The National Anthem, and What It Means to Love One’s Country

american flag flying on cloudy day

(I developed these thoughts in a radio interview with Charone Nix, Mandisa Thomas, and Rogier. I can’t remember now who made which point, so I’m crediting all of us for all of them.)

I’ve been thinking about Colin Kaepernick and other sports figures sitting down or kneeling during the National Anthem, to protest systemic racism and racist police brutality. And I’ve been thinking about what it means to love one’s country.

There are things about the United States that are tremendous, and things that are terrible. And many of the tremendous things exist because people saw something terrible, and protested. We ended slavery, expanded voting to include women and people of color, created a social safety net (or the vague semblance of one), created protections for voters, established safety standards for the food we eat, established child labor laws and workplace safety laws and a minimum wage, and much, much more — because people looked at the way things were and said, “No. This is not acceptable. We can do better. We must do better.”

Protest is one of the highest forms of patriotism. Seeing things that are terribly wrong with the country, and speaking out in whatever form (short of violence) is available and effective, is one of the highest forms of patriotism. It says, “We can do better. Our potential is so much greater than what we are right now.” To look at a country with rampant poverty, inequality, voter disenfranchisement, racist police brutality, homophobic and transphobic violence, institutional trivialization of rape, and more — and think, “Yeah, whatever, that’s the best we can do” — how is that patriotic? That’s not love of your country. That’s giving up on your country.

There’s a lot to be said about the National Anthem protests, and many people have said it well. It’s been pointed out how absurd it is to shrug off or rationalize the reality of racist police brutality, but lose your shit over a football player sitting down and not singing a song. It’s been pointed out that a relationship that demands unquestioning support even when you’re treated terribly isn’t loving — it’s abusive. It’s been pointed out that it’s absurd to fetishize symbols and ignore the realities they represent. It’s been pointed out that Jackie Robinson also refused to stand up for the National Anthem, for pretty much the same reason as Colin Kaepernick: we love our rebels and protestors from the past, and yet excoriate them in the present. (Prophets have honor in other countries, and the past is another country.) It’s been pointed out that “when nationalism and religion are understood as functionally identical, we see what Colin Kaepernick’s crime is: heresy.” It’s been pointed out that anti-racism protestors are told to protest nicely and politely in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone, are told not to march in the streets or block traffic or even call people racist — but when someone protests by literally sitting quietly, that’s not okay either.

All of that is true, and important. But it’s not my point today.

Patriotism is often performative, in much the same way religion is often performative. I don’t think this is always conscious or cynical (although I think it sometimes is), but in circles where patriotism is equated with goodness, performing patriotism persuades people of that goodness, and bigger performances are seen as more authentic. Displays of both religiosity and patriotism are “in-group” displays as well — and as such, they’re often driven by fear. In some circles, there is considerable pressure put on people to perform both patriotism and religiosity, and a significant cost to not doing so. The demand that patriotism be performed is all too often a demand, not for genuine love and work, but for unquestioning conformity.

But protest is patriotic. Seeing our potential to be better, speaking out about how we could be better, and working to make things better — often at great personal cost — is patriotic. In the words of Carl Schurz: “My country, right or wrong. If right, to be kept right; if wrong, to be set right.”

The National Anthem, and What It Means to Love One’s Country
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On Bubbles, Conservative Friends, and How Robert Reich is in a Bubble Of His Own

bubbles

Marginalized people aren’t in a bubble. Conservatism is the polluted air we breathe every day. Why do we have to be friends with people who spew it at us?

We’re often chided for living in bubbles. We’re told that we only listen to people who already agree with us, and that this narrows our thinking. We’re told that a willingness to have friends with different political views means having an open mind and an open heart — and that there’s something wrong with us if we aren’t doing that. Recently, politician and commentator Robert Reich voiced this idea on Facebook:

I have a conservative friend with whom I make a point to have lunch at least once a month. Why? I like him but that’s not the main reason. He makes me think. In forcing me defend my assumptions and ideas, he gets me to examine them more deeply. I hope I do the same for him. One of the biggest problems in America today is most of us live in ideological cocoons surrounded by people who think like us. Yet there is no better way to learn than to talk to someone who disagrees with you.

I don’t just want to pick on Reich here, though. This notion gets spouted a lot. And just off the top of my head, I can think of three major things that are wrong with it.

Wrong Thing Number One: Do you seriously think marginalized people don’t know what people think of us? Continue reading “On Bubbles, Conservative Friends, and How Robert Reich is in a Bubble Of His Own”

On Bubbles, Conservative Friends, and How Robert Reich is in a Bubble Of His Own

Taco Trucks, and Making America Great

In response to the dreaded spectre of taco trucks on every corner, Ingrid and I did our part this weekend, and visited one of our many local taco trucks. Hashtags: #ImWithTacos #TacoTrucksOnEveryCorner

Streatfood taco truck with Greta and Ingrid

Streatfood taco truck

Of course, there are other possibilities. There could be ramen trucks on every corner.

Streatfood ramen truck
Continue reading “Taco Trucks, and Making America Great”

Taco Trucks, and Making America Great

Why You Should Vote in Downticket Races — and a Neat Trick For Doing It

Anyone who cares about electoral politics will tell you how important it is to vote downticket. But actually doing it can be daunting. You hear a lot about who’s running for President, maybe even who’s running for Senator or Governor. But how do you decide between the twelve candidates for judge, the five candidates for city council, the seven candidates for school board? It could take weeks researching their positions and records, and you probably don’t have that kind of time.

I hear you. I have a trick for that. I’ve been using it for years. First, here are some reasons you should care — like, really, really care.

Local elections profoundly affect your everday life. What’s taught in public schools; whether your landlord can raise your rent any time they want; whether streets and sewers are repaired (and which ones get attention first); whether racist cops are disciplined; whether the community college is funded; which buildings can be torn down and put up; whether your city has a minimum wage that reflects economic reality; whether AirBnB gets to ignore hotel and housing laws; whether the homeless people on your block will be sheltered or arrested — all of this and much more gets decided on the local level.

Local elections profoundly affect other people’s everyday lives. See above. If these issues don’t personally and immediately affect you, they affect your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends, your family.

Local and state elections are how national candidates are born. If you want good progressives in national offices in twenty years, start by getting good progressives in local offices now. Most elected officials on the national level get their start in local politics. There are exceptions, of course. Donald Trump has never held office in his life, and while Hillary Clinton had extensive experience in politics before she was elected to anything, her first elected position was in the Senate. But in general, voting in local elections now is a great way to get national candidates in the future who you actually want to vote for.

Local elections move the national party. If you’re wondering how the Republican Party moved so far to the right, look at local elections. The Tea Party got into school boards and city councils across the country. There are other factors, of course — for one thing, the Tea Party has had significant national funding from big corporations. But to a great extent, local elections are how the Tea Party got into power.

So if you want the national Democratic Party to move further to the left, a really good way to do that is to support progressive candidates in local and state elections — especially in primaries. It lets the party know that voters really do want progressive candidates, and will support them. And it lets the party know that progressive voters will consistently vote — not just every four years when we’re deciding on the president.

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So now you’re convinced (I hope). Local and state elections are important. But there are so many of them! How do you decide? In one word:

Endorsements.

In a few more words: Find some organizations you trust, whose values and positions are more or less in line with yours — and see who they endorse.

You know all that time it takes to research candidates and ballot initiatives, the time you don’t have? For many organizations, that is literally their job. They do have the time. And they have the knowledge. In many cases, they’ve actually worked with these people. They know that Jane Doe is great on health care, less great on gentrification, and knows City Hall backwards and forwards. They know that Richard Roe is solid on the issues but is a hostile pain in the ass to work with and has a hard time getting anything done. They’ve done the research you don’t have time to do.

Here’s my trick. I look at the endorsements of three or four endorsing organizations. Tenants’ rights groups, TBLG groups, environmental groups, progressive alternative newspapers — you get the idea. I compare them. If they all agree, and I don’t personally know enough about the candidate or initiative to disagree, I do what they recommend. If they don’t agree, I look at the arguments they make for why they’re endorsing the way they are, and see who I agree with.

In San Francisco elections, this usually takes about a hour, maybe two. If I’m super-busy and don’t have that time, I just pick a couple of endorsing organizations to compare and contrast. If I’m completely and utterly swamped, I just pick one.

It’s less than ideal. I think local and state elections are really important — see above — and I do have reservations about trusting my vote to someone else. But if I don’t vote downticket at all, I’m doing that anyway. I’m trusting my vote to everyone else who happens to be voting. I have a lot more reservations about that.

Why You Should Vote in Downticket Races — and a Neat Trick For Doing It

7 of the Less-Noted But Still Very Sexist Attacks on Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

It’s entirely reasonable to criticize Hillary Clinton. She’s running for President of the United States, after all. If she’s elected, she’s going to be representing all U.S. citizens: we should tell her what we want from her, and speak out when she lets us down.

But a significant amount of anti-Clinton criticism is loaded with sexism. It’s not just the obvious examples, like critiquing her clothing and her voice, microanalyzing her gestures and mannerisms, sexualizing her or targeting her with sexist and misogynist slurs. Much of the sexism against Hillary Clinton flies under the radar. On the surface, it looks like legitimate political commentary: the sexism underlying it is largely unconscious. But when you understand some of the ways sexism commonly plays out, it’s glaringly obvious.

Here are seven examples.

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Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 7 of the Less-Noted But Still Very Sexist Attacks on Hillary Clinton. Enjoy!

7 of the Less-Noted But Still Very Sexist Attacks on Hillary Clinton

“Have you ever truly looked at Clinton with the same critical eye?”

Hillary Clinton

Some guy on someone else’s Facebook page: “Have you ever truly looked at Clinton with the same critical eye with an open mind or you just supporting the party?”

Me: “Hillary Clinton is probably one of the most closely scrutinized people in U.S. politics. There has been a decades-long right-wing smear campaign against her (much of which has been bought into by the left), and every mistake she’s ever made has been examined with a spotlight and a high-powered microscope. So yes — I have looked at Clinton with a critical eye. It has been literally impossible not to.”

I would have said more, but I try not to burst into long streams of invective on other people’s Facebook pages.

“Have you ever truly looked at Clinton with the same critical eye?”

A Reason to Vote for Clinton: Trump Needs to be Trounced

Hillary Clinton

I’m going to argue that even voters in non-swing states, who think their votes for president don’t count because of the electoral college, should still vote for Clinton.

Partly, I think this election is much too important. I don’t want to screw around, not with this one. I don’t want to take a chance on electing a literal fascist because the polling was off and Nevada was closer than we thought it would be. (Stephanie Zvan has an excellent piece on why “swing state” thinking is harmful, both in the short-term and the long-term.)

But I also think the popular vote counts. It isn’t what elects the President (absurdly). But it sends a signal: to the voters who won, to the voters who lost, to other people running for office, to the rest of the world.

And when November comes, I do not want this to be a close election.

In theory, third-party votes for anyone but Trump should be read as “anyone but Trump.” But that’s not how it’s going to be read. When this election is over, almost all the media reporting will be on the gap between Clinton and Trump. And I want that gap to be HUGE.

This isn’t just an election for President. It’s a referendum on bigotry and literal fascism. It’s a referendum on keeping Muslims from entering the country, on saying Latinx judges can’t be fair and Latinx immigrants are rapists, on whether the United States should invade countries to get their oil, on whether the United States should commit war crimes, on whether Russian intelligence should hack into the email of a U.S. presidential candidate and former Secretary of State, on making it illegal for newspapers to criticize the President, on ignoring the Constitution and treating it with contempt. It is a referendum on whether voters who lose an election should respond by shooting the President or the judges she appoints.

That doesn’t just need to be beaten. It needs to be trounced. It needs to be humiliated. It needs to be laughed off the stage. Continue reading “A Reason to Vote for Clinton: Trump Needs to be Trounced”

A Reason to Vote for Clinton: Trump Needs to be Trounced

A Reason to Vote for Clinton: Liberal Voting Record

Hillary Clinton
I’d been working on a piece about reasons to vote for Clinton, but it was becoming huge and unmanageable. So I’m breaking it down into bite-sized morsels.

Yes, you heard me. Clinton has a very liberal voting record. Her voting record in the Senate had a 75% rating from the ACLU, a 90% rating from the Sierra Club, a 94% rating from the AFL-CIO, a 95% rating from the HRC, a 96% rating from the NAACP, a 100% rating from the National Organization for Women, a 100% rating from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and NARAL.* As Senator, she voted with Bernie Sanders 93% of the time. She was rated the 11th most liberal member of the Senate; Roll Call described her as “center-left,” while On The Issues rates her as a hard-core liberal. Continue reading “A Reason to Vote for Clinton: Liberal Voting Record”

A Reason to Vote for Clinton: Liberal Voting Record

A Reason to Vote for Clinton: Government Knowledge and Administrative Skill

Hillary Clinton

I’d been working on a piece about reasons to vote for Clinton, but it was becoming huge and unmanageable. So I’m breaking it down into bite-sized morsels.

I recently did a poll of my Facebook readers, asking, “Clinton supporters — what are the main reasons you’re voting for her? Not reasons you’re voting against Trump, those are easy, but things you positively like about her and make you want to support her.” The entire thread is well worth reading, especially if you’re planning to vote for Clinton but aren’t wild about it — or you’re not planning to vote for Clinton and are wondering why other people are. And one of the themes that came up again and again: Clinton’s administrative skills and knowledge of government are fierce.

Clinton knows government inside and out. She knows how to get things done. She has years of experience in government, in the Senate and as Secretary of State: even when she was First Lady, she engineered the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a compromise she forged from the defeat of her attempts to create universal health care. Her platform is detailed, with specific policies and proposals for how they can be accomplished (a fact that, weirdly, may be detrimental to her campaign),

And she is well-known in Washington, even among her opponents, for her policy expertise, her willingness to study and increase her already prodigious knowledge, her work ethic, her ability to work with others and make effective deals while maintaining her tenacity, and her willingness to share credit (a useful and underrated trait in long-term political strategy).

Trump, on the other hand… Continue reading “A Reason to Vote for Clinton: Government Knowledge and Administrative Skill”

A Reason to Vote for Clinton: Government Knowledge and Administrative Skill

A Reason to Vote for Clinton: Reproductive Rights

Hillary Clinton

I’d been working on a piece about reasons to vote for Clinton, but it was becoming huge and unmanageable. So I’m breaking it down into bite-sized morsels.

Here’s a reason to vote for Clinton: reproductive rights. Clinton isn’t just more pro-choice than Trump. She’s more pro-choice than any major-party Presidential nominee in decades. She’s pushing to stop Republicans from defunding Planned Parenthood. She’s said she wants Planned Parenthood to get more funding. She understands the role that income and poverty play in this issue, saying that “low-income women deserve health care” and “a right without the opportunity to exercise it isn’t a right.” Very importantly, she’s pushing for repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortions — something she did without being prompted, and something no other major-party Presidential nominee has done since the amendment was enacted.

And she hasn’t been shy about any of this. Her record on reproductive rights has been well-established for years, it’s full-throated, and it’s front and center in her campaign. Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards even spoke at the Democratic National Convention. (Here’s a run-down of Clinton’s positions and record on reproductive rights.) Continue reading “A Reason to Vote for Clinton: Reproductive Rights”

A Reason to Vote for Clinton: Reproductive Rights