Donald Trump, Stormy Daniels, and the Political Double-standard

As I warm up to the news this morning (or cool off to it, as the case may be), I can’t help but think back to the Bill Clinton / Monica Lewinsky scandal. I was five years out of high school during that one, and I remember the posture of both liberals and conservatives when the Starr Report was released on September 11, 1998 (what is it with that damn date?).

My girlfriend’s dad at the time was a full-blown Clinton-backing liberal, and at the slightest mention of the Lewinsky scandal, he’d fly into histrionics about how what two consenting adults do in privacy is nobody’s business – he really could care less, and thought that Bill Clinton’s behavior had no bearing on his presidency. I saw this view echoed in liberal-leaning news outlets; the only reason there was a scandal at all was because of the vast, right-wing conspiracy intent on removing Bill Clinton from office.

At the same time, I was working in HR at a small software company in Des Moines, Washington, and my boss was a Rush Limbaugh conservative. When the Starr Report was released, digital copies were passed out on 3.5″ floppy disks with righteous glee. This was the smoking gun! Bill Clinton is a liar and an adulterer, here is the proof! I received a copy with a dried, bloody thumb print dried on the label; it looked like it had been recovered from the hands of a dying secret-agent, maybe handed over while he breathed his last words: “The truth must be known…”

Fast forward to today, and the shoes are on the opposite feet. It is now the liberal left who are salivating over the Stormy Daniels story, their smoking gun in-hand, visions of impeachment dancing in their heads. If liberals applied the same standard they applied during the Lewinsky scandal, there would not be a story. All would be forgiven. But this is politics. There is blood in the water. Mingled with open hatred for Donald Trump, it is a potent cocktail. The sharks are circling – the same sharks that ignored Bill Clinton’s character back in ’98. The liberal double-standard is on display. Character and behavior only matter when they can be used as weapons against your political enemies. And, let’s not forget, Donald Trump’s alleged behavior took place years ago, outside the oval office.

Conservatives aren’t off the hook, either. Were they consistent, we would be seeing outrage equivalent to what we saw in ’98. Remember, it was about character then. The character of the President of the United States. In that sense, this current “scandal” is no different than the Clinton/Lewinski scandal; but this time, it is the Republican president, and conservatives are silent. This is the conservative double-standard.

Folks on both sides of the political isle know that Donald Trump has character flaws. We all knew going in, and many were very upset about it. I’m positive there’s dirtier dirt in Donald Trump’s past. There is a skeleton or two in everyone’s closet; maybe not the high profile type skeletons we’re dealing with here, but if our own behavior and character over time were open to examination by the entire world and available in a heartbeat, there are undoubtedly some unsavory things that could be said about any one of us.

If we had hard evidence that Donald Trump was the leader of a child prostitution ring running international business out of the oval office, this kind of news cycle would be justified. What we do have is a story about a guy having consensual sex with a porn star before he was in office, and then attempting to suppress that story in his run up to the White House. Name me one presidential candidate who hasn’t done their best to suppress less than savory details about their life, and I will hand you the keys to my oceanfront property in Kansas.

Nothing in this story is a surprise. Anyone surprised by this story has been living under a rock. I would personally like to see better character in the White House. I would also like to see consistency and fair standards applied to all candidates, but I’m not holding my breath. What I see today is the political double-standard, alive and well, more unhealthy than it has ever been. The schism in our country deepens, and self-righteousness abounds.

March for our Lives: Stop Exploiting our Children

In honor of March for our Lives, I thought I’d share what’s on my mind as I watch the coverage.

Every life affected by gun violence in schools, especially those lost, is tragic beyond description. The country is united in a desire to make sure that the violence and loss stop, here and now. Republican/Democrat, conservative/liberal, male/female, LGBTQ/straight. theist/atheist… There truly is no race, class or creed in the horror over what we have suffered due to gun violence, or the desire to put an end to it. Our hearts go out as one, in love for our children and our fellow human beings, and in a desire to protect every precious life, young and old. The thought of a school shooting sickens me. There is no moral argument, no evolutionary principle in favor of the willful and senseless taking of life.

I turned on the TV this morning, hoping to see a change in the political discourse that we have become accustomed to. I was disappointed, to say the least. Then I felt anger and another, different kind of sick.

I saw young, intelligent people expressing powerful emotion, and laying blame for tragedy at the feet of the NRA, the president, and inanimate objects (guns). I saw an ocean of youth raging at the powers that be. There is a righteous and justified anger moving about, and there should be.

What I did not see or hear was any clear policy recommendation, or discussion of what the majority of Americans believe we should do to protect our kids. Shouting “enough is enough” at a problem, and railing at the president, conservatives and the NRA does not get one any closer to a real solution. While it is good to see America’s youth engaging in political activity, what I saw today was exploitative. The March for our Lives has been a large, very carefully organized political event. The degree to which it helps lawmakers wake up to the need for non-partisan cooperation and legislation has yet to be seen.

We need to find common ground if we are ever to affect change. Most Americans agree that we should find ways to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. According to Reuters, 75% of Americans want armed guards at our schools (Reuters, March 22 2018). There is non-partisan agreement that anyone on the no-fly list should be kept from possessing firearms. So why don’t we start there? Start where we agree, find the best solution for enacting laws to enshrine the principles we agree on and work the political process. By all means engage our kids nationwide in the process of doing so. They cannot vote, but they can certainly use their collective intelligence to learn to examine the data and develop common-sense policy. Their voices need to be heard. They are the ones affected most directly by school shootings, and they fear for their lives. Let’s help them by getting our shit together – and instead of railing at each other from the opposite ends of the political spectrum, work together where we have common ground.

What sickened me today is that I saw our children used as pawns in a political game. Their fear, their pain, and their energy were organized and directed by people who want to advance partisan ideology. That is not fair. It robs kids of their dignity, and encourages the kind of emotional reasoning that will make it impossible to implement solutions.

Many of the young people at today’s march showed great courage in standing up and being heard. The clever ones will eventually see how they have been taken advantage of, and will be wiser for it.

Something Cheap, Something Real

cheap-jesus-toys

I was just a little kid, looking way up at my mother, holding her hand as we walked across the crowded parking lot toward Newton’s Christian Bookstore. The storefront sign, spelling the store’s name in big, blocky, white script, was familiar to me; we had been here many times, and each time I came home with some kind of prize. I always felt a rush of excitement in my little boy heart when I saw that sign in the distance. I knew my mother would buy me something. The feeling was similar to Christmas morning, visions of shiny new things dancing in my head.

Mom always stopped to speak with the lady who worked the counter before she did anything else. They were big people with big, permed brunette hairdos, and I didn’t understand their world. The music of their chatter didn’t mean anything to me, except that as long as it continued, I was free to wander the store and peruse the various wares. One free-standing, clear plastic rack with multiple, vertically-stacked compartments on all sides interested me the most – this was the toy rack. If I was getting a prize today, it would likely come from this rack. My little legs couldn’t carry me there fast enough!

The store atmosphere was very clean, subdued, and awash in fluorescent light. Very soft music flowed from the speakers mounted here and there – the soundtrack to a godly life, I remember thinking. Shelves full of books and cassette tapes lined the walls, and other shelving and racks full of glass baubles and various items peppered the floor space. I cared about none of that, and made my b-line to the toy rack. What fun would await me there? I perused the many offerings – rubber balls, tops, plastic airplanes, pens, miniature pocket-bibles, spring-loaded doohickeys, foam animals, all sorts of things that would eventually wind up lost beneath couch cushions or in the woods behind my house. I knew I had to choose carefully. I had to find a diamond in the rough – something that I actually wanted, not some cheap piece of plastic junk just for the sake of getting something.

While searching for a treasure, I evaluated the quality of each item, touching and trying and judging the craftsmanship. Here’s a shiny pen, with fluid in its translucent plastic end, and little bits of glitter that float around, the words “Jesus loves you” revealed to be printed on the inside when the glitter settled. Kind of a cool idea, but man, this thing felt like it wouldn’t take much to break, and it was already kind of coming apart near the threads. This item wouldn’t be too bad, except for the sinking feeling upon the realization that this object was designed to send me a message. I didn’t want a lesson, I wanted something cool! Did they have any without the writing? Rifling through the rest of the pens, and waiting for the glitter to settle, my heart dropped a bit more. Not a single one without some sort of message in it. Next compartment, please. This one has little photos of Jesus, glowing white for some reason, framed in gold plastic. Nope. Next. Ooh, there’s a gun-looking thing with an enclosure of metal things on top, and when you pull the trigger, the metal things spin open and reveal… a plastic miniature Jesus.

The music in the store was getting on my nerves a little bit. Were there any real toys in this store? The most viable implement of fun I found was a small, white matte rubber ball, and even that had a cross on it. At least it didn’t require reading. On the other side, the fluorescent orange price tag: $2.99. Two-ninety-nine?! How was I going to convince my mother to spend two dollars and ninety-nine cents on a rubber ball that I could get for a quarter in a vending machine at the pizza parlor? Desperation crept like electricity up my spine. The odds of coming out of this store with something I actually wanted were getting really, really bad. My mom’s conversation with the cashier was coming to a close; their voices trailed down instead of up, and I didn’t want anything I had seen. For some weird reason, my stomach felt turned inside out. There was something cheaper about these trinkets than the trinkets themselves.

To this day, when I encounter people selling Jesus, I remember those cheap plastic toys; and I long for something real.

The Red Pill Movie (review)

The Red Pill – A Feminist’s Journey into the Men’s Rights Movement is a 2016 documentary directed by Cassie Jaye. Jaye acknowledges her feminist worldview at the beginning of the film. While researching “rape culture”, she discovered articles written about various men’s rights Web sites, most notably A Voice for Men, a site started and maintained by men’s rights activist (MRA) Paul Elam. Mainstream articles about such sites frame men’s rights groups as “hate groups”, who use the Web as a platform for sharing and propagating woman-hating, anti-feminist, misogynistic ideology. Jaye’s idea for the film was born of the interest in what men’s rights activism is really about – who are these people, and what are they taking issue with? Is the men’s rights movement just a backlash against feminism, comprised of men who are upset that women are making advances toward equality, and lashing out in misogynistic hatred?

Jaye thus begins her journey, spanning a period of time during which she met with and interviewed leaders in not only the men’s rights movement, but also leaders at the fore of the feminist movement. The metaphor of going down the rabbit hole, from Alice in Wonderland, is leveraged to characterize the feeling of disorientation she experienced while being exposed to information that seems so alien to her accepted view of reality; namely, that the social deck is actually stacked against men in some substantial, even horrific ways. Throughout the film, the prevailing feminist ideology that men are Oppressors and women are The Oppressed – that somehow men have an unfair advantage at the expense of women – is flipped upside down through personal testimonies and careful analysis of the validity of commonly held views based on social demographic studies.

I appreciated that Cassie Jaye took care not to minimize the real issues women face. She is one herself, and she seemed honest in her struggle to process what she was learning while keeping her mind open to the facts. This is what we need more of today – an openness to the truth and a willingness to examine our own beliefs. As is par for the modern course, dogma tends to rule the day, and this film is effective at deconstructing feminist dogma and turning a listening ear to the voices that tend to be shouted into irrelevance.

When you hear the term “domestic violence”, what images does it conjure? Maybe a billboard presenting a woman’s battered face? An angry man in a wife-beater t-shirt, a woman cowered in the corner, fearing for her life? When you hear that 1 in 3 women are affected by domestic violence of some type, do you also hear that 1 in 4 men are also affected? If domestic violence is perpetrated on each gender nearly 50/50, why is domestic violence largely presented in the media as a women’s issue? Why are there two-thousand or more shelters for female victims of domestic violence in the United States, and only one for men? Domestic violence is a human issue, perpetrated on both genders. Where is the outrage when it is perpetrated on men? Have you ever stopped to consider that domestic violence perpetrated on men is possible? This is just one example of many men’s issues the film explores, from the biased family court systems to reproductive rights, paternity fraud, and suicide rates. The information and data presented stands in stark contrast to the messages we receive from feminism in our culture.

I particularly enjoyed the segments focused on the Honey Badger Brigade, a team of female men’s rights activists. These ladies get it. They do not drink the feminist kool-aid. I would proudly be the first registrant were there ever to be a certified Honey Badger dating app.

The Red Pill was screened in select theaters worldwide in 2016, and was released to most major video streaming services this week on Tuesday, March 7th. I went to a screening in Seattle, Washington in January of this year. Some screenings, such as one in Melbourne Australia, were canceled after feminists petitioned to have this “misogynistic propaganda film” shut down. The claim that The Red Pill deals in misogyny is ridiculous and untrue. I am thrilled that the film’s reach has expanded, and I am looking forward to seeing how the dialogue progresses in the coming years. If we want to survive as a species, we cannot continue to foster a system where gender relations present a threat to either sex. We are all in this together. Real equality does not tip the scales to anyone’s advantage, or treat anyone as a means to an end (see Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative).

The screening I attended closed to applause from both men and women. That was heartening, especially in Seattle. I left the theater with a sense of hope, and I wanted to give Cassie Jaye a big hug. Let this post be that metaphorical hug.

Thank you Cassie!

Running out of Steam

March 2017 is turning out to be one of those months. Work, college, and kids are what I eat, sleep, and breathe for the foreseeable future – and I am running out of steam. This situation has been chronic for the past ten years, and I know it will take time off the end of my life. My downtime is spent sitting in traffic, and each destination brings with it the burden of its own set of expectations. I want to go to sleep for four to five years.

Why am I blathering on about this? To stay in the habit of writing at least twice per week. It is easy to write when interesting things are going on, when I’m excited and have something to say. Right now, I’ve got nothing. I can barely keep my eyes open.

I recently learned about a religion called Zoroastrianism, of Persian origin, which allegedly pre-dates Christianity. It reminded me just how many religions are out there, just how many claims there are about deities, and just how powerful religious systems can be. The Zoroastrianists completed construction of temple in New York in 2016. Looking at the photos, the temple seems an anachronism… We humans have a flair for the dramatic. We create weird things. We lay claim to “truth”, despite all evidence to the contrary. We invest in our cultural and historical identities. We build temples, and play with strange fire.

I will return, reinvigorated, later this week.

 

 

 

Prayer Circle at a Pride Parade

When I was roughly twelve years old, active in the Christian church, my youth pastor (we’ll call him Chris) thought it would be a good idea to take our youth group down to Volunteer Park in Seattle, WA, during the Gay Pride Parade (now just known as the Pride Parade). I don’t remember having any advance knowledge of what we were setting out to do – we just loaded up into the church’s bus and headed out.

The sun beat down on us as we exited the bus and headed into the park, which was relatively empty for such a nice day. Chris led us into the park, and instructed us to stand in a circle and hold hands – we were forming a prayer circle. Chris prayed aloud. I don’t remember his words. What I do remember was wondering why we had driven all the way to this far-off park to stand around praying. I had questions about many things we did, but I had learned over time to just go with the flow. Chris had that way about him; everything was a mystery until he was ready to unveil his message. I used to think he behaved this way for dramatic effect, but now, I think that if he had been upfront about what he was doing, maybe nobody would have followed him. Our parents must have known, but they hadn’t said a word.

After a few moments in prayer, we heard a commotion. The sound of many voices echoing through the park. A stampede of people headed our way. Why all these people? Who were they? Chris told us to close our eyes and pray. Pray about what? What is going on here? I felt like I was on the front lines of something, woefully unprepared. I prayed for protection. This whole thing was starting to frighten me. Here we are, standing in the path of a stampeding horde, in a prayer circle. To say that my mind was racing would be an understatement – it had already jumped the starting gun and left me in the dust, disoriented and grasping for something steady. My pounding heart beating in my ears like a war drum, I could feel that we were surrounded now. The stampede was upon us. I opened one eye, just a crack.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The parade-goers had zeroed in on us. Two men were inside out prayer circle, right at my feet, dry-humping each other in the missionary position, looking right at me and crying out exclamations in mock pleasure. Outside the prayer circle, other male couples were making out, tongues tangling, making similar noises. Some of the shouting was angry and profane, full of hatred. One man ran up to everyone in the circle saying “sex is fun, try it!” and stuffing condoms in our pockets. I recalled the biblical story Sodom and Gomorrah – it was the only point of reference in my young mind for what I was witnessing. After a while, the parade passed, and everyone left us alone.

I had no way to fully process what I had just experienced. Chris explained that he had wanted us to see how people behaved when the Devil had a hold of them – just how depraved that we, too, could become if we gave the Devil a foothold in our lives. He said he wanted us to know what it felt like to be surrounded by sin and depravity. He described the battle between good and evil, and prayer as our best weapon in spiritual warfare. My friends and I spent the bus ride home recounting what we saw in hushed, scandalous tones.

That day stands out as one my most vivid childhood memories. What we were doing was inflammatory, and we provoked a response. The response was inappropriate, in my opinion, and illustrated mostly that when you publicly condemn the behavior of a people group at their own event, it can bring out the worst in some of those people. We had a right to free speech in a public park, but what did Chris think we were accomplishing? We weren’t engaging in respectful dialogue, or seeking to understand the hearts or minds of our fellow human beings. We were standing in judgement, maybe even declaring war.

This is how I was raised to look at the world. It is a microcosm of what religious dogma has created throughout history; war, discrimination, segregation, oppression. For all the good that people have accomplished because of their faith (and there is undeniably a long record of great things), there is an equally heavy burden of judgement, condemnation, delusion, and death that tips the scales in the other direction. Once reason is replaced with strict adherence to cryptic ancient texts, and we think we have the answers to end all answers, we are on dangerous ground.

The amount of security we feel in our own rightness is directly proportionate to our need for humble re-assessment of our beliefs.

Is Milo Yiannopoulos the Devil they say he is? (Part Two…)

For part two, let’s look at a few quotes from media outlets and see what they have to say about Milo Yiannopoulos:

Yiannopoulos is one hateful fellow who is rightly called out as a misogynist, racist, transphobic and — oh yes — a self-loathing homosexual, and the alt-right is a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state.

-The Washington Post https://goo.gl/iiiJXk

 

Mediocre Conservative Dirtbag Lands $250,000 Book Deal*

*We have changed the headline on this post. Yiannopoulos is not a white nationalist. Please read why here.

-The Stranger https://goo.gl/0aYOsk

 

Yiannopoulos is a self-proclaimed spokesperson for the alt-right, a group presenting an alternative ideology to mainstream conservatism in the United States, associated with white supremacy and the rejection of immigration and multiculturalism.

Melville House https://goo.gl/f6A9Ti

In these few examples, the terms used to describe Milo include:

  • Hateful fellow
  • Misogynist
  • Racist
  • Transphobic
  • Self-loathing homosexual
  • Mediocre conservative dirtbag
  • White nationalist
  • Self-proclaimed spokesperson for the alt-right

Also put forward are assertions that he’s part of a movement called the “alt-right”, and statements that the alt-right is associated with white supremacy and the rejection of immigration and multiculturalism. This broad-brush painting is tempting to dissect, but would take me too far away from my main focus.

It would take an entire book to catalog all the name-calling and slander that have been leveled at Milo Yiannopoulos. A quick Google search of his name produces nearly sixteen-million results (a search on Adolf Hitler returns twenty-six million, so I suppose Milo has a way to go before he takes the “Michael Jordan of Evil” trophy, credit to Bill Burr for dreaming that one up). Let us not overlook Milo’s cardinal sin: he is an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump.

Most recently, video of Milo has been discovered in which he made some comments that have been interpreted to be in defense of pedophilia. The video spread like wildfire; in the resulting media storm, Milo has resigned from his position at Breitbart, lost his keynote speech appointment at CPAC (the conservative Political Action Conference), and Simon and Schuster rescinded his $250k book deal. Watch for yourself, and draw your own conclusions (caution, there is some hard language, and the audio may be NSFW). I am not here to defend what Milo said, or the way he said it. There is no question that the activity described was unlawful, some of the circumstances were tragic, and these issues are no laughing matter. As crude and inappropriate as Milo’s words and presentation are, however, it seems to me that he was waxing tactlessly about subtleties in age of consent scenarios, and making a tasteless joke about his own experience, not encouraging pedophilia.

For an exercise in relativity, consider the this clip of George Takei (or “Scotty” as you may know him from the TV show Star Trek). Takei graphically describes activity he participated in as a thirteen-year-old with an older man at summer camp, clearly advocating it and going so far as to say it was “delicious,” on the Howard Stern show.  Measure the media response to Takei’s comments (it is virtually non-existent) and Yiannopoulos’ comments (the sky is falling), and you’ll begin to grasp what’s bothering me about all of this. If Milo were a darling of the progressive far-left, his comments would have garnered about as much attention as Takei’s.

In this present and politicized media culture, there are many who see political positions they disagree with as “hate speech,” and who give themselves license to demonize, verbally abuse, and assassinate the character of those who hold those positions. It has become vogue to jump on the hate train without trying to objectively examine the reality of a given issue, just as it was vogue to jump on the bandwagon with those who said that a Trump presidency was impossible, and ridicule anyone who thought otherwise. Listen to the Real Time with Bill Maher audience laughing at Ann Coulter when she said that out of all candidates in the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump was most likely to win the presidency.

Who turned out to be right?

There is a particularly corrosive brand of weaponized, reactionary ignorance infecting the American mindset, where reality is no longer as important as one’s political worldview, and the destruction of dissenting voices is the ultimate goal. No political party is immune. The irony, though, is in the progressive far-left; for all its talk of eliminating hate speech and bullying, and its extolling the virtues of protecting others from discrimination, far-left talking heads spew discrimination and hatred via globally connected social platforms at alarming decibels.

Milo Yiannopoulos is guilty of crude, tactless, and sometimes offensive discourse – there is no question about that. Whether or not his provocations are a healthy and constructive way to generate visibility and expand his brand can be argued. What we are seeing in response, though, is what is really frightening to me – the normalization and validation of an explosive, reactionary, and hysterical mode of discourse that threatens free speech altogether. If you disagree, you may be accused of anything. That type of conduct, if not treacherously disingenuous, is deluded. To knowingly make false accusations to discredit a person is a disgusting abuse of the public trust. To make false accusations because you believe falsehoods to be true, is disordered and/or deceived.

Back to that thought we were holding from Part One: Did Milo Yiannopoulos really launch a campaign of racist attacks and abuse toward Leslie Jones? Or did the media launch a campaign of political attacks on Milo Yiannopoulos? Is it all just bullshit, part of public relations campaigns on both sides? There is more to the story than what I covered, but I have yet to find a single thing Milo wrote that could be considered racist. Leslie Jones, however… Look up her twitter posts. I guess it’s not racism if you’re denigrating and stereotyping white people.

Is Milo Yiannopoulos the devil they say he is?

I don’t believe so. I have listened to a good number of Milo’s speeches out of curiosity, and I haven’t detected any of the misogyny, racism, transphobia, self-loathing, white nationalism or white supremacy that he is accused of. I hear a shamelessly self-promoting and sometimes tactless and offensive showboat who delights in pushing buttons, but who also raises some very legitimate points – points that he has a right to voice. Milo, for whatever reason and however it happened, finds himself at the center of a violent war for control of the public narrative. It is fascinating and saddening to witness.