Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Barbecue, Hold the Politics

An old friend, a musician, came in from out of town. His band was playing a barbecue festival in south KC, so I went. It was a thing I would never have gone to otherwise; in fact, I had never heard of the event before.

It was something like 77 teams of barbecuers; the band was hosted by one of them and the dressing room was that team's RV (the teams tend to travel to different events, and they stay on the grounds in RVs; non-team members have to be off the grounds by midnight).

These were totally nice guys, in the circumstances. They were very concerned with our comfort, and were generous with their food and their booze. They were guys who like their comforts. They really enjoyed the music and we all had a good time.

While we were sitting in the trailer before the set, two of the guys got to talking about the Roger Waters show at the Sprint Center the previous Friday night. Waters had really reamed out Trump. Tim Finn, the rock writer at the Star, had posted on his Facebook page something to the effect that, “If you went to Waters' show and left because of the politics, you obviously never really listened to Pink Floyd.” So these guys were talking, and they said, “The music was great, but he really dumped on Trump,” and then they turned to my friend and said, “I hope you're going to stay away from politics.” To which he answered, “Of course!”

That's when I realized I was probably surrounded by Trump voters. White guys, probably in the beginnings of middle age, used to having America be for them. I didn't ask them, but if they're mad about Roger Waters' politics they probably weren't wearing pussy hats in January.

Of course, most people don't think or talk about politics in the obsessive way that my friends and I do. These guys are just happy to be driving around in RVs, cooking up huge hunks of meat, drinking bourbon and listening to rock music. Life is good; they don't want to be bothered by politics.

My friend actually has progressive politics, but one thing you learn playing frat parties and such is that you give the people what they want. (The band played the Dead's “New Speedway Boogie,” which I pointed out later is actually pretty political, not that anyone would notice.)

One of the most significant conversations coming out of the election has been about the necessity of reaching across cultural lines (to say it that way) to people who feel themselves being left behind in contemporary America, and who had found comfort, or a weapon, in Trump. This has been Bernie Sanders' approach. Of course, the presumption is that this “reaching out” only has to be to white folks. The other side of the argument (often, but not always, coming from African Americans) is that this is kowtowing to the dark racist underbelly of the American electorate. I'm of the dedicated opinion that racial justice and economic justice are deeply intertwined, and also that you can't win an election in the US, even on the state level, without white votes. If white non-progressives are going to be written off from the political equation, there are going to be a lot more Donald Trumps in our future.

So that's it, really. I didn't talk politics with these guys and my friend and I left right after the show. I didn't ask them why Hillary didn't appeal to them or what it would take to make a Left message do so. I didn't ask them what they thought about Trump pulling out the Paris agreement. (Truth be told, I'm assuming their politics based on a random comment.) But those are conversations that I need to have, and with people exactly like them, in order to be effective in my job.

But I also know that the expectation that “we shouldn't talk about politics” (which I've come across plenty in the Jewish community as well) is a luxury that not everyone can afford – in fact, it is itself an indicator of privilege, and as such, must always be questioned. Except at private parties, I guess.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The End of Growing the New American Economy

Jeffrey Sachs is probably the country’s predominant expert on sustainable development. He has written a number of bestselling books on the subject, and also was an adviser to Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential race.

Building the New American Economy (Columbia University Press, 2017) is a relatively brief (121 pages) primer for the lay reader on what Sachs thinks we all need to know about the economic problems facing the country, and where we need to go from here. The key idea is found in the introduction: “The keys to success in building the new America [sic] economy can be summarized in three words: smart, fair, and sustainable.”

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Devil's Bargain

Here’s what’s a somewhat longer and thought out version of what’s been coming out of my mouth the last few times I’ve spoken:
  1. The system is broken.
In 2003 the Bush Administration led us to war based on cooked intelligence. They instituted “enhanced interrogation techniques" (i.e., torture). No one was ever punished except for some extremely small fish at Abu Ghraib. In 2008 the financial system collapsed, due largely to chicanery on Wall Street; the country bailed out the system to the tune of over $1 trillion but again, none of the responsible parties were ever held liable.

In 2016 we had the most absurd election campaign imaginable, which ended with a completely unqualified and temperamentally unsuited celebrity winning the White House. This isn’t the place to detail the perfect storm of factors that led to this result, but it suffices to say that for the second time in 20 years someone entered the presidency who had not won the popular vote.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Brownback Agoniste

Rumors are flying that Sam Brownback is about to get a post in the Trump Administration. As he prepares to leave behind the flaming wreckage his policies have caused in Kansas, it's time for some amateur, armchair politico-psycho-analysis.

It's been interesting, if that's the right word, to see Brownback steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that the tax plan that he forced through in 2012 isn't working. Kansas has a $1bn deficit through the end of 2018, which you would think would speak for itself, but Brownback continues to wait for the magic beans to work, and has a whole staff of people dedicated to putting magnifying glasses to any small piece of good economic news they can find.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Resilience of the White Right

I recently read the book, The End of White Christian America by Robert Jones. He's the CEO of PRRI, a institution in Washington that researches public attitudes toward religion. The book traces the history of political involvement in politics by White Christians and their institutions. He covers the Mainline and Evangelical streams as two parts of the same whole. and sees the same demographic and political pressures facing them both; the two streams are following the same trajectory of waning numbers and influence, with the Mainline about 20 years ahead of evangelical Christianity in terms of timeline.

The two issues he traces in detail are gay marriage and race. He shows how White Christianity was on the wrong side of both of these issues, and that the attitude - and the laws - of the country have moved faster and farther than White Christianity wanted to go.

Friday, December 23, 2016

2 mindfulness practices

Lately I've been trying to note behaviors mentally, as opposed to berating myself for them (mentally). With this in mind, here are 2 mindfulness practices I've been using lately:

Phone practice. I mentally note every time I take out my phone when I'm doing something else. This happens a lot when I'm cooking (put the water on to boil, open the phone), and when I'm walking the dog – two activities I've been trying to do more with more attention. I often find that when I take out my phone I'm already at the end of a long strand of distracted thinking – that is, I was already distracted before I took out my phone. 

Irritation practice. With three teenage kids I get a lot of chances to practice this. Irritation, leading to anger, is one of my primary character defects. Usually with anger or irritation the response follows immediately on the heels of the stimulus. So my goal is to mentally note rising irritation, and (hopefully) to be able to pause between feeling the feeling and reacting. So if I get irritated after the sixth stimulus, when last week I would have gotten irritated after the second stimulus, that's progress.  And when I get to 1,000, I win! 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Use the Oxygen Mask First

As a follow up to my previous post about non-hatred - about opposing Trump and Trumpism with everything we can, but not by being motivated by hatred and anger toward them - and in response to the many many people who are reacting to the election results with fear and a sense of helplessness, I would like to posit what I think is the very first thing we should do as we develop our strategies and commitments for the future.

And that very first thing, our very first response to Trump and the disastrous results of the elections is: work on your spirituality.