Warren Blumenfeld's Blog

Social Justice, Intersections in Forms of Social Oppression, Bullying Prevention

“Donald J. Trump is NOT my president!!!!”

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As the title appears, this is what I wrote in large bold letters upon a bright scarlet red background on my Facebook page. I felt this ever since that shockingly dreadful evening last November when Trump won a majority in the Electoral College while losing by over three-million popular votes to Hillary Clinton.

When Trump dumped his tweet storm on our courageous trans service members this week, I felt I finally had enough, and I publicly acknowledged what I had been feeling about Trump for months.

All but one of the comments to my Facebook announcement confirmed my declaration. However, someone I had known for decades wrote:

“Where do you live? He is your President.”

I quickly responded:

“I live in the United States of America, a nation founded and compelled to adhere to a Constitution. Donald Trump does not follow the Constitution and does not adhere to human and civil rights. Therefore, Donald Trump is not my President. Even if he were to follow the Constitution, I have freedom of conscience and freedom of mind. Therefore, I choose not to accept Donald J. Trump as my President. No, He is NOT my President. What part of ‘NOT’ do you not understand?”

I stick to every word in my retort, but I know that the answer is much more complex than a single paragraph could ever capture. My fuller reply begins with a personal story:

My beloved grandfather, Simon Mahler, was born in 1894 in what today is Krosno, Poland. Simon and his parents and large family, which included 13 siblings, were all born and raised in Poland, most of whom died there as well (many killed under the Nazi occupation). While they were born and lived in Poland, they were never considered by Christian Poles (which constituted the vast majority), as being Poles.

Stated another way, while they resided in Poland, they were never considered of Poland.

When my grandfather came to the United States in 1913 and thereafter, he never identified as “Polish American” since he never was accepted as Polish in Poland. He identified rather as “Jewish American,” two descriptors of which he was very proud.

This personal narrative underscores the point that within many if not most countries, some groups of people – classes of people – matter more than others within a hierarchal system that accords those toward the top more citizenship status, benefits, and privileges.

The further down groups of people are placed, constructed, upon this hierarchy, the less status they have, the less ability they have to define themselves, and the less power they have over their lives as they feel the brutal sting of oppression.

Let’s get into the weeds a bit:

Within a patriarchal system of male domination in the United States, for example, cisgender heterosexual Christian upper socioeconomic-class male bodies matter more, while “othered” or “minoritized” bodies matter less. These “othered” bodies include female and intersex bodies, and bodies that violate the “rules” for the reproduction and maintenance of the dominant patriarchal system, such as trans, gender non-conforming, gay, lesbian, and bisexual bodies, and bodies with disabilities.

In addition, within many Western societies like the United States, non-European-heritage bodies are regarded also as abject bodies – bodies that, to use Judith Butler’s phraseology, do not matter, or, at least, do not matter as much as “white” bodies.

Butler reminds us that the term “abjection” is taken from the Latin, ab-jicere, meaning to cast off, away, or out. On a social level, abjection designates a degraded, stigmatized, or cast out status. In psychoanalytic parlance, this is the notion of Verwerfung (foreclosure).

Social theories and anti-fascist activist, Antonio Gramsci, coined the term “subaltern” to describe groups that those with higher status exclude from societal institutions and deny having a voice in the larger society.

Judith Butler states that “we regularly punish those who fail to do their gender right,” and similarly punish those who fail to do their “race” right. Doing one’s “race” right often depends on doing one’s socioeconomic class right. The regulatory regimes of “sex,” “sexuality,” “gender,” “ability,” “race,” and “class” are inimically connected, and these connections are discursively or socially maintained.

Webster’s dictionary defines “oppression” as a noun meaning “the unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power” on the individual / interpersonal, institutional, and larger societal levels.

As opposed to “oppression,” I define “social justice” as “the concept that local, national, and global communities function where everyone has equal access to and equitable distribution of the rights, benefits, privileges, and resources, and where everyone can live freely unencumbered by social constructions of hierarchical positions of domination and subordination.”

So a number of critical questions can be asked regarding my statement that “Donald Trump is NOT my president!!!!”

For members of identity groups who live in the United States but are not considered of the United States – at least not to the degree of those constructed further up the hierarchy – is Donald Trump their president too?

For members of identity group placed lower on the hierarchy (the “abject” “subaltern” bodies) and who pay their taxes, could this be considered as “taxation without representation”? In this regard, did King George III of England (not-so affectionately referred to as the “Mad King”) truly “represent” the people living in the American colonies?

Do “we the people” as individuals have the right to whom we consider as “our president” whether officially elected or not?

During the campaign season and after taking office, Donald Trump mocked a disabled reporter; called undocumented Mexican immigrants drug dealers, criminals, and rapists; denounced a U.S.-born federal judge on the basis of his ancestry; threatened to reinstate the failed and unconstitutional “stop and frisk” tactics used against primarily people of color; threatened lawsuits on anyone who speaks against him.

He promised to monitor U.S. Muslim residents and impose bans on Muslims entering the U.S.; vowed to reverse women’s reproductive freedoms and marriage equality of same-sex couples; retweets white supremacists’ racist and anti-Jewish propaganda; boils his rally audiences to a fever-pitch by demonizing and bashing the press. And most recently, he highlighted trans people’s already minoritized “other” status in his military ban.

In so doing, Trump did not invent the categories of “abjection,” but he simply reiterated the social hierarchy that was long established for his own personal and political advantage, and to divert attention from the ongoing Russia collusion scandal.

All of us “othered” bodies and our allies must take notice and act to stem the tide and eliminate the divisive and corrosive hierarchy!

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 27th, 2017 at 4:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump Declares War on Trans Servicemembers

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“After consideration with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow…… ….Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming….. ….victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.”

As the Trump administration promotes its “American Heroes [Themed] Week,” the alleged Commander-in-Chief let it be known in a torrential three-tweet series that he does not include trans people in the category of “American Heroes,” especially those currently and previously serving in the U.S. military.

Trump’s official policy-by-tweet contradicts Department of Defense new regulations released June 30, 2016 under Defense Secretary Ash Carter permitting trans people to join and openly serve their country. At that time, the United States added its name to an ever-increasing list of 19 other nations welcoming trans people into their military ranks, with the Netherlands as the first as far back as 1973. A sampling of others include Australia, Bolivia, Canada, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, and Spain.

The U.S. House of Representatives defeated a bill earlier this month on a bipartisan basis, which, if passed, would have prohibited the Pentagon from covering the costs of transition surgeries. Twenty-Four Republicans joined the Democrats in turning back the proposal introduced by Missouri Republican Representative Vicky Hartzler.

Estimates vary regarding the number of active trans members currently serving, from 1,320 – 6,630 according to a Rand Corporation Study, to an estimated 8,800 in the U.S. armed forces, and 6,700 serving in the Guard or Reserve forces by the Williams Institute.

The Rand Study fully debunks the Lier-in-Chief’s assertion of some sort of burdensome “tremendous medical costs” expended on trans servicemembers. Of the Pentagon’s annual military health care budget of $6.28 billion, an estimated relatively minuscule $2.4 – 8.4 million accounts for transition-related health care costs.

In addition, Rand found that merely 25 – 130 active-component trans military personnel have deployment restrictions due to transition-related medical treatments. In comparison, 50,000 active-duty soldiers in one single branch, the Army, cannot deploy for medical and other reasons.

It should be crystal clear to anyone that Trump’s motive in issuing his latest ban on an entire category of people has nothing to do with concerns over improving military readiness. It has nothing to do with health care costs. It has nothing to do with some alleged and unspecific “disruption.”

As North Korea increasingly develops and improves its nuclear and intercontinental missile capabilities, as the crisis in Syria worsens by the day with its ally Russia gaining more regional and geopolitical influence, as our NATO allies are forced to go it alone while Donald whistles in the wind, by declaring war on trans people in the military, he kicks the proverbial can down the road in terms of developing consistent and coordinated strategic military and foreign policy initiatives. He also hardens his appeal of the base feelings with his base of support.

Since Trump’s inauguration, the White House website has removed reference to LGBT issues and policies from the previous administration, and reversed an Obama-era executive order permitting trans students to use school facilities most closely aligning with their gender identities.

Trump’s not-so-surprising current assault on trans people has the heavy thump print of Vice President Pence who, in his first congressional campaign in 2000, argued for public funding of so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ people. On his website at the time, his disdain for same-sex attractions and sexuality stands out:

“Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

Pence opposes marriage equality and LGBTQ non-discrimination protections, and helped to pass the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration law allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people. The state was forced to amend the law after experiencing serious political push back.

Donald Trump, by choosing Mike Pence, has added LGBTQ people to his already long list of “the Others,” which includes Mexicans and all Central and South American-heritage people, Muslims, people with disabilities, all women, plus anyone who supports the “Black Lives Matter” movement. By choosing Mike Pence, Trump has double-downed in his attempts to divide and conquer the electorate by instilling fear in promising the bigoted the “freedom” to discriminate to the fullest extent of the law without the threat of prosecution.

Members of the trans community often suffer the consequences of other truth tellers of the past. Nearly every two – three days, a person is killed somewhere in the world for expressing gender nonconformity. The vast majority of murders are of trans women of color.

The Trump administration’s latest assault on trans people will prove to be a total failure by discharging and preventing service by talented and committed people who would have joined the ranks, many who held or could have potentially held critical positions, for example, as language interpreters and other military specialists.

As our troops are currently stretched thin throughout the world’s conflict areas, the reinstated ban only exacerbates the problem and discredits our country by eliminating an entire class of people whose only desire is to contribute to the defense of their nation.

We must admire trans folks for maintaining a willingness to join the military following such scurrilous representations of them, but permitting policymakers, the majority presumably heterosexual and largely cisgender male, to dictate policy over whether trans servicemembers are granted permission openly to serve our country makes about as much sense as allowing men to determine whether women get the vote or whether women maintain control over their reproductive freedoms.

The question is not whether they will “allow” us to serve openly. The more salient question is whether we can forgive them for their dehumanizing, offensive, and downright prejudicial stereotypical characterizations.

Though eventually legislators reversed the former “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that banned lesbian, gay, and bisexual people entry into the military, history will record and remember this indelible stain on the reputation of the United States. While the country now needs to undergo its developmental process in gaining a greater awareness regarding the needs, concerns, and realities of trans people, we will not forget, and for many of us, we will find it difficult to forgive.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 26th, 2017 at 2:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Our Press the Democracy-Reviving Antidote to Trump’s Venomous Lies

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This week our country and the world commemorates the 48th anniversary of the historic and breathtaking Apollo astronaut’s Moon landing taking “a giant leap for mankind” while leaving behind a small U.S. flag and the delicate detailed footprints of the brave patriots from the Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The Trump administration has also taken a breathtaking “giant leap” as our country and the world looks on, but the leap Trump and his co-conspirators have taken is not extraterrestrial. This leap, rather, follows a deranged trail outside of the traditional political and civil discourse environment into the toxic atmosphere of blatant lies and deception, leaving behind a stench-filled democracy-killing dump in its wake.

“No administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days,” Trump boldly asserted to his rally audience in Kenosha, Wisconsin. But beneath this Trumpian hyperbole, what has he actually accomplished?

While the White House website lists 28 bills signed by Trump, though this is the highest since 1949, it stands well below the 76 signed by Roosevelt in 1933. But as PolitiFact reports, many of Trump’s bills were “minor or housekeeping bills,” and “none met a longstanding political-science standard for ‘major bills’.”

“I know more about ISIS than the generals, trust me.” But ISIS is not all he knows more about than anyone else.

  • Talking about an Obama-induced “crisis” throughout the country at the Republican National Convention, Trump guaranteed that “I alone can fix it.”
  • “I understand the tax laws better than almost anyone, which is why I’m the one who can truly fix them.”
  • “I know more about renewables than any human being on Earth.”
  • “I understand social media. I understand the power of Twitter. I understand the power of Facebook maybe better than almost anybody, based on my results, right?”
  • “Nobody knows more about debt. I’m like the king. I love debt.”
  • “I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world. Nobody knows more about taxes.”
  • “Nobody knows banking better than I do.”
  • “I understand money better than anybody. I understand it far better than Hillary, and I’m way up on the economy when it comes to questions on the economy.”
  • “I think nobody knows the [U.S.] system [of government] better than I do.”
  • “I used to be, George, the fair-haired boy — you know, when I was a contributor. I know more about contributions than anybody.”
  • “Nobody knows more about trade than me.
  • “Nobody in the history of this country has ever known so much about infrastructure as Donald Trump.”
  • “There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am.”
  • “I know more about offense and defense than they will ever understand, believe me. Believe me. Than they will ever understand. Than they will ever understand.”
  • “There is nobody who understands the horror of nuclear more than me.”

Whether blatant lies, bravado, hyperbole, or self-dilution, considering his collective past statements, the public and our allies abroad cannot and should not trust him, for he has no credibility left.

In addition, where are these mythical tax forms he promised to release? Where is this spectacular health care plan that will improve care and lower costs that he promised to pass? Where are the best, brightest, and most qualified cabinet secretaries he promised to nominate? When has he placed “America First” above his own self-interests and profits? Where are his excellent business negotiating skills? When will he and his family begin to “Hire and Buy American” in their businesses as he has demanded of the private sector?

While he complained about some sort of conspiratorial voter fraud that deprived him of garnering the popular vote in the last election, he has done nothing to curb the real voter suppression efforts by the Republican Party nationwide, nor has he pushed to restore the Voting Rights Act to its once effective version before the Supreme Court gutted its chief provisions.

Instead, he brought together a so-called “Election Integrity Presidential Advisory Commission,” which has demanded secretaries of state divulge voter information that violates many state constitutions. The commission serves merely as a front to feed Trump’s narcissistic need to prove – contrary to facts and reason – that he won the popular vote in the last election, rather than what all accounts have concluded: that he lost to Hillary Clinton by over 3 million.

Congressional oversight committees and a Special Prosecutor are investigating numerous scandals swirling throughout his administration placing Trump in a collision course with the Constitution regarding possible links to Russia in influencing the outcome of the past election and serious concerns over his business ventures and conflicts of interest.

He referred to these investigations: “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people!”

Former White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, promoted blatant lies — like the inauguration crowd size, Elton John supposedly appearing, and the administration having no meetings with Russian diplomats before the inauguration — to his factual blunders — like Hitler never used chemical weapons on his own people at “the Holocaust centers” — to his obvious abuse and hatred of the White House press corps.

Newly appointed Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has already been shown to have either misspoken, stretched the truth, or blatantly lied during her relatively few press briefings.

Now as Anthony Scaramucci has taken over the helm as White House Press Director, and has guaranteed “full transparency” at his post, time will only tell whether that too will turn out to be a lie.

“Fake news,” as used by Trump, includes any and all unfavorable news and other reports after exposing this administration to the bright lights of public scrutiny. The term stands even in the face of the New York Times finding that Trump mislead or misstated the facts at least once in 91 of his first 99 days, and the Washington Post counted 836 false or misleading claims in the first 181 days after swearing to uphold, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.

At press conferences, Trump disrespects reporters. He demands them to “sit down” when they ask questions he doesn’t like, and he speaks of a “running war” with the media. He has even accused “freedom of the press” as the cause of terrorist bombings in the U.S.

Throughout his campaign to the present day, Donald Trump has energized his base of supporters by consistently blaming and attacking the media generally as well as specific outlets.

He labeled the venerable New York Times as “failing,” and BuzzFeed as “a failing pile of garbage.” He argued that “[Journalists are] among the most dishonest human beings on earth.” He continually calls them “liars” whenever they write stories unflattering to him and his administration.

German Nazis popularized the term Lügenpresse (“lying press”) to intimidate and silence opposition.

He cut back on the number of televised White House daily press briefings, and he rarely consents to giving press conferences.

His chief political strategist, former editor of the far-right Breitbart News, Stephen K. Bannon, severely castigated the press by calling it “the opposition party”:

“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while… The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”

Well, in his admission to “deconstruct the administrative state,” Bannon apparently wants to dismantle the free press. The Trump administration’s obvious “divide and conquer” or “divide and rule” (Latin dīvide et īmpera) strategy it hopes will have the effect of inhibiting the media from unifying and establishing a strong block to push for the truth by competing for the limited crumbs in the mirage of the tasty press-access pie.

Trump seems, however, to like people over at Fox News who serve as his apologists and promoters. Fox News has operated as the mouthpiece of the conservative segment of the Republican Party since its inception (a virtual Republican Party infomercial), and as the state-supported propaganda machine during Republican administrations much as Pravda (“truth” in Russian), functioned under dictatorial regimes during the former Soviet Union.

Fox News promotes “fairness and balance” as Prava promotes “truth.”

No matter how Trump and his accomplices wish to characterize the so-called “mainstream press,” gratitude must be showered upon them rather than the scorn and vile bigotry coming from the political right.

Members of the media, our purveyors of facts, ensure the perpetuation of our democratic form of government. While they sometimes get it wrong, when they do, they follow up with retractions, and at times, individual reporters and commentators lose their jobs if malintent or malice is proven.

I admire not only the center-left to progressive news outlets, reporters, and commentators, but also the courageous conservative Republican-leaning journalists and pundits who speak truth to power, people like Joe Scarborough, Nicole Wallace, Michael Steele (former RNC Chair), and now even Fox News host, Shepard Smith, who stated in an on-air discussion with another Fox anchor, Chris Wallace, regarding Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russian agents in Trump Tower:

“We’re still not clean on this, Chris. Why all these lies? Why is it lie after lie after lie? If you clean, come on clean.”

Donald Trump represents the voice of the alt-right in spreading his alt-facts within his alt-reality universe. Because of our mighty press providing the democracy-saving antidote to the constant stream – in drips and torrents — of misinformation, lies, and cover ups from this and past administrations, We the People, by informing ourselves, will ensure that our system of government does not perish from the Earth.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 23rd, 2017 at 6:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Spicer and McCarthy Out, Huckabee Sanders In

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Finally, White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, had the decency to resign after all his blatant lies — like the inauguration crowd size, Elton John supposedly appearing, and the administration having no meetings with Russian diplomats before the inauguration — to his factual blunders — like Hitler never used chemical weapons on his own people — to his obvious abuse and hatred of the White House press corps.

Now we’re stuck with Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the mean girl we all had to endure in middle school, who continually violates her vow to uphold her Evangelical Christian beliefs by seriously disobeying the 9th Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” by lying through her teeth.

She does, though, valiantly adheres to Commandment 5: “Honor you father and your mother,” by following the distorted lead of her hate-filled, hypocritical, and bigoted self-righteous father, Mike Huckabee, Christian minister, former Arkansas governor, and Republican presidential candidate.

Let us not forget that Huckabee organized a rally in support of Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis who become the face of resistance to the 2015 Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing marriage for same-sex couples on par with different-sex couples throughout the United States.

Only hours after the Court’s ruling in June 2015, Davis ordered her staff to stop issuing marriage licenses. Though she has been charged with a court order, through her lawyers she expressed her belief that granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples “irreparably and irreversibly violates her conscience” because it goes against her religious beliefs. She stated that she fears going to Hell for violating “a central teaching” of the Bible if she were to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision.

Davis, however, seems to practice a form of “cafeteria Christianity” by picking and choosing which of the “central teachings” she will follow. Possibly Davis chose to run for the job of issuing marriage licenses in her county since she has been issued four such licenses herself by divorcing three times: 1994, 2006, and then again in 2008.

In addition, according to published accounts, Davis “gave birth to twins five months after divorcing her first husband. They were fathered by her third husband but adopted by her second.”

Huckabee saw no apparent hypocrisy by supporting Davis’s decision to defy the law of the land. Mike Huckabee issued a statement backing her:

“I spoke with Kim Davis this morning to offer my prayers and support. I let her know how proud I am of her for not abandoning her religious convictions and standing strong for religious liberty. She is showing more courage and humility than just about any federal office holder in Washington.”

Huckabee called for a “National Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” following Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s pronouncement in 2012 that he opposes same-sex marriage, and in published accounts asserted:

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”

During the last presidential primary season, Mike Huckabee presented a keynote speech at the “National Religious Liberties Conference,” organized by self-described “Christian Pastor,” Kevin Swanson. Swanson is infamous for his consistent calls for imposition of the death penalty on homosexuals, warnings that the Girl Scouts and the movie “Frozen” convert girls into lesbians, and accusations that homosexuals and women who wear pants (look out Hillary) bring on natural disasters.

During his opening remarks at the conference, Swanson quoted scripture: “Yes, Leviticus 20:13 calls for the death penalty for homosexuals,” and continuing, he declared that he was “willing to go to jail for standing on the truth of the word of God.”

In the past, Huckabee, on Fox News, placed blame for the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut by stating:

“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

This is Huckabee’s reiteration of a theme he peddled after the mass murder at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado when he attributed the bloodbath to a society that removed God and religion from the public realm:

“[S]ince we’ve ordered God out of our schools, and communities…we really shouldn’t act so surprised …when all hell breaks loose.”

Throughout his campaign to the present day, Donald Trump has energized his base of supporters by consistently blaming and attacking the media generally as well as specific outlets. A very brief sampling includes:

“[Journalists are] among the most dishonest human beings on earth.” He continually calls them “liars” whenever they write stories unflattering to him and his administration.

“The failing New York Times wrote a big, long front-page story yesterday. And it was very much discredited, as you know.”

At press conferences, Trump tells reporters to “sit down” when they ask questions he doesn’t like, and he speaks of a “running war” with the media. He has even accused “freedom of the press” as the cause of terrorist bombings in the U.S.

He has cut back on the number of televised White House daily press briefings, and he rarely consents to giving press conferences. 

Considering Sarah Huckabee Sanders familial background and past performance with her recent elevation as chief White House press secretary, the stormy relations between the Trump administration and the press under Sean Spicer has the potential of getting even worse, if that can be imagined.

I will definitely miss, however, Melissa McCarthy’s parody of Sean Spicer on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” Now that was “spicy”!

Hey, maybe SNL’s producer, Lorne Michaels, will invite Spicer to host the show. Perhaps he will be playing Melissa McCarthy. Wow, the possibilities.

Stay tuned.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 21st, 2017 at 10:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

England Marks Half Century Decriminalizing Male Same-Sex Expression

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of adult same-sex sexual expression in England. This followed a long and tortuous history of royal decrees, legislative acts, religious dogma, and social attitudes related to sexuality and gender expression dating back centuries.

The English in 1431 CE, under King Henry VI, urged the Catholic church to condemn Joan of Arc for the “crime” of wearing “men’s” clothing. Henry argued:

“It is sufficiently notorious and well-known that for some time past, a woman calling herself Jeanne the Pucelle (the maid) leaving off the dress and clothing of the feminine sex, a thing contrary to divine law and abominable before God, and forbidden by all laws, wore clothing and armor such is worn by men.”

Joan asserted that her style of dress was her religious duty and higher than Church authority. She asserted:

“For nothing in the world will I swear not to arm myself and put on a man’s dress.”

Catholic Inquisitors accused her of practicing paganism and condemned her to death for wearing men’s clothing and armor, and burned her at the stake as a heretic.

Throughout the 1500s – 1700s in England and its American colonies, women accused of being “witches” were killed. In Salam, Massachusetts, for example, 20 women were executed.

People assigned “female” at birth but who presented as male and who married women, during the 1500s – 1800s in Europe, including England and the United States, if discovered, they suffered penalties from floggings to death. 

In 1533, under the reign of King Henry VIII of England, Parliament instituted the “Buggery” (or sodomy) law, punishable by the penalty of death for,

“the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind or beast.”

This meant that a male found to have had sex with another male, and, yes, someone who was discovered engaging in sexual intercourse with an animal, both the persons and the animals would be killed.

Under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1564, the death penalty for same-sex sexuality between men became a permanent part of English law until 1861. Women were exempt from the law by British courts who decided that sex between two women was not possible.

Crossdressing was occasionally practiced in the colonies. Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury, colonial governor of New York and New Jersey from 1702-1709 walked nearly every afternoon in public dressed in his wife’s clothing, which he explained was a tribute to his cousin, Queen Anne. There is no evidence that he engaged in sexual relations with men.

About this time in England, there developed the first documented fairly organized network of men gathering together for company and sexual encounters. From around 1700 – 1830, a series of houses or pubs, later called “Molly Houses,” catering to the needs of these men were established throughout London. Some of the “Houses” consisted of private rooms in taverns, while others were in private houses. Many of these houses were raided by police, the men tried, and some were executed.

Since the early to mid-19th century, a linear history of homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender non-conformity predominately in the West, begins with the formation of a homosexual and gender non-conforming “identity” and a sense of community brought about by the growth of industrialization, competitive capitalism, and the rise of modern science, which provided people with more social and personal options outside the home.

It is only within the last 150 or so years that there has been an organized and sustained political effort to protect the rights of people with same-sex and more-than-one-sex attractions, and those who cross traditional constructions of gender expression.

There were some in England who were early defenders of homosexuality. One was sex researcher Havelock Ellis whose wife was bisexual. He referred to same-sex desire as “inversion,” in which the person “inverted” gender traits due to a congenital hormonal anomaly. He likened this “inversion” to other human anomalies, such as color-blindness.

Another defender was writer and social reformer Edward Carpenter. Carpenter was inspired by the poems of Walt Whitman celebrating “manly attachment,” and traveled to the U.S. to confer with Whitman.

In the U.S. in 1860, poet Walt Whitman published his book, Leaves of Grass. The section titled “Calamus” was clearly homoerotic. Kalamos in Greek mythology turned into a reed in grief for his young male lover, Karpos, who drowned. The Acorus calamus is the name given to a marsh plant. For Whitman, his “Calamus” poems represent the kind of love between Kalamos and Karpos.

Very soon following the book’s publication, authorities removed it from library shelves at Harvard University and placed it in a locked cabinet with other books thought to undermine students’ morals. Whitman was fired from his job at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

During the mid-19th century in England and the United States, educational opportunities for primarily middle-class women improved somewhat. Often locked out of most institutions of higher learning, several women’s colleges were founded.

There were, however, many conservative critics who attacked this new trend warning that educated women would be unfit to fill traditional roles in society, and others, like U.S.-born Dr. Edward Hammond Clarke, in his 1873 book Sex in Education, or a Fair Chance for Girls, warned that study would risk atrophy of the uterus and ovaries resulting in chronic uterine disease. He went on to assert that sustained vigorous mental activity resulted, for girls, in masculinization, sterility, insanity, and even death.

And Dr. Havelock Ellis concluded:

“[W]omen’s colleges are the great breeding ground of lesbianism. When young women are thrown together, they manifest an increasing affection by the usual tokens.  They kiss each other fondly on every occasion… They learn the pleasure of direct contact… and after this, the normal sex act fails to satisfy them.” 

In 1861, English criminal law ended the death penalty for men convicted of engaging the same-sex sexuality dating back to the time of Queen Victoria I.

The last men executed for homosexuality in England were James Pratt and John Smith who were hanged in 1835. Persecution, however, continued.

The British Parliament, in 1885, authorized Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment, referred to as the Labouchere Amendment, prohibiting “gross indecency” between males with up to two years imprisonment. The Amendment was named after its sponsor, MP Henry Labouchere, who argued for the criminalization of men found guilty of gross indecency with another male “in public or in private” for a term of imprisonment “not exceeding two years,” with or without hard labor.

In 1895, the English court sentenced poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde, to two years hard labor for “gross indecency” and “sodomy” with the young nobleman, Lord Alfred Douglas. Lord Alfred Douglas, in his poem “Two Loves,” coined a euphemism for homosexuality as “The love that dare not speak its name.” After his release, Wilde died in exile in France. 

Publishing houses introduced numerous new lesbian and gay novels in the 1920s.  Most notable among these was the English lesbian classic The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall. Shortly following its publication in 1928, the novel was declared obscene in both England and the United States, and was banned for a time.  

In England, Alan Mathison Turing, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, and pioneering computer scientist, during WWII, worked for England’s Government Code and Cypher School. He and his team of scientists succeeded in breaking the Nazi German codes.

Though he was considered a national hero who some said shortened the war by approximately 2 years and saved Great Britain, in 1952, he was criminally prosecuted on the charge of “gross indecency” for soliciting a male for sex, and for being homosexual. Rather than going to prison, he accepted a plea bargain to undergo injections of female hormones referred to as “Chemical Castration.” Just two years later, two weeks before his 42nd birthday, he took his life. 

The British government constituted a committee in 1954 to investigate homosexuality and prostitution. It included several judges, a psychiatrist, several theologians and academics. The committee, later referred to as The Wolfenden Committee after its Chair, Lord Wolfenden, in their final report concluded (with only one dissenter) that private same-sex sexual conduct between consenting adults within their homes should not continue to be criminalized.

The Wolfenden Report of 1957 stated, in summary: “unless a deliberate attempt be made by society through the agency of the law to equate the sphere of crime with that of sin, there must remain a realm of private that is in brief, not the law’s business.”

It would take, however, another ten years for Britain’s Labour government to act on the Report’s recommendations. Speaking for the government’s position in Parliament, Home Secretary Roy Jenkins argued on July 4, 1967 that criminal law must no longer prosecute homosexual men (women were not held to these laws) because “those who suffer from this disability [of being the object of ridicule and derision] carry a great weight of shame all their lives.”

The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalized same-sex sexuality between men who attained the age of 21 years. It covered private consensual sex within England and Wales, but did not apply to the Merchant Navy or the Armed Forces. The age was lowered to 18 in 1994, and to 16 in 2000 thereby equalizing age of consent with heterosexual sexuality.

Scotland followed decriminalization in 1980 with its Criminal Justice Act, and Northern Ireland in 1982 in the Homosexual Offences Order.

A royal “general pardon” was granted to Alan Turing in 2013. A recent statute posthumously pardoned thousands of men convicted of what was once ruled as the “criminal” act of homosexuality.

It would take the United States until 2003, when the Supreme Court, in Lawrence v. Texas, declared the remaining laws against same-sex sexuality between consenting adults in private as unconstitutional. 

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 18th, 2017 at 6:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

No Mere Game of Thrones

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Winter has come,

the Long Night has come

to Game of Thrones.

 

But Game it is not.

 

Thrones compete,

React,

Slaughter

for Dominance.

 

Prior wars forgotten

as fresh alliances

Forge between

Past combatants,

while former friendships

Transform to enmities.

 

Searching for power

and treasure corrupt

and divide

Never contemplating

Divide and Share

can supplant

Divide and Conquer,

that Peace

can

supersede War,

that Power With

can

surpass Power Over.

 

White Walkers

Our Unconscious

Searching,

Tracking,

Coming for us.

 

We can

Defeat them

when

We know Ourselves,

our Pasts,

our Todays,

when

we Imagine

Coming closer

toward

the Conscious

Visionary

Thinkers

we are

and

can still become.

 

No, this is no Game at all.

 

Rather, the

World’s Saga.

 

We normalize

Burying the dead

as Despots

Blare Jingoist cries.

 

We Renounce

our Rights

our Liberty

for False Promises

of Security.

 

They Invent

Subversive

Invading Nemeses

to Gain,

Maintain,

Enhance

their Strangle Hold,

which

Threatens Destruction

from Within

the Nation Itself.

 

No, this is no Game at all.

 

Rather a Mirror,

a Cautionary Tale

a Glimpse

into our Tomorrows

Lest we

Alter,

Change,

Correct

Direction.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 17th, 2017 at 12:49 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Forget Healthcare Reform – Demand Healthcare Revolution!

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Quality healthcare is a human right. Quality healthcare is a civil right in a just society, in any society! We the people must abolish any and all healthcare systems with profit as the primary goal.

Republicans attempt to perpetrate a deceptive swindle in their Health(don’t)Care bills in the House and Senate. These Health(don’t)Care bills have nothing to do with health at all. They function as political cover to grant massive tax breaks to the rich.

Taking a victory lap following the vote House vote, Vice President Pence thanked all the “principled lawmakers” for their support in the bill’s passage.

They tout their scams as establishing “freedom of choice” to “freedom-loving” individuals while granting “enhanced rights” to states.

Translated from doublespeak to realspeak: “freedom of choice” means that with the bill’s elimination of a public mandate, individuals can choose not to purchase health care insurance, forgo preventative medicine, develop catastrophic ailments, and die in the street is they so choose, or they can go to a hospital emergency room for their primary care while other tax payers pick up the tab. Freedom?

“Enhanced rights” for states translates to granting states and insurance companies federal waivers to charge people with pre-existing medical conditions much higher rates than other customers, substantially increase prices for older people, and disregard the mandate to cover specified services like pregnancy care.

In addition, these “wonderful” bill for “freedom-loving Americans” will cut Medicaid programs for low-income people, while allowing states to enact work requirements on Medicaid recipients. Oh, and let us not forget that the bill eliminates tax increases on the rich and super-rich as well as on the health industry. Wonderful?

In the final analysis, Republicans’ “liberty” and “freedom” perpetuates their vicious self-serving fraud on the people, except for the upper 10% in the ever-growing economic divide.

I am disgusted when politicians discuss destroying our current modest healthcare system to grant people “freedom of choice.” How very hypocritical!

They are the same politicians who continually work to take away women’s freedom of choice over their bodies!

These are the same politicians who continually work to take away same-sex couples’ freedom of choice over whom they can legally marry!

These are the same politicians who continually work to deny trans people freedom of choice over which public facilities to use!

These are the same politicians who continually work to take away good peoples’ rights to travel to this country or to seek sanctuary from oppression!

A free people have guarantees to go to a quality healthcare provider for preventative care without having to choose between care and food.

A free people have guarantees to go to a quality healthcare provider for ailments big and small without having to choose between care or paying for housing.

A free people have guarantees to go to a quality healthcare provider for treatment of catastrophic ailments without having to choose between care and having sufficient funds for retirement or for sending progeny to school.

A free people have guarantees to quality healthcare no matter their station in life, no matter their geographic location, no matter their physical and mental condition, no matter their social identities, no matter what!

The Republicans’ ultimate purpose is not to guarantee universal healthcare, but instead, to shrink substantially the size of government; to end governmental regulation of the private sector; to privatize state and federal governmental services, industries, and institutions including healthcare; to permanently incorporate across-the-board non-progressive marginal tax rates; to ensure market driven unfettered “free market” economies.

Back in the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign at the CNN-Tea Party-sponsored Republican presidential candidates’ debate in Florida the debate facilitator, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, asked then presidential candidate Ron Paul the hypothetical question of what we as a society should do in the case of a 30-year-old man who chooses not to purchase health insurance, and later develops a serious life-threatening disease. Before Paul had a chance to answer Blitzer’s question, a number of audience members shouted “Let him die! Let him die!”

Is this the image of our country we want to continue projecting around the world? Is this the type of country “we the people” were promised? Is this the type of country in which “we the people” want to live?

Reported by the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker, the U.S. ranks last in terms of life expectancy and first related to disease burden compared with other so-called “developed” countries. We spend about $8,745 per capita on health care, compared, for example, with its government-sponsored single-payer healthcare, Australia’s $3,997 per person.

As destructive and as freedom-killing as the political and theocratic right would have us believe, according to the World English Dictionary, socialism involves “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole,” where each of us has a stake and advances in the success of our collective economy.

No country in the world today functions as a fully socialist state, but rather, some of the most successful economies combine elements of capitalism with socialism to create greater degrees of equity and lesser disparities between the rich, the poor, and those on the continuum in between.

For those who thrust the term “socialist” as a curse word, if a socialist is one who advocates for a governmental single-payer quality universal healthcare, then we should all be Democratic Socialists!

If a socialist is one who demands that our country protects and enhances our Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid safety nets, then we should all be Democratic Socialists!

This year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development conducted its “Better Life Index” to determine the “happiest countries in the world,” according to its residents. Based on an 11-measure survey assessing quality of life, including health, housing, income, jobs, community, education, the environment, work-life balance, and life satisfaction, all the Scandinavian countries, plus Iceland, Netherlands, and Switzerland, and only one North American country, plus Australia and New Zealand reached the top 10 ranked countries.

Included in descending order are number one, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, New Zealand, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, and Sweden. I am saddened, but not surprised, that the United States did not make the cut in the top 10. We would do well to look to these countries for some of their Socialist policies that sustain high levels in quality of life issues, including health, for their residents.

All these countries provide government-sponsored quality universal healthcare. Shame on the U.S. for not following their lead.

If the rich and super rich must pay higher taxes, then so be it!

If we must reduce our ridiculously high annual military budgets, then so be it!

We must get our policy priorities in order. We the people must fight for each and everyone’s right to quality healthcare. We must divorce healthcare from the corporate profit motive and marry it to a government-sponsored single-payer system!

Let the ground swell. Let the volcanoes erupt. Let the clouds crash with thunder. Let the people rise, fists held high, voices ringing, chanting, singing, demanding, announcing:

HEALTHCARE IS A RIGHT! HEALTHCARE IS A RIGHT! HEALTCARE IS A RIGHT!

Republicans be damned! We need a revolution!

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 13th, 2017 at 10:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Dismantling the Wheel of Oppression for a Winning World

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I read a question that asked, “What does winning look like in a world without [one of the forms of oppression, like, for example, racism or sexism]?” I briefly concluded that this is unimaginable only because it is the wrong question to ask.

We can visualize “oppression,” and its attendant dominant group privileges, as comprising a metaphorical wheel with the numerous spokes each representing the various forms oppression takes. These include racism, sexism, heterosexism, trans oppression, ableism, ethnocentrism, classism, religious oppression, ageism and adultism, lookism, and so forth. If somehow, we could dismantle or eliminate one of the spokes, the wheel will, nevertheless, continue to trample over the rights and the very lives of individuals and entire groups of people based on their many intersectional identities.

We must, therefore, work to dismantle the rim circling and linking the spokes together to begin imaging “what winning looks like.” I employ at least four disparate but connecting theoretical organizers to place a bright spotlight on what comprises the rim: Iris Marion Young’s “Faces of Oppression,” Rita Hardiman and Bailey Jackson’s “Levels of Oppression,” Suzanne Pharr’s “Elements of Oppression,” and Sherry Watt’s “Privilege Identity Exploration” (PIE) model.

Young’s taxonomy looks at oppression as involving a constellation of conditions divided into five categories (or “faces”) that include:

  • Powerlessness: linked to Karl Marx’s theory of socialism in which some people have the power to make decisions and have more control over their lives while other have less or no such power,
  • Exploitation: the act of using other people’s labors to benefit or profit oneself without giving fair compensation,
  • Marginalization: the act of consigning or relegating a group of people to a lower social status or at the outer edges of society,
  • Cultural Imperialism involves taking the culture of the ruling class and establishing and continually reproducing it as the norm (hegemony),
  • Violence is used by the dominant group to keep the powerless, exploited, and marginalized in fear of random and unprovoked attacks, intended to humiliate, damage, or destroy people.

Hardiman and Jackson investigate the ways in which societal privilege and oppression are constructed and maintained on overlapping and coexisting levels:

  • Personal/Interpersonal,
  • Institutional,
  • Societal/Cultural.

Pharr highlights the “common elements of oppression” comprising:

  • Defined Norm: Pharr explains as “…a standard of rightness and often of righteousness wherein all others are judged in relation to it. This norm must be backed up with institutional power, economic power, and both institutional and individual violence.”
  • Institutional Power: power in the social institutions including resources, laws, policies, political clout, political representation,
  • Economic Power: financial/material resources,
  • Myth of Scarcity: the socially-imposed fear and warning that there are not enough resources to go around,
  • Violence & Threats of Violence: the implicit or explicit societal messages intended to make people afraid, to fear harm, pain, suffering, etc. if they advocate for themselves or challenge oppressive conditions,
  • Lack of Prior Claim, according to Pharr, “…means that if you weren’t there when the original document (the Constitution, for example) was written, or when the organization was first created, then you have no right to inclusion.”
  • Othering: treating some people and groups as abnormal or different related to the defined norm. Those who seek their rights, who seek inclusion, who seek to control their own lives instead of having their lives controlled are the people who fall outside the norm….They are the Other.”
  • Invisibility: omitting, deleting, erasing the contributions, presence, existence of individuals and groups as if they have made no significant and important contributions, to underrepresent their histories,
  • Distortion: to revise history to reflect incomplete, inaccurate, or false histories,
  • Stereotyping: dehumanizing individuals and groups by denying individual characteristics and differences; applying the “fallacy of confirming instances” which involves seeking evidence for what one already believes and omitting or ignoring evidence that contradicts what one already believes,
  • Blaming the Victim: portraying oppression as deserved, and seeking explanations for the problems people face by blaming individual behaviors and failures of character, motivation, culture, etc.,
  • Internalized Oppression: coming to believe the falsehoods, derogatory characterizations, stereotypes, and myths society perpetuates about you and your group,
  • Horizontal Hostility: hatred, othering, prejudice and discrimination against, and/or competing with others who are also oppressed (instead of joining in solidarity and coalition with people who are underrepresented),
  • Identification with Power: identifying with, assuming, believing, falsely that those in positions of authority act in your best interests, and seeking to attain the favor of those in power (possibly because of desires to attain similar social status),
  • Exploiting Isolation: circumventing, interfering with, preventing solidarity and coalitions among groups and individuals, and/or taking advantage of the lack of solidarity among underrepresented groups and individuals, “divide and conquer,”
  • Assimilation and Tokenism: creating fake or mythical “model” representatives in an attempt to discredit or dispute claims of and challenges to oppression,
  • Individualized Solutions: responding to systemic problems by proposing that individuals need to work harder to persevere, and/or believing all people can equitably pull themselves up by their bootstraps without addressing systemic inequity, the “myth of meritocracy” syndrome.

Watt’s “Privilege Identity Exploration” (PIE) model addresses the forms of resistance around discussions that challenge dominant group privilege and social oppression. According to Watt, when raising and discussing issues of oppression and privilege, several forms of resistance may emerge:

  • Denial: A rejection of the concept of dominant group privilege.
  • Deflection: The notion that majority rules and that the minority cannot expect the majority to adhere to minority standards.
  • Rationalization: The notion that the individual did not set the conditions for the inequities that may exist in the society currently or historically.
  • Intellectualization: The assertion that the individual is not prejudiced and does not discriminate. The “my best friend is a …” attitude.
  • Principium: A defensive reaction arising from a personal or political belief. Though the person may feel badly that a certain social identity group may not have achieved full equality and equity within in society, this is the way it was meant to be.
  • False Envy: Sometimes manifesting a certain affection for a minoritized person or a group of people, it is an effort to deny the complexity of the social and political context. At times, it manifests itself in dominant groups’ claiming victimhood at the hands of minoritized groups.
  • Minimalization: Reducing the effect that social identity has upon one’s life chances, and that issues of oppression based on social identity are no longer a problem.
  • Benevolence: Projecting an excessively sensitive attitude toward a social and political issue or group based on a position of charity.

These are only a few of the many theoretical foundations on which we may place the rim of the wheel of oppression under the microscope so we may look at its structural composition for the purpose of taking it apart, dismantling its very substance before we toss its contents onto a trash heap of history. That’s what “winning” looks like.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 11th, 2017 at 9:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump & DeVos Plan to Destroy Public Education

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Preliminary reports of President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 show a radical restructuring (decimation) of the Department of Education. With all the scandals and controversies swirling throughout the White House, important and potentially destructive policy initiatives are going virtually unnoticed through the efforts of our Diverter-In-Chief.

If Trump and his anti-public education co-conspirator, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos get their way, $10.6 billion will be eliminated from federal education initiatives. These cuts will include slashing by half financing for college work-study programs, elimination of public-service loan forgiveness, and reductions by hundreds of millions of dollars for public school mental health, advanced coursework, teacher training, after-school programs, and other services.

The Trump administration wants to divert some of these funds, approximately $1.4 billion, to expand corporate for-profit charter schools and voucher schemes for private and religiously-based parochial schools.

The President, through his chief advisors, such as Steve Bannon, subscribe to the economic/political philosophy that has come to be known as “neoliberalism,” which centers on a market-driven approach to economic and social policy, including such tenets as reducing the size of the national government and granting more control to state and local governments; severely reducing or ending governmental regulation over the private sector; privatization of governmental services, industries, and institutions including education, health care, and social welfare; permanent incorporation of across-the-board non-progressive marginal federal and state tax rates; and possibly most importantly, market driven and unfettered “free market” economics.

Trump’s attempts to deregulate and privatize education is reflected in his choice of highly controversial billionaire Betsy DeVos to head the U.S. Department of Education, who has a history of advocating for a voucher system for private education and emphasizing charter schools at the expense of public education. Recently, she was charged with plagiarism. At her Senate confirmation hearings, she was roundly criticized for her lack of even basic knowledge on teaching and pedagogical issues that any college sophomore education major would know.

Donald Trump underscored his own attitudes on the importance of education when he admitted to The Washington Post that he does not read: “I never have. I’m always busy doing a lot. Now I’m more busy, I guess, than ever before.”

Rather than concern himself with the “Three R-s”, Trump relies on the “Four I-s” (Impulsiveness, Instinctiveness, and Intuition in his I-first world view) when making decisions. He has never read a biography of any of our past presidents, and his grasp of U.S. and world history is insignificant at best.

Continuing, he said he has no need to read extensively because he arrives at the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense, and I have a lot of business ability.”

Within our neoliberal age, our schools are run more like business factories where the classroom serves as the assembly line that would even make Henry Ford proud. This follows the primary tenets of one of the major proponents of neoliberal economics, Milton Friedman:

“Our elementary and secondary education system needs to be totally restructured. Such a reconstruction can be achieved only by privatizing a major segment of the educational system — i.e. by enabling a private, for-profit industry to develop that will provide a wide variety of learning opportunities and offer effective competition to public schools.”

This corporate-type structuring of the university and public schools, in the context of shrinking state and national educational subsidies even as student enrollment has increased, however, has compelled many state-supported universities and public schools to increase class sizes and increasingly tap into an adjunct faculty pool of lower-paid and overworked educators “teaching” lecture-style courses over dialogic or constructivist pedagogies, and whose only real assessment option is the standardized textbook-publisher constructed “objective” testing requiring memorization and regurgitation of facts over critical thinking and analysis.

Trump’s plan will only increase these problems. But rather than continue our trajectory down the tenuous and highly questionable road of neoliberalism in education, we might at least consider reinitiating, in updated ways, some of the theoretical and practical educational pedagogical strategies of the preeminent “progressive” educational thinker, John Dewey.

What he said a century ago (1900) about the “old education” could serve as a critique today about neoliberal educational policy:

“…the old education: its passivity of attitude, its mechanical massing of children, its uniformity of curriculum and [pedagogical] method. It may be summed up by stating that the center of gravity is outside the child. It is in the teacher, the textbook, anywhere and everywhere you please except in the immediate instincts and activities of the child[ren themselves].”

Dewey, an early educational reformer, saw that this was true “in the elementary school up through the college.” He and other members of the Progressive educational movement wanted to create schools as more effective agencies of a democratic society.

They stressed the importance of the emotional, artistic, and creative aspects of human development. They insisted that education must continually connect to and reconstruct the students’ living experiences, with the student as the center of concern, respecting human diversity where individuals must be recognized and respected for their own abilities, interests, ideas, talents, and cultural identities.

They emphasized the development of critical, socially-engaged intelligence allowing all individuals to understand and better participate in the affairs of their communities, their country, and their world. This progressive approach signaled a distinct shift in U.S.-American education, which promoted cultural uniformity rather than diversity, and the development of obedient, rather than critically analytical and fully thinking residents.

Dewey saw two primary roles of the teacher/professor: to guide students through the complexities of life and give them opportunities to learn in a “natural” way, by solving problems that were relevant to their own experiences; and to enable students to manage contemporary conditions and new demands that might be placed upon them. Overall, the mission of the school to Dewey was to discover ways of breaking down barriers between schools and students’ communities.

Possibly by returning to Dewey’s recommendations for public education, and abandoning our current path over the cliff of neoliberalist deregulatory and privatization, we may create dynamic and engaging settings for bringing teaching and learning for democratic and critical engagement into our times.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 10th, 2017 at 2:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Donald Trump’s White Supremacist Appeal of “A Clash of Civilizations”

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“I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph.”

Thus, during his speech in Poland’s Krasinski Square this month, President Donald Trump threw down the metaphorical gauntlet by turning up the volume of the dog whistle to full audible blast for human perception by declaring what propagandists for extremist Jihadist groups and ultra-right white supremacist neo-nationalists throughout Europe and the United States have long claimed: there is a clash of civilizations between the so-called West and the East.

What exactly, though, does Trump mean when he talks about “the West”? Not surprisingly, he evokes a white primarily Euro-Christian “civilization”:

“Americans, Poles and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty,” he said. “We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are. . . . We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers.”

By implication, all other cultures rank as inferior, savage, and non-innovative societies. Well, Trump’s vacuous understanding of world music is only rivaled by his vacuous understanding of world history, since China, India, the Middle East, and other global regions during numerous historical eras have led the world economically and have produced some of the richest innovations in industry, technology, engineering, architecture, literature, philosophy, art, music, and of course, food.

Though most other U.S. presidents who visited Warsaw, Poland have placed a commemorative wreath on the monument in tribute to the brave Polish Jews at the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against Nazi oppression, Donald Trump chose neither to visit the monument nor to mention the slaughter of the estimated three million Polish Jews during World War II.

In his Poland speech, written by Steve Miller, chief architect of the administration’s travel ban, Trump continued by asking:

“The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive,” the president said. “Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”

So, if Trump by implication defined what he meant by “the West,” who does he include in his use of the word “we.” Actually, this “we” is a misstatement since he campaigned during his run for the presidency on a platform of “America first.”

By personally attacking many of our allies, some who attended the recent G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany (in actuality, now G19 since Trump has pulled the U.S. out of many of the agreements and accords of the other nations), Trump has transformed his “American First” position to that of “America Alone” and “I, Donald Trump First,” with the corollary, “And Screw the Rest of the World.” This comes directly from the playbook of Senior White House Divider and Isolationist-In-Chief, Steve (Breitbart) Bannon.

I found it extremely difficult and frightening to watch the Republican National Presidential Convention last summer, since I had the definite impression that I was witnessing not simply a political gathering, but more distinctly, a neo-nationalist power rally with angry, primarily white and older Party activists.

During the convention coverage, I watched a panel discussion on MSNBC hosted by Chris Hayes, which included Esquire magazine’s Charles Pierce who discussed what he perceived as the “old white people” who run the Republican Party. He argued that the convention is filled with “loud, unhappy, dissatisfied white people.”

Before I could take pride in the accuracy of my own perceptions, GOP Representative Steve King of Iowa piped in with a jaw-dropping quip by retorting:

“This whole ‘white people’ business, though, does get a little tired, Charlie. I mean, I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about? Where did any other sub-group of people contribute to civilization?”

“Than white people?,” asked Hayes incredulously. King then emphasized that in “Western civilization itself” and places where Christianity had a foothold, this was based on the contributions of primarily white people.

It seems, however, that according to Fox News host, Tucker Carlson, though Europe comprises a major portion of this so-called “West,” it betrays its culture and its civilization. Carlson asserted on his program, Tucker Carlson Tonight (5/23/17):

“If you care about America, you won’t let it become Europe” by blindly accepting multiculturalism. Carlson and others use “multiculturalism” as an epithet and coded language for “non-white,” “non-Christian,” as “the other,” as “not us.”

Though Trump brought his “clash of civilizations” rhetoric to perceivable levels, still for those of us skillful in breaking codes, we discover the not-so-subtle racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, anti-semitic tropes coming from Trump, Carlson, and other right-wing zealots.

U.S. Republican Representative Steve King yet again insulted not only the Iowa residents of his congressional district but also the people throughout our country. In one of his many nationalist white supremacist rants, he supported far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders by tweeting that civilizations cannot be restored with “someone else’s babies”:

“Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

King doubled down in a CNN interview by stating that he meant what he tweeted, and criticized immigrants who “don’t assimilate into America.” Soon afterwards, former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, retweeted King’s diatribe adding: “GOD BLESS STEVE KING!”

Trump, Carlson, King, and other right-wing activists connect narratives representing immigrants, migrants, and even visitors to our borders in the language of disease, crime, drugs, alien and lower cultural and life forms, of invading hoards, of barbarians at the gates who if allowed to enter this country will destroy the glorious civilization we have established among the lesser peoples of the world.

The 2016 Republican Party Platform codified the language by defining the “other” as “illegal aliens,” as if they were dangerous and deadly non-human invaders from deep space.

On the right-wing side of the political spectrum, we find the philosophy and practice of “fascism.” While also deployed as an epithet by some, fascism developed as a form of radical authoritarian nationalism in early-20th century Europe in response to liberalism and Marxism on the left.

Donald Trump clearly exalted the fascist white so-called “race” in his Poland speech in referencing to “the West” ten times and “civilization” five times. His rhetoric in issuing an implied Christian crusade for, as he stated, “family, for freedom, for country, and for God” could have come directly from the Ku Klux Klan or from other white supremacist militias in the U.S. and Europe.

Though Trump asked “whether the West has the will to survive,” a more urgent question arises over whether we as a democratic nation will survive Donald Trump.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 9th, 2017 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized