Thursday, November 16, 2017

Al Franken, Roy Moore and the Dangers of Partisanship

I was disappointed, but not surprised, that my Republican friends were almost gleeful about the accusations leveled by a female talk show host against Senator Al Franken. Given all the negative reports about Alabama Republican Roy Moore, I'm sure they felt a sense of relief. Now, they could say "See? Your side does it too!!!"

But that's exactly what's wrong with the conversation up to this point. It's become a predictable exercise in tribalism: my guy couldn't possibly have done such a thing, but your guy is absolutely guilty.  Republicans want to re-litigate Bill Clinton, or point the finger at Al Franken.  Democrats want to demand a reckoning for Donald Trump or focus on the many sins of Roy Moore.  Too many folks on each side are certain that the other side is lying, or that the women speaking about what was done to them are not victims at all-- they're just frauds with partisan motives.

Unfortunately, lost in all of the partisan defenses of "our guy" is this fact:  a lot of powerful men, in politics and entertainment and even the clergy, have behaved in a disrespectful way towards women; and up to a couple of months ago, most have gotten away with it.  Many professions have been dominated by men who regarded women as intruders-- these guys wanted to run the company like their own boys club, and women were not welcome (or were grudgingly tolerated). Yes, women who were pretty and knew their place could get hired; but they could also be subjected to crude comments and rude behavior-- and nothing would be done to help them if they complained.

True story:  I worked at a radio station where the guys would go off to the conference room to watch porn.  True story:  I worked at another radio station where a drunken rock star grabbed my breast and laughed (he will remain nameless because he did apologize years later, after he got sober); unfortunately, the guys standing there watching also laughed... I didn't think it was so funny, but there was nothing I could do about it.  When I hear women telling similar stories, I don't think "Wow, they must be lying." I think "Wow, a lot of us really did endure the same things." 

I don't know (nor did I even think about) the political party of the music business executive who tried to force himself on me during what was supposed to a job interview. But I do know that even 40 years later, talking about it is painful.  Defending Roy Moore, a right-wing provocateur, Dinesh D'Souza, said on Twitter that any woman who still cries about something that happened forty years ago is performing (or lying). I was doing neither, Dinesh. I was reliving something I hadn't talked about in years, and remembering it was not pleasant.  Being as partisan as you are, I wouldn't expect you to understand.

But some things aren't partisan, or they shouldn't be.  Some things are wrong.  They're wrong if a Democrat does them, and they're wrong if a Republican does them.  They're wrong if the guy thought he was being funny, and they're wrong if the guy thought he was the boss and had a right to act this way.  We can ignore the women (or demonize and mock them), we can pretend everything is fine and someone from "our side" would never do such things; or we can think about ethics and values:  many folks claim they care about morality, but they make excuses for men who think fondling a woman without her permission is funny, as long as those men are in the right political party or working in the right position of power.

So, before everyone retreats to their corners, I hope folks, especially the skeptics and doubters, will recognize what is happening in this moment-- why are so many women, in all walks of life, deciding it's okay to tell their story?  And ask yourself honestly if your company, and your workplace, is a safe and welcoming place for female employees.  It's nearly the end of 2017, and too many of us have suffered in silence for far too long.  If some folks continue to see this as just a bunch of lies from women with partisan agendas, we'll still be having this conversation next year, and the year after that; and an important opportunity to create positive change will have passed us by one more time.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

So, I Got A Letter from the KKK

This has been a truly bizarre month.  Nearly everyone I encounter seems tense, short-tempered, in a perpetually dark mood.  Yes, there are moments of calm and moments of beauty, but then something sets people off and we're back to that same negative energy.  At first, I thought it was my imagination. But when I asked, a number of folks said they'd noticed it too.  So either we're all having a group delusion, or something is making people really, really irritable. I have a few theories about what could be causing it. Perhaps you have some theories too.

When I say it's been a bizarre month, consider this:  four days ago, I got a letter in the mail (yes, some people still send letters). It was addressed to the editor of the school newspaper at Lesley University, and right now, that's me. The sender included no return address, but it was post-marked from Tampa FL. (Since our newspaper is online, we have readers from almost everywhere.) I opened it, and got a surprise: it was on letterhead that read "The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan."

The writer, who signed off as "Loyal American Patriot," wanted me to know that the KKK is being treated unfairly, and they're not happy about it.  For example, said the writer, some people call the KKK a hate group.  But, be assured, they're not. "Nothing could be further from the truth. We follow the teachings of the Bible, and only wish to keep the white race pure, as God intended."

Dear readers, I used to teach Comparative Religion, and I used to be a chaplain.  The alleged purity of the white race (whatever that means) is not discussed in either the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) nor the Greek Scriptures (New Testament). Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jesus, the Apostles, none of them took a stand about white purity. Rather, they talked about helping the poor, feeding the hungry, living a life of ethics and compassion.  But in whatever bible the KKK reads, it evidently has a different set of instructions.

The letter went on to say the Klan has a new book that will tell me more about their views. They gave me a chance to get the book and have a student review it for the school newspaper.  (Sad to say, there is credible evidence that the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and other White Nationalist groups are actively recruiting on college campuses.)  After I got over the initial shock of receiving mail from the Klan, which I must admit has never happened before, I talked about it with my journalism students and decided there was no benefit to sending for, or reviewing, their book.  I pretty much know what the Klan believes, and I see no point in giving them free publicity-- even if we trash it, we're still giving them publicity. Frankly, I'd rather not.

In such a bizarre month, so filled with vague uneasiness and tension, I guess a letter from the KKK is just one more example of how crazy life has become.  It certainly seems that more haters are feeling emboldened-- they see an opportunity to get their message out, via rallies, or via social media, or via old-school snail mail.  I don't like any of this:  when I saw the Neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, part of me thought they looked silly, but part of me feared for my country.  Seeing folks marching with swastikas also brought back some very unpleasant memories.

I'm noticing over and over how easy it is to stir up anger and animosity, especially online; these days, even folks who aren't haters seem ready to argue at a moment's notice.  As for me, I filed the KKK letter in the appropriate file.  But I found myself unable to forget about it. No, I don't think my students will be joining the KKK any time soon; but the fact that this group and others like them believe now is a great time to recruit is profoundly disappointing... and it should worry us all.   

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Culture of Hypocrisy, Harvey Weinstein Edition

There's a line in a Rush song ("A Farewell to Kings") that says, "the hypocrites are slandering/ the sacred halls of truth," and it's come to mind a number of times in the past several weeks.  I've never been fond of hypocrisy:  if you're going to complain about others who do X, you shouldn't be doing X yourself.  I was very impressed with my father, for example-- he quit smoking (not an easy thing for him to do) so that he could set a good example for his kids, and not be a hypocrite when he told us not to smoke.

This has been quite a week for hypocrisy, and I could give so many examples.  But let me focus on one: all the guys in the entertainment industry who are now shocked, shocked about (former) movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.  They can't distance themselves from him fast enough.  Yet many of these same guys were just fine about going to his parties, and taking his donations for their pet causes.  And before some of my readers get all self-righteous about Harvey being a Democrat, how about all the guys who defended and applauded Republicans like Roger Ailes, or made excuses for Bill O'Reilly?  Republican politicians and celebrities are every bit as guilty as Democrats when it comes to power: they will hang around with anyone who can help them to advance their career or provide some favorable publicity.

But the issue of sexual harassment has never really been about politics, although some folks seem eager to turn it into "my side good/your side bad." And I also don't want this blog post to seem like a rant against guys in general (nor even guys in the media). I spent nearly four decades in broadcasting, and I met some amazing guys, who were wonderful to me.  But on the other hand, there are some guys who should have been called out long ago, and they never were.  It's an open secret that many powerful men have long been able to get away with treating women shamefully; and what helps it to keep recurring is the colleagues who look the other way, or the boards of directors who don't care about sexual harassment as long as the profits keep rolling in.  But when one of them gets caught, instead of addressing the issue, it's treated as an isolated incident with one guy who behaved badly.  The wagons get circled, excuses get made, perhaps the guy in question is fired.  But the culture that made it all possible continues, and the hypocrites who benefited from it go back to living their lives.

The victims have no such luxury however.  When it happened to me in the mid-1970s, the advice I got from the men who knew him was to keep quiet and accept the fact that "this is how some guys are."  But none of his male colleagues seemed surprised and none condemned his behavior; I was told that I alone had to adapt.  It took a while before I stopped being angry, and I never entirely got over the feeling of helplessness. (If you've been through it, that's the worst part-- you know what happened, you know who did it, you know he'll probably do it again, and nobody in his circle of friends and colleagues is willing to do anything about it.)

And here we are in 2017, and it seems not much has changed:  women who were harassed are still asked why they didn't come forward sooner.  In many cases, the reason is self-preservation, a reaction to a system where the cards are stacked against you.  If you complain, you're branded as a trouble-maker and nobody will hire you.  If you come forward in a public way, you're often accused of lying, or blamed for what took place (as if harassment or sexual assault is somehow your fault, not his).  It's no wonder many women keep quiet. So, now Harvey Weinstein will be driven out, as Roger Ailes was. But I fear that we still won't see an end to the culture that allows such men to have so much power over women's lives.  And I fear that those who enable these men will now decide their work is done. They'll return to doing what they've always done: looking away, or pretending it doesn't happen... until the next time...      

Saturday, September 30, 2017

You Don't Have to be Jewish to Learn Something from Yom Kippur

First, my thanks to the more than 13,300 folks who read my most recent blog post. I've never had that many readers, even when I've blogged about Rush on other occasions. And I do understand that I get the most readers when I blog about Rush.  But while I love the guys and always will, there are also some other topics that interest me.  Today, I was thinking about the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), perhaps the most serious day in the Jewish religion, and one of the most widely observed.  But this isn't just a post about religion.  It's also a post about spending 24 hours without media.

Yom Kippur is a day when many Jews (even some who aren't particularly observant) refrain from eating for 24 hours; they also go to synagogue, study the sacred texts, and ask God to pardon them for the wrongs they've done in the previous year. And they also turn off their devices.  No smartphones, no tablets, no internet, and of course, no social media. That may sound horribly boring, but in actuality, it can be a very spiritual experience, and one that I recommend.  Instead of having Twitter fights over the latest silly thing that [insert name of politician here] just said; instead of posting a photo of your adorable kid (or your pet, or your new tattoo, or the amazing restaurant you just went to), you get to spend 24 hours being anonymous to the outside world, without any need for an online persona, without any need to find the right meme, or locate some arcane fact on Google.

A day without media (and especially social media) gives you a chance to humble yourself, and to appreciate what's all around you, including the everyday stuff we often take for granted. Weather permitting, you can take a walk and look at the sky or watch the birds. Since you don't have to be anywhere for a while, you can read a book, or just sit and talk with someone-- texting is not allowed, so it's an opportunity for face-to-face communication, which is often a lost art these days.  And speaking of lost arts, you can also take the time to listen--  it's amazing what you can learn just from listening.     

I used some of the time to think about forgiveness-- one of the most difficult things in life (and I admit this affects me) is letting go of being angry at certain people. On Yom Kippur, we ask for God's forgiveness, but we also have to agree to do some forgiving of our own.  We have to apologize to those we spoke harshly to, those to whom we were unkind.  I thought a lot about that: we've all had our share of petty disputes over the past year, both online and in person. Holding onto those negative emotions doesn't really solve anything, and yet so many of us still do it.  Today was a good day to agree to forgive, to agree to start over.  That was a promise I made, and I will do my best to keep it.

It was also a good day to think about gratitude-- in the high-stress, busy life most of us lead, we don't spend much time being grateful. Instead, we're tend to focus on what's going wrong:  we're upset that someone cut us off in traffic or [insert name of politician again] has just said something outrageous, or we hate our boss, or we wish everything wasn't so expensive.  Maybe we find some escape in our favorite music, or our favorite TV show, or the latest YouTube video of a dancing cat, but we don't always take the time to think about what's good in our life, rather than being irritated by what's bad.  So, I spent some time thinking about gratitude, and I probably should do that more often.

One of the things I'm grateful for is being alive. When you're a cancer survivor, as I am, it's no joke to say that every day, and ever year, is a gift.  So, I'm grateful I've made it through another year on the Jewish calendar, and hopefully, I'll still be here when the secular calendar changes to 2018.  I'm also grateful I was able to write these words-- we can all debate what freedom of speech means, but it's nice to live in a country where expressing ourselves doesn't usually result in being thrown in jail. I'm grateful to have a husband who appreciates my good points, while forgiving my faults; and I'm grateful that people, be they Rush fans or not, think my words are worth reading.

So, that's what I learned on Yom Kippur:  24 hours without food isn't as daunting as it sounds (I do it every year, and while it's sometimes a challenge, I keep thinking about people in other parts of the world who have no choice in the matter, and it puts everything in perspective). Similarly, 24 hours without media isn't so bad either-- making the time to turn off all the noise can be very fulfilling, both spiritually and otherwise.  Reading a good book, whether about religion or any other topic, is also very fulfilling.  And making time to forgive, and time be grateful-- that's worth doing on a religious holiday or any other time.  Thank you again to those who read my blog, and whether it's to find out Rush news or to engage in discussions with me about politics or media or whatever, I appreciate the opportunity; and I appreciate all of you.     

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Finding Our Way

Yesterday was Neil Peart's birthday.  For those who are not Rush fans, Neil spent more than four decades as their drummer.  He was an amazing and talented musician, and I don't say that as just some fan-- his own peers in the music industry have spoken with great admiration about his skill.  He was also a respected songwriter, who helped Rush to go from being just another bar band in Toronto to becoming a well-known rock band with millions of loyal fans all over the world, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well.

Drumming was a large part of Neil's identity, and he took great pride in it; he studied the work of other drummers, past and present, and he always gave 100% every time he performed.  If you ever saw Rush in concert, you know that few bands put on a more dynamic and energetic performance-- no opening act, just Alex, Geddy, and Neil, onstage doing what they loved, entertaining their fans.

And then, one day in late 2015, it all came to an end.  Yes, bands break up, but it's usually due to animosity among the members. That was not the case here-- the guys were friends and they remain so to this day.  But Neil announced he would no longer tour, and in fact he was retiring. One major factor in his decision was health:  he had severe tendonitis, and drumming was just aggravating it over and over again.  Another factor was his desire to spend more time with his wife and their little daughter.  As he told Drumhead magazine, he accepted the fact that it was time to "take [himself] out of the game."

At a certain point in life, many of us have to reinvent ourselves, or see what the next thing is for us.  Sometimes, it's voluntary-- some folks hate their job, even if it pays well, and they're eager to make a change.  But for others, it's a difficult decision-- they love what they have been doing, but they realize they cannot continue on with it.  Athletes often confront this dilemma:  as they get older and their skills begin to diminish, they gradually have to accept that it's time to retire.  Veteran politicians also encounter this same problem:  they may have served for years, but now they must agree to step aside and let the next generation onto the stage.  If you've ever been in the situation of wanting to stay but knowing it's time to go, it's not an easy place to be.  

I know it well.  In my own life, I had to accept the fact that the broadcasting industry had changed and my skill set was no longer in demand; the most difficult decision I ever made was deciding to go back to school and study for my PhD so that I could become a professor.  I miss radio every day, but there were no jobs, and it was time for some other way to make a living.  I'm fine about being a professor, but I can't deny I wish I could have stayed in broadcasting.  I imagine many athletes and politicians know exactly how I feel, since they too wish they didn't have to walk away from what they loved.

But Neil doesn't seem to fit into any of those categories-- he wasn't unhappy playing drums for a living (in fact he was devoted to it); his skills were not diminishing (although he was increasingly in pain each time he played); and he probably could have continued on for a while longer, if that's what he wanted to do.  But he knew it was time, and he wanted to leave on his own terms.  And so he did.  I would be lying if I said I've talked with him recently, but I do know several friends of his, and I am told he is very happy with his decision.  He and Alex and Geddy still keep in touch, but by all accounts, he has no regrets about being a "retired drummer."  Fans desperately want him to return to drumming (and return to Rush) but that is not what he wants, nor what's best for his health.  It's a wise person who understands when it's time for a change.  And whether the change is voluntary or not, it's a wise person who embraces whatever the next phase in their life happens to be.  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Why Everyone Should Fact-Check, LeeLifeson Edition

This past week, as any Rush fan knows, a rock music website published an article containing some quotes from podcaster Eddie Trunk, who asserted that Alex and Geddy would soon form a band that could possibly be called LeeLifeson.  I'm still in contact with the guys in Rush, and I had heard nothing about this; but I'm also someone who does fact-checking for a living. The article contained several red flags for me-- most notably that neither Alex nor Geddy had confirmed Mr. Trunk's speculations.  I was always taught during my journalism days never to assume ("When you assume, you make an Ass out of U and Me," as the old saying goes); while Mr. Trunk had every right to guess what Alex and Geddy might be doing in the future, the article gave the impression that he knew for certain.  And that was enough for Rush fans, many of whom miss the band and would be delighted to see some kind of reunion.  

So, I did what any fact-checker would do:  I contacted Alex and asked him. (I tend to speak with him more often than I do Geddy, plus it was Alex's birthday and I wanted to get in touch anyway.)  I figured if a reunion was in the offing, he might know something about it.  However, as I suspected, he didn't... because there wasn't one.  Nor did he think there would be one at any time in the near future, given how busy both he and Geddy are with individual projects.  He and Geddy speak often, and they are often at the same events; but that doesn't mean they're auditioning drummers and preparing to go out on the road.  So, with his permission, I posted to the site that first had the article, and got them to update and correct the original piece.  Mr. Trunk also walked back his comments, which was greatly appreciated.  I've never met him, I don't think, and I'm sure he's a good person.  But he has certainly seen first-hand how easy it is for speculation to be taken as fact online.

And that is what really bothers me.  While this is a post about what happened with some untrue assertions about two beloved rock stars, I can point to hundreds of claims I've read online that don't have an ounce of truth in them, yet they get forwarded, re-tweeted, re-posted, turned into memes.  More troubling, they get widely believed.  I see these myths and rumors a lot on internet fan sites. ("Did you know that Geddy and Alex haven't spoken to Neil in two years???" Umm, NOT TRUE.  I have it on good authority that they speak to each other quite regularly.  But never mind...)  However, more often than that, I see these false claims on partisan political sites, where people who love Donald Trump and people who hate Donald Trump eagerly toss around unproved and unverified stories that make them feel better but do little to provide accurate information.

The internet can be a great blessing, as I've often stated.  It can put you in touch with people you might never otherwise be able to talk to. It can create world-wide communities where people with shared interests can share their views.  It can give you access to old newspapers and magazines and books, making historical research much easier for students, and for professors like me.  But it can also spread hate and bigotry and stereotypes at lightning speed.  It can be the source of misinformation and misunderstanding, and it can contribute to inaccurate perceptions of politicians, rock stars, celebrities, or ordinary people who made one foolish remark and are immediately shamed by folks who evidently have never made a mistake in their lives.

So, whether you read speculation about the members of Rush or speculation about Donald Trump or speculation about Barack Obama (please don't send me those memes about how Obama messed up Hurricane Katrina-- he wasn't president then... Bush was), consider the source.  Is it a partisan site that always hates on that person?  Is it a site where the writer has never really met the folks he or she is writing about?  Is it a site where fact-checking never occurs but lots of conspiratorial speculation does? (I was always taught that Correlation is NOT causation:  if two events happen at the same time, that doesn't mean one caused the other.  But in the online world, if X goes wrong and someone I never liked was there when it happened, then that person must have caused X. It's rarely true, but in the online world, that's a frequent tactic of certain websites.)

I know I've asked this before, but it seems rather timely this week:  before you forward an article from a fan site, see if it has actual quotes from the person being written about, and find out if what the author is claiming has been verified.  This is true for politics too:  before you send around that meme, find out if the person actually said it.  You may think it's fun to spread fake quotes or fake stories, but it can have some really unfortunate consequences.  Meanwhile, I am not good at predicting the future, so I don't know if Alex and Geddy will ever reunite.  I love them (and Neil too), and I wish them health and happiness.  But I must say that whether it's about rock and roll or whether it's about politics or whatever else, facts matter.  And I wish all the folks who enjoy spreading rumors would just... stop...

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Learning the Wrong Lessons from History

As someone who is fascinated by history, I can understand why many white people in the south have felt passionate about preserving statues of Confederate figures like Stonewall Jackson or Robert E. Lee.  These are historical artifacts from a bygone time, and in their day, they were meant to honor how the south seceded from the Union and fought against what southerners called "northern aggression."  Today, our views are somewhat more nuanced: the generals may still have some fans among Civil War buffs, but most of us wish the war had never happened, and most of us are glad the Union was saved.  Today, the statues are a reminder of a difficult and contentious time in US history, and they reflect our changing attitudes about it.

Unfortunately, some southern cities placed the statues on the grounds of the state government or in a public park, which seemed to show support (or even nostalgia) for what the Confederate generals did.  Giving the statues such a prominent location may not have been a problem in the era of segregation; but it certainly sends the wrong message in 2017.  That said, it's not surprising there are traditionalists who get upset whenever there is a plan to move the statues to a museum (where they belong), or to tear them down (something that, as a historian, I oppose; I may not be fond of Confederate generals, but they were real people and we shouldn't pretend they never existed).

The people who show such reverence towards memories of the Confederacy (including the Confederate flag) often insist it has nothing to do with prejudice:  they simply believe they are honoring the history and heritage of the south. But what they are honoring means something very different to black southerners, who lack that same nostalgia for the era of slavery or segregation.  And in fairness, many southern whites (especially younger people) no longer feel positive about those old symbols either. Still, for a certain group of white southerners, some of whom identify as white nationalists (or white supremacists), the statues and the Confederate flag are something to celebrate.  And when the city of Charlottesville VA decided to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee and rename the park where it stood, some of these folks decided to take a stand.

On Friday night, a large group of angry protesters, many aligned with the Alt-Right, came to Charlottesville to express their outrage.  They carried torches (much like the Ku Klux Klan of years ago) and shouted neo-Nazi slogans.  They talked about "white genocide," and painted themselves as the true victims of discrimination. (Hint: they're really not.)  I believe in the First Amendment, and I do understand that even when protesters (on any side of the issues) are hostile or hateful, they have every right to express their views.  But I still found it disconcerting to see images of flaming torches, and to hear rhetoric from the era of Adolph Hitler.  Okay fine, it was only a few hundred white nationalists, but in my view, one is too many.  My father (of blessed memory) fought the Nazis in World War II; he would not be amused to see a resurgence of Nazi views here in America.

It got worse on Saturday, as the white nationalists held a "Unite the Right" rally, with more neo-Nazi and white power chants and more outrage; accompanying them were some members of all-white militias, carrying weapons.  They were met by counter-protesters, most of whom came from churches or local social service groups and held peaceful vigils; and a few of whom came from more activist groups and clashed with the white nationalists.  Meanwhile, some of the white nationalists were very vocal in their praise of President Trump; some gave Nazi-like salutes and said "Heil Trump," while the ever-present David Duke, former head of the KKK, basically reminded everyone that Mr. Trump was their inspiration, and it was time for white people to take their country back (I had no idea they'd lost it). In the midst of it all, a car intentionally slammed into the counter-protesters-- the people who were hit had been peacefully expressing their opposition to what the white nationalists were saying. One person was killed and at least nineteen were seriously injured.

I had hoped President Trump would forcefully condemn the white supremacists or speak out against neo-Nazi rhetoric.  He did not. He sent out a vague statement about how violence on "all sides" was wrong, as if the peaceful counter-protesters were as culpable as the folks carrying Confederate flags or banners with swastikas. He later read a statement about how we are all Americans and we should all get along.  I'm glad he said that; but given how quick he has been to specifically criticize Mexicans or Muslims or undocumented immigrants, I found it disappointing that he refused to criticize white supremacists or neo-Nazis.  Perhaps since they seem to be his supporters, he feels he shouldn't be too harsh.  But I wish he had been.

I know what some of my conservative friends are going to say:  "But what about ANTIFA? What about [pick some other example of alleged left-wing bad behavior]?"  Please, let's not go there. This is not the time for "whataboutism."  Some things are just wrong, no matter which side does them.  And in this case, the last thing I want to hear is folks defending the white nationalists or justifying their actions.  What they believe is contrary to what America is supposed to be about.  And while they have a right to hold those beliefs, we do not have to agree with them.  In fact, the last thing we need is tolerance for white supremacist or neo-Nazi views.  We tolerated them in the past, and it did not go well for us as a nation.  As I see it, Mr. Trump missed an opportunity to call these folks out, not with a vague statement, but by name and directly.  He should have told them they're doing more harm than good, and that he doesn't want their support.  But then again... what if he still does?  
  

Monday, July 31, 2017

Seeing What We Want to See: Confirmation Bias Strikes Again

I'm going to do something that will surprise some of you:  I'm going to defend Donald Trump.  There was a video circulating online several days ago, and it appeared to show the president ignoring or intentionally refusing to acknowledge a little child in a wheelchair who wanted to shake his hand.  Many well-known critics of the president tweeted and re-tweeted the video, labeling the president's actions cruel but typical-- after all, this is a man who mocked a disabled reporter during the campaign, and here he was snubbing a little handicapped child.

But as we often find with online memes and videos, there was much more to the story.  Mr. Trump had not ignored him; he had already gone over to the boy and greeted him before the speech he was about to give, and yes, there is video to document that.  At the end, it's true he was looking beyond the child, shaking a few hands and-- as often happens when any speaker is leaving the stage-- focusing on making an exit.  Yes, the portion of the video that circulated did make the president look callous, but it was taken out of context.  Fact-checkers caught it immediately and even took several of the people forwarding it to task, including author J. K. Rowling. http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2017/jul/31/jk-rowling/jk-rowling-falsely-accuses-trump-not-shaking-disab/

Now, I know what some of my conservative friends are thinking:  SEE? The internet is biased, everyone is against Mr. Trump, liberal media, fake news, blah-blah-blah.  And if that's what they are thinking, they are not being entirely honest.  Truth be told, there are just as many taken-out-of-context videos and just as many fake quotes/memes about Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and even Bernie Sanders. I've refuted hundreds of them-- not because I'm (gasp) a liberal, but because I believe in accuracy. I have NO problem with folks who disagree with Mrs. Clinton or any other Democrat. I have a big problem with putting false statements in their mouth or doctoring videos to make a partisan point.  That's why I thought it was important to be fact-based in discussing the anti-Trump video.  I only wish my conservative friends (who are OUTRAGED whenever they believe Mr. Trump is being unfairly attacked) would be equally outraged when they see fake quotes or distorted videos that unfairly malign Democrats.

But above all, I wish both sides would avoid forwarding false claims and distortions about the folks  they dislike.  Retweeting or re-posting fake quotes just because it makes you feel good has become a huge problem with our political discourse. It's also hurting our ability to communicate-- on social media, we're often talking past each other, throwing talking points and memes rather than having an actual conversation.  It's largely due to confirmation bias-- seeking out sources that reinforce what you already believe, and only trusting folks who tell you that you're right to believe it.

It's easy to get into that mindset:  for those who already believe Donald Trump is cruel and heartless, a video that seems to show him snubbing a helpless kid in a wheelchair fits perfectly with their belief about him.  And for those who believe Hillary Clinton is a crook or Barack Obama is a secret Muslim or Bernie Sanders is a Commie, there are numerous online "proofs" for you to choose from, even if what they seem to show is utterly false.

So I have a favor to ask of those who read this blog post, whatever their politics or their ideology. Please consider the importance of critical thinking:  before you retweet or re-post, take a minute to find out if it's actually true.  In other words, don't just rely on sources that are nothing but opinion, or sources that tell you your side is perfect and the other side is evil.  Be skeptical whenever you are sent something that has been widely retweeted:  there may be more to the story.  Don't be afraid to use fact-checking sites (no, they're not all "liberal"-- there are many reputable sources that will tell you if some event actually occurred, or if someone actually made that controversial quote).

In the end, there's plenty to criticize about Mr. Trump (or any political figure from either side) that is based on actual facts. Don't be one more person who thinks it's okay to spread misinformation just because it fits your own beliefs.  And if you can, find out what "the other side" actually does believe-- not to start an argument, but just because it's good to be informed.  Who knows-- you may end up defending someone you never expected to...

Monday, July 10, 2017

It's My Turn to Drive: Finding Inspiration in the Lyrics of Rush

For some reason, I got a number of new followers on Twitter this past week. Some came over because of a friendly exchange I had with Fox News anchor Bret Baier (he and I probably don't agree on politics, but he's a good reporter, plus he likes the music of Rush, so he's definitely okay with me). Others came over because every time I mention Rush on Twitter, new folks find & follow me. I hope I am not going to disappoint all of them:  sometimes I blog about Rush, yes, but a lot of the time, I blog about politics or sports or religion or some other subject that captures my interest.

But as it turns out, today happens to be a good day to blog about Rush.  I often find that music reflects my emotions.  For example, I turn to it whenever I'm feeling frustrated or discouraged, or when I want a temporary (and harmless) escape from problems that seem to have no immediate solution.  And of course, I turn to music when something wonderful happens too.  In fact, if you're anything like me, you have songs that are the soundtrack of your life.  These songs remind you of people you once knew; or places you went; or events that hold a special meaning.  There are also certain rock bands whose music consistently resonates, year after year.  As a former deejay, I feel that way about the Beatles-- much of their music is timeless, and it sounds as good to me now as when it first came out.  And of course, I feel that way about Rush.

I'll be honest:  I don't like every song on every album.  If I had to be alone on a desert island, I'd want to take "Moving Pictures" or "Permanent Waves" or perhaps a greatest hits collection like "Chronicles." But as I've told people before, when I've been interviewed, I can always find at least one song on every Rush album that speaks to me.  Most of the time, it's the lyrics that attract me-- even a simple song like "Working Man" speaks to those trapped in a routine, who wish things were different but don't see anything changing immediately. (And haven't we all felt that way at one time or other?)  But then, sometimes the change isn't what we hoped for-- I witnessed my profession (radio) change, and not necessarily for the better, so I can really relate to "Spirit of Radio."

But that song isn't just about radio-- as I interpret the lyrics, it's also about the effort Rush put into being true to themselves:  "One likes to believe in the freedom of music"-- but most record labels wanted artists who would produce lots of top-40 hits, something Rush didn't want to do.  And then there were the "glittering prizes and endless compromises" which "shatter the illusion of integrity"-- the guys in Rush somehow managed to remain relatively untouched by the music industry.  They never sold out, they never let it change them, and they never became arrogant. Yes, they wanted to make money (for their families, the charities they believed in, and their own personal pride), but they were not willing to compromise or give up their integrity to succeed. That's one of many things I've always admired about them, and it's a lesson worth learning:  be true to your ethics, and don't sell out for money or fame or power, or you will lose your integrity.

Another song with lyrics that I find inspiring is "Freewill."  I particularly like (and as my students will tell you, I often quote) the line about "if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."  Some people say the song is anti-religion, but I don't see it that way.  I interpret it as a request to avoid substituting belief for action-- there's nothing wrong with faith, but just sitting back and thinking your beliefs are all you need isn't useful.  Positive action is what's needed to make the world better, and so is critical thinking-- whatever side you are on, just believing everything you hear is no substitute for seeking out the facts and doing your part to make things better.  (I see the lines in "Tom Sawyer" similarly-- the part about "his mind is not for rent by any god or government" to me says don't give up your ability to think, to choose, to decide.  Don't rent out your mind to others, whether religious leaders or political leaders.  Don't abdicate your responsibility; gather the evidence and make up your own mind, in other words.)

Maybe that's why the line in "Driven" about "It's my turn to drive" appeals to me-- we are all driving on a road with twists and turns, trying to avoid danger, but we cannot let our fears stop us from making the journey.  Every day, we have an opportunity to decide what we can do; sometimes, the choices may seem equally bad, but at least we can decide how to react.  And even if we make some wrong turns, we have to find a way to get moving in the right direction.  No-one can do it for us:  after all, each day, "it's my turn to drive."

I am sure you have some Rush songs that speak to you too.  (I've also got a few interpretations of lyrics that some of you may disagree with, but we can do a blog post about that some other day.)  What has always impressed me about Rush is that their music is multi-dimensional; it speaks to fans in so many different ways, and on so many different levels.  And there are so many new opportunities for inspiration when you listen to their lyrics.  It's just another reason why I love these guys, and why it's such a privilege to know them.        

Friday, June 30, 2017

Trying to Make Some Sense of It All

There's a guy who stops by periodically to leave nasty comments on my blog.  I have no idea why he does it: I mean, if you don't like my blog, don't read it.  But he likes to keep reminding me that "the left" is ruining America, and that my blog is just a bunch of "liberal garbage."  Of course, he's entitled to his opinion about "the left" in general and my blog in particular, but I still find both comments puzzling.

As I see it, there's no such thing as "the left"-- not every Democrat or liberal marches in lock-step, and no, we don't all take our cues from the (gasp) Saul Alinsky playbook, the way Newt Gingrich and other Republicans say we do.  (I must admit I was unfamiliar with Mr. Alinsky until about a decade ago. I mean, yes I heard the name before, but he wasn't someone I studied in college or even in grad school.  I guess I received an inferior education in what Democrats allegedly believe.) My point is, there's a wide range of beliefs on "the left," as I am certain there are on "the right."

When I first began blogging several years ago, I hoped that I'd be able to do two things:  thing one was express my views on various current issues (and for Rush fans, that included talking about our favorite rock band now and then); but thing two was to create the possibility of dialogue between folks on the left and folks on the right.  Of course, I never expected that my little blog would bring about world peace, though that would be nice to accomplish.  I just hoped that maybe some folks who don't talk much to Democrats might come to the conclusion that this Democrat isn't such a horrible person after all, nor are most other Democrats.  Both political parties don't always agree on issues, but at least I hoped we could have an exchange of ideas and seek some common ground.

Ever since Mr. Trump took office, however, I've noticed a change in tone, both in our politics and in how we communicate.  Day after day, I read endless postings on social media that demonize "the left."  They say we're all violent (umm, I thought we were all a bunch of too-sensitive snowflakes; now suddenly we're violent?).  Or they say we're all fascists.  Or Mr. Trump says that Democrats are keeping him from moving his agenda forward (Democrats find this a bizarre claim, since Republicans control all three branches of the government. If things aren't getting done, don't blame us.)  Meanwhile, every conservative I know is firmly convinced that the media are liberal, and college professors are liberal, and anyone whose views they disagree with must be liberal, and every problem in society was caused by someone liberal.  In the age of Donald Trump, it seems more people than ever believe the big problem in life is the existence of liberals. 

I know how much conservatives love that Mr. Trump is a "fighter" who "punches back" when people "insult him."  But as Democrats like me see it, he's not a fighter; rather, he's an autocrat who doesn't like criticism of any kind. Of course, this is a major difference in our two parties, but at least we always used to have a president who acted with courtesy.  This one does not.  Whether it's a cable news commentator on MSNBC or a member of the White House press corps or Democrats in general, Mr. Trump is always ready with a rude (or sometimes crude) comment.  He shows no interest in staying above the fray or acting in a way that historically was considered presidential; nor does he show any interest in bringing both sides together.  He seems perfectly happy to perform only for his base and say what they want to hear.  Everyone else is just "the enemy."

More and more, I see many of Mr. Trump's supporters modeling his behavior-- they see no need to talk to anyone on the other side, and they not only applaud the president each time he makes another combative or insulting remark-- they also emulate his way of speaking.  And if the folks who are on his side regard everyone else as dishonest, terrible people, it does not bode well for the future of our country.  As a professor of communication, I worry when people praise a man who believes name-calling is a good thing; and who believes it's okay to be lash out at anyone who disagrees with him.

It's not just that I don't like many of his policies: I respect that he won the election, and I've disagreed with presidents before.  But what I really don't like is how he talks to people.  Rather than bringing out what Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature," he is empowering the worst in many of us. And in a world where angry and impulsive behavior is considered normal (and even admirable) by his followers, what's the end-game?  Are we becoming a country that is re-segregating itself, not by race this time, but by ideology?  We already have a country where people watch/read/listen to media that reinforce what they already believe. Should we now have a country where opposing beliefs aren't wanted? 

That's not a vision of America I'd welcome, and it's not just because I'm a Democrat.  I would hope there are some Republicans who also don't like the way things are going.  Showering insults on those who disagree with you may be comforting; but it's no way to solve the problems our country faces... And no, the problem is not too many Democrats.  It's too little kindness, too little empathy, and too little commitment to following the Golden Rule.  I admit I don't know what to do about the ever-widening divide between us.  But I still want to believe there's a positive discussion we could have-- although lately, that seems like less and less of a possibility.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Conversation We Never Seem to Have, Revisited

It goes without saying that the man who shot at Republican members of Congress, while they practiced for a charity baseball game, was a disgusting human being; I don't know anyone who would defend what he did.  But here's what else was hard to defend:  turning a tragedy into more of the same old politics. Almost as if on cue, some of my conservative followers on Twitter, along with several Republican pundits, immediately blamed "the left."  Excuse me, but the last time I checked, "the left" didn't shoot any congressmen; one angry loner with an assault rifle did that.  (Note to my Republican friends:  given all the violence in our society, I strongly doubt that only Democrats are guilty of it; and I also doubt that Republicans spend all their time reading the Bible.  Truth be told, there are violent and hateful people from both political parties; so don't be so quick to assign blame.)

There was something else that bothered me about today's senseless violence.  It's the fact that it happens so often.  Sadly, violent episodes such as workplace shootings, which are often perpetrated by a lone gunman, have become so common that many of these incidents don't even make the national news.  We don't always know why these gunmen decide to do it, just like we don't always know what their politics are.   Some of these shooters have been mentally ill.  Some were religious zealots.  Some were just angry about whatever (a boss they hated, the unfairness of life in general).  And contrary to internet myth, few of the mass shooters of the past several decades were immigrants:  most were born here, and a majority were white males.

But whatever the race or color or ideology of the shooters, we find they all had one thing in common:  they all had NO trouble getting guns, whether assault rifles or handguns; and these mass shooters all had NO trouble getting lots of ammunition.  But every time some of us try to discuss what could be done to prevent further mass violence, the conversation goes nowhere.  Why? In large part because our country and its politics are dominated by a small but influential group of "Second Amendment Absolutists."  Encouraged by the National Rifle Association, these are people who believe there should be no limitation on gun ownership, and they reject even the smallest restriction on what they see as their total right.  No matter how much gun violence out there, their answer is that more "good guys with guns" are the solution.

Of course, this answer is very beneficial for the NRA, and for the small percentage of gun owners who share the view that more is better:  I read one report from 2016 that said only three percent of American adults own half of America's guns.  Meanwhile, as soon as anyone dares to ask why the average person really needs assault weapons and high capacity magazines, the Absolutists scream that their rights are under attack.  And as soon as any politician dares to question why more and higher-powered weapons are a good thing, the NRA spends its money (and its considerable influence) making sure that politician is defeated in the next election.

No, I am not opposed to gun ownership, and no I am not against the Second Amendment.  I am, however, against the current extreme interpretation of it.  I have never heard one good reason why anyone other than a member of law enforcement or the military needs an assault rifle.  When such weapons were briefly banned, somehow the republic did not fall.  Sport shooters continued to compete.  Hunters continued to hunt.  I agree that banning assault weapons is not a magical cure, but when it was tried, some studies suggested it did reduce certain kinds of violent crimes.  (Common sense would dictate that not having access to semi-automatic weapons and large capacity magazines would result in fewer people get hit by someone attempting a mass shooting.)   

But people who love their guns don't want to have a discussion about reducing gun violence.  Any time such a discussion begins, it usually ends with both sides being incredibly frustrated.  One thing I do know:  encouraging more gun ownership is no guarantee that there will be less crime.  And another thing I know:  unless our politicians begin to show some courage and not bend to the will of the NRA, violent incidents will continue.  Pundits will choose sides, accusations will fly, and absolutely nothing will change.  Evidently, that's okay with most people, but it's not okay with me.  And what about you, dear readers?  Is the status quo okay with you?  And why is discussing ways to reduce gun violence the conversation we never seem to have? 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Attacking Reporters Needs to Stop... Now.

I never thought I'd have to write these words, but then, I never thought I'd see a president like Mr. Trump, a man who thinks it's okay to call the media "scum," "liars," and "the most dishonest people"; who has encouraged his followers to threaten journalists during rallies; and who stated that the media are "the enemy of the American people."  I understand that no one person is responsible for the current climate we are in, but the person at the top often sets the tone; and as I see it, the tone the president is setting is having profoundly negative consequences on those who work in journalism.

Here are several troubling examples.  Yesterday, the offices of a newspaper in Louisville, Kentucky were shot at.  One of the reporters who works for that paper noted that he regularly receives anonymous death threats. (I am told he is not alone-- more reporters are finding this is part of being a journalist in 2017.)  And a few days ago, a reporter who was doing nothing more provocative than asking a question about the healthcare law was body-slammed by Republican candidate Greg Gianforte of Montana; Gianforte also screamed at him, and then tried to lie about it and blame the reporter, saying he was a "liberal journalist" causing trouble.  (To her credit, a reporter from Fox News saw the event and defended the journalist's version of what happened. But it didn't matter-- the Republican candidate won anyway.) The president called it a "great victory."  But I don't think it was.

What bothered me about both stories, and others involving journalists being pushed or attacked (whether physically or verbally), is the lack of outrage from most of my Republican friends.  I've read on social media that the journalist beaten up by Mr. Gianforte "deserved it," or "had it coming."  After all, isn't that how you treat a "liberal journalist"?  In a world where the president himself seems to make excuses for violence and threats against reporters, it seems to me that this isn't going to get better any time soon.  (Republicans in congress didn't cover themselves in glory either--few condemned what their candidate had done-- after all, he won, and isn't winning all that matters?)

I know what some of my Republican friends will say-- "Yes, but Democrats are just as bad."  Sorry, but I don't recall any Democratic presidential candidates in my lifetime saying that it's okay to attack a reporter.  I know that many presidents, from both parties, have disliked, or even hated, the coverage they got from the media.  But I don't recall any of them egging on a crowd or asserting that the media are the enemy of the American people-- that is how dictators and autocrats speak; and it gives permission to Mr. Trump's supporters (many of whom have already been stirred up by his harsh rhetoric) to lash out at the first reporter they see.

And by the way, when Mr. Trump accuses the mainstream press of being "fake news" or the "fake media," he is being dishonest.  Fake news refers to quotes that were never said, and events that never took place.  I have not seen mainstream reporters making up quotes or making up events when reporting on his administration. Not agreeing with the coverage doesn't make it fake.  I know he much prefers "friendly media" (Fox News, right-wing talk shows, Breitbart, etc); but again, whether he likes a story or not doesn't mean the story is fake-- and it doesn't make it okay to assault the reporters trying to cover the news.

To everyone who defended Mr. Gianforte's thuggish behavior; to everyone who agrees that reporters with allegedly liberal views deserve to be assaulted; to those who have worn shirts that say reporters should be lynched (not funny, and especially scary to black reporters); and to those who have sent around memes that make excuses for threatening reporters, you are making things worse.  I am fine about your wanting to only read right-wing blogs, or believe ridiculous conspiracy theories.  I am not fine about your belief that we don't really need a free press (or that only the journalists and commentators with whom you agree are worthy of respect).

I fear for our country if this sort of behavior continues. So, if the president won't do it, then it's up to you:  stand up for the rights of journalists and let them do their job, whether you agree with them or not.  You may think intimidating and threatening so-called "liberal" reporters is okay.  But I can assure you, it sets a terrible precedent.  It's a dangerous game the president is playing; and I beg you to put a stop to it... before we turn into a country where dissent is punished, and freedom of the press means only whatever the president wants to hear.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

What I Learned From My Mother

As Mother's Day comes around again, I find myself wondering what my mother (of blessed memory) would say about the world of 2017.  I think about this often, and not just on Mother's Day-- the ways our society has changed, both for good and for bad.  When my mother died of cancer in September of 1989, the internet was not yet a dominant force in society and social media didn't exist.  In fact, as I've noted in other posts, my mother lived before instant communication was possible:  few people knew about email in the 1980s, and even fewer envisioned smartphones or texting.  (Many people still struggled to program their VCRs.)  But even if the internet or social media had been available, I doubt my mother would have used them-- she was very much a Luddite about technology, and she always preferred seeing people in person or talking with them on the phone.  She was also a big fan of writing thank-you notes or sending cards (with hand-written messages).

In 2017, there are so many new inventions that simplify our lives; but the thing my mother would marvel at the most is the difference in how we talk to each other.  She never appreciated rude behavior, and she believed children (of any age) should speak respectfully to their elders.  She loved to read, she appreciated anyone who spoke well and had a good vocabulary, and she enjoyed listening to educated people debating the issues of the day.  So, I wonder what she would say about the Trump presidency (note to readers: while my mother tended to be a liberal, my father's views leaned conservative, so I heard both perspectives when growing up).  No, I am not talking about Mr. Trump's politics-- I am talking about how he expresses himself.  My mother grew up in a time when politicians spoke very differently from how some of them speak today.

Don't get me wrong:  political campaigns were never courteous events, even in the "good old days."  As the fictional character "Mr Dooley" remarked in 1895, "Politics ain't beanbag."  But even politicians who were the most bitter rivals would not have cursed during a political speech, nor can I imagine Ronald Reagan or Lyndon Johnson (both of whom were well-acquainted with bad language), publicly expressing their beliefs about their opponents in vulgar terms.  I've remarked on this before, since I vaguely recall watching presidential debates on TV when I was a kid-- but in my mother's day, political campaigns were mainly conducted in a manner that was passionate but respectful. Society did not think kindly of a politician who lost his temper or violated social norms (like refusing to shake hands with someone).

My mother taught me that the two most important things in life were caring about others and treating others courteously.  She didn't just talk that way; she lived that way. We had some relatives (as every family does) who were not the nicest of people and who sometimes showed her no respect.  Yet she always tried to be courteous to them.  No, she wasn't a doormat and she didn't allow people to be rude.  But she tried to give them a chance to change; and if they disappointed her, she never came down to their level, nor did she get into shouting matches with them.  In her own way, she let people know when she'd heard enough, and she let them know when they had gone too far.  She was much more patient than I am; but I must admit, it was fascinating to watch her deal with people who made the mistake of underestimating her.

I did not always get along with my mother, and I know I often tried her patience.  I could be exasperating sometimes, and I know that what I wanted out of life career-wise was not what she wanted for me.  (Yes, she wanted me to be happy and to succeed, but she never understood why I wanted a career in the media; she believed a more stable occupation like teaching would be better, but she gradually came to understand that my heart was in broadcasting.)  However, more important than whether we always agreed (and what mother and daughter always do, except in movies?), I believe that I have honored her by living as she taught me to live.  She taught me to always be ready to do a mitzvah (a positive action that make the world better in some way), and she taught me to avoid being harsh or cruel in how I speak to others.  Courtesy and good manners were so important to her; and if she were alive today, I think it would sadden her that both seem to be in short supply.  So, once again, this year as every year since she died, I will do a mitzvah in her memory, and I will continue to make an effort to speak courteously.  I know I won't always succeed, but she'd want me to keep trying.  And so, I will.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

I Miss My Old Friends

Every now and then, the lyrics of a song just resonate with me.  Sometimes, they remind me of an event that took place in my past:  don't we all have songs that call to mind people we loved and lost?  Sometimes, the lyrics take me back to a city I worked in:  this happens to former deejays all the time ("Oh, I remember where I was when that song came out!").  And sometimes, especially as I get older, there are songs that make me nostalgic for a different time and place.

I was watching Grey's Anatomy the other night and at the end of the episode, there was a ballad, sung by a female vocalist, and it contained these lyrics: "I miss my old friends, 'cause they know when I need them the most/ I made some new friends, and they're cool friends, but they don't know/ what I do, what I've got, who I am and who I'm not/ I miss my old friends."  I searched for the song online (the deejay in me remembers when we used to call up our favorite station, and hope the person on the air would answer the request line and play the song for us), and I found it was by Jasmine Thompson.  Of course, there was a YouTube video, as there often is (you can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtM_QZvCvBc); and while it seemed to be aimed at a teen audience, as I watched it, the video brought back memories of going to amusement parks, or hanging out at the mall, and not worrying about who was president or what was being said on the news.

I don't know why the song struck a chord with me-- I usually like rock and roll, and this was a simple top-40 pop song.  Yet the lyrics, especially the distinction between my old friends and my new friends, made me think of some of the people I used to enjoy talking to, people I can't talk to anymore because they've passed away; or people who were once an important part of my life yet somehow we've gotten out of touch over the years and I have no idea how to reconnect. In a few cases, Facebook has brought some of the people I used to know back into my life, but the conversations now are very different from the ones we had back then.

As I've mentioned in previous blog posts, I did not grow up in an innocent time-- I was in college during an especially contentious era.  The Vietnam War was going on; and in addition to heated debates about that, there were ongoing debates about the women's movement, the civil rights movement, and the gay rights movement.  In the midst of so many controversies, it was nice to have a few friends I could talk to, who didn't get upset if we disagreed, and who, as the song says, knew when I needed them the most.  Some were from radio and the music industry.  Several were professors of mine.  There were never a lot of them, but each one was special to me. We bonded over our shared experiences, and while I value my new friends (especially those I've met through being part of the extended family of Rush fans), I miss being able to sit and talk about the 50s and 60s with people who went through them as I did.

We're living in another contentious time now, and after 100 days of President Trump, the debates over his performance are reminiscent of the debates we all used to have about the Vietnam War.  We were all just as polarized, just as sure "our side" was right.  These days, our dismay and frustration about politics is manifested over social media, whereas back then, there were just newspapers and magazines and radio and TV.  Meanwhile, many of us who had never cared much about politics were being confronted by a world in chaos, and we could no longer ignore it.  But in those chaotic times, it was our friendships that kept us centered and helped us make sense of it all.

It feels different now.  Much as I love social media, Twitter and Facebook (or sending a text, for that matter) are no substitute for spending time with people you care about.  We're all so busy, we're all so preoccupied these days.  And while I don't miss the rigidity of the 50s or the social upheaval of the 60s, I miss that time when getting together mattered, and when friendships were conducted in person. I miss the people who helped me get through the difficult times, the ones who believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself.

Truth be told, I also miss the music-- my students no longer understand when I quote lyrics from the British Invasion groups or mention some incident that any child of the 60s would know.  On the other hand, I don't miss my old life, struggling to get taken seriously in a profession where women still were not welcome, feeling like I would never become what I wanted to be.  But every so often, I finding myself thinking of the people who cared, the ones who told me to never give up. I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for them.  I miss my old friends...

Monday, April 17, 2017

And Now, A Word of Scripture

A conservative friend of mine was surprised the other day by something I said to him:  we were talking about the upcoming holidays (Passover for me, Easter for him), and I mentioned in passing that I have a Bible next to my bed, right on my nightstand. Evidently, he had accepted the myth (and it is a myth) that all liberals hate religion and never read the Bible; so he was puzzled to hear that I actually had a copy nearby, and that I even like to read it.

I have two favorite verses, and if you know me, you may have heard me quote one of them (yes, as a former deejay, I often love to quote the lyrics to rock songs; but sometimes, it's nice to quote some Scripture too).  One verse I like comes from the prophet Micah, chapter 6, verse 8.  There are many translations but it basically says "For what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly; to love mercy; and to walk humbly with your God."  For me, that means that what matters most to God are the qualities of justice, mercy and humility.  By doing justly, that means living an ethical life and not wronging others; by loving mercy, that means being willing to forgive and to show compassion, even when someone has wronged us; and walking humbly means not thinking we are so much more pious and righteous than others-- there is a tendency in all of us to judge others, and sometimes it's good to remember that we've all got faults, and nobody's perfect.  Being humble also means remembering there's always someone greater than us, and maybe if we're willing, we can learn something from that person.

My other favorite verse, which is especially useful in times like these, comes from Psalm 118, verse 24:  "This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it."  What this means to me is that whether you are religious or not, every day, try to find something to be grateful for.  Every day,  try to find something to be happy about.  It's not always easy.  But it's a reminder that no matter how miserable your day might be, no matter what went wrong or who gave you a hard time or what unfair thing occurred, you are instructed to find a reason to rejoice, to find something to be glad about.

In my case, I am glad I am still cancer-free, I am glad I am employed, I am glad my husband and I have celebrated our 30th anniversary, and of course, I am glad I am part of the world-wide community of Rush fans... just to name a few things.  If you've ever been to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, you may have heard about having an "attitude of gratitude."  With all the things I wish were different in my life, I never forget that there's always someone who has things worse than I do, and there's always something (or someone) worth appreciating.  For example, I appreciate those of you who read my blog, and I hope this little detour into religion hasn't been boring.  There's plenty of time to discuss politics, or sports, or rock and roll.  But there's never enough time to express gratitude-- we all take far too much for granted, it seems to me.

And I know it's hard to rejoice or be glad about a world with so much anger and so many harsh words; and I'm never happy about the tendency to automatically blame people from "the other side" for everything that's wrong in society.  But as I said, we all have our faults, and we all could do with a lesson in humility every now and then, as well as a lesson in not judging others.  I'm as guilty of judging as anyone, and it's a hard habit to break.  But it's not impossible.  In fact, that's why I find reading the Bible a worthwhile pursuit-- it has plenty of practical advice, plus it reminds me of the qualities worth striving for, even when attaining them seems almost impossible.  And yes, there's a verse about that too-- see Deuteronomy 30, chapter 11: "Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too difficult for you, nor is it beyond your reach."  Learning to be less judgmental and more appreciative? God says it can be done; and we are the ones who should do it, humbly, a day at a time.        

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Moments to Remember

I know something now about Rush (the rock band, not the talk show host) that I did not know before. I know the date when I received that first Rush album on Moon records, the one my friend Bob Roper (then a record promoter at A&M of Canada) kindly sent me:  it was May 24, 1974, a Friday.  I marked it up with a star next to the track I thought would be the most important for the deejays to play (as you may have guessed, it was "Working Man"), and having first given it to Denny Sanders (he was on the air at the time) to see if there would be an audience reaction (there was), a couple of days later, a copy was in the bin for all of the WMMS-FM announcers to use.  And they did.

The reason I did not recall the exact date is simple:  I had no idea at the time that championing an unknown band from Canada was about to change my life. (In fact, as I noted on the album in my Music Director's comments, they were probably going to be confused with another Canadian band of that time, Mahogany Rush.)   I had no idea the band-members and I would become friends, and I had no idea that Bob Roper and I would still be in touch four decades later.  So, while I figured out that I got the album in the late Spring of 1974, the day and date never stayed with me... until someone provided me with the information, 42 years later.

As many of you know, I turned 70 on Valentine's Day, and as I get older (even though I still think of myself as young and cute), I sometimes think back on certain times and events in my past; sometimes it's to wonder if I could have done something differently, and at other times, it's to marvel at how many years later, the results of an event are still part of my life... I mean, knowing the members of Rush for nearly 43 years is pretty amazing.  But of course, at the time, I had no way of knowing how that event would turn out, or even that it would be important in the future.  I was a radio music director.  I listened to lots of albums.  It was my job.  It was fun to discover a new band, but I never expected to become friendly with the members or keep in touch for years.  It all proves you just can't predict what will happen.  

The same is true about my personal life:  for example, if you had asked me at the time, I couldn't tell you the exact day and date when I met my husband-- we just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary, but again, while I know where we met, I never expected we'd still be together years later, so it didn't occur to me to mark in my memory exactly when I first saw him.  Unlike movies, where meeting "the one" is accompanied by special background music, my life never did come with an orchestra, nor even a lone guitarist, to warn me that a big event was about to occur.  As my then-boyfriend and I continued to date, I was able to retroactively mark the day we first met (March 18, 1984), but again, at the time, it didn't seem like it was going to be anything unique.  When you are dating, you meet lots of folks, and it's hard to know which one will be the one you marry.  In this case, despite a few breakups and near-breakups, we ultimately did get married, and I feel blessed that we are still together.

My point is that many of life's biggest events only became noteworthy long after they have taken place.  Sometimes, it may not seem that anything important is happening, but life has a way of taking some unexpected twists and turns.  May 24, 1974 was one of those days for me, and March 18, 1984 was another.  Neither seemed unusual or noteworthy at the time, yet both have had a lasting effect on who I am and how I've lived.  And if there's a message in any of this, it's just to say don't assume you know what's going to happen.  Sometimes, a life-changing event has just taken place, but you won't know its full impact until sometime in the future. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Cruelty as Public Policy

Whenever a Republican becomes president and has to propose a budget, I fully expect he will want to allocate more money for defense (whether we need it or not); and I fully expect he will want to defund both Planned Parenthood and PBS/NPR.  I will talk about why doing that is a really bad idea; but first, let me discuss one of the most cruel and callous assertions I've ever heard from any politician.

I was driving home from a meeting at work, and listening to the daily press briefing that Sean Spicer holds; the topic was President Trump's new budget proposal.  A reporter questioned whether it's a good thing to be cutting funding for grants that support early childhood education (including making sure that poor kids get something to eat, rather than trying to learn while they are hungry) and Meals on Wheels (which brings much-needed food to the elderly and shut-ins).  Spicer had turned the questions about the budget over to Mr. Trump's Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, and he basically said there was no good reason to waste taxpayer money on such things.  When pressed further, he said that there is no evidence such programs produce results, and the administration just wants to fund programs that produce results.

Needless to say, I was not amused.  In fact, first I was stunned, and then I was outraged.  Please tell me:  what is a better result than making sure children and the elderly aren't going hungry?   And doesn't the Preamble to the Constitution speak about promoting the general welfare?  I can't think of a better way for the government to help its citizens than by funding programs that prevent hunger (evidently not producing enough results to be continued); or programs that provide legal aid for the poor-- which are often utilized by victims of domestic violence (also cut in Mr. Trump's proposed budget); or programs that fund Pell Grants, so that poor and lower-class students can attend college (also scheduled to be cut); or how about eliminating aid to libraries and museums (yup, on the chopping block too).  There are even cuts to programs that address public health emergencies-- in fact, there's a 20% decrease in the National Institute of Health's budget (and a $54 billion increase in defense spending).  Those are priorities that truly make no sense to me-- finding a cure for Zika or a more effective treatment for breast cancer is less important than building up the military? Really?     

Okay fine, I know what some of my conservative friends will say-- it's not the government's job to do that; let private charities take care of it.  But charities alone cannot handle all of the people who are in need.  As Mr. Trump acknowledges, the economy is great in some parts of the country, but in others, it is struggling, and his budget severely hurts the very people who voted for him.  I understand wanting to cut back on wasteful spending; but I see NO evidence that programs dedicated to feeding the elderly or helping the poor to attend college are examples of waste.  Rather, if we are to "promote the general welfare," giving tax breaks to the upper 1% while making the poor go without seems unnecessarily cruel.

And then there's PBS and NPR.  Yes, I know many of my conservative friends insist these networks are (gasp) liberal, but the 40-45% of listeners and viewers who identify as Republicans yet are loyal fans of both PBS and NPR would disagree.  Audience surveys repeatedly show that those who choose PBS and NPR come from both political parties, as well as many Independents.  They all agree that these two networks have thorough and factual news coverage as well as some wonderful programs for folks of all ages. (Defunding Big Bird? How rude!) 

As for Planned Parenthood, I understand that for some religious conservatives, any organization that performs abortions is morally objectionable (even though only 3% of what Planned Parenthood does is related to abortion).  But most of what Planned Parenthood provides relates to contraception, as well as prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases.  And no, contrary to a common conservative discourse, you can't just replace Planned Parenthood with some other clinic; many states are finding that few clinics are equipped to offer the care that Planned Parenthood provides.  In fact, many rural areas have few if any women's health clinics, and even in bigger cities, the expertise of Planned Parenthood means women who go there for contraception or advice about family planning will find highly trained people who genuinely understand women's health.  My question to those wanting to shut down Planned Parenthood and leave millions of poor and rural women with nothing is this: won't denying women access to contraception cause more, rather than fewer, abortions?

And here we are, ready to enact policies that are merciless, policies that will hurt the most vulnerable citizens.  I must admit I am puzzled by what has happened to the Republican party:  when I was growing up, Republicans were fiscally conservative, but they weren't overtly cruel.  A party that defends denying meals to the elderly, or says that feeding hungry school children "doesn't work" has truly lost its way.  I hope there are some Republicans with courage who will speak out against a budget that may make the military happy, but will be a disaster for nearly everyone else.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Problem With Labeling-- or What Humpty Dumpty Said

One of my favorite quotes about communication comes from Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass."  Humpty Dumpty is debating with Alice, and he says to her scornfully:  "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean-- neither more nor less."  Alice is not convinced; she replies, "The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things."  But Humpty Dumpty responds, "The question is which is to be master-- that's all."

The study of semantics-- how the meaning of words is created and how word meanings can change over time-- has always fascinated me; if you've ever read Shakespeare, there are so many words that meant something quite different in his day compared to what they mean now.  And as anyone who speaks English knows, there are many words with multiple meanings, many words with regional meanings, and slang words are changing all the time.  But when we look at political communication, we often see a different phenomenon:  words being intentionally misused, in order to create a negative meaning when the word is applied to "them," or a positive meaning when it's applied to "us."  Consider the word "feminism."  I was disappointed, but not surprised when President Trump's adviser Kellyanne Conway said recently, "It’s difficult for me to call myself a feminist in a classic sense because it seems to be very anti-male, and it certainly is very pro-abortion, and I’m neither anti-male or pro-abortion... so, there’s an individual feminism, if you will, that you make your own choices. … I look at myself as a product of my choices, not a victim of my circumstances.”

I've heard those assertions before, often (but not always) from my conservative friends -- "I'm not a feminist because feminists hate men," or "feminists are professional victims," or "feminists are pro-abortion," or "feminists just want to blame men for everything."  Needless to say, none of those assertions are true.  For example, I know many women, myself among them, who have numerous male friends and colleagues; and our conversations about the so-called gender wars tend to focus on equal pay, or the lack of affordable daycare, or equal opportunity, not about how men are the enemy. (And by the way, feel free to ask my husband if I hate men-- our 30th wedding anniversary is coming up very soon.)  And as for abortion, I don't know anyone who is "pro-abortion"-- that's not what "pro-choice" means.  We can respect those who sincerely oppose abortion (and yes, even some feminists feel that terminating a pregnancy is against their religion).  But the majority of us strongly believe it's the woman's decision, and the government, the clergy, and various advocacy groups should not be telling her what to do with her own body.  And yet, no matter how we try to explain what feminism really says about various issues, it's the Kellyanne Conway definition that's widely believed on the right, where "feminists" are regularly mocked as immoral, man-hating shrews by conservative bloggers and conservative talk shows hosts. 

Or consider the word "liberal"-- the philosophy of liberalism, according to the dictionary, refers to believing in progress, believing that human beings are basically good, and that each individual should have autonomy.  It also entails taking a stand to protect political and civil liberties; and liberalism is a philosophy that considers government as one vehicle for improving people's lives and addressing issues like racial and social inequality.  You can agree or disagree with that philosophy, or debate the role of government in solving problems; but there's nothing inherently evil about believing in liberalism-- except on most conservative talk shows, where "liberal" is a synonym for someone who is un-American and/or un-patriotic; someone who is probably an atheist; a person who "hates freedom" and who believes in a Nanny State; and worst of all, someone who insists on political correctness, and criticizes anyone who dares to speak in ways that liberals consider offensive.  Again, much of this is false or exaggerated; but for conservatives, it's the absolute truth.  Many liberals have gotten so tired of having the word "liberal" vilified and misrepresented that they often refer to themselves as "progressives." But it doesn't matter:  by any name, conservatives continue to stereotype and criticize what liberals believe.

On the other hand, let's be fair:  for liberals, the word "conservative" is just as problematic, and it's subject to just as many negative stereotypes.  After all, liberals know that the folks on the right are rigid, judgmental, and moralistic; most are religious fanatics who want to impose their beliefs on everyone.  Liberals also know that conservatives only care about big business and have no compassion for the poor.  It doesn't matter if the dictionary says "conservative" refers to someone who respects and wants to conserve the country's best traditions and values; for many liberals, a conservative is someone stuck in the past, who wants to restore some mythical "good old days," and turn back the clock on the gains that women, minorities, and other marginalized groups have made.

As a professor of communication and media studies, and a former broadcaster, I genuinely don't understand why "feminist" or "liberal" or "conservative" should be used as insults.  Who benefits from spreading myths about every person whose philosophy is different from our own?  And how does this make our polarized country any less divided?  But defining a word or phrase a certain way and then using it to demonize is all too common.  I saw this with some of my students who (quietly) voted for Donald Trump-- the story that many on the left believed was that all Trump voters were bigots and haters-- and yes, some probably were.  But others were not; they genuinely saw him as someone who could create jobs and improve the economy.  Meanwhile, the students who voted for Mr. Trump didn't want to tell anyone, because they didn't want people to assume they must be racist or sexist or anti-immigrant.

In a culture with so many misunderstandings about "the other," that's one reason I've continued to blog:  I want to keep creating a conversation about my perspective on the issues of the day, and I want to give others who believe differently a chance to talk with an actual person rather than holding on to some abstract stereotype.  I don't expect to change any hearts and minds, but I do hope I can give people something to think about, and maybe even make a new friend or two.  So, here I am, your basic center-left liberal, and a proud feminist too; someone who is eager to transcend the stereotypes and myths, eager to talk to anyone who wants to talk to me, and eager to use words in an honest and respectful way... neither more nor less.  Believing as I do that communication is the most powerful thing we've got, a chance to keep the conversation going is a chance I feel I ought to take.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Things I Notice Now: Some Thoughts on Turning 70

I was born on a Friday morning, Valentine's Day (February 14), 1947.  Obviously, I don't remember any of it, but from what I've been told, there was nothing unusual about my arrival into the world.  Nor was there anything unusual about the news on the day I was born:  a look at the front page of the Boston Globe shows stories about the beauty pageant winner at the Dartmouth Winter Carnival; there were financial problems at the Boston Elevated (the city's public transportation system); President Truman's mother was recovering from a hip fracture; and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was accusing the Soviet Union of failing to pay its war debts to the United States.  I was the first child of Beatrice and Samuel Halper-- my father, like many of his era, had fought in World War II and when he came home, he and my mother were eager to start a family.  I was thus part of the Baby Boom generation.

To say the least, it's been interesting living through these past six decades. Much has been written about all of the social change that occurred during that time, but suffice it to say that growing up in the 50s, I never expected I'd have the life I ended up having.  In fact, I was frequently told I'd never have much of a life at all; people I knew said that I couldn't be successful because I was too different, not feminine, ugly, strange.  I didn't like the things girls were supposed to like.  I was told my chances of ever getting married were slim.  (Note to those who told me that:  my husband and I will celebrate our 30th anniversary in mid-March.) 

I don't know why I was so different, and I am sure my parents worried about me:  I remember them trying to get me to conform to the norms of the 50s, but more often than not, I just couldn't do it.  Being traditional never came easy to me.  On the other hand, we all develop survival skills, so I learned at a young age that if I could make people laugh or entertain them in some way, perhaps they wouldn't mock me as much.  It's a strategy I used with varying degrees of success over the years.  Perhaps that's what drew me to radio:  when I was on the air, I could entertain people, but they wouldn't ever see me, so they could imagine I was attractive or sexy or whatever.  And I hoped that if my listeners ever met me in person, they wouldn't be disappointed.  I'm sure some of them were-- I'm much more confident when I'm performing for an audience than when I'm socializing. (That's still true for me even today. I can give a talk to several hundred people and not be nervous at all, but invite me to a party and I'm the person in the corner who barely says a word to anyone.)

But if you had asked me in the 1950s, I would never have expected I'd have the career I wanted, or meet some of the famous people I met, or discover a certain Canadian rock band, or get a PhD at age 64, or live to see new technologies that enabled me to be in contact with people all over the world instantaneously.  On the other hand, I never expected to endure antisemitism or sexual harassment; I never thought I'd see the number of newspapers in Boston shrink till only two were left (growing up, my parents were avid newspaper readers, and they taught me to do the same... one of my earliest memories, in fact, is my father coming home from work, sitting in his favorite chair and reading the evening paper); and I never thought I'd lose my mother to cancer when she was only 71...

And here I am, turning 70.  I had cancer two years ago, and although I've had other health issues too, thus far, all indications are that the cancer hasn't recurred.  Perhaps I'll be lucky and live a few more years.  There's so much I want to do, so much I want to accomplish, and it's hard for me to picture myself slowing down.  I worry about remaining relevant in a changing world-- I mean, when I was growing up, a person who was 70 was considered "old."  But I don't want to be thought of in that way. Yes, I've certainly aged and I can't deny that. But we Baby Boomers have redefined (and resisted) what it means to be old, and I hope I'll continue to be out there participating in this great adventure we call living.

And it truly has been an adventure:  I mean, you are talking to someone who lived through all kinds of political turmoil over the decades, from the Cold War, to Vietnam, to Watergate; from Kennedy's assassination to Nixon's near-impeachment; from war protests to peace marches; from the era of segregation to the election of the first black president; from a time when women politicians were rarely taken seriously to a time when women politicians can be found serving as governors, senators, and attorneys general.  And as I think about my 70th birthday, I find myself with very few regrets. Yes, there are things I could have done better, and things I said that came out wrong... but that's all part of being human.  I did the best I could with the cards I was dealt, and I hope that in my years on this earth, I've made a positive impact.

I don't know how many more years I'll have, but I know how I want to live them:  doing my part to honor the values my parents taught me; trying to live an ethical life; and when I get discouraged or frustrated, remembering that there are folks whose situations are a lot worse than mine.  Growing up in the 1950s, I genuinely did not know what was ahead for me, but few people predicted I'd accomplish very much.  I hope I proved them wrong, and I hope I ended up with more friends than enemies.  I hope some people are glad they met me. (And those that aren't, I hope they won't trash me on social media-- after all, it's my birthday!)   And I'm proud that despite the various obstacles and the ups and downs I encountered over the years, I never gave up, I never gave in (though at times I wanted to), and I kept on trying to move forward.  And as I look back on my life thus far, it may seem like a cliché for me to say this, but it happens to be true:  I have a lot to be grateful for.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What I Learned During Eleven Days in January 2017

To say the least, it's been an exciting (some would say bizarre) eleven days since Donald Trump took office.  We've seen him engage in Twitter fights over the size of his inauguration crowd (he said the "dishonest media" downplayed it, and his press secretary claimed it was the biggest crowd in recorded history, or something like that).  The new president also repeated his assertion that millions of illegal immigrants voted, and stole the popular vote from him (no evidence of it, and governors from both red and blue states have denied that such a thing occurred).

We've seen a number of billionaire nominees for cabinet positions, many of whom are not qualified for the post they've been offered... but all of whom will probably get confirmed anyway (extreme wealth has its privileges).  We've also seen a sudden and highly disruptive ban-- and yes, it is a ban-- on immigrants from certain predominantly Muslim countries (while others, including several countries involved in 9/11, didn't get on the list... some of the new president's critics believe that's because he does business in those countries, a fact his press secretary denied); as a result of the new Executive Order, legal immigrants with green cards found themselves detained for hours, or told to go back to their countries, and an Iraqi interpreter who had helped the US and was given a visa in appreciation was not only detained but handcuffed like a criminal... yet Mr. Trump told the media that everything was fine and the order was implemented very smoothly; he also claimed that former President Obama had issued a similar order (when in fact what Mr. Obama had done was quite different). 

And speaking of the media, we've had one of his inner circle, Steve Bannon, basically tell the assembled members of the press that they had humiliated themselves as a result of how inaccurately they reported the election, and it was time for them to shut up and spend their time listening; and another of his inner circle, Kellyanne Conway, suggested that journalists who were critical of Mr. Trump deserved to be fired.  Mr. Trump too continued to insist wherever he spoke that he had been treated badly by the "dishonest media."  And yet, repeatedly, the new president sought out media attention and seemed upset when he didn't receive enough of it (or when it wasn't the approving and adulatory kind he wanted).  

There was a massive (and peaceful) Women's March to express opposition to Mr. Trump and his policies-- large crowds gathered in city after city.  But Mr. Trump said the crowds were small (they were not).   His surrogates then claimed the March for Life, annually held by abortion opponents, would have far larger crowds (it did not); and that the mainstream media would ignore the march (not true-- it received considerable coverage from all the networks & print publications).  Mr. Trump's sudden Executive Order to ban Muslim immigrants (and favor Christian immigrants) was met by large and vocal crowds who opposed the new policy and who questioned its legality; it was also met by a number of volunteer lawyers who tried to help the detainees, especially the green card holders.  Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union received $24.1 million in online donations-- five times the amount the organization receives in a typical year.  And while liberal and center-left publications wrote about families unnecessarily and arbitrarily denied entry even after being vetted for several years, the conservative media continued to promote stories about problems caused by immigrants, such as emphasizing how many crimes they commit.  Various conservative publications insisted the Muslim ban is necessary to keep us safe, and denied that there was any problem with the Executive Order.

So, here's what I've learned:  Mr. Trump sincerely believes he can run the White House like he (fictionally) ran The Apprentice; he has an autocratic style, admires other autocratic leaders, and has no interest in building any bridges or doing any outreach to those who didn't vote for him.  He also seems to believe there are no norms any more-- he can disregard longstanding customs and precedents, and be as vengeful or petty or unkind as he wishes, whenever he wishes, to whomever he wishes.  Just about no Republican right now wants to stand up to him-- perhaps because the party has a series of policies it hopes to implement and he is the vehicle by which these things will get done, or perhaps because they fear getting on the wrong side of him and being subjected to his wrath, or perhaps they will do anything to remain in power, even if it means ignoring their constitutional duties. And based on what I am reading in the conservative press and on social media, his supporters are delighted by what he has done, and they see no problem with how he has acted thus far. 

But many of the rest of us disagree.  And while I was pleased to see so much energy and so many protests, I had to wonder:  how many of the folks who are now so actively dissenting stayed at home on election day because either Bernie wasn't on the ballot or they believed Hillary Clinton would be no better than Donald Trump.  I wonder if they still feel the same way now, eleven days after Mr. Trump took office.  I also wonder what the next eleven days will bring, and whether any of it will be good for our democracy.  Somehow, I fear the answer is "no."  Somehow, I fear that the partisan divide will only widen, and the anger will only increase.  Mr. Trump seems determined to crush anyone who doesn't agree with him or didn't vote for him; in his administration, compassion seems to be in short supply.  I am normally a positive person, and yes, I've lived through worse than this (I survived the Nixon administration, for example). But while I want to remain positive, I'm finding few reasons to feel optimistic at this point.  Tell me:  am I wrong?