Safe Spaces in the Age of Trump

Imagine a world where your ideas, preferences, and perspectives were universal; where disagreement was unacceptable; and where conformity is mandatory.  If you’re thinking this sounds Orwellian…or Russian…you’re not far off.  Except, these problems are permeating the United States on both ends of the political spectrum – both resulting from the growth of populism.

On the populist right, the Trump Administration has adopted a policy of obstruction and deceit, dodging and limiting questions from the press, banning recordings of press conferences, denigrating the press and reporters, and refusing to concede to any errors or miscalculations.  Its positions and preferences can change in an instant, yet no such shift is acknowledged.  For those who might attempt to make this obfuscation a partisan issue, note that the Obama Administration literally refused questions from conservative news organizations for years, or remember that the (George W.) Bush Administration had a reputation of being very open to the press, even when press coverage was decidedly negative.  Violations of the spirit of the First Amendment take no political refuge, yet no full-throated attack on this core value of such a magnitude has been advanced by a Presidential administration since at least World War II.

This growing desire for conformity of vision does not exist in a vacuum.  On the populist far left, “safe spaces”, first conceived as a way to provide an open dialogue about complex issues without fear of hate speech or violence (specifically for LGBT students at universities), have blossomed (in many places) into full-fledged political action that explicitly demands uniformity, denying the free exchange of ideas.   This was embodied last weekend in Chicago by an LGBT marcher in Chicago’s Pride Parade who was forced to leave a sub-march called “Dyke March Chicago” because she sought to represent her Judaism and her sexual orientation at once.  This is what the far left calls “intersectionality”, and yet the group could not accept this.  And rather than simply telling her that they were anti-Semitic and didn’t want her there or actually annoucing some intent to march for the destruction of Israel or whatever their exact agenda was, they told her only that this was a “safe space” where her ideas weren’t welcome.  When she objected, they forcibly removed her.  Mind you, this wasn’t private property but a public park, where free thought, free ideas, and free political expression should be most welcome in a free democracy.   This person, seen as an agitator by this group, was in fact a very liberal Jewish woman who sought to support both Pride and liberal causes.  And yet, that wasn’t good enough.  She did not perfectly conform to the beliefs of the group and was subsequently removed.  Even in a large group, apparently she alone made the group unsafe.  Perhaps a more accurate term for “safe space” is “restricted speech zone”.  If people in a park can’t handle the complexities of the world – can’t confront the reality that their perfect utopian vision isn’t shared by all others, then perhaps its time they seek some help rather than denying the rights of others.

Trump, meanwhile, is also creating his own “safe space”: a place where his ideas aren’t challenged, where even those viewpoints only trivially different than his own are not allowed, where his own version of reality supersedes all others, and where new information that could impact a rational person’s belief structures are undoubtedly propagated by the opposition, seeking to tear him down.  Trump’s “safe space” is one in which facts don’t exist.  Rather, conformity rules all.    This is what happens when the world is viewed through a polar yet unstable lens; when there are no foundations from which to discuss and debate the merits of data and information.   Statistics become hand-picked (i.e., meaningless) rather than trend-based (i.e., meaningful).  Truth becomes an absolutism.  The viewpoints of all others become completely invalid, less a dissolution of perfect conformity.  The “safe space” advocates on the far left may disagree with Donald Trump on nearly every issue, and yet their approach is the same: buy in or get out.  This, too, is the essence of populism.  Confused?  Read 1984.  Read The Fountainhead.  Read The Plot Against America.  (You could even just watch The Sound of Music.)  Then you too will understand the dangers of populism.

When I lived in Philadelphia, each Friday a group of mostly Jewish men and women would stand on a street corner and rally for Israel.  On the opposite street corner, a group of mostly Muslim men and women would rally for Palestine.  At least once, a third group – a group advocating for a compromise solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians – stood at another corner of this intersection and chanted their own message.  Generally it was cordial – sometimes there would be some yelling – but mostly each group respected the other’s right to exist; to protest; to object.  This was a real safe space.  A space where all voices could be heard.  A space where the majority opinion didn’t simply force the minority out of the way.

Such freedoms still exist.  Come to Washington and see a protest and counter-protest almost any day of the week.  Look for a rally in your community, see how many political opinions are present.  Such diversities of ideas permeate our nation, and for good reason: they are the lifeblood of our Constitution and the basis of our freedom.  Our founders did all they could to eliminate “safe spaces” by creating freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom from tyranny, freedom from oppression, freedom from overactive government, democratic elections, and an independent judiciary.  They worked to ensure that the ruling class would never have total control over public opinion, speech, and expression.  Therefore, protecting our Constitution means rejecting “safe spaces” and encouraging dialogue, debate, discussion, and disagreement – all core tenants of American liberty, justice, democracy, and freedom.


Genocide in Syria and the Culpability of Liberal Isolationism

Nine years ago, I wrote an op-ed about American diplomacy and international relations that was published in my college’s newspaper, The Knox Student.  In this piece, I pleaded with my classmates – in vain, I might add – not to vote for Barack Obama.  I outlined the dangerous nature of his ideas on U.S. foreign relations and the weakness that would be project by our government by a policy of appeasement.   I doubt that my words swayed anyone.  When Barack Obama was elected, I became concerned while my fellow students celebrated in the streets.

Fast-forward nine years.  Russia is more powerful than it has been since the end of the Cold War, Iran has played the United States for chumps, China directs international affairs, North Korea is emboldened to further militarize and threaten its neighbors, Iraq and Syria have devolved into chaos, and Israel has spent eight years all-but-abandoned by the United States.  President Obama’s decision to favor appeasement and “diplomacy” over leadership and strength have weakened our standing in the international community.  The world no longer looks first to the United States for leadership on international issues.

Then President Trump came along.  His rhetoric about isolationism threatened to further weaken the position of the United States.  His apparent deference to Russia on issues in the Middle East and Europe threatened to tear asunder long-standing alliances throughout the world.   And yet, last night marked a positive turning-point for the United States.  For the first time in nearly a decade, our nation staked a position of strength, finally intervening in a genocide that has been underway for six years; a genocide to which the previous administration turned a blind eye.  This does not exonerate President Trump from his rhetoric, nor his other concerning actions.  But, we should nevertheless recognize leaders when they make the right decisions, even when those decisions are less common than we would hope.

The response to this action has been overwhelmingly positive, with one clear exception. The far left has not hesitated to claim that the President – with one strike – has started a new war in the Middle East; that the United States has acted in aggression for no reason but to prove our might.  And that such a military intervention is pointless and could not possibly have a positive outcome.

In 1941, as the United States considered and debated launching a military offensive in Europe, consensus was nowhere to be found.  While some were concerned about becoming overly-engaged, and others simply felt that we could approach the Nazis through rational diplomacy, i.e. appeasement, the powerful America First Committee, made up of anti-war activists, anti-Semites, and anti-industrialists claimed that the Roosevelt Administration, the media, and – of course – the Jews, were all working in cahoots on a secret campaign to convince Americans to go to war.  The leader of this anti-war group was aviator and American hero Charles Lindbergh, who claimed that the pain and suffering of others was not America’s problem to solve.  Instead, he claimed, various economic interests saw the war effort a boon to industry, the media saw it as a great way to sell newspapers, and the Jews simply wanted America to deal with the Nazis because the Jews in Europe didn’t want to solve the problem themselves.  Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and when Lindbergh actually saw the Concentration Camps at the end of the war, his witness of the crimes that occurred against our collective humanity forced him to reconsider his previous efforts.  At that point, tens of millions on innocent civilians were dead, along with tens of millions of soldiers.

Today, we face another genocide in Syria and our leaders, to this point, have failed to intervene.  We claim that, as a nation, we stand for good and right and freedom and democracy, but these ideals are without meaning if we decline to act when others are in such dire need.  For six years, civilians in Syria – a formerly modern, advanced nation – have been hamstrung in a war zone with no escape.  It is estimated that half of a million people have been killed, war crimes have been committed and documented over and over again, and yet we have done nothing.  The United States failed to lead.  Instead we sought to appease with the allies of Bashar Al-Assad while disregarding our own allies.  We ignored the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Chinese invasion of international waters, and threw Israel to the wolves (i.e. the United Nations Security Council).  We emboldened our enemies and failed to support our friends.  It’s no wonder that the balance of international power has shifted so dramatically.

The far left has taken its stand against war in Syria.  Fine.  Nobody wants war.  But that’s not justification for allowing a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude to continue.  This rises above partisanship and pride.  It’s about our principles and adhering to our commitments to the international community to protect freedom and human rights.  When the allied forces freed the Concentration Camps in 1945, the world took an oath that such atrocities would never be allowed to happen again.  Thus far we have failed, but that doesn’t mean that our failure has to continue.  President Trump made the first good move of his Presidency last night, drawing a line in the sand. Hopefully, he will continue with this policy, and the Untied States can once again become a beacon of hope for the freedom of humanity.

It’s Not Conservatism That Makes Me Angry, It’s Trump

The last few…days…have been tough for me politically.  Every urge I have to better-regulate my choices to share articles on Facebook is upended by the shear lunacy of this new administration.

Over the past 96 hours (so far), the White House has:

  1. Made outlandish and trivial claims about the crowd size at the inauguration;
  2. All but ignored the largest mass gathering in American history;
  3. Brought paid goons to the CIA to cheer on Mr. Trump and silence intelligence officials;
  4. Invented the concept of “alternate facts” (see: lies);
  5. Suggested the media should not be critical of Mr. Trump as it “demoralizes” him;
  6. Claimed that Mr. Trump won the popular vote (he didn’t);
  7. Created a national holiday to celebrate Donald Trump: “a National Day of Patriotic Devotion”, that we all missed since he created the holiday after it had already happened;
  8. Announced that he will never release his tax returns, and that an IRS audit had nothing to do with it;
  9. Invoked the slogan of pre-WWII Nazi-sympathizers: “America First” in his inaugural speech, and;
  10. Stole his predecessor’s inauguration crowd picture as his own.

So here’s the thing: nothing on the list above is partisan.  This isn’t about conservative or liberal; Republican or Democrat.  Each of these actions is the basis for a Trump administration.  Facts of any kind, no matter how immaterial or trivial, don’t matter.  The President’s word is not to be trusted.  This is what is so infuriating.

I don’t follow a political mold.  I sometimes agree with Democrats, sometimes with Republicans.  Sometimes I do not agree with either party.  I never thought George W. Bush or Barack Obama was evil or destroying America or etc. etc. etc.  My views span the spectrum.  But then again, no President in the modern era has been so callously disdainful of his own people.  No President has seen his election to the most powerful office in the world as anything less than humbling.  Not one of these men has carried clear conflicts of business interests into the White House, suggesting that we should just trust him.   In fact, they all worked hard to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.  But not Mr. Trump.  And that’s the trouble.  If we allow this administration to become a measure of partisanship, rather than integrity, he will win.  He’s counting on cooperation from his voters and active political dissent from liberals.  He’s counting on dividing and conquering.  After all, it already won him the White House.

As such, I hope that objections to his degradation of the Office of the Presidency can transcend both ideology and party.  That we as a nation can disagree about oil pipelines and trade partnerships but nevertheless remain committed to American ideals:

Truth | Justice | Liberty | Democracy | Freedom

After all, these are what make America, America.   And it’s up to all of us to ensure America remains strong.


For One Day, Let’s Just be Thankful

This has been a tough year.  It feels as though no matter whether your candidate won or lost, we’ve all lost a little bit of ourselves.  Many have lost friends, have become estranged from family, have felt threatened or intimidated, or have been overcome by anger and frustration.  American elections are supposed to bring out the best of our democracy.  This election brought out the worst.  It is in this divisive time that we must remember that Thanksgiving – in a sense our most apolitical and secular national holiday – was borne of division.  In 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln declared a day of Thanksgiving for all Americans (I’ve posted the entire proclamation for your leisure):

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

This description of the United States would seem foreign to many Americans in 1864.  The Country was torn by violence, a million people would be dead by the end of the Civil War.  Millions more would be in mourning for the loss of their homes, their livelihoods, and their loved ones, and yet – Thanksgiving.

Yesterday morning on the radio, I heard people from all over this great nation – from Spokane to Houston or Oneida – talk about how they would not be going home for Thanksgiving for the first time in 15, 25, 45, or even 60 years.  Each of them cited political strife and disunity as the cause for their choice, yet none of these people sounded happy or proud to make this change.  Rather, they all sounded exhausted.  It is clear that all of us, no matter our politics, religion, or current predicament, need a respite from what seems like an unending political season.  Even here in Northern Virginia, it is not too much to suggest that we simply take a day off.  Stop checking the news, stop making underhanded remarks about some political figure or party.  Just take a moment to enjoy all of the good in the world.  For many, this may be something not done for decades.

So, I propose a simple rule for tomorrow.  No politics.  That’s all.  While this will be most helpful to those with political division at the dinner table, my wife and I will nevertheless be asking our guests to adhere by this rule, even though we believe that they all voted the same way earlier this month.

thanksgiving-turkey-gif-dfubmj-clipartLet’s have a day of Thanksgiving.  Let’s talk about football and theater, about our childhoods and our aspirations, about our favorite recipes and hopes for a white Christmas and a short winter.  Leaving our frustrations and divisions and, dare I say, strong opinions behind, if only for a few hours, may help bring us back together, allowing us to remember that we are all a collective people.  We are Americans.  We are free.  And, for that, we should be thankful.


We Are Not Helpless: Why a Multi-Faceted Approach is the Best Way Foward

Since Sunday, my Facebook feed (and my wall, for that matter) has been filled almost completely by articles and op-eds supporting and opposing new gun controls.  They read one of two ways, either:

  • PRO: We have a national epidemic of gun violence that is unmatched throughout the modern world.  We have had a rash of mass murders that other countries simply don’t experience with anywhere near the frequency that they occur in the United States.  And yet we do next to nothing to prevent the next mass murderer from obtaining a weapon.  If we attempt to mimic policies of other countries (such as Australia), we will see far fewer shootings.  If we ease gun controls even further, it will just be easier for bad guys to get guns.
  • CON: Gun controls would not necessarily have prevented any shooter from getting a gun.  People looking to obtain a weapon to commit crime could commit a crime to obtain that weapon.  People who want to kill people like this need mental health counseling.  We need to change our domestic security policies.  We need to change our foreign policy.  If we reinstate gun controls, good people who truly want a gun to protect themselves will possibly be able to obtain a gun less easily, while criminals will skirt the law and get guns because they’re criminals.  What we really need is more good guys with guns, not less guns.

The irony in all of this is that, to the extent related in the above paragraphs, both sides have valid points.  A person under immediate threat certainly cannot be expected to hope that gun control policies save them.  Meanwhile, ignoring the threats that the most commonly-used lethal weapon in our country poses while essentially mandating that everyone carry a lethal weapon on their persons at all times is not reasonable, safe, or sane.

Of course, also tucked into the view of the anti-gun-control lobby is the suggestion that we should take other actions, such as fund mental health programs, run comprehensive checks on new immigrants, change and increase our military presence in war-torn areas of Iraq and Syria, and provide more security at schools, nightclubs, and movie theaters. These are all ideas I agree with 100%.  But they are not reasons that we cannot also consider sensible gun controls, such as universal background checks, limits on who can purchase a gun (such as limitations or bans on people on the Terrorist Watch List, people with outstanding criminal warrants, etc.) and bans of”automatic or semiautomatic firearms with a large magazine of ammunition that were designed and configured for rapid fire and combat use.” (Definition of ‘Assault Weapon’ used in the 1994 Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act).

Would this prevent all shootings?  Of course not.  Would this make our country safer?  The victims in Orlando and Aurora and San Bernadino, along with the little dead children in Newtown, would probably give a resounding, “yes.”  After all, a lot of these people might still be alive, and speaking, today if not for the ability of these shooters to legally and easily purchase Assault Weapons.  No other modern nation allows such easy access to these types of weapons and associated ammunition, and no other modern nation has the problems with gun crime that we do today.  Sure, it’s a correlation, but it’s a pretty strong correlation to consider.  Conversely, no county has ever eased gun controls and witnessed a correlated long-term decrease in violence and death.  Another strong correlation.

Imagine that your son has not been sleeping well.  So you take him to the doctor who tells you that your son needs to eat less sugar and get more exercise.  When you get home, do you change his diet?  Or do you send him out into the backyard with a soccer ball?

Of course, this is a ridiculous question.  Any good parent would do everything the doctor ordered.  So, by the same token, it’s absurd and disingenuous for the NRA lobby to say that we should do everything BUT consider sensible controls on deadly weapons in response to these terrorist attacks, just like it would be unreasonable if the gun control lobby called for gun controls but claimed no one who committed these crimes had mental health issues.  The events in San Bernadino and Orlando were absolutely terrorist acts that were absolutely inspired by ISIS, but those facts don’t discount the fact that they were so easily committed with perfectly legal weapons and the terrorist perpetrators of these murders did not have to break any laws to get everything needed to commit these atrocities.  For that matter, the domestic terrorists in Aurora and Newtown (that for some reason we no longer call terrorists) had the same goals and were able to execute similar crimes.

So let’s take a holistic approach to combating mass murder.  Let’s improve our strategy abroad, let’s provide better mental health and security services for people at home, and let’s pass sensible gun control legislation so that we can prevent the next terrorist-inspired gun-based mass murder through every method that we can.