Monday, August 10, 2015

Megyn Kelly is the Victim Here Folks

I can't think of any other way to start this post than to just state outright how absolutely appalled and flabbergasted I am at the public response to the exchange between Megyn Kelly and Donald Trump in Fox News debates that were staged last Thursday.  I am mortified that people are attacking the victim and blaming a journalist for asking "inappropriate" questions to a rich and powerful man who wants to be president of the United States of America. Whether it was appropriate or not, is not the issue. The more important issue is how Trump has responded to the question.  To fully appreciate how deplorable Trump's behavior is, we need to walk through the exchange step-by-step.

KELLY: Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter.

This is a most charitable characterization of Trump's speaking style. I would not put it this way at all, but many people do appreciate his bluntness and candor. Clearly Megyn wants to remind Trump that he is among friends.

KELLY: However, that is not without its downsides, in particular, when it comes to women.
You’ve called women you don’t like “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.”

OK, first, why are people laughing?  What does that say about this audience?  If this is such a serious important event for discussing serious issues, then why are people so amused by this?

KELLY: Your Twitter account…
TRUMP: Only Rosie O’Donnell.

First question in his first ever presidential debate, and Trump interrupts the questioner with a joke.  He knows the audience has no love for Rosie O'Donnell, so they're not bothered that he has repeatedly insulted her in the past and makes no apology for it.  But it's OK to poke fun at a slightly overweight, highly outspoken middle-aged lesbian liberal, right?  And even though this is a super-serious forum where only important topics should be discussed, it's totally fine for Trump to crack a joke.

KELLY: No, it wasn’t.

No it certainly wasn't.

KELLY: Your Twitter account…
TRUMP: Thank you.
KELLY: For the record, it was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell.
TRUMP: Yes, I’m sure it was.

Here Trump freely admits to making these comments and others.  Later he claims to not even remember saying these things.  Which is it Trump? Are you standing your ground that whatever you said in the past is irrelevant, or are you going to try to weasel out of each and every comment by claiming you were just somehow misunderstood?

KELLY: Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.

Praying, of course.  Trump claims that he was not alluding to the performance of a sex act. This is a man who has divorced 2 wives for much younger women, owns the Miss USA Pageant and routinely boasts about his prowess with women. He once said “You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”  There's plenty in his history to suggest that he has quite a healthy interest in sex. So even if he didn't intend this comment to imply a sex act, it certainly should have occurred to him that it would be interpreted that way.  He just didn't care. 

KELLY: Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?

This is whole point of the question - Donald Trump will be attacked as a misogynist, whether he is one or not.  Megyn announced earlier that the first round of questions were meant to determine whether the candidates had a reasonable chance of winning the general election.  All the questions pointed out each candidate's alleged weaknesses, and challenged them to offer a defense in front a friendly audience before they would have to face their real opposition.  For most other politicians, this was a lobbed soft-ball that would have been hit out of the park.

TRUMP: I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.

No actually, this is not about political correctness. This is about your attitude toward women. It was rude, disrespectful and a sign of stupidity to inject insults about a person's anatomy long before the term "political correctness" was ever invented.

TRUMP: I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness.

Mr. Trump is so important, and has so little free time, that he can't be bothered to answer a question like this, and he certainly doesn't have time to think carefully about his words and refrain from saying wildly inappropriate things.  But he does have time to search Twitter later for insulting comments about Megyn Kelly and re-tweet them.  And of course he has time to go on every other network the next day to talk about how he was so unfairly attacked.

TRUMP: And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody.

This is the only point in this exchange where Trump attempts to say something that is even close to a reasonable debate response.  He is using the standard debate technique called "changing the subject".  He would much rather talk about how much of a winner he is, and how every other candidate, and elected official (particularly the President) is a loser.  And he wants to make sure you believe that America is "losing" in the world, even though we still have the largest military and largest economy by far.  This is Trump's main message, and he could have just stopped here, showing that he would parry the attacks from his opponents by bringing us back to his core message.  If he had stopped here, he may well have been declared the winner of this debate, even though he offered no substantial response.

TRUMP: And frankly, what I say, and oftentimes it’s fun, it’s kidding. We have a good time.

Yes, I'm sure Rosie O'Donnell really enjoys being called those names.

TRUMP: What I say is what I say. And honestly Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry.

That is not an apology.  This really means "I don't give a damn what you think, Megyn."

TRUMP: I’ve been very nice to you,

Let's pause mid-sentence here and ponder why it is that Trump has always been very nice to blonde, thin, 40-something Megyn Kelly, as opposed to Rosie O'Donnell.  Hmmmm, that is a tough one!

TRUMP: although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me.

This is a threat, plain and simple. Trump is reminding her that he has the power to destroy her for asking questions he doesn't like. Forget about the charge of sexism, let's talk about the fact that this man has just openly threatened a reporter in front of millions of people and nobody calls him on it - they applaud! When did it become acceptable to trash reporters for asking tough questions? How is it possible that the rest of the candidates don't see it, or are too cowardly to actually defend her? I honestly have always thought that the so-called "war on women" was an embarrassing hyperbolic excess of the Democratic party, but this makes me wonder whether they were right after all. All these people are witnessing the textbook defense of the guilty against charges of sexism, and they can't even see it. I have to wonder whether it's willful ignorance.

TRUMP: But I wouldn’t do that.

Yes, he would.  And the next day he proved it.

TRUMP: But you know what, we — we need strength, we need energy, we need quickness and we need brain in this country to turn it around. That, I can tell you right now.

Trump may be right about this.  But if he wants to prove that he's the person with that quickness and brain we need, he certainly failed here. If this was a truly impromptu response, then he utterly failed to think on his feet about the implications of what he was saying.  But this was certainly not an unscripted response. Trump had to have known he would be asked a question like this, and he most certainly went through some pre-debate preparations. In fact, I would not be at all surprised if he was even provided the questions in advance.  So there is no excuse for Trump to not have a reasonable answer to this question.

One could argue that I'm choosing the worst possible interpretation of everything Trump said. Yes, I am. But the next day, Trump went on to prove that Megyn's worst fears about him were completely justified.  He chose to re-tweet a comment that called her a bimbo which is a cowardly pathetic maneuver to say something and disavow the comment simultaneously.  He says he finds it amusing that social media has erupted with scorn for this woman who had the audacity to challenge the future king of America. Could it be that he is the one manufacturing this public outrage? Why is Trump so indifferent about making enemies of the news media?  Could it be that he has another weapon he intends to use to manipulate the public, so he doesn't need them?

The final straw is that he proved the exact allegation against him by actually saying that “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.”  What?  Oh, he meant her NOSE!  Ohhhh, I guess I my 12 year old daughter must be a total deviant then, because when I told her about this comment, she knew exactly what body part Mr. Trump was thinking of when he said this. He insults our intelligence by claiming he wasn't implying that she was menstruating, thus reminding everyone why exactly women can't be trusted in positions of power.

But even if you give him the benefit of the doubt that this was an unintended unfortunate gaffe, he still can't be defended for claiming she was a raging Trump hater with blood coming out of her eyes.  I watched her very carefully and politely ask the question with a friendly smile.  She stated up-front that this was a dress rehearsal for questions he was inevitably going to be asked.  He had every opportunity in the world to rebut the accusations honorably and put the issue to rest.  Instead Trump chose to whine and complain and attack someone who would have been among his most likely allies.

Whether you think the question was inappropriate or not is entirely irrelevant.  How Trump responded speaks volumes about his character and fitness for the office of the presidency.  Megyn Kelly showed the world who the real Donald Trump is. In thanks for that, she is being vilified mercilessly on social media.  Her Facebook post about the debate contains tens of thousands of negative comments suggesting she should be fired, or worse. I sincerely hope that the thousands of Tweets and Facebook comments being hurled at her are actually being generated by bots run by Trump, because if these are the sentiments of real human beings, I shudder to think what could happen in our next presidential election.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Symbol of Hate?

A few days ago a white man walked into a historic black church and killed 9 black people in a state that once supported the subjugation of black people, and officially sanctioned the notion of white superiority.  This white man left behind a trail of pictures on the internet of himself holding the Confederate Battle Flag and burning the American flag.  This man's writings admit that he believed blacks to be inferior, and asserted that apartheid was rational and justified.  This man claimed he was acting courageously to defend his own dominant race against another race, that clearly holds less power in our society.

Despite all of this, certain clueless white people still claim we will never know why this man committed these horrific crimes.  They insist that his actions were due to mental illness, which is absolutely true in a sense, but downplay the racist motives behind the attacks.  These same people would never dream of mentioning mental illness in the same sentence or paragraph about the motives of a foreign or domestic terrorist that was linked to Islamic extremism.  To do so would be seen as excusing or even condoning their beliefs. Anti-Islamists insist that the religion itself and all of its symbols are the root cause of the violence committed by it's followers, and that we must actively suppress and de-legitimize Islam in order to protect ourselves from these extremists.  These people will rail and scream at anyone who tries to defend Islam, which has billions of peaceful adherents and will blame those peaceful adherents for "complicity" in these crimes.  But many of these same people refuse to acknowledge their own symbol of evil that they continually fight to protect: the Confederate Flag.

Mitt Romney, a clueless white guy if there ever was one, actually had the courage to say that the Confederate Flag is a "symbol of hate to many" and called for it to be taken down.  It isn't clear whether he meant permanently or just for the short term to honor the fallen, but either way, for a rich white Republican to actually say this took some courage, because he knows it will cost him some support amongst his base of followers.  The flag obviously means many different things to different people, but to call the Confederate flag a "symbol of hate" is a gross over-simplification.

The flag first and foremost is a symbol of insurrection against the United States of America and treason against the Constitution - the war was instigated by a declaration of secession from the union, followed by willful resistance to the authority of the army of the United States.  It is a symbol of rejection of democracy - a refusal to accept the outcome of a national popular presidential election, even before that president could ever act.  It is a symbol of fascism and selfishness - of putting the interests of rich land-owners over the interests of the much larger population that lives within that land.  It is a symbol of absolute intransigence, an unwillingness to accept even gradual incremental progress - the mere limitation of the expansion of slavery into new states and territories. It is a symbol of elevating "states rights" over human rights - an insistence that regional concerns justifies war against your fellow citizens.

Defenders of the flag would like to claim that it represents a spirit of a resistance against tyranny, but it is actually a symbol of tyranny - tyranny of the white race over the black race.  They would like to believe it symbolizes the unity of a community against the aggression of another community, but it is actually the rejection of the authority of a just democratic government.  Confederate flag wavers would like to believe that they are free-thinkers dedicated to the ideal of individual rights, but it actually represents yet another time in history when "individuals" were manipulated by the rich and powerful to take up arms against other "individuals" to serve the interests of the powerful.  They would like to believe that the flag symbolizes what is good and pure about southern culture, but it actually represents the dark and evil under-belly of that culture.

Southern culture is unique, special, beautiful and even noble.  But like all other cultures on the planet, it is also imperfect, full of contradictions and flaws.  The traditions of a culture must never be held in higher esteem than progress toward human justice and equality for all.  The founders of this great nation understood that, and recognized that British culture was still a cherished part of their heritage even while they took up arms to sever ties to the British monarchy.  When they threw tea into the harbor, it wasn't a rejection of all things British, it was a rejection of the authority of a foreign government that was no longer acting in the bests interests of the colonies.  They needed a new flag to represent the new nation they formed, but they still respected the culture and the history that got them to that point. But when the rebel states created their own flag, they were rejecting their own government, created by and for their own people.  They were trying to claim that their own separate cultural identity was a valid reason for severing ties with their fellow Americans.  The rebels cannot claim they were acting in the same manner as the founding fathers, in truth they were rejecting those founding fathers.

When we see the Confederate Flag flying high at the South Carolina State House all Americans should see it for what it really is.  It is a statement by the government of South Carolina that rebellion was justified, and that their true allegiance lies not to the United States of America, but to a failed government from 150 years ago that was established solely to protect the interests of white slave-owning oligarchs. It flies there as if to say that South Carolina answers to a law higher than the Constitution of the United States of America.  It is there as a thumb in the eye to the North, a childish act of impudence meant to declare that no other government holds true authority over theirs.

If you believe that Southern culture is threatened by carpetbaggers from the North, or by illegal immigrants from Mexico, or by the growing Islamic population o whatever, then the best way to protect that culture is to improve it by weeding out the dangerous negative aspects of that culture. Southerners should take pride in those aspects of their culture that are worthy of celebration, and stop trying to tie those positive aspects to the symbols of their failures and their flaws.  Find a new symbol, I don't care what it is - peaches, magnolias, grits, tire swings, whatever - just pick something other than the flag of the confederacy.  Then we can all be proud that we've finally put the most awful event in American history behind us.

South Carolinians should not see removal of the flag as a total surrender to the inevitable demise of their unique cultural identity.  Nor should it be taken by anyone to mean that the southern states were the only ones guilty of racism.  Intelligent people who have studied our history know that racism was alive and well in the northern states, and the prevailing opinion was that the "Negro race" was inferior.  Even the great emancipator himself took many years before he finally was convinced that ending slavery entirely was the only way for the country to move forward. All of our ancestors were culpable in these crimes, the difference is, northern states don't proudly fly banners that commemorate the great lengths they went to perpetuate these crimes.

For over 50 years we've tolerated that flag, because our constitution and our culture honors free expression, and recognizes that symbols mean different things to different people. As an American, you are free to argue over my interpretation of what that flag means to me, and I won't debate you, because you are entitle to your opinion.  Nobody has ever forced the government of South Carolina to remove the flag, even though many have tried.  Surveys clearly show the majority of blacks see it a symbol of their oppression, but they tolerate it because they have much more important issues affecting their daily lives that need to be solved, before they worry about a petty symbol.  The Northern states that sacrificed many lives to protect this great nation, respect the sacrifices of their Southern counter-parts.  We have bent over backwards to allow Southern states to maintain some semblance of pride, even though their own former leaders like Robert E. Lee rejected the symbols of insurrection, and advised them "not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavoured to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered."  Unfortunately, too many people are unwilling to leave the past behind.

The first amendment precludes us from eliminating this odious symbol by legislative mandate, and that is absolutely fair and correct.  We hold ourselves to a higher standard than nations like Germany, where the use of the Nazi swastika is strictly forbidden by law.  If it were up to me,  the Confederate flag like the Nazi swastika, would only be displayed in museums and history books so that we never forget what it was and what it came to stand for. But it is not my opinion that matters - it is up to the people of South Carolina to ultimately make this choice.  The people should choose symbols that represent them well, and for their own sake they should reject the Confederate flag.  The legislature of the state should immediately vote to remove this symbol from all public offices, to recognize that it works against the principals we hold dear.  They should remove the flag so that nobody in South Carolina will ever falsely believe that their state government condones the evil it represents.

When John McCain reversed his position on the flag in 2000 to pander to South Carolina's voters, he showed himself to be just another politician and diminished his worthiness to be president of the United States.  But so many politicians today are doing the exact same thing. If the legislature acts now to remove the flag, it will cost them future votes from many of their constituents that refuse to see what the flag really represents.  But it would be a refreshing sign to see politicians actually behave as statesman, and do what they know is right, rather than what will get them the most votes. In some small way, this might even help establish some faith in republican (small "r") government and maybe even help reverse the trend toward apathy and disenfranchisement amongst our youth.  But I hold no rational hope for such a thing to happen, until the majority of voters in the gerrymandered districts of South Carolina actually act to force their leaders into action.

Removing the flag from the state house won't end acts of terror such as those committed by the monster whose name I won't even use here.  It won't end racism, hate crimes, discrimination, Jim Crow systems of class suppression, or even completely enlighten whites to the true causes of the civil war.  But if it were removed today it would send an unambiguous signal that the people of South Carolina condemn the actions of this monster, reject the hatred that caused it and will no longer idolize and revere rebels and slave-owners above those that fought for freedom and a better life for everyone.  It would signify a forward thinking state that embraces progress over tradition, and one that is proud to be part of this great nation.  I call on all of the people of South Carolina, not just the ones with dark skin, to demand that their legislature take down that flag.  I think you'll feel much better when you do.