Between Brock Turner and Brett Kavanaugh, when do girls matter?

Did Brett Kavanaugh try to rape a 15-year-old girl when he was seventeen? Did he drag her into a bedroom, hold her down on a bed, grind on her, try to tear off her clothes, and hold his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream? I don’t know. I sure hope we find out.  We should delay the vote on his appointment while we investigate, because the stakes are pretty high, and we all agree we don’t want an attempted rapist on the Supreme Court. Right?

Ah, we don’t agree.  Well, dammit.

A large contingent of Americans on social media are openly saying they don’t care if he’s guilty. They are saying things like:

At seventeen, his brain was still developing, so his culpability is reduced.

Hey, he was drunk when he did it. We all do stupid things when we’re drunk. 

This is normal hetero hijinx. Boys will be boys. It’s not admirable, but it sure is common — shows the guy is normal, in fact. Heck, high five, Brett. Studly guys like us all have some notches on our belts, wink wink. 

And most of all:

But it happened so long ago. There’s no indication he’s still like that. We’re really going to hold him responsible for something that happened so long ago?

There is no sober, cautious examination of the facts, here, from his supporters. All of these arguments rush to the conclusion that he did do exactly what Christine Blasey Ford accuses him of doing. And they are okay with that. They’re willing to wave away the violent attempted rape of a 15-year-old girls as inconsequential. Why?

Because  . . . she was just a girl, and that’s what girls are for.

That’s the only answer I keep coming back to. Part of me wants to say that the GOP is so bristling with misogyny and the desperate need to appear macho that they’re always willing to throw women under the bus when power is at stake. Look how readily they nominated and elected a confessed abuser, and (to pick one example at random) look how quickly they toggled from “Stormy Daniels is a dirty liar” to “Hey, now, bribing a hooker isn’t an impeachable offense.”

But if that answered it, then the dems would be different, and they’re not. Handsy Uncle Joe Biden, anyone? You know he’s going to run next election. Bill Clinton, anyone? You know that man is a rapist. And yet he’s never once stopped being the progressives’ darling, because he’s also their sugar daddy and he gets them what they want. And if you have to wink at a few rapes, well, they’re just women. That’s what women are for.

Right now, it happens to be the GOP who wants to give a lifetime supreme court appointment to someone credibly accused of a serious sexual crime. Next time, or the time after that, it will be a progressive again, because some people — Al Franken springs to mind — are just too useful to be shucked away for a little thing like sexually abusing a little thing like a woman.

They’re just girls, and girls are here for men to use. Just like it was just a girl that Brock Turner violently raped behind a dumpster while she was unconscious. It was just a girl when those guys from Steubenville gang raped her and posted the video online. And they got a slap on the wrist and were allowed to get on with their lives, while their young victim is still used as shorthand, in Steubenville circles, for “lying whore.” Because she’s just a girl.

When a young man gets drunk and tries to rape a girl, there will always be someone to say he shouldn’t be punished too severely — shouldn’t lose his place on the team, shouldn’t be kicked out of school, certainly shouldn’t serve any jail time — because don’t you see, he has so much promise? This might damage his future!

And what about her future? What about her? Who is thinking about the actual human girl in Blasey’s account, who wept and screamed and fought back, while those normal, healthy, hetero boys turned up the music and pushed her back onto the bed?

It was so long ago. Well, If Blasey had gone to someone with her story that very night, what do you suppose they would have told her?

Now, Christine. Brett is a very bright young man with a promising future. Why, I bet he could be on the Supreme Court someday. 

Brock Turner got six months (a longer sentence would have had “a severe impact” on him) and served three, because he had so much promise.  Austin Wilkerson raped an unconscious girl (after pretending to help her, to throw off the scent of onlookers) and was punished by having to sleep in jail, but went to school and work as normal during the day. David Becker got two years probation after raping two unconscious girls. Because those boys had such a bright future ahead of them. They’re just being boys! This is what happens! This is what boys do! But the girls? Well . . . this is what girls get. This is what they are for.

This is what you are saying, when you want to give men a pass for something they did long ago. This is what you are conveying to millions of women who have been raped and abused, when you allow yourself to say “yes, yes, sure, sure, of course rape is bad, but this is the supreme court we’re talking about, here! This isn’t just the rape of a girl we’re talking about, this is serious!”

I know how hard it is to see this clearly, to keep this firmly in mind when there’s a political storm swirling around. I know you want to talk about how awful Dianne Feinstein is, and how biased the media is, and how suspicious the timing of it all is. Hell, I fell for that with Anita Hill. I let them convince me that Clarence Thomas was the savior we needed to put this country to rights, and that this trashy, unhinged woman was just sniffing around him looking for glory, probably paid off by some secret politics operatives to make up a story that didn’t even sound true.

But believe it or not, politics isn’t the most important thing. A supreme court nomination isn’t the most important thing. The most important thing, when stories like this are in the news, is the victim, and how we treat them, how we speak about them. The most important thing is that we don’t lose ourselves in the ideological storm, and allow ourselves to say anything that even sounds like “but it was just attempted rape” or “but he was just a teenager when he did it.” When you say that, you are telling victims that it doesn’t matter what happened to them, because they are just girls. Boys need their bright futures, but rape is what girls are for.

If we want to argue that the poor boy’s brain is still developing and we need to take that into account, then what about her developing brain? What about her sense of self worth that’s being so violently malformed, first by her assailant, and then by the crowds of people saying he’s normal and she’s a lying, scheming, whore?

Or the argument that boys are hormonal volcanoes just boiling over with sex, and this is how they learn, you see. They learn from their mistakes, and they get to move on, don’t you see. So I wonder how many girls they get to learn on. Do they get one rape freebie, and then after that, they’re responsible for knowing that rape is bad? Or do they get one attempted rape per year, as long as they learn a little bit more each time? I have eight daughters. How many of my daughters is it okay for a seventeen-year-old boy to try to rape, as long as it’s part of their learning process, and they have a bright future?

Girls . . . are human. Girls are not there for the benefit of helping boys to turn into men. They are not there to be soiled and then tossed on the heap while boys go out and buy themselves a whole new look, a whole new life.

If you don’t want men to be dragged down by decades-old accusations of rape, then you need to crack down on minutes-old accusations of rape as they happen. But that’s not how it goes. Still, even now, that’s not how it goes.

When a woman says, “This man raped me a long time ago,” we say, “But that was in the past. He can’t change the past.” When a girl says, “This boy raped me last night,” we say, “But his future! We can’t wreck his future.” And there she stands, suspended between his past and his future, with no value of her own except for how much she’s worth to whichever political party is feeling desperate today.

There are some acts which are so abhorrent, they cannot simply be forgotten. I have sons, as well as daughters. They’re not yet seventeen, and yet they know you’re not supposed to get drunk, and if you do get drunk, you’re still not supposed to rape anybody, not even a little bit. They know this. Seventeen is not a child. If, at that age, you have a son who’s still unclear on the whole “Don’t get drunk and sexually savage girls,” thing, then he should be involuntarily committed. There’s no grey area where he gets to sacrifice a few girls while he figgers it out. Because that’s not what girls are for. Girls are human.

But when grown men tell teenage boys that a smattering of attempted rape is normal, expected, excusable behavior; that all boys do something like this because they’re still developing; and that it’s not worth worrying about because it was so long ago, then this is what they’re doing: they’re educating a whole new generation in the uses and abuses of the bodies and psyches of girls and women, for the sake of men, who alone are real.

Think. Think about what you’re implying when you are willing to wave away accusations of attempted rape. Think about what you’re telling girls about what they’re for. Think about what you’re telling boys about what they’re for. Think about what you’re telling victims about what they’re worth. Think about how you’re talking about these things. Think about who is listening.

He says he didn’t do it. I hope his party has the integrity to at least try to find out, because if they say “it’s important” but then appoint him without an investigation, they don’t really think it’s important.

But that’s out of my hands. What I’m talking about here is how we talk about boys, and how we talk about girls, and how we talk about rape. What’s in our control is to guard ourselves, to change how we respond to stories of rape. To be consistent and humane whether it’s our guy on the witness stand or not. Because if it’s not our guy this time, it will be next time, depend on it.

Hell yes, an attempted rape accusation matters. Even a very old one. Even though it was just a girl.

I’ll say it again: I don’t know if Kavanaugh is guilty or not. I don’t know if Blasey is telling the truth or not. I’m saying it’s a big fucking deal when 17-year-old boys try to rape 15-year-old girls, whether their names are Brett and Christine or not.

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Related: If she was sexually assaulted, why didn’t she say something sooner?

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Image by bOred via Pixabay (Creative Commons)

You’re on the inside? Do your job or GTFO

There are a lot of reasons to hate the anonymous NYT op ed piece yesterday. As another NYT reporter points out, it now puts the rest of the staff in the position of trying to investigate a writer whose identity their own newspaper is protecting. It absolutely gives Trump and his paranoid minions more reason to believe the press is the enemy, which makes life more dangerous for reporters like my husband. And it’s just . . . squicky. It’s not how newspapers operate. Anonymity is for when the writer’s safety is at risk, not for when he wants to play Secret Squirrel and we’re all supposed to play along.

But the thing that bugged me the most was the craven abdication of responsibility. Whoever this “senior” person is, he’s inside the White House, he sees that our president is entirely unfit for the job, and even though he somehow persuades himself that it’s worth letting ourselves be drowned in a flood of dreck because a few specks of tax reform –– tax reform — might go swishing by, he acknowledges that “senior officials” are daily “working to insulate their operations from [Trump’s] whims.” In other words, he has a front row seat to the burning of Rome.

And his response to all this is to . . . stick around. To keep the status quo, because robust military! Less regulation! Hey, he’s not personally fanning the flames, so it’s not his fault! He’s doing his absolute best to pass little thimbles of water along to keep it from spreading even faster. God forbid we should do something drastic, that might precipitate a crisis of some sort.

He says he doesn’t want to pursue impeachment, because that would be a constitutional crisis. But what he is describing is the constitutional crisis. People scurrying around scrambling signals, stealing documents, and playing shell games with the leader of the free world like Bugs Bunny sticking it to Elmer Fudd? That’s your constitutional crisis, right there.

I’ve kind of washed my hands of politics. I did my best to warn people away from Trump, and it didn’t work, and I lost my job for my troubles; so I have mostly tuned out. But I got pretty upset when I read the NYT piece, and I know exactly why:

It’s the same stupid, self-congratulatory, ineffectual, grandstanding, self-immolating shell game we got from the USCCB. In case you haven’t noticed, the Church is in flames. In flames, and we faithful were begging our leaders to do something, or at least say something. Let us know you see how we are suffering. And for the love of Jesus, use the strength of your arm to put out the fire. Do something about the career arsonists who call themselves our fathers. Use your power and influence to do the right thing. You’re on the inside, so do something. 

Instead, they issued a couple of statements saying, “Don’t worry, everybuggy. We took a good look and we know things are super bad and that is super bad, but don’t worry, because we are implementing procedures! Procedures are being implemented. A-OK. World Youth, yay! Now you write check now.”

Same. Damn. Thing. They are in a position to put out the fire, and instead, they choose to sit with it and paint portraits of it and pat themselves on the back for how well they’re managing it. Well, we’re still engulfed in flames, and they still haven’t even hooked up a hose. And this is our house. We’re the ones who have to live here, and we’re supposed to play along and pretend this is how it’s supposed to be. And we’re still engulfed in flames. It’s crisis time, folks. We’re past the point where we can avoid the crisis by being “silent.” It’s here. No, keeping quiet doesn’t make you look like Jesus. It makes you look like this is your fire, and that’s how you like it.

We’re going to get four more years of Trump because nobody wants to put their neck on the line and push for impeachment; and we’re going to get who knows how many more years, decades, centuries of the same old same old slow motion conflagration in our Church, while generation after generation of Catholics figure out how to live our lives, raise our children, keep our parishes stumbling along, while everything around us is on fire.

Nobody wants to put it out. It’s just easier, and more lucrative, to pretend you’re taking it seriously and somehow protecting the institution from the inside out by letting it burn. Crazy keeps the checks rolling in. Corruption makes the money and power and influence flow, and everybody gets their share. Same damn thing.

I’m praying, by God. I’m doing stupid little sacrifices. I’m not leaving my Lord just because He’s surrounded by perverts, and God help me, I still love my stupid fucking country, even though we apparently want to burn the whole thing down. And I love my Church. Even though we apparently want to burn the whole thing down.

You people on the inside. You who have influence. You leaders with front row seats. I’m telling you that you need to do your job or GTFO.

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Image: The Fire of Rome by Hubert Robert [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hugh Hefner sacrificed the human person. Catholics, beware of doing the same.

Hefner is not alone in thinking we may feed as many bodies we like into the oven, as long as we tell ourselves we’re building a fire that benefits all of mankind (and never mind that mankind is made up of individual bodies just like the last one that passed through our hands).

It’s wrong when Hugh Hefner does it, and it’s wrong when anyone does it. If we catch ourselves feeding an individual human into the flames to fuel the fire of our just cause, then we are no longer just.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Photo by Alan Light via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Dems Ditch Pro-choice Litmus Test; Secret Thoughts of Many Laid Bare

Well, that’s probably wishful thinking on both counts. We’ll see if it’s really true that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will now be willing to support pro-life democratic candidates. Yesterday,

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) said there will be no litmus tests for candidates as Democrats seek to find a winning roster to regain the House majority in 2018.

“There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” said Luján, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”

I’m under no illusion that there will be a sudden, widespread softening of hearts toward the unborn in the Democratic party. This is pure strategy. They finally figured out that they’ll never get Congress back if they don’t at least crack the door for pro-lifers. (I could have told them that twelve years ago, but I’m just a voter in a swing state, so who listens to me?) They’re not even pretending there is some kind of actual ideological shift. They’re just trying to keep up with the tide.

Pro-choice dems are already furious at this softening of the DCCC stance,  predictably. For many Democrats, abortion truly is the holy grail, and if you compromise on abortion, then you’re treyf.

But guess what? Republicans are also furious, because their free meal ticket is suddenly not their exclusive property. I’ve long since shed the illusion that the Republican leadership is rife with tenderness and compassion toward the unborn. “Vote for me or the baby gets it,” as Mark Shea frequently puts it, has been a quick ticket to success for republicans for decades now. All a republican candidate has to do is say, “I’m kinda pro-life, and the other guy isn’t,” and good-hearted Catholics and evangelicals will believe (and tell others) they have a moral obligation to vote for him, and will turn a blind eye to every other hideous personal and ideological flaw that would normally be intolerable in a paperboy, never mind a governor, a congressman, or president.

If Republicans were truly pro-life, they’d all be rejoicing at the idea that Democrats are rejiggering their platform to let in even the possibility of more pro-life representatives.

But they’re all . . . not. LifeNews reprinted a column that gives a pretty balanced assessment of the dem strategy and reactions from the left so far; but the comments on social media are filled with mockery and jeers. “Yeah, right! Don’t fall for their LIES!!!” We’re too smart to vote for some lying politician just because they say they’re pro-life!

Yeah, right, indeed. We’re too smart for that.

Meanwhile, as Fr. Pavone bids us “rejoice” in our “pro-life victories” following the 2016 election, Planned Parenthood is still fully funded, and it’s only sheer incompetence that’s saved Medicaid, the go-to source of prenatal care for poor women and their unborn children, from being axed by a “pro-life” Congress. Hoo-ray, we have a conservative on the Supreme Court. So far, he’s oh-so-pro-lifely refuse to stay the execution of eight guys who had to be executed right away for the very serious reason that the lethal injection drug was about to expire, so.  Even LifeSiteNews is not terribly impressed at Gorsuch, who was not so long ago touted as the reason Catholics not only can but must vote for Trump. (I actually like Gorsuch; but I liked Merrick Garland, too. Remember, SC justices aren’t supposed to be pro-life or pro-choice; they’re supposed to be pro-Constitution.)

The part I’m interested in is twofold:

First, I want to see just how many Democrats really are pro-life, even a little bit, but they haven’t felt free to say so. I know there are some, and I know they’ve been treated like crap for far too long. I expect to see more of it among young up-and-comers, because young people in general are increasingly pro-life. Decades of 4D sonograms’ll do that to you, I guess.

Second, I want to see just how many Republican voters will suddenly recall they care deeply about other issues besides abortion. I cannot count how many times during the election I heard: “Abortion is the only issue that matters. I’m a one-issue voter. If a candidate even just says he’s pro-life, then I have to vote for him, no matter what else he says or does.  And you also have to, or I’m telling your bishop.”

This is why we got Trump: Because he was smart enough to flick the pro-life worm right into the spot where all the conservatives were biting, and then he reeled them in, easy peasy, no actual action necessary. Throw ’em in the cooler, flick again.

So what happens when Democrats are allowed to say they’re pro-life, eh? Will that be enough for Christian voters, since it was enough when Trump was the candidate? Will they say, “Well, this democratic candidate is spouting all kinds of crap that I find personally repugnant, but he says he’s pro-life, and the other guy isn’t, so I guess I have to vote for him“?

We’ll see.

Maybe I’m just dreaming here, but if the Democrats will eventually maybe be allowed to admit that some of them are not crazy about infant dismemberment, will it eventually come about that our Republican overlords will feel more free to admit that some of them care just as little about unborn babies as they do about post-womb babies?

The renegade numbers are small on both sides. I get that. Most dems do harbor pro-choice ideas as a core part of their beliefs, and most republicans do feel pretty strongly that murder is wrong. But there is a hell of a lot less purity in both parties than we’ve been led to believe.

I am a conservative. I’m no longer a Republican, but by every sane and rational measurement, I am a conservative. If you think I’m crazy to say so, you need to make friends with the late William F. Buckley (if you can make him stop spinning in his grave long enough), or my pal Winston Churchill, because you MAGAs don’t even know what a conservative is.

I and most of my truly conservative friends haven’t had the luxury of voting for someone we actually believe in for years and years and years. Could it be that, maybe in the next election, or the next one after that, we’ll be allowed to assess and elect a candidate based on his individual principles and merits?

All I want is someone I can vote for without dying inside. I’ll probably never get it. But if we’re moving toward an era when “pro-life” or “pro-choice” lose their magical power to summon campaign funds and principled votes, then maybe at least we’ll see who really believes in what, and why.

 

Gianforte is not an outlier. He’s the new normal.

Greg Gianforte, who is poised to become Montana’s next Republican congressman, was charged with misdemeanor assault this morning after he choked and body slammed a reporter to the ground yesterday, shouting, “I’m sick and tired of you guys! . . . Get the hell out of here! Get the hell out of here!”

The reporter, Ben Jacobs, made an audio recording of the assault, and eyewitnesses confirm that Gianforte assaulted Jacobs, broke his glasses, and began punching him when he was on the ground, after Jacobs repeatedly asked questions about the new report on the American Health Care Act.

Gianforte’s office claims that it was Jacobs who initiated the aggression. Eyewitnesses say this is not so. Here is the audio recording of the incident:

A little more about Gianforte. He’s the founder and CEO of the Gianforte Family Foundation, an organization which, among other things, bankrolled the donation of a T. rex and acrocanthosaurus exhibit to the Dinosaur and Fossil Museum in Glendive, MT in 2009. The Billings Gazette reported that the museum teaches that dinosaurs coexisted with humans.

The museum’s founder and director, Otis E. Kline, Jr., says of one of the exhibits in his museum:

“There’s two ways these fossils could get to Kansas, and one is the evolutionary way; the other is the biblical creation way,” Kline said.

“The evolutionary way says there was an inland sea that came from the Gulf of Mexico. But the biblical creation way says it was the flood of Noah’s day.”

The Gazette reports:

The funds [for the museum] were raised through a nonprofit Kline created, the Foundation Advancing Creation Truth.

Not, you notice, a foundation for advancing the truth about creation, but a foundation for advancing a certain story of creation, even though there is no evidence for that story and plenty of evidence against it (and even though serious Biblical scholars, including Josef Ratzinger and John Paul II, affirm that Genesis was never meant to be a scientific treatise!). Rather than looking hard at measurable evidence of how the world came into being, they’re creating a false, emotionally appealing dichotomy of faith vs. science, of us vs. them, rather than of true vs. untrue.

Why is this anecdote relevant? Because the GOP has steadily, aggressively working to earn a reputation as the party that not only doesn’t care what is true, but will bowl over anyone who tries to report what is true; because it’s not a matter of true vs. untrue, it’s a matter of us vs. them. Who do you want to win? Them?

Remember, Trump spent his campaign training his fans to bleat, “Fake news!” every time they heard something they didn’t like, even when it was manifestly not fake, just unfavorable to him.

Remember, during his campaign Trump called to “open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” and in March, as president, he tweeted “Change libel laws?” suggesting that New York Times reporters should be sued for reporting unfavorably on his policies.

Remember, Trump suggested to James Comey that he should jail reporters who published information that Trump himself saw fit to discuss with the Russian ambassador.

Remember, it was the Trump administration that introduced the nakedly Orwellian phrase “alternative facts.” To paraphrase Groucho Marx: These are the facts. If you don’t like them, well . . . we have others.”

That Trump and his admirers and wannabes lie when convenient is a given — and that’s certainly not confined to the GOP. All politicians, left and right, lie left and right, and they mostly get away with it. This is nothing new.

But what we are seeing is something more: an open campaign to keep those lies afloat by damming up the sources of unfavorable information — threatening them, encouraging legislation against them, or just plain knocking them to the ground and punching them because you’re tired of their questions.

This is a phenomenon to watch very carefully, in big government and in your local government, too. If you’re an American, remind yourself frequently that our founders spilled their own blood to escape from monarchy — to extricate themselves and us from being ruled by someone who was above question and above reproach, whose word was truth.

It’s well and good not to blindly trust the media, and it’s excellent to read, watch, and listen critically, asking yourself frequently, “How credible is this story on the news?”

But if “Don’t trust the media!” is your clarion call, ask yourself whom you do trust, instead. Where are you getting your information from? From the guy who’s trying to shut the media down, sue them into oblivion, break their glasses? Why would you do that? Who behaves that way, if not the guilty?

As Trump supporters have said in a different context: If they haven’t done anything wrong, they have nothing to fear. If it’s true for Mexican immigrants when ICE is in town, surely it’s true for our president when the microphones come out. If he’s done nothing wrong, why is he so afraid of the press?

Don’t let yourself say things like, “Well, that reporter was being very aggressive; he got what he deserved.” That’s his job. Don’t let yourself repeat, “This is what they get for writing all those negative stories.” That’s their job. Don’t allow yourself to say, “I never trusted the media anyway, so it’s no great loss if they’re not allowed inside the White House.” That is their job. Make them do their job. Insist that they be allowed to do their job.

I would have been thrilled if the New York Times et al had done their job better when Obama was president, and had held his feet to the fire the way they’re doing to Trump now. Now they’re doing their job. Better late than never. Better now, before it’s too late, and we lose our hunger for the truth altogether.

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Image of First Amendment under scaffolding by tacomabibelot via Flickr: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

 

Trump’s presidency is one big cliché. Run for your lives.

As wave after wave of bizarre news rolls in from the White House, some Americans may be tempted to think, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!” But that’s not so. The Trump presidency is actually one long string of tired ideas we’ve heard a million times.

But here’s the catch: tired ideas are somewhat more startling when someone actually acts on them.

You remember that scene in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where the ship picks up a passenger. and they discover that he’s come from the island where dreams come true. At first, the sailors can’t believe their luck, expecting to find loved ones alive again, or to be reunited with old flames.

Not so fast.

 

“Fools!” said the man, stamping his foot with rage. “That is the sort of talk that brought me here, and I’d better have been drowned or never born. Do you hear what I say? This is where dreams — dreams, do you understand — come to life, come real. Not daydreams: dreams.”

There was about half a minute’s silence and then, with a great clatter of armour, the whole crew were tumbling down the main hatch as quick as they could and flinging themselves on the oars to row as they had never rowed before; and Drinian was swinging round the tiller, and they boatswain was giving out the quickest stroke that had ever been heard at sea. For it had taken everyone just that half-minute to remember certain dreams they had had–dreams that make you afraid of going to sleep again–and to realize what it would mean to land on a country where dreams come true.

The voyage of the ship of state in 2017 comes to mind; only it’s the Island Where Commencement Addresses Come True. You’ve been to one or two of these snoozers in your lifetime, right? Your head droops, your tongue begins to loll out of your mouth as you hear the speaker drone on and on through platitude after platitude.

Well, say what you will about 2017, it hasn’t been boring. Here’s a few clichés that wake you right up when they come to life and start picking out new drapes for the Oval Office:

You can be anything you want to be if you believe in yourself. You can become head of the Department of Education even if you know less about the inside of a classroom than your average hornet could pick up before it got squashed by the janitor. You can get an appointment to almost any cabinet post, and the only qualification you’ll need is that you are completely untainted by experience with or knowledge of your post.

Don’t let other people tell you what to believe, as long as you hold your truth in your heart. Although it’s probably not wise to claim Your Truth was just a slip of the tongue when you you have already told the world Your Truth three separate times.

Don’t let anything divert you from pursuing your passion. Not marriage, not consent, not bodily autonomy. Just grab.

Never let anyone else define you or put artificial boundaries on what you can achieve. Separation of powers, schmeparation of powers. States’ right, schmates rights. Limited government . . . well, you get the schmidea.

Don’t sit back and let your friends shape the future. Be the change you (for some ungodly inexplicable reason) wish to see in the world.

But do lean on your friends. Lean hard.

Reject being limited by labels. People want to call you “pro-life,” that’s fine. You’ll take their vote. But you’ll go ahead and gleefully reject child refugees, gut legal protections for kids with special needs, openly mock the disabled, enthusiastically promote torture, and yank health insurance from the poor, including children and pregnant women.  And test out your awesome new military powers by killing an 8-year-old American girl. Let them label you “pro-life!”  You’re bigger than any label.

Reach for the stars. Or the Vatican. Or Russia. Or . . . just hang around in your bathrobe watching TV and leafing through drape fabric swatches.

And finally:

No matter what they take from you, they can’t take away your dignity. Nothing from nothing leaves nothing, updated several times daily.

 

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Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr (Creative Commons)

 

“Pro-life” Trump is engineering an American Kristallnacht

Here’s a ridiculous scenario: Imagine you drive a red car. One day, the mayor of your town says that, every week, he’s going to head over to the post office and pin up a list of people who have done bad things with red cars.

The list includes people who have bought red cars, people who have borrowed them, and people who have stolen red cars; and it includes everything from driving with a broken tail light to deliberately plowing through line of kindergarteners. The list doesn’t specify: It just has names of people driving red cars, and it says they’ve all done something bad.

This goes on week after week, and even though you’ve never so much as failed to use a turn signal, you start to notice that you’re getting dirty looks when you step out of your red car. You find yourself parking around the corner, just so no one realizes that you’re one of those “red car people.” Your neighbor sees you washing your car in the driveway and she makes a disgusted sound and loudly tells her kids, “Let’s go find some other friends to play with.” One morning, you wake up and discover that someone has slashed your tires and beat in your windshield, and “NO RED CARS HERE” is spray painted on your driveway.

You haven’t done anything. But you do drive a red car.

Stupid, right? That is a silly story. Let’s talk about something that hits a little closer to home with some of my readers:

At the peak of the Catholic sex abuse scandal, a priest friend — a holy, kind, exemplary man — told me that when he passed a woman and child on the sidewalk, the woman instinctively shoved herself between her child and him. She made a physical barrier to protect her kid, as if, just because he had a Roman collar on, he was going to lunge over and start groping her child.

How unfair! How grievously unfair, to behave as if every priest is probably a sexual predator, when in fact priests are no more likely than any other man to abuse children.

But at the same time, my priest friend couldn’t blame the woman. When it does happen, molestation of children is an unspeakable crime. And every day, week after week after week, the papers and the TV news carried stories of priests who did abuse children, or who were accused of abusing children, or who didn’t do enough to stop the abuse of children.

Or, maybe they actually did everything they possibly could to stop the abuse of the children, but still, ugh, they’re one of those priests . . . 

We all know what priests are like. We know, because we read it in the news.

Imagine being a priest in this climate. I heard priests debating with each other whether it was safe to go out wearing clerical garb. Why put a target on your back? Everyone you meet has been trained to look at you and think, “Sex crime! Sex crime!”

This is the power of the selectively chosen printed word. This is what can be achieved when you take a story that is true (some people in red cars do commit crimes; some priests do molest children) and play it over and over and over and over again, chanting in the ear of the reader: DANGER. DANGER. WARNING. WARNING. NO TIME TO THINK. ALERT. ALERT. PROTECT YOURSELF.

Protect yourself against what? Why, against people like that: people who commit crimes, people you can easily pick out on the street, because they’re illegal immigrant criminals. Well, they’re illegal immigrants. Well, they’re immigrants. Well, they have brown skin and an accent, and you know what people like that do.

We know, because we read it in the news. We read the weekly lists that the president of the United States says he is going to publish — lists of “crimes” (he doesn’t specify if we’re talking about rape or murder or driving over to Kroger’s without a license) committed by “aliens” (he doesn’t specify legal or illegal).  The important thing is, we have to have constant reminders that there are people coming into our country and doing bad things! Never forget!  Immigrant and crime! They go together.

Never mind that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. Doesn’t matter. What matters is the constant reminder of facts without context to create an emotional response. It’s not rational. It doesn’t have to be. In fact it works better when it’s not rational (especially when you’ve been training the populace to believe that there is no such thing as objective truth, just facts and alternative facts).

There are already laws on the books about deporting illegal immigrants. There are already laws on the books about arresting and prosecuting criminals. There are already numerous public records of crimes committed in this country. We don’t have a secret court system. Just about every arrest is public record. There are already numerous aggregators of statistics to tell us who commits what kind of crime. Most Americans already agree that crime is bad, illegal activity is wrong, and criminals should be punished by the law.

These lists do not give us more information. They do not “better inform the public,” despite what Trump’s statement claims. All of the information in them is already public information.

There is only one reason to publish a list like this, and that is to whip up fear, suspicion, and outrage. To make people feel unsafe and angry. To constantly remind them (as Trump did in his inauguration speech) that we are drowning in crime, awash in violence, crumbling into ruin, teetering on the brink, losing ourselves in the darkness.

Things are terrible, terrible, terrible. And whose fault is it? Well, I happen to have a list. And I’ll be updating it every week, so you’ll know who to blame.

Now imagine that you are the one with dark skin and an accent. Imagine your kids have dark skin and accents. Maybe you’re legally here and maybe you’re not, but it’s very clear that you’re some kind of immigrant.

Remember: immigrant crime immigrant crime immigrant crime. That’s the important thing to remember. Your neighbors have been hearing it for months.

Imagine that you live in a country where, every single week, your president has been telling everyone that people with dark skins and accents are criminals. Imagine getting your kids ready to walk to school, and knowing that half their classmates have been reading these lists every week. Imagine leaving work at night and finding that a couple of guys have had a couple of beers and they’ve decided they’ve had enough of these fucking immigrants fucking up their country, and if the police won’t do anything about it, then they will.

Think it won’t happen? Why? Because fearful, angry people never lash out at the innocent?

bundesarchiv_bild_146-1970-083-42_magdeburg_zersto%cc%88rtes_ju%cc%88disches_gescha%cc%88ft

Because we’d never let things go that far?

Why not? If we’re not going to say “halt” now, then when?

This is classic scapegoating. It’s what fascists do to gain control. They tell the people, over and over and over again, “You’re not safe. You’re not safe. It’s the fault of THESE PEOPLE. I will protect you from THESE PEOPLE, and then you can be safe.” And then, while you’re thrilled to get his help and protection, you barely notice the other stuff he’s doing, stuff that directly contradicts the things you said you cared about ten minutes ago. Stuff like small government, religious freedom, freedom of the press, respect for the disabled, protection for the innocent and vulnerable.

My friends, I have always thought that Trump would be a bad and dangerous president, a vulgar and ridiculous man, but I thought the accusations of fascism were overblown. I thought it was hyperbole.

I don’t think so anymore. This is textbook behavior. This is how it always starts. This is how totalitarians persuade the population to give him everything he wants: By whipping up fear and anger, by pointing to a scapegoat, and then by offering to take care of that scapegoat for you.

Up until now, I’ve been angry at Trump. Last night, he broke my heart. I wept when I heard of his plans, and I wept harder when I saw some of my friends defending them. Not because I want to protect criminals, but because I want to protect my country. I love my country. This is not what I want for my country.

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. A good day to remember that everything Hitler did was with the consent of the people, whom he had primed to fear and hate certain groups of people. He started by posting lists of Jews who were accused of committing crimes. He started by reminding Germans of what a shambles their country was in, and then he told them, over and over and over again, whose fault it was.

And then they let him do whatever he wanted.

We have seen this before. We have seen this before. There is no Mexico City Policy, no phone call to the March for Life, no promise of new jobs that can justify the American Kristallnacht that our president is openly trying to engineer.

Resist. Even if you need a job. Even if you are pro-life. Even if your city is full of people who don’t speak English. Even if you think Hillary belongs in jail. Even if you voted for Trump. Resist this path we are on. Remember who you are, and resist.

***
EDIT Friday around 5:00 eastern: Thanks to a reader, I realized that I misread and mischaracterized Trump’s statement. It was an honest error, not a malicious one, but that’s no excuse. I have edited the post to make it more accurate.

The original passage, as far as I can reconstruct it, read:
We know, because we read it in the news. We read the weekly lists that the president of the United States says he is going to publish –‘lists of “aliens” (he doesn’t specify legal or illegal) who have committed “crimes” (he doesn’t specify if we’re talking about rape or murder or driving over to Kroger’s without a license).

The corrected passage now reads:
We know, because we read it in the news. We read the weekly lists that the president of the United States says he is going to publish — lists of “crimes” (he doesn’t specify if we’re talking about rape or murder or driving over to Kroger’s without a license) committed by “aliens” (he doesn’t specify legal or illegal).

I apologize for the error. It does not change my argument in the slightest.
Kristallnacht image: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1970-083-42 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Catholic pro-lifers at the Women’s March? Get used to it.

Were you surprised, even shocked, to see Catholics and other pro-lifers joining in at the Women’s March — the march that was funded and organized by pro-choicers, and which backed out of partnering with pro-life groups?

Numerous Catholics told me it was a scandal that they were there.

Well, get used to it. The pro-life establishment abandoned women and children when they threw in their lot with Trump. Get used to seeing pro-lifers strike out on their own, welcome or not.

When you in the Republican establishment helped Trump win, you told the world, “This is what a pro-life leader looks like like.” You told the world:

–A pro-lifer is a serial adulterer who proudly thinks with his penis.

–A pro-lifer responds to an unplanned pregnancy by saying, “Oh, great” and asking the mother what she’s going to “do about it.”

–A pro-lifer tells the world that a woman isn’t qualified to lead if we don’t enjoy looking at her face.

–A pro-lifer, when asked about his baby daughter, speculates on how big her tits will be some day.

–A pro-lifer mentions several times in several ways that, if he weren’t Ivanka’s father, he’d be dating her because of her gorgeous body.

–A pro-lifer will appoint ludicrously unqualified cabinet members whose only asset is their promises to cut funding for food and housing, programs which disproportionately support women and children.

–A pro-lifer is enthusiastic about torture, and is proud to turn his back on refugees.

–A pro-lifer thinks that life-saving vaccines cause autism, and is reportedly considering appointing a vaccine skeptic to investigate vaccine safety.

–A pro-lifer has promised repeatedly to repeal the law that has given millions of women (including me) basic healthcare for the first time.

–A pro-lifer appoints an education head who thinks that special needs kids don’t have a right to an education, and that the states should (like Texas did) be free to just stop making it possible for special needs kids to go to school.

–And of course a pro-lifer, as a newlywed, brags about kissing women without consent and then grabbing women by the pussy. And pro-lifers say that talking about “fucking” married “bitches” is “locker room banter” and can be excused as long as we also talk about ISIS.

You elected Trump and told the world that we had to vote for him, because he is pro-life. You even said that it was a mortal sin not to vote for him. And then you told women that they weren’t real Catholics because they marched against him.

Tell me again that women are shameful and disgraceful for telling the world that this man does not represent us. They’re the disgrace. Not him. Tell me again.

Tell me again that Catholic women who marched on Saturday aren’t real Catholics. Tell me again that they are the ones who should be cast out, because they are in the street at the same time as women with silly hats. Tell me that they are the scandal, and not the party who betrayed women and elected Trump.

Tell me again how the true disgrace is when young pro-lifers march in the streets with signs shouting “ABORTION BETRAYS WOMEN,” and the Huffington Post reports it, with numerous photos and ample quotes from pro-lifers. Also Slate, The Atlantic, and numerous other left-leaning websites.

Tell me what a scandal it is that “pro-life feminist” is now a thing.

God bless you, Destiny Herndon De La Rosa, Abby Johnson, Aimee Murphy, Students for Life, and all the strong, smart women who had the courage to face not only the abuse of pro-choicers but the abuse of your fellow Catholics. God bless you for telling the world that abortion hurts women, that pro-life is pro-women. God bless you for turning over your lives to the pro-life cause, when even other pro-lifers refused to help.

And God bless you for being physically there, for putting yourself right next to women who have been told all their lives that pro-lifers are rigid, angry, fanatical misogynists. God bless you for talking to them, showing them that we are human, showing them that there is another way of seeing the world.

You are the ones who are changing hearts; and that is how abortion is defeated. Not by signing bills, not by babbling catchphrases when it’s politically expedient and shrugging them off when it’s not. Not by yanking help away from the needy.

Abortion is defeated when pro-lifers have the courage to go where they are not invited. The election of Donald Trump made it very clear that respect for women is not important to the republican party. So be it. Pro-lifers who do respect women will go elsewhere.

The old categories do not hold. If Trump is the leader of the republican party, then the republican party is no longer the home for people who value family, who cherish children, who respect women. Pro-life American are now politically homeless; and so, like so many of the homeless, they took to the streets.

Expect to see more of this kind of thing. The old categories do not hold.
***

Image: Screenshot from Fox News interview with Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa of New Wave Feminists

To enthusiastic fans of Donald Trump

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-12-34-05-pm

Two people were facing the congregation at Mass last Sunday: The priest, of course, and an interpreter, who was signing for the deaf people in the pews.

Scratch that, there were three people facing the congregation. The third was a profoundly disabled man, his body twisted permanently into a pretzel, his skull misshapen, his features preternaturally mobile. He didn’t seem able to face the altar, but spend most of the hour bobbing and grinning and leering at the rest of us, while his caregiver patiently redirected him over and over again, calming him when he got agitated, soothing him when he got loud.

Why is it so hard to meet the gaze of folks like this? If ever there was a low-risk social interaction, it’s making eye contact with someone who can’t talk at all, much less expect something witty or suitable in response. “Just smile at him,” I tell myself. “Just be friendly and sincere, and then move along.” Still, I avoid eye contact. It’s obviously not about him. It’s about me.

That hour nagged at me.  Two faces, the translator and the disabled man demanded our attention, their eyes shining, their hands busy with gestures that meant nothing to me. If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts. If today you see a face and it keeps grinning and winking and nodding at you, at least you could ask the Holy Spirit what’s up. Here’s what I think it is.

The sign language translator was there because there are some folks in the congregation with a disability. They cannot hear, so they need extra help to have God’s word conveyed to them.

I am disabled, too, spiritually. I need a translator. There is something in my heart that fears and rejects mentally and even physically disabled people, and I’d rather they just turn around and leave me alone with my smart, attractive children and friends. I’m a pro-lifer, so I am ashamed to respond this way to any of God’s children. It is a common but severe defect. I want to be open, but I am not, and I can only fake it about half the time. Most of the time, I just avoid, avoid, avoid, avoid. I’m not alone or unusual in this, but that doesn’t make it all right.

I don’t mean to reduce another human being to a symbol. This man was attending Mass, and certainly wasn’t there just for my benefit or edification. He has a name, and he obviously has at least one person who loves and cares for him. But he was also, for me, a translator, someone turning to face me to convey a message that I wasn’t able to hear on my own without his help. Sometimes you don’t realize you are deaf until a translator turns up.

So there is more. It made me ask myself: Who am I having the hardest time facing right now? Who do I not want to look in the face? Who am I reluctant to treat as fully human?

Easy to answer in January of 2017: Enthusiastic Trump supporters. Over and over again, despite my resolve, I lose my temper with them, I get nasty, I get personal. I am just so angry at what they have chosen for me and my family and my beloved country. There they stand, shamelessly twisted in their worldview, not even hiding their faces, just leering and gesticulating. Turn around! Shut up! Get away from me! I want to yell (and sometimes do).

I’m not proud of behaving this way. I call myself a pro-lifer. This is a severe defect, that I allow myself to respond to other human beings with open, personal contempt and derision. It’s especially egregious because I often write about our obligation to show love to each other.

I don’t know what to tell you. I’m working on it. Yes, this post is the best I can do right now. Those of you who happily voted for Trump and continue to champion him, I think you are wrong, wrong, wrong, and I will not apologize for calling it twisted and awry to admire and champion a wicked man. Whatever your motivation, you have done something objectively terrible to our country.

But the way I respond to you is my problem, not your problem. I have a defect, and I know it. Thank you for looking me in the face and helping me be more aware of my defect. Thank you for being the translator who alerts me to just how deaf I am. Please pray for me, and I will pray for you. And then maybe we can all just turn around and face the altar, like we’re supposed to.

***
Image: Detail of Self-Portrait as a Deaf Man by Sir Joshua Reynolds (Creative Commons)

 

Let’s resist kneejerkifying history

Every few weeks, a group of enlightened teenagers, who have been raised since birth to believe such-and-such is wrong, will get together and demand that a long-dead man should be punished for not having been raised since his birth two hundred years ago to believe that such-and-such is wrong.

Sometimes, they’re onto something. I wouldn’t want to spend my afternoons bathed in the hues of a stained glass black man kneeling before John Calhoun. (I wouldn’t smash a window depicting slavery, but I would put up a fuss.) There’s a fine line between acknowledging the past and condoning its errors.

But it sure does get old to hear that Abraham Lincoln was “not the great emancipator” because his stated main goal was to preserve the union, and because he was against interracial marriage. No: Lincoln was a white man was born in 1809, and he thought like a white man born in 1809; and he was a great and good man.

Same thing for great thinkers of the Catholic Church. You refuse to employ your super-fine mind in the same room as Thomas Aquinas just because he had some dumb or hinky ideas about the ladies? Your loss. The rest of us don’t have much time to be offended; we’re too busy trying to keep up.

Just as irritating as the knee-jerk judgment of the past? The wholly unearned smugness that often goes along with that judgment. Let’s be fair: If I can’t blame Lincoln for thinking like everyone thought when he was alive, then why should I laud you for thinking like everyone thinks now? You’re not a courageous free-thinker for wearing an anti-racist T-shirt in 2016. You’re just someone who noticed that “NOH8” or “BLM” or whatever is trending right now.

Even worse than wagging our fingers at history is when we try to protect our paper-thin skins by blotting out the past altogether. What a horrible, self-defeating error. If our country is guilty of crimes, then there is one foolproof way to ensure that we repeat them, and that is to erase all evidence of them, to cleanse our living space of any exposure to them. Your body won’t fight back against a disease if you spend each day bathing in Purell, and the same is true for our collective soul as a country. You must endure some exposure.

Well, here’s an encouraging spot of sanity: Yale announces new procedure for renaming of university buildings. They’re not going to refuse to hear any argument against honoring a historical figure who held troubling views; but neither are they going to knuckle under to the mob and despise greatness when it comes dressed in historical clothing that clashes with current political fashion.

In an interview with NPR yesterday, Yale dean Jonathan Holloway said:

The fact is as human actors we’re all flawed. So I really wonder if you are going to be using the Oregon test [which applies strict, inflexible criteria] against historic figures who are operating in a world in which you – people did not even know or worry about the experiences or views of women or immigrants or minorities, you’re going to fail the test pretty quickly. And so I think any renaming test has to be mindful of the present and the past and also the future in trying to sort out what its litmus tests are going to be.

To my mind, when we wonder if we should honor someone who held views that most people now despise, there are four issues to be considered:

  1. Were these views widespread and unchallenged at the time? Would the person in question have to be an outrageously original and insightful thinker to even consider holding a different point of view?
  2. Are the unpleasant views he held even relevant to why he is being honored today? Are we honoring him for all aspects of his entire life, or can we say, “Even though he was terribly wrong about this issue, his achievements in that other field are immense and indisputable”?
  3. If he did do great things, were the bad things he did so bad (even if they were in an entirely different field from the great things) that they overshadow what was great?
  4. Have we done our research, really? Or have we just read a line or two off some Buzzfeed compilation of the Daily Snit?

Yale is apparently taking a measured approach to challenges from people laboring under what Halloway calls the “arrogance of your contemporary moment,”and is trying to slow down that locomotive of self-congratulatory outrage. He wants, if you can imagine such a thing in an institute of higher learning, for complainants to thoughtfully and dispassionately contextualize history, rather than just reflexively scratching whatever the current mob considers itchiest.

It’s especially admirable that Yale is choosing to do this now, in post election 2016. With Trump as president, and the alt right ascending, we’re likely to see more and more re-legitimization of historical figures who truly ought to be intolerable to everyone today — not because of current, changeable sensibilities, but because their views were intolerable to decent people even while they were alive.

I expect that a president who reportedly kept a copy of Hitler’s speeches at his bedside (just for the articles, you understand. He doesn’t even notice the pictures) will breathe new life and vigor into old, deservedly condemned causes. We’ve already seen some efforts, from a population indispensable to Trump’s victory, to reanimate fetid corpses of egregious racism, anti-semitism, denial of Bosnian genocide, and more. Confederate flag sales skyrocketed in 2015Trump himself praised the “strength” of China’s response to Tianamen Square; and Trump openly admired Saddam Hussein’s efficiency in dealing with his enemies.

This man is now our president, our representative to the rest of the world.

Anticipating the battles to come, we might be tempted to suit up with an extra, protective layer of righteous indignation. If we’re going to be led by a man who dabbles in horrors, we might decide ahead of time that we’ll have a prophylactic zero tolerance policy against anything and anyone that smacks of his ugly ideals.

But let’s not. Let’s not respond to kneejerk politics by jerking the knee in the other direction. This country isn’t over yet. We’re still writing our history, still making adjustments, still figuring out who we are. Let’s take a clue from Yale, and slow down, do our research, think things through — and above all, not respond to unthinking rhetoric with more unthinking rhetoric.

In an absurdly awful election, where there could be no winning for the American people, we lost. Yes, we did. But that doesn’t mean we need to surrender. We still have time.