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Rep. Steve King’s Brand of “Freedom” & Monoculturalism

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Now that Donald Trump has selected current Iowa Governor Terry Branstad to serve as his Ambassador to China, other Iowa politicians are eying the governor’s office beneath the gold dome of the Iowa Statehouse.

On December 8, Joe Scarborough on his MSNBC “Morning Joe” program asked ultra-conservative U.S. Representative Steve King if he might be interested in taking the Governor’s office, when King admitted that “it peeks my interest.”

King, who “represents” Iowa’s fourth congressional district, is arguably the most right-wing of all congressional Republicans. On January 24, 2015, he attempted to play kingmaker by bringing some of the most politically conservative of the Republican Party’s potential 2016 candidates to his so-called “Iowa Freedom Summit” in Des Moines. This event kicked off Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucus.

Don’t be misled by the title of this gathering since it is a form of false advertising. When Steve King talks about “freedom,” just what exactly does he mean? As a former resident living in his congressional district, I realized his definition included only people like King.

King certainly has no need of promoting freedom to undocumented residents. Last year, he dismissed the notion that many undocumented immigrants are high-achieving students. He asserted that they should not receive a pathway to citizenship saying that for every valedictorian who is legalized, “there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

Steve King not only supports Trump’s call for a wall on the U.S. southern border, but he even drew detailed blue prints for its construction.

And King has no use for the concept of “freedom” for the diversity of cultural traditions in the United States other than his own. He claimed that the promotion of the concept of multiculturalism will ultimately bring about the demise of the country as we know it.

In the course I taught at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa titled “Multicultural Foundations in Schools and Society,” I showed students a video in which King spoke to  supporters on August 21, 2012 at a Le Mars, Iowa, Town Hall meeting. King conjured up a supposed deep and sinister plot to ensnare young and impressionable first-year college students into campus multicultural groups to turn them into victims, which he asserted will convince them to work toward the eventual overthrow of the country’s power structure.

King talked about preparing for a debate focusing on the concept of multiculturalism some time ago on the Iowa State University campus. He discussed checking first the university’s website:

“I typed in ‘multicultural,’” he stated on the video, “and it came back to me at the time, 59 different multicultural groups listed to do, to operate on campus at Iowa State….And most of them were victims’ groups, victimology, people who feel sorry for themselves.”

He warned that these groups are “out there recruiting our young people to be part of the group who are feeling sorry for themselves….But just think of 59 card tables set up across the parking lot on the way to the dorm….And the first group says, ‘Well, you’re a victim that fits us. We want to help you. Why don’t you join us?’….And then you’re brought into a group that has a grievance against society rather than understand there’s a tremendous blessing in this society.”

Though King attended Northwest Missouri State University from 1967 to 1970, taking courses toward a career as a wildlife officer, he never completed his degree. His political career officially began when he was elected to the Iowa Senate serving from 1996-2002. While there, he was instrumental in passing the law mandating English as the “official” language of Iowa.

He was elected to the U.S. House of Representative in 2002 serving on the Agricultural and Judiciary Committees, Constitution Subcommittee and Immigration (really?) Subcommittee. He also chairs the powerful House of Representatives Conservative Opportunity Society caucus (and how does he define “opportunity”?).

While in public office, he has consistently taken stands championed by the political Right opposing affirmative action for women and minoritized people, marriage equality for same-sex couples, women’s reproductive freedoms, and gun control, among others.

Continuing his conspiratorial theory in Le Mars, King warned of the work and philosophy of Antonio Gramsci, whom he referred to as “the president of the Italian Communist Party from 1919 to 1926…” and “the father of multiculturalism.”

According to King, “[Gramsci] made the argument that Karl Marx was right in his broader theory but wrong in the details that the Proletariats (sic) would never rise up against the Bourgeois effectively because they needed the Bourgeois for their jobs….And so, he said they needed to find victims groups and then that way if they could have a common sense of being victimized, they would have a stronger resistance toward the establishment, and then you could bundle up these victims groups and they together could overthrow the establishment….”

Maybe King should have taken my Multicultural Foundations course since it is obvious he has lots to learn on the topic. Yes, Gramsci was a leader in the Italian Communist Party, as well as a political theorist, politician, and linguist whom the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini imprisoned for his outspoken advocacy of human and civil liberties (freedom!).

At Gramsci’s trial in 1926, the chief prosecutor argued: “For twenty years we must stop this brain from functioning.”

While serving his sentence, he wrote more than 30 notebooks between 1927 and 1935 constituting over 3000 pages of history and analysis together known as the Prison Notebooks. In these writings, he stressed the imperative for workers’ education founded upon the strong bedrock of history and understanding of social relations, and on the origins and functions of ideas.

Gramsci wrote about the concept of “cultural hegemony,” which describes the ways in which the dominant group successfully disseminates its social realities and social visions in a manner accepted as “common sense,” as “normal,” and as “universal.” This hegemony maintains and expands the marginality of groups with different or opposing views. Gramsci knew the true definition of “freedom,” and he worked to advance freedom tirelessly throughout his tragically short life.

Gramsci’s health deteriorated dramatically while incarcerated, and he died in 1937 at the age of 46.

Steve King is a prominent and outspoken member of the so-called “Birther Movement.” He has consistently tried to define President Barack Obama as “other” by attempting to prevent our President the right of self-definition – an apparent contradiction within a political party that emphasizes rugged individualism, freedom, and liberty over one’s life.

In August 2012, King made the absurdist accusation during a tele-town hall meeting that though his staff had found Barack Obama’s birth announcement in two separate Hawaiian newspapers, “That doesn’t mean there aren’t some other explanations on how they might’ve announced that by telegram from Kenya.”

In addition, according to King while Obama was running for the presidential nomination in 2008: “When you think about the optics of a Barack Obama potentially getting elected President of the United States…[w]hat does it look like to the world of Islam? I will tell you that, if he is elected president, then the radical Islamists, the al-Qaida, the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11 because they will declare victory in this War on Terror.”

Rather than resisting the concept of multiculturalism and viewing it as a challenge to our country’s very existence, Mr. King would do well to embrace our rich diversity. Without a strong emphasis on multiculturalism in our school and larger society, we will continue down the shameful historical path laid by those who have gone before us in the United States.

Joel Spring refer to this path as “cultural genocide” defined as “the attempt to destroy other cultures” through forced acquiescence and assimilation to majority rule and standards. This cultural genocide works through the process of “deculturalization,” which Spring describes as “the educational process of destroying a people’s culture and replacing it with a new culture.”

Steve King’s ideas and policies – which align closely with the President-elect’s — represent the worse of our country. His brand of “freedom” and “liberty” expand the already wide cultural and political divide further.

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

December 8th, 2016 at 10:17 am

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Stars & Stripes as Symbols of Pride & Weapons of Hate

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Founded as a private liberal arts institution, just down the road from my home stands Hampshire College nestled in the rolling lush hills atop the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts.

Soon following the election of Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States, a group of students lowered and burned their campus flag as a show of anger, resistance, and protest toward the person they saw as one of the most derisive and unqualified to hold the highest office in the land.

After the action, Hampshire College President, Jonathan Lash, circulated the idea of not reinstalling the flag on campus to better focus attention on “addressing racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and behaviors,” which increased nationwide throughout the election season.

In legal terms, though a person who steals or burns another’s flag can be charged with theft or vandalism, the right to burn the flag is a protected First Amendment freedom of (symbolic) speech right as outlined in the 1989 Supreme Court Texas v. Johnson decision.

Nonetheless, when President-elect Trump watched TV reports of the college flag burning, he felt compelled to rush off a twitter tirade:

“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

Well, Donald, for this to occur, you would have to work with the Congress and with State Legislatures to pass a constitutional amendment. But, if you feel these students should lose their U.S. citizenship or spend time in jail for their actions, what about you as well?

Should you lose your citizenship status when, as a candidate for the office of the presidency, you called for a religious test (contrary to the First Amendment) on anyone entering the U.S. by calling for a ban of Muslims and people from Muslim-majority nations?

Should you lose your citizenship status by calling into doubt the judicial integrity of a federal judge of Mexican heritage who was born and raised in the United States?

Hey, I don’t see the Red, White, and Blue flying above Trump Tower. Are you an un-patriot?

And though many people raise the flag on all major national holidays, what about the estimated 45% of eligible voters who failed to cast their ballots in the 2016 presidential elections? Should they lose their rights of citizenship?

I was struck by the juxtaposition of images a few years ago. One was where soccer (football) fans exaltedly and with a sense of pride lifted and feverishly waved the Stars and Strips to cheer on their team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup playoffs in Brazil.

The other was where U.S. citizens wrathfully and with a sense of scorn lifted and viciously waved those same Stars and Strips to protest and banish Homeland Security bureau buses carrying migrant children and families in Murrieta, California from entering a Border Patrol processing center in their community. Eventually, protesters forced the three busses to turn around and drive back to the Border Patrol facility in San Diego.

People on the busses had undergone long and brutal, often deadly, journeys through hot and barren deserts fleeing from crime and poverty in their Central American countries only to experience the cruel lie that Emma Lazarus’s call to “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddles masses yearning to breathe free” does not apply to people with brown or black skin.

Watching the protesters on my television screen brought back painful memories of witnessing the racial strife erupting like a volcano covering Boston and its suburbs with its lava of bigotry during its history of mandatory bussing from 1974 – 1988 to achieve public school racial integration.

One photograph particularly captured the depth of racial prejudice in our city. In horrifyingly stark terms, a white man, enraged expression covering his face, gripped a long pole carrying the American flag as if he were wielding a sharp spear lunged toward a black man who was seized and held by another white man.

Though raising and standing behind the very same flag, the drastic difference between the cheering fans and the jeering protesters represents a difference between “patriotism” and “nationalism” — with the corresponding concepts of “patriotic” and “nationalistic” — terms sometimes used interchangeably, but terms that are unique and distinct.

A definition of “patriotism”: a love for or devotion to one’s country, and a definition of “nationalism”: loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.

While the United States is a beautiful nation holding a noble concept, a vibrant idea, a vital and enduring vision, as a country, it remains still a work in process progressing toward but not yet attaining or reaching that concept, that idea, that vision.

And this is possibly what separates the patriot from the nationalist, for the patriot understands and witnesses the divide or the gap between the reality and the promise of their country and its people. The nationalist, though, is often not aware that a gap even exists between the potential and the reality.

A true patriot is one who, indeed, loves their country (though not necessarily viewing it as “exceptional”), but also one who sees the way things are, and one who attempts to make change for the better. A patriot also views other countries with respect and admiration, as valued members of an interconnected and interdependent world community.

A patriot is one who embraces John F. Kennedy’s challenge by asking not what their country can do for them, but rather asking what they can do for their country. A patriot, indeed, sees things the way they are and tries to make them better.

Thus, stand students at Hampshire College.

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

December 7th, 2016 at 4:05 pm

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Dangerous Fake News & the Urgency of Critical Media Literacy

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BREAKING NEWS: FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead:Reports that an FBI agent investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server killed himself after murdering his wife.

BREAKING NEWS: Hillary Clinton & Campaign Chief John Podesta Discovered Running Child Sex Trafficking Ring from D.C. Comet Ping Pong Pizza Parlor: Child sex slavery peddling ties Hillary to “pizzagate” scandal.

These stories would have been the most stunning and damning political scandals in decades had they been true. But they were not! Even though they amounted to nothing more than trashy contrived fake conspiracy theories, they nonetheless wrought damage to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and might have cost her votes.

And possibly even more importantly, they could have resulted in senseless loss of life. On December 4, Edgar Maddison Welch drove from his home in North Carolina carrying three firearms to the Comet Ping Pong restaurant. He entered the shop with two weapons and shot into the floor with an assault rifle. His purpose was to confront the parlor’s management over charges of the online sex trafficking conspiracy.

Well, as the infamous quote from Nazi chief propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, makes clear: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

In the current political climate, though, telling a lie merely once is enough for people to come to believe it. The non-partisan Politifax organization fact-checked Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump collectively 400 times during the past campaign season, and rated them on a scale from “true,” “mostly true,” to “half false,” “mostly false,” “false,” and “pants on fire.”

Results indicated that Hillary was either “true” or “mostly true” 52% of the time. For Trump, he scored “true” or “mostly true” 16% of the time. On the flip side, Hillary rated “false” or “pants on fire” a combined 18% of the time, while Trump scored on these same indicators 53% of the time.

But what, if any, responsibility should politicians take in spreading their lies? What responsibility should corporations have in marketing false claims on its products? What responsibility should reporters and supposed “non-fiction” authors take when purposely misrepresenting objective truths?‘

No matter how we respond to these questions, the fact remains that we as individuals and as a society must take responsibility in critically, reflectively, and creatively investigating and analyzing media and other sources of information we consume rather than simply absorbing these at face-value.

Not only must our schools help equip students with communication and reading literacy skills, but also they must actively teach skills of critical thinking and critical media literacy to empower students to deconstruct, analyze, and reflect images and messages that bombard them like atmospheric microwaves on a daily basis.

In all my university course syllabi, I include a page titled “Critical Consciousness: Reflecting, Thinking, Observing, Reading, Researching, & Writing Through a Critical Lens.” I expect students to develop a critical consciousness on the concepts, topics, issues presented, and on class discussions, readings, videos, and written assignments.

I have often found to my utter astonishment and disappointment that asking students to reflect critically is something they have not been called to do in other courses. I require, however, that students justify and backup their thoughts and opinions since opinions without justification are just that—opinions—and students can expect to have points deducted when failing to provide a critical analysis in their coursework.

“But what do you mean by ‘critical thinking’?” a number of students each semester ask. I first quote Dr. Stephen Brookfield’s four inter-related phases:

  1. Discover the assumptions that guide your decisions, actions, and choices. (What do I think and why do I think of it the way I do?),
  2. Check the accuracy of these assumptions by exploring as many different perspectives, viewpoints, and sources as possible. (Pose questions, talk with others, take courses, read, research, etc.),
  3. Use abstract ideas to interpret the information effectively,
  4. Take informed decisions that are based on these researched assumptions. (Informed decisions are based on evidence we can trust, can be explained to others, and have a good chance of achieving the effects we want).

I also suggest that students consider a number of questions to ask themselves during course discussions, when reading course assignments, when watching course videos, and when researching and writing papers. These include:

  • Consider the person(s) choice of words.
  • What are the points being made, and what is the overall message?
  • What are behind the points and behind the message?
  • What is in the mind of the writer of the piece or the character(s) in the video? To know this, you must suspend, for a time, your reactions to the person(s). You must attempt to walk in their shoes, to perceive the world and the people around them as they would perceive—in other words, you must be able to develop empathy. From where comes their motivations, their behaviors, their actions?
  • What underlying assumptions are made by the person(s) delivering the message?
  • What is the person(s) underlying philosophical/political/behavioral perspective?
  • What are the person(s)’ social identities, and do these impact their perspective(s)?
  • Pull out each point, analyze it from various perspectives, determine how each point fits with other points being presented, put the individual points back together into the whole, determine whether the points are consistent or contradictory, unified or disjointed, etc.
  • What are the words the person(s) set off in quotations/underlining/bolding? What is the overall effect?
  • What is the impact of the message on the receiver? What impression does the message have on you? Again, justify your answer.
  • What are the possible repercussions of this message?
  • What was one or more points that either you did not know previously or that particularly surprised you?
  • Have you read or heard something like this elsewhere? Connect it to previous readings, author(s), video(s), or theory(ies).
  • What was left out or questions you have that were not answered? Ask “critical questions”!
  • Are there any points with which you take issue or with which you disagree? Why? Fully justify your critique! Are there any outside sources you can reference to back you up? If so, refer to them?
  • What ideas, concepts, issues and/or theories that were covered connected in some way(s) to your personal experiences? How? In what way(s)? Explain and fully analyze.

Many people do not organically develop critical thinking. This skill does not emanate from our autonomic nervous system. Therefore, it must be taught, supported, nurtured, acknowledge, and encouraged in young and older people alike.

Many educators find, however, that with all their duties and responsibilities, time simply does not allow them to assist students learn how to think. Why, though, is this not THE top priority?

Now more than ever within our increasingly fact-free environment, the more people who develop critical thinking skills, the more likely we might actually save ourselves, our country, and our world from possible destruction resulting from the lies of our “leaders.”

Have a happy and critical next four years.

For my Critical Thinking Checklist, press here

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

December 6th, 2016 at 2:23 pm

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Mike Pence, the Republican Party, Conservative Christianity, and Deadly “Conversion Therapy”

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Following California’s lead in 2012, other states have either passed or are considering banning the unethical and psychologically dangerous practice by mental health providers of “engaging in sexual orientation change efforts” with people under the age of 18.

Referred to as “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy,” the practice involves pseudo-psychological or “spiritual” techniques designed to change individuals’ sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual, or transgender to cisgender.

These so-called “therapies” also go by such names as X-Gay religious ministries, Exodus International, Homosexual Anonymous (a cynical co-optation of 12-Step program methods of recovery), PFOX (Parents, Families, and Friends of X-Gays and Lesbians (an obvious rip-off of the LGBT allies support network PFLAG — Parents, Families, and Friends of Gays and Lesbians).

Virtually all reputable major medical, psychological, and pediatric organization have passed resolutions roundly criticizing these techniques not only as “contraindicated,” but also as potentially life threatening.

However, all the research documenting the destructive nature of these tyrannical forms of treatment (torture) apparently has little impact on some of our conservative political leaders.

For example, in response to the growing trend of states banning “conversion therapies,” the Republican Party included in its 2016 Presidential Platform:

“We support the right of parents to determine the proper treatment or therapy, for their minor children…”

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, in his first congressional campaign in 2000, argued for public funding of conversion therapy. 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 and other political “leaders” who support these draconian measures should talk to people who have been impacted the most.

Living on a conservative Christian mission in Florida with his Southern Baptist minister parents, Samuel Brinton lied about his emerging feeling for other boys as a pre-teen because he feared his parents’ reactions. After acknowledging that he was attracted to his best friend Dale when he was 12, Samuel’s father told him he had AIDS, and repeatedly punched, burned, electroshocked, and inserted needles into his fingers to “cure” him. Eventually, Samuel felt forced to lie by telling his parents that he was actually heterosexual.

His parents sent him to a “religious therapist” who told Samuel that “I want you to know that you’re gay, and all gay people have AIDS,” and then placed pictures of men dying of AIDS before him. However, soon after arriving at Kansas State University, Samuel “came out” to his parents again, who told him he would not be welcomed home and threatened him if he returned.

But he turned his life around. Following graduation, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and in 2010, Samuel Brinton was chosen as the top LGBT activist in the U.S. by Campus Pride, a national organization working for the rights of LGBT college and university students.

At age 14, Lyn Duff came out to her parents as lesbian. Not being able to accept the revelation, Lyn’s mother whisked her immediately and involuntarily to Rivendell Psychiatric Center in West Jordon, Utah where she was forced to undergo so-called “conversion therapy” to cure her from what doctors at the facility termed “gender identity disorder” and “clinical depression.”

Though Rivendell was not officially aligned with the Church of Latter Day Saints, Lyn remembers that on numerous occasions throughout her six-month incarceration, Mormon missionaries visited her, and her “therapy” was highly religious in tone.

This so-called “conversion therapy” really amounted to “aversion” techniques including watching women same-sex pornography while being forced to smell ammonia, being subjected to hypnosis, psychotropic drugs, and solitary confinement. Staff also imposed so-called “behavior modification” by requiring Lyn to wear dresses, and forced punishments of cutting the lawn with a small pair of scissors and scrubbing floors with a toothbrush. After being locked up for 168 days, Lyn somehow escaped Rivendell, and traveled to San Francisco where she lived on the streets and in safe houses.

She eventually connected with a local journalist, an attorney, at Legal Services for Children, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and she fought and won in the courts a legal emancipation from her mother. A lesbian couple adopted her when she was 15, and today Lyn Duff serves as a successful activist and journalist for the Pacific News Service and for KPFA radio’s Flashpoints.

Assigned male at birth in Ohio and given the name Joshua Ryan Alcorn, at the age of 14, Leelah Alcorn came out as a transgirl. Rather than sending her to a transition specialist, her conservative Christian parents, who would not accept her gender identity, shipped her instead to Christian-based conversion therapy.

After feeling misunderstood, alone, and alienated from family, peers, religion, and counselors, Leelah took her life at age 16 by walking into speeding traffic on Interstate Highway 71. She concluded her suicide note with a plea:

“My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s fucked up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”

Jacob Rudolph, Lyn Duff, Samuel Brinton, Leelah Alcorn, and many other young people have cut to the very heart of the issue by showing us all that the problem does not reside within those of us whose sexuality and gender identity and expression differs from the majority, but rather, rests within our society, including a (hopefully) shrinking minority of religious denominations that adhere to a circumscribed view of human diversity.

While his state legislature was holding hearings on the issue of whether to ban conversion therapy, a young man testified in front of the New Jersey Senate Health Committee on March 18, 2013:

“My name is Jacob Rudolph. I am an LGBT teen. I am not broken. I am not confused. I do not need to be fixed.”

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

December 4th, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Patriarchy, Abject “Othered” Bodies, & the Standing Rock Sioux Nation

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Only after the last tree has been cut down,
only after the last river has been poisoned,
only after the last fish has been caught,
only then will you learn that you cannot eat money.

— Cree Proverb

Within a patriarchal system of male domination, cisgender heterosexual male bodies matter more, while “othered” 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, and gay, lesbian, and bisexual bodies, and bodies with disabilities.

In addition, within many Western societies, 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).

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 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.

Human treatment of the environment certainly falls under this definition. 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.”

This concluding phrase is of prime importance, for when humans place themselves into “hierarchical positions of domination and subordination,” environmental degradation inevitably results. Within a patriarchal system founded on white supremacy, which must dominate these “othered” bodies, the power structure treats the Earth itself as an abject “othered” body, which it must control to remain in power.

Someone asked me recently, “Why as a white queer person should I be concerned about the demonstrations currently underway in North Dakota at the Oceti Sakowin encampment by thousands of protesters, including people from Standing Rock Sioux nation and from numerous other tribal communities in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline?”

The project as designed would carry oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and Montana across the Plains to Illinois.

Protestors argue that a completed pipeline would desecrate spiritual ancestral lands, endanger the water supply, and unfairly burden the Standing Rock Sioux nation, which would also gain nothing from any economic development resulting from the project.

I could have offered this person a rather simplistic reason that any pipeline potentially exposes people to the risk of leakage and environmental pollution, and that humanity already places a dangerous over-reliance on environmentally damaging fossil fuels that imperil us all.

The situation and choice of location to place the proposed pipeline beneath the Missouri River are much more complex and much more intersectional.

Originally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planned to cross the pipeline under the Missouri River north of Bismarck, North Dakota, but decided to reposition the route due to potential threats to the drinking water in the vastly-majority-white municipality of Bismarck. The Corps decided, instead, to direct the pipeline under the river just upstream from the northern perimeter of the Standing Rock Sioux nation’s land.

The Corps made its decision after failing its federal mandate to consult with the people who would be most affected by the pipeline: the Standing Rock Sioux people – the “othered” abject bodies who do not matter, or matter far less that the white people around Bismarck.

Onto these bodies, therefore, so-called “law enforcement” officers have justified dousing streaming torrents from giant water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures. They have justified threatening to evict protestors from their lands, and to incarcerate and prosecute them.

The United States government set aside this land for the Sioux — lands it had previously stolen from native peoples – in the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. The placement of the proposed pipeline stands as yet another incident in the long and brutal track record of the dominant group inflicting physical and cultural genocide on the abject bodies who get in the way or challenge a patriarchal hegemonic imperative.

All of us “othered” abject bodies and our allies must take notice and act!

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

December 2nd, 2016 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Donald Trump and Benito Mussolini’s Sons-In-Law: A Cautionary Tale

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While not an elected leader per se, though influential nonetheless, the figure of Galeazzo Ciano (pronounced “Chano”), was tapped by Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini as his chief propagandist and foreign minister from 1936 until 1943.

Ciano, was, in fact, Mussolini’s son-in-law. At age 27, he married Mussolini’s eldest child, Countess Edda Mussolini, on April 23, 1930.

Ciano was born into wealth and privilege in Livorno, Italy in 1903. His father, Costanzo Ciano, owned vast tracts of real estate, and a successful newspaper, all which he shared with his son. In addition, the elder Ciano served as an Admiral recognized as a hero in WWI in the Royal Italian Navy. He assisted in the reorganization of the Italian merchant navy soon following the war, and served as a founding member of the National Fascist Party.

Both father and son joined Mussolini’s 1922 march on Rome before the soon-to-be Il Duce’s installation as Prime Minister.

Some of the elder Ciano’s “service” to the nation centered on exploitation on a massive scale, and even on fraud. He used his great influence in finances and on the stock market to ruthlessly degrade the stock of certain companies, after which he purchased controlling interests. The value of the stock then rose, and he substantially increased his profits.

Lacking anti-nepotism statues in Italy, Mussolini appointed Galeazzo Ciano as Italian counsel in Shanghai, and in 1935, chose him as minister of press and propaganda. He joined the army and volunteered in the Italian incursion into Ethiopia (1935-1936), returning as a war hero as did his father earlier. The younger Ciano then resumed his ministerial rank and duties under Mussolini.

Also while not an elected office, Jared Kushner was chosen by Donald J. Trump to serve as one of his chief campaign advisors and strategists on Trump’s run for the presidency. At age 28, Kushner married Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, on October 25, 2009 at Trump’s National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Born in 1981 to wealth and privilege and sent to prestigious schools, Jared Kushner joined his father, Charles Kushner’s, highly profitable real estate empire. Following his father’s conviction and incarceration for tax evasion, witness tampering, and illegal campaign donations, the younger Kushner purchased a newspaper, the New York Observer, in 2006, and helped to inaugurate Cadre, an online marketplace for large real estate buys. Following a brief downturn in the housing marking resulting in substantial losses, he regained his footing and again increased his wealth substantially.

Over the past summer, Kushner consolidated and directed Trump’s data management efforts by connecting fundraising and campaign messaging. Unlike his bombastic and unedited father-in-law, Kushner’s understated personal style as someone who avoids the glare of the spotlight seems to function as a somewhat moderating and grounding influence on the President-elect.

He has won Trump’s trust, and has gently moved into the older man’s inner circle of top political advisors. This was clearly apparent when Kushner was seen walking around the White House with President Obama’s Chief of Staff, Denis McDonaugh, as Trump met with the President in the Oval Office shortly following the campaign.

While anti-nepotism laws prevent Kushner from working in the Trump White House in an official paid capacity, the President-elect announced that he would like to send his son-in-law to the Middle East, and especially to Israel since he was raised as an Orthodox Jew whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors and emigrated to the U.S. following World War II. Trump proposed appointing Kushner, who does not have actual diplomatic experience, as special envoy to negotiate a peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

Back in Italy, even prior to Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 inciting World War II, Mussolini decided to side with Germany and enter the conflict by declaring war on France in 1940. Ciano attempted to act as a moderating voice in Mussolini’s ear by warning the Italian leader that their military was completely ill-equipped for any serious and possibly prolonged war effort. Ciano attempted to serve as a voice of reason throughout Italy’s doomed involvement.

His truculent arrogant father-in-law dismissed the younger man’s concerns by assuring him of the army’s readiness for what he predicted would amount to a swift and relatively easy victory.

“Single-mindedness is the virtue of fools,” Ciano later wrote in his diary. In fact, Mussolini became a German puppet once he decided to enter the war.

In Ciano’s diary, he wrote: “I am sad, very sad. The adventure begins. May God help Italy.” He increasingly turned against the war effort, and even leaked a warning to then neutral Belgium of an imminent German invasion.

Ciano’s prognostication materialized. He actively lobbied Mussolini to withdrawal from the war and to sue for peace. Il Duce refused and ultimately fired Ciano and his entire cabinet on February 5, 1943, and offered his son-in-law the post of Italian Ambassador to the Vatican, which he accepted.

After Italian King Victor Emmanuel III’s decision to relieve Mussolini of his duties and to form a new government, Ciano fled the country fearing arrest by the newly installed Italian government.

He and his family had been assured by Nazi leaders in Italy that they would fly them to Barcelona for safety, but airlifted them, instead, to Munich, Germany on Hitler’s direct orders.

The Germans returned Ciano to Mussolini, whom they positioned as provisional leader of the “Italian Social Republic,” a German-controlled territory in Northern Italy. Mussolini summarily order the execution of his son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, on the charge of treason, February 6, 1943, before Mussolini was ultimately rounded up and killed by Italian socialist partisans.

Soon before his killing, he is reported saying that “I got to the top of the world so fast, and now I die just like this.”

When affairs went well, Mussolini considered Ciano a trusted advisor. As conditions increasingly deteriorated, and as Ciano advised a different course – specifically for his father-in-law to sign a separate peace with the allies to spare the country needless loss of life and devastation — Mussolini only distrusted Ciano more, and accused him of treason.

While historians have yet to write the chapter on the Trump presidency, and we do not know precisely what Jared Kushner’s part will be in the story, we can refer to the Mussolini/Ciano drama as a cautionary tale that we would do well to consider.

I would like to thank my good friend, David Eberly, who alerted me to the existence of Galeazzo Ciano as an apparent counterpart of Jared Kushner in the administrations of their fathers-in-law.

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

November 28th, 2016 at 5:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Is Donald J. Trump a Fascist?

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“The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is deeply alarmed at the hateful rhetoric at a conference of white nationalists held on November 19 [2016] at the Ronald Reagan Building just blocks from the Museum…The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words. The Museum calls on all American citizens, our religious and civic leaders, and the leadership of all branches of the government to confront racist thinking and divisive hateful speech…”

These words from a press release from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC refers to a white nationalist conference headlined by neo-Nazi, Richard Spencer, who greeted attendees with a tribute to President-elect Donald J. Trump shouting “Hail Trump! Hail victory!” from the stage before all in attendance gestured in a traditional Nazi straight-arm salute.

Once identifying himself as a Democrat, Donald Trump, while recently disavowing himself from white nationalists, has transformed himself, at the very least, into the mouthpiece of the far-right-wing of the Republican Party.

In political terms, a “strongman” is one who leads by force within an overarching authoritarian, totalitarian, dictatorial regime. Sometimes the formal head of state, sometimes another political or military leader, the strongman exerts influence and control over the government more than traditional laws or constitutional mandates sanction.

Strongmen situate themselves within positions along the political spectrum, usually toward the extremes on the right and the left. In an extensive Wikipedia list of strongmen by country, Benito Mussolini is included among the four from Italy, Adolph Hitler among the seven from Germany, and only one, Donald Trump, appears on the list from the United States.

They find themselves in the company of, for example, Juan Perón of Argentina, Pol Pot of Cambodia, Fidel Castro of Cuba, Francois Duvalier of Haiti, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Manuel Noriega of Panama, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Idi Amin Dada of Uganda.

On the right-wing side of the dictatorial strongmen’s 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.

Political scientist, Lawrence Britt, enumerates 14 tenets of fascism:

  1. Powerful and continuing nationalism,
  2. Disdain for the recognition of human rights,
  3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats [of the country’s problems] as a unifying cause,
  4. Rampant sexism,
  5. Supremacy of the military,
  6. Controlled mass media,
  7. Obsession with national security,
  8. Religion and government are intertwined,
  9. Corporate power is protected,
  10. Labor power is suppressed,
  11. Disdain for intellectuals and the arts,
  12. Obsession with crime and punishment,
  13. Rampant cronyism and corruption, and
  14. Fraudulent elections

While many governmental leaders and candidates for public office may push for a number of these tactics while still remaining outside the definition of “fascist,” the cumulative effect increases depending on the severity of and the degree to which they initiate these measures.

Though we do not yet know how Donald Trump will act and react once installed in the White House (or more likely in Trump Tower at taxpayer expense), and although he has begun to moderate somewhat on his rhetoric and policy initiatives proposed during his 15-month campaign, what he has stated and purported previously falls directly within the parameters of fascism. Using Britt’s taxonomy, I filled in Trump’s positions:

  1. Appeals to “nationalism,” presented in the guise of “popularism,” feeding on people’s fears and prejudices, which has already resulted in the segregation of people and nations from one another, and threats and dangers of violence;
  1. Promises to roll back many of the rights and protections minoritized peoples have tirelessly fought for over the past decades: reproductive rights, voting rights, citizenship rights, anti-torture guarantees, rights of unreasonable search and seizure, rights of assembly, disability rights, freedom of religion, possibly marriage equality. Recall, as well, his father Fred Trump and his refusal some years ago to rent their properties to black people, over which they were sued and eventually signed a consent decree;
  1. Scapegoating of already disenfranchised identity categories as the internal and external enemies of the United States: Muslims and anyone from Muslim-majority countries, Mexicans and all Latinx people, urban “thugs,” the press, Somalis, President Barack Obama, the ACLU, liberals, etc.;
  1. Toxic misogynistic utterances and allegations of sexual harassment by numerous women reaching historic proportions;
  1. Promises to enlarge and improve our “failing” military and fire generals whom Trump “knows more than about ISIS”;
  1. Threats to employ libel laws to sue the “crooked and lying” media (Lügenpresse, “lying press” popularized by the German Nazis to silence opposition);
  1. Continual cries against “Islamic jihadist terrorists” as the number one threat to our nation thereby exposing U.S. Muslims to increased calls for a “national registry” and surveillance to track their movements;
  1. Attendance at several Christian prayer vigils and appearances at conservative right Christians conferences and universities like Liberty University, with calls “Make America Great Again” giving the subliminal dog-whistle message of making America white and Protestant again;
  1. Promises of a deregulated corporate business sector with massive tax cuts and other financial incentives. “I will formulate a rule which says that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated.”;
  1. Implied reduction in the rights of workers to organize and negotiate collective bargaining agreements, privatization of entitlements, advocacy for the abolition of a national minimum wage (while relenting somewhat to a $10. minimum wage for the present time at least);
  1. Resentment and attacks on the political, media, and intellectual “elites” to the point of instigating scorn and harassment at the “elite media” covering Trump’s rallies and demanding an apology from the cast of the Broadway show, “Hamilton: An American Musical” for voicing concerns over a Trump presidency with VP-elect Mike Pence in attendance;
  1. Near obsessive calls for “law and order” involving draconian (and possibly unconstitutional) measures of torture and surveillance;
  1. Increasing deployment of his adult children and son-in-law as close trusted political operatives, who even meet with visiting diplomats and have been sent to foreign capitals to negotiate political and business deals, plus continuously unresolved conflict-of-interest issues between his position as President and his worldwide business interests;
  1. Assisted by the larger Republican Party and the Supreme Court, gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights law, which has resulted in voter suppression campaigns effectively reducing the number of polling stations in primarily minoritized racial communities, and limiting days and times for pre-election-day voting.

Donald J. Trump currently is involved with his transition team in advance of taking the oath of the office of President of the United States of American on January 20, 2017, and time will tell whether his actions and politics follow his campaign behavior and rhetoric.

But referring back to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s history reminder: “The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words.”

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

November 24th, 2016 at 1:33 pm

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Trump and Pence to Bring Ford’s Theater to a Town Near You

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While infatuated with the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Donald J. Trump seems not to have any affinity for the 1st.

Not only has he attacked and threatened the press, demonstrated disdain for people’s right of assembly (especially when demonstrating against him), proposed to restrict entry into the United States of people from Muslin-dominated countries and enact a “Muslim registry” composed of those already here, and he seems also not to value our freedom of speech. We will know only too well and too soon his response to our right to petition the government for redress of grievances after he and his administration take office.

He has consistently showed his hand, or at least his thumbs, in his tweeting rants and admonitions, which portends a very bleak future for free speech in Trump’s increasingly Ununited States.

In a recent tweet, 11/19/16, 8:56 a.m., Trump directed his ire against the cast of the Broadway musical “Hamilton: An American Musical,” and indirectly at Actor Brandon Victor Dixon who plays Aaron Burr.

“The Theater must always be a safe and special space. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”

With vice president-elect Mike Pence in attendance, at the end of the performance, the entire cast reassembled on stage to read a message expressing their anxiety over the election of Donald Trump.

As Pence attempted to exit the theater, Brandon Victor Dixon requested that he remain to “hear us just a few more moments.” Dixon, very courteously and respectfully thanked Pence for coming to the show, and expressed to those in the crowd who had disparaged Pence’s presence that “there’s nothing to boo here, we’re all here sharing a story of love.”

Reading from the stage, Dixon continued: “We are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. We truly thank you for sharing this show, this wonderful American story, told by a diverse group of men, women, of different colors, creeds, and orientations.”

Trump’s “theater” tweet came a week after he reacted on the Twittersphere to the numerous, largely peaceful, demonstrations throughout the country protesting his election. He implied that people were paid for taking part in these actions:

“Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!” (11/10/16, 9:19 p.m.)

His reaction to the cast’s message stands as more-than-ironic, since he and his entire Bannon-inspired and -instigated campaign has created a Ford’s Theater climate in the country against anyone and everyone who do not represent and live up to the mythical though promoted standard of “an American”: white, preferably male, mainline Protestant, financially secure, able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgender, native-born and English-as-first-language speaking, European-heritage, gun-loving, socialism-hating, anti-reproductive freedom, anti-marriage equality, and, of course, anti-mainstream “elite” media, and the list continues ad infinitum. Regarding Trump’s standard of women, one must also conform to the youthful and super-model svelte image.

Trump has “promised” to turn back many of the gains progressives have made in civil and human rights over the decades. Many groups have very real concerns for their emotional and physical safety while the bully-in-chief gives permission to others by his example to trample on people’s basic Constitutionally-protected guarantees.

When Trump feels that he needs to react to the cast of a Broadway show, when he feels he needs to react to people taking to the streets in largely-peaceful protest, how does Trump intend to act/react when his current bro-crush Vladimir Putin shows Trump the side of himself that he demonstrates to his political rivals in Russia and abroad, and when he invades neighboring countries as he has already done in Ukraine and Georgia?

How does Trump intend to act/react when the people who voted for him begin to turn on him as they inevitably come to understand that beneath the bluster and hyperbole, the emperor has no clothes?

Throughout the general election, Hillary Clinton was on target in questioning Trump’s temperament regarding his ability to serve as our Commander in Chief.

Under a Trump presidency, Ford’s Theater will travel to your community, wherever you live. The price of admission is the mandatory relinquishing of your freedom and liberty, and available only to those of us who fall outside the mythical norm of “an American.”

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

November 19th, 2016 at 5:26 pm

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Thank you Barack Obama for Your Qualities A – Z

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Dear President Barack Obama,

Before you set off writing the next chapter of your life, I want to take this occasion to thank you for your service to our country and to the global community.

Thank you for your alerting the world to the threats and dangers of “crude nationalism” presented in the guise of “popularism,” which feeds on people’s fears and prejudices resulting in the separation of people and nations from one another.

Thank you for your audacity to hope for a better, more inclusive country and world, one that comes closer to fulfilling our founding goal of ensuring liberty and justice for all, one that cherishes our diversity while truly exemplifying E Pluribus Unum.

Thank you for your brilliance of intellect that guides your every decision, and filters the noise and distraction in the cacophony of voices around you.

Thank you for your charm that often disarms even your most ardent skeptics once in your presence.

Thank you for your commitment to the most important of your priorities, your family, by never allowing your work to cloud your connections with loved ones.

Thank you for your dedication in protecting the environment by working to save and sustain the Earth for current generations and those yet to come.

Thank you for your dignity in how you express and carry yourself, even when others do not reciprocate in kind.

Thank you for your empathy in reaching out to the marginalized, dispossessed, and scapegoated among us, and in attempting to bring them into the center of our society.

Thank you for your fortitude among the onslaught of obstructionism cascading like torrents from across the ever-widening aisle.

Thank you for your gentleness in redefining the truly gentle man in a world and a nation of increasing toxic hyper-masculinity.

Thank you for your grace under tremendous odds by those who have attempted to bring you down from the beginning of your tenure, and in the face of the incessant barrage of criticism and attacks on your very humanity and your qualifications to hold the highest office in the land.

Thank you for your heroism in never giving up even in tough times when the hill you have chosen to climb in the distance is, in fact, a seemingly unassailable mountain the closer you approach it.

Thank you for your humor and your tendency never to take yourself too seriously, and your ability to roast yourself when the occasion calls for it.

That you for your integrity, which you are never willing to sacrifice in exchange for mere material or political rewards.

Thank you for your judgment in keeping forever on course and attentive, preventing you from swerving into potentially dangerous political terrain.

Thank you for your kindness that comes forth in your treatment of the people you meet, especially when you are in the company of the youngest among us.

Thank you for your love of people, love of country, love of service, and your evident love of life itself.

Thank you for your mensch-ness (Yiddish, “a person of integrity and honor”), the qualities that have secured your place in that great pantheon of “the good.”

Thank you for your mindfulness in concentration, focus, study, and understanding of self, and your ability to “be here now” at the moment.

Thank you for your nobility, that virtually indefinable quality emanating from deep within.

Thank you for your oratory precision in presenting a clear and sustained message, and in mobilizing your enthusiastic supporters to rally beside you.

Thank you for your patience in seeing the big picture and in continuing your course in reaching your goals, even when others deposit giant boulders to block your way.

Thank you for your pragmatism in your continued efforts to unite the disparate states of the fractured United States of America.

Thank you for your pride in your multiple identities, and in serving as a positive and constructive role model to others who may have never imagined reaching the pinnacle of their potential.

Thank you for your principles, which you never sacrificed for the sake of mere expediency or popularity.

Thank you for your quick wit that often delights your supporters and challenges your detractors to raise the level of discourse ever higher.

Thank you for your respect for other nations, and by so doing, bringing back respect for our country and for the office of the presidency from people and leaders worldwide.

Thank you for your steadfastness to diplomatic negotiations in conflict resolution whenever and wherever possible rather than the raising of arms.

Thank you for your temperament, one of the most, or possibly the most, crucially important qualities in functioning effectively and responsibly in the highest and most critical position in our country.

Thank you for your understanding of the full enormity of the awesome responsibilities you inherited upon election, responsibilities you have never shirked, relegated, or denied.

Thank you for your values that serve as the foundation of your beliefs, actions, interactions, responses, and initiatives.

Thank you for your vision in seeing the true potential of the United States to ultimately attain the end goals in this great experiment in democracy.

Thank you for your warmth and your willingness to listen and truly to hear others’ opinions in carefully weighing numerous options before coming to a final decision.

Thank you for your xenial nature allowing people who do not know you well to relax in your company.

Thank you for your xenophilia amid conditions where some political leaders and would-be leaders promote xenophobia to divide and conquer in their quest for power.

Thank you for maintaining your youthfulness in your boundless exuberance and optimism, especially when the going was difficult in repairing a ruptured economy and bringing peace to an endangered world.

Thank you for your continued zest for life, and for serving your country and the planet these past eight years during all the ups and downs in world and domestic events on this roller coaster called “politics.”

Though you may take all I have stated as too high a praise, know that you are loved and truly admired by a great many people around the world. Even though I have never stated this before to any politician — well, except to Eleanor Roosevelt who was not a politician in the electoral sense – I say it to you now.

Barack Obama, I love you very much! I will miss you as a part of my life on a daily basis. I predict, though, that you will conduct one of the most exciting and impactful post-presidencies in our history.

I can also see in my mind’s eye your return for an extended stay in the White House:

We will remember to go high when they go low: MICHELLE IN 2020!

Go in peace and health my friend,

Warren J. Blumenfeld

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

November 18th, 2016 at 10:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump and the Metaphoric Turbulent Airship of State

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“If you convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t know you’re picking is pocket. Hell, give him someone to look down on and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

President Lyndon Baines Johnson

This week as I sat in the back seat of a taxi cab transporting me to San Francisco International Airport from my motel for a flight back home to Massachusetts, I had occasion to engage in an honest and respectful discussion with someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

As I entered the cab, the driver asked me how I was doing. “Well,” I responded. “Not so good. The phone in my room evidently wasn’t working, and I didn’t get my 3:45 a.m. wake-up call, which made me miss the airport van. I then had to call a taxi hoping I now won’t miss my flight.”

“Well at least the election last week should make you feel better,” he said while sporting a wide grin. I would estimate that he was somewhere between his late 50s to early 60s in age, and he appeared to be white. Though he was balding on top, around his head he left a thin and very long curtain of gray-blond hair nearly reaching his shoulders.

“The election makes me feel even worse than missing my wake-up call,” I said. After a minute or two of silence, I asked him, “So can I ask what were your reasons for voting for Trump?”

“Sure, of course you can ask,” and he proceeded to enumerate his reasons.

“A few years ago some reporter asked Trump if he would like to run for President someday. Back then he said ‘no.’ But over the years, he has become increasingly concerned about the direction of the country, a country that has been so good to him. So he said he wants to give something back and to make the country,” laughing, “great again. He wants to clean up Washington. I also like him because he is honest and plain talking, you know, like a regular person. That’s what I really like about him.”

“Okay,” I said.

He continued: “Also, he has a great family. He has wonderful and well-behaved children and a lovely wife, all who love him very much. I also like how he created a great business. He will bring that business-sense to America and help us all succeed.”

“Yes,” I said. “But he was born into a very wealthy family, he went to private schools, and he had all the advantages money could buy. He started off in business with a million-dollar loan from his father, and then a 14+ million-dollar inheritance.”

“Yeah,” he quickly interjected, “and I think that’s so great. He had a caring father. Most families don’t give their kids anything, but his father was caring and committed to him. That’s the way he treats his own kids.”

“Look, I have three daughters of my own,” he continued. “I didn’t go to college, but I’m working really hard so I can put them through college and leave something for them after I’m gone. That’s another thing I admire about Trump.”

“Yes, I agree that Trump obviously cares about his family,” I said. “But do you really think he truly cares about other people outside his family? Or, does he primarily care about himself and his company, and about making even more money? What about the contractors he stiffed by not paying what he promised to pay them?”

The driver responded: “That proves my point that he is a good businessman. The contractors probably didn’t fulfill the contract. And besides, I really like that Trump will get rid of all the illegal aliens and not let any more invade our country. They’re taking all our jobs!”

“Actually, I find his proposal very hypocritical. He hired undocumented Polish workers under market rate to build his Trump tower. His wife was found to violate the conditions of her visa by working and getting paid for at least ten modeling jobs when she first visited this country. He makes many of his products, like his ties, overseas, and he builds many of his building with steel and other materials made in China.”

“And what do you think about his policies on renting his properties,” I asked. “He was charged with and had to pay a large fine for refusing to rent to black people.”

“Hey,” he said assertively. “He probably did that because black people are squatters. Not all black people, but many of them are. He probably once rented to black people, but they didn’t pay him. Most black people would rather live on welfare and let the government take care of them rather than work to get ahead like the rest of us.”

“Are you really serious?” I responded in a shocked tone. “Do you really believe that?”

“Of course I do. I know some good black people. But I’ve also heard of them squatting. And I’m not being a racist for saying that.”

“You know,” I said contemplating. “What you say really saddens me. I’ve studied history, and what I see is what’s called ‘the divide and conquer’ tactic by keeping people who come from very similar economic backgrounds separated and apart. By keeping them divided, the chances of them joining together to challenge the people and the policies that keep their wages low while increasing the gaps between the rich and the rest of us becomes more and more difficult. I have seen so many people buying into the ‘divide and conquer’ strategy, and by doing so, they vote against their own economic self-interests. That’s what happened in this election.”

I asked one final question as our cab nearly approached the airport doorway to my airline. “What do you think about marriage for same-sex couples.”

“Why, are you gay?” he asked.

“Yes, but I want you to be completely honest.

“Well,” he said thoughtfully. “That’s between you and God.”

“God gave me the ability to love myself for who I am, yes. But government determines my civil rights, and marriage is a civil right.”

“Hmmm,” he pondered. “I’ll have to think about that. I never thought of it in that way before.”

As he dropped me off, we shook hands, and I thanked him for his candor and honesty.

Trump and the Airship of State

In his rhetoric and proposals throughout the past 18 months, Trump let us know that he intends to reverse the engines on the airship of state. His election has already caused deep gashes and extensive tread marks in the nation’s tarmac giving some of us a painful and debilitating whiplash.

Though the flight attendants announced the National Transportation Safety Board’s ban on the defective Samsung Galaxy Note 7 device on-board, Donald J. Trump metaphorically disregarded the warning. He has engulfed the fuselage of politics in the smoke and flames of his lies and bigotry resulting in the meltdown of standards of common decency.

We must now prepare our country for his arrival on January 20, 2017. To do so, we need to return ourselves to the full upright and arms-locked position keeping our values tightly fastened. Though political analysts forecast unusually heavy turbulence, our aircraft of state has a stellar record of withstanding even the most unstable social and political atmospheric conditions.

Though the landing may be hard and bumpy and we may emerge a bit battered and weathered, we will remain in good working order ready for another flight if and only if we join in coalition now and throughout the journey ahead.

In arduous times, I have come to know from personal experience that I must do my individual work and my personal processing: whether that be grieving, raging, emoting, reflecting, whatever. It is difficult if not impossible for me to give to my utmost until I refuel, refresh, and recover on an emotional level. That’s my process.

I believe that we need to work and fight even harder to connect with people from across all demographic groups with like minds, ideas, and ideologies to bring sanity back to our country.

Coalitions, however, are often very difficult. According to black feminist activist and writer, Bernice Johnson Reagon,

“I feel as if I’m gonna keel over any minute and die. That is often what it feels like if you’re really doing coalition work. Most of the time you feel threatened to the core and if you don’t, you’re not really doing no coalescing.”

Even in effective coalition, we also must expect that the near future will be very rough for progressives and moderates. But I’m certain we will push the pendulum back toward the left if and only if we are there for the long haul. It won’t come overnight. I’ve learned from experience that the definition of “burnout” is having unrealistic expectations.

Therefore, I would reframe labor union organizer, Joe Hill’s, famous words from “Don’t mourn. Organize.” to “Process. Do your personal internal work. Then organize.”

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

November 16th, 2016 at 9:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized