indeed exploited, even while they victimize others, when they victimize us, they are still victims. How do you balance those realities and what conclusions do you reach to improve the lives of both? Well, I’m not smart enough to have the answer. Still, we need to understand that the identity white working class people have built for themselves is diametrically opposed to, well, reality.

Because Trump won’t make them rich. Even if he deports all the brown people, it won’t bring them what they’re hoping for.

The original piece, written as a series of Tweets, can be found at https://storify.com/positiveforcedc/how-poor-whites-see-themselves