Trying to Read the Tea Leaves in the News

It seems that a dramatic, and hopefully not too traumatic, time is approaching. A time where either a greatly anticipated dream or dreaded nightmare will be enacted before us and weave the lives of all of us into its plotline. There is so much going on it is difficult to digest or keep it all together. Here is my attempt to try to understand at least a portion of what is happening so maybe we can bring about more of the anticipated dream and end the nightmare.

 

First, there’s Mueller, an apparently intrepid, moral, hard working person, a military hero, a Republican dedicated to the rule of law and to his responsibility to find the truth, seemingly heading closer and closer to finding that truth and completing his investigation. So many of us hope he will provide the answer we anticipate. But will he?

 

Secondly, there is the evidence provided by the more centrist and progressive news media (media that uses a variety of sources to cross-check the veracity of information they publish), and from Trump himself, of collusion with Russians to interfere in his election. He has, for example, bragged to Russians about firing Comey to ease pressure on the investigation of Michael Flynn. We have multiple campaign and administration figures with ties to Russia that they lied about, at least four (Manafort, Prince, Flynn and Kushner) trying to establish hidden communications with Russian government figures, and some of the same people and others working to acquire and release stolen emails. Yet, Mr. trump says there was no interference or collusion and thus he threatens our democracy. We have Cambridge Analytica, who was hired by the Trump campaign to help with their social media campaign, stealing information from Facebook in order to better spread misleading social media posts. And who knows what the investigations into Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels will yet reveal.

 

We have so many examples of obstruction of justice by this administration, of interfering with and trying to undermine the rule of law and the institutions meant to enforce the law, that our minds are reeling. We have Trump attempting to fire Mueller and succeeding in firing Comey and McCabe, threats against Rosenstein, attacks on Jeff Sessions as Attorney General for not protecting him, and for not prioritizing the President’s well-being over the Attorney General’s sworn duty to the American people.

 

Trump, apparently, not only interfered with the Mueller investigation but put pressure on the DOJ and the Inspector General to create counter-investigations of Hillary, McCabe, Comey and even President Obama. In other words, not only does he lie about what he does, but he famously counter-attacks. He tries not only to dehumanize but actually destroy the lives of those who disagree with or oppose him. Democracy depends on political figures being able to compromise and work with even those they disagree with. Not this administration. As Comey said it: “Americans need to stand up and realize that… We can have ferocious disagreements about all kinds of issues, but we shouldn’t have any disagreement about what is at the core of America, which is a common set of values.”

 

And right-wing media, like Fox News and Breitbart, acts as the voice of the right-wing, supporting and sometimes directing Trump’s mission (he often seems to repeat lines and misinformation supplied by Fox news figures), obscuring and attacking the Mueller investigation. They have claimed all the evidence from the CIA and FBI, not exactly leftist or progressive strongholds, are all faked, and continue to shout “Lock her up” when possibly the most corrupt politician to ever lead this nation struts around the stage of history. According to a report by Politico in January, Russian trolls are taking advantage of this by spreading Fox News stories to derail the Mueller investigation.

 

We have corruption, nepotism, and the President profiting financially from his position to a degree never seen before in this country. The Economist magazine called it “monetizing the Presidency.” He has made millions from GOP, foreign governments, etc. holding meetings and staying at Trump owned properties. He gets money every time he vacations at Mar-A-Lago and his other resorts. And that is just the beginning. Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the bipartisan organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) said Trump’s first year in office “was the least ethical first year of any presidential administration in modern history.”

 

Last week Trump, once again, hired new lawyers, namely Rudy Giuliani, Jane Raskin, and Marty Raskin. Giuliani claims he will negotiate an end to the Mueller investigation in weeks. Trump  must be feeling the heat. However, many Republicans in Congress are still colluding with Trump to undermine the FBI and Mueller—but not all Republicans. A rare few have recently developed a conscience and backbone. There are bipartisan bills in both the House and Senate to protect Mueller. And Tom Steyer is not the only prominent figure calling for impeachment.

 

Yet, even some supposedly liberal media, as well as Democratic politicians like Cory Booker (D-NJ), have been warning Democrats that calling for impeachment, at least before all the “facts are in,” would hurt the party in the next election and cause even more political division. The evidence is not clear. Polls cite, believe it or not, increasing support for Trump. Yet, according to CNN, at least 43 House Republicans have announced retirement, more than in any recent Congress, and Democrats have been winning  a great majority of this year’s special elections. I guess it’s possible to create even more division in this country—but is it true that running on a platform calling for impeachment would undermine the Democrat’s efforts to defeat Republicans? Or is it some sort of spin to stop the Democratic party from getting too progressive?

 

Rosenstein said last week that Trump was not a target of the Mueller investigation (at that point?).  And Comey, a conservative Republican, said that he thinks Trump should be removed from office by the voters, in 2020, not impeached. Comey said in an interview with NBC, that impeaching Trump wouldn’t solve the present crisis. He claims we need a total political “reset.”

 

I realize that impeachment will not only be difficult to accomplish but will elevate the drama. But can we afford to wait to 2020? Can our psyches stand it? Can our democracy, the environment, the economy, and our position in the world endure his actions much longer? By 2020 he might have undermined the democracy so completely, undermined voting and civil rights and the legal system so deeply, given so much money to the super-rich, colluded with Russians so effectively, that we will no longer be even a shadow of a democracy.

 

And how much should the left and center reach out to the right? I think our economic interests, at least, are very similar. But will those who support Trump ever accept the fact of his corruption and possibly traitorous collusion with a Russian dictator? Or should the emphasis for Democrats be on exposing and reversing the policies the super-rich have been using for years, policies like the recent GOP tax cut, to steal wealth from the middle and lower classes to give it to themselves, and thus undermine the quality of life for millions?

 

I can’t read tealeaves and don’t know what will happen. I only know what I want to happen, and even that is filled with holes and contradictions. And I also know what I feel. I know I will have to be more alert, more able to calmly analyze what I hear, and more ready to act than I ever did before the 2016 election.

 

This moment can be seen as a call to courage, not unlike the call to adventure that is so common in literature, mythology, and movies, the moment when a character steps forward into the unknown to meet a challenge and thus grows into a full and mature person. In real life, it is never just one call. And there are so many of us—all the secondary school students opposing gun violence, all the women in the “me-too” movement, all those people who have gone to the streets and the phones. When we get down emotionally, maybe thinking of those others who are with us and need us will be helpful. This moment is a call to all people with a heart, a conscience, and a willingness to see the humanity of others, to act for the common good. To act to protect the Mueller investigation, to get people out to vote in November, and to do what we can to stop this administration’s assault on the lives of a great majority of us.

Overcoming A Fear of Awareness

In these times, how much awareness can you allow yourself? Too much awareness can feel alarming.

 

Recently, a friend told me mindfulness does not work for him. He has asthma and the last thing he wants to do is focus on his breath. Asthma can be so frightening and painful. But focusing on the breath is only one possible point of focus for mindfulness practice. There is a whole universe to focus on.

 

You can focus on something that is easy or enjoyable for you to think about, like the feel of your hands resting in your lap, or your butt touching the chair as you sit in it, or your feet resting on the floor. Or noticing whatever sensation is arising in your body or thought in your mind.  You can focus on an image of your favorite tree or what it means to have a favorite or to be favored. You can focus on an image of a clear and open sky or what it feels like to have an open mind. You can focus on what arises in you when you think of a particular person, or what happens inside you when you are in love.

 

Instead of focusing on awareness of the breath, for example, you might examine your response to simply being aware in that particular moment. What is the quality of your awareness now? Is it jittery or calm, tired or deep? When you have painful memories, you not only fear the object remembered—you fear the feeling that accompanies the memory. You fear fear. Whatever it is that has caused pain in the past is not the primary cause of your suffering. The response to the memory is the primary cause. So make your response your focal point.

 

Fear is both an emotion that can save your life or turn you away from it. It can shake you, but a shaken being either opens its eyes wider or closes them, depending on how vigorous the vibration and how you interpret it.

 

When anything is too frightening or difficult to focus on, you can shift your focus to analyzing the components of the emotion. You then shift your mind from being fearful to being analytical. Notice where in your body you feel what you feel. Notice if any sensations or thoughts arise. Notice how the feelings come and go. Certain thoughts might increase the fear, while others, or the absence of thought, might quiet the fear.

 

When you think you can’t do something, and fear or self-doubt is doing the thinking instead of more rational appraisal, practice how to shift from “I can’t,” or “I am not open to this,” to being open. Bring up in your mind the sense of “I can,” and the sense of open observation. Ask yourself: Was there ever a time that I felt I could overcome any obstacle? Was there ever a time that I openly examined some object, person, or idea? What did it feel like to openly observe or think about something? Or: What does it mean, and what does it feel like, to be courageous and able to face whatever arises in your life?

 

Mindfulness means clear observation, or moment-by-moment awareness of whatever arises for you. It is about letting things be whatever they are so you can know whatever is there. It is to treat your own thoughts, perceptions and feelings as valuable sources of learning. Thus, to say mindfulness does not work for you is to say observation does not work for you, or knowing your own mind or world does not work for you.

 

A Mindfulness Practice:

 

Sit up in a chair in a comfortable and stable position, in a place that feels safe for you. Close your eyes now or in a minute or so, or let your eyes rest on the floor a few feet in front of you. Place your attention on your feet resting on the floor. Feel how heavy or light your feet feel, how hot or cold.  You might sense your feet gently expanding, and then contracting, pressing against your shoes or socks, then letting go, relaxing, just resting where they are.

 

And then let come to mind an image or memory of a courageous action, maybe one of your own, or one you witnessed or read about. What was the courageous act? Who did it? What made it courageous?

 

Think about what courage means to you. Does courage have to be dramatic, like in some movies? Or can it be something simple, like sticking up for someone, speaking out, or doing something you never did before?

 

What does it feel like to be courageous? Imagine feeling courageous. Imagine feeling that you could face whatever it is that arises in your life. Just sit for a moment with the feeling of courage.

 

You can practice this exercise on your own or with others. You can record yourself slowly reading the above as a script and then play it back for yourself. If you’re a teacher or a parent, after researching and practicing this and other mindfulness techniques on an ongoing basis, you can lead your students or children in the practice.

 

This exercise is a simple form of mindfulness combined with inquiry. It can help you be more aware of your thoughts and feelings, of how your mind works, and how to more deeply engage with and enjoy the world. I hope it works for you.

The Wasteland of Today

“April is the cruelest month, breeding

            Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

            Memory and desire, stirring

            Dull roots with spring rain.

 

So begins The Waste Land, by T. S. Eliot, first published in 1922. It is considered a landmark, one of the most important poems of the twentieth century.  I disagree profoundly with the author’s political and religious beliefs, yet find the imagery truly beautiful and able to reflect today’s world in startling ways.

 

During this hard winter of 2018, I long for spring, but fear it will never come—or, even worse, fear that the meaning of spring will be forever violated. I think of spring as renewal, as a “sea of green” (Beatles) pushing out the “dull roots”(T. S. Eliot). I might be reminded of old memories and longings. But what I see around me, politically and otherwise, is a modern version of the kingdom of the mythical, wounded Fisher King described in Eliot’s poem. ……”

 

This post, originally written in February, was published yesterday by OTV Magazine. To read the whole post, click on this link. Enjoy.

Facing Nightmares and Healing the Wounded World

I am tired of my computer. Like many of you, I go to my email and there are 150 – 250 a day, most asking for money or to save something like, well, the air we breathe or the water we drink, or whales or forests or planned parenthood or NPR or freedom of speech or the right to vote or a public education or our children from gun violence. Nothing important. So I get caught up, reading and checking on what I read, and sign petitions, send emails, or call politicians. And before I know it, two hours have passed. It feels like days have passed.

 

And during all this time, I haven’t talked to or held one physically present human being. Except sometimes, a real person answers a politician’s phone. And we chat, or mostly I chat and say what’s on my mind or ask a question. And if the other person is polite, even if I was angry to begin with, I thank the person and wish him or her a nice day. Because I want a nice day. I want change to happen. But it hasn’t. Not yet.

 

And digital social media can be fun and helpful, but also another tremendous time drain. Several people I know have said they’re taking a temporary or permanent FB sabbatical. I understand. When I’m on social media (which I only do on my desktop, never on my phone—I do have limits), I often notice, like my friends on a sabbatical, a subtle sense of distance from myself. Especially when I look at news shares, I get impatient, and the world can feel like it’s spinning so quickly it’s about to spin out of control.

 

So I ask myself, when I feel an impulse to turn to any social media platform, “Why do I want to do this now? Is it simply habit?” Developing a pause or gap between impulse and response can give us more insight into our behavior and control. How often, once we’re on FB or wherever, do we ask ourselves: “How do I feel now? Do I feel my life has been enhanced, my compassion deepened?” Practicing mindfulness of feelings and thoughts can help reduce both media usage and anxiety, both for adults and children. In fact, without such mindfulness we can contribute to our own oppression, by undermining our ability to think clearly and feel how to create a fulfilling life.

 

But no matter how difficult it is to face, our political world is spinning, and many of us are getting dizzy and angry from it. It is not a delusion or anxiety nightmare. Our civil rights and the remnants of democracy are threatened and are quickly being taken away. The earth itself is wounded and threatened as our water, parks and public lands are sold off for the gain of a few, and the safeguards on public health and safety undermined or violated. The level of corruption and nepotism is beyond anything ever seen before in this country.

 

So, I might complain about all the emails and calls, but what I really want is Trump impeached and his policies stopped. The nightmare is real, but we can’t afford to treat it as only a nightmare. We can’t run or hide or go on a sabbatical from politics. Like the monsters from nighttime nightmares, when they’re faced, political monsters turn into frightened, vulnerable weaklings—although even weaklings can bite. Even though hearing Trump’s or Ryan’s voice might make us feel sick or angry, when we face what’s happening politically, or when we make calls, march, vote, or whatever, we can feel more of a sense of power. We can feel how much the history of the moment flows through us.

 

We can slow the spinning world and turn the nightmare into something we can work on, face, and, with the help of others, alter. The world, even though it’s wounded, can heal. So, let’s work together on healing the world and ending this nightmare.

The Selves We Don’t See Walking Beside Us

We are all so much deeper than we usually think we are. Not only do we change physically, and constantly, but who looks out from our eyes at any moment of our life changes.

 

I look out my window and the scene appears to be one I’ve seen countless times before. It is familiar, almost banal. Or I walk down a street, in the town where I have worked, shopped, visited friends, and have lived for 45 years. I see shapes and colors, hear sounds, feel the hardness of the sidewalk beneath my feet, but rarely notice my personal or our collective past in the windows, trees, and buildings of the present. I don’t see Ancient Rome in the columns of storefronts or the Holocaust in the doorknob of my home. But it’s there.

 

I recently started reading Elizabeth Rynecki’s book, Chasing Portraits: A Great-Granddaughter’s Quest for Her Lost Art Legacy. The book helped me see how the past exists in and frames the present. The book tells a rich story of hunting down the extensive collection of over 800 paintings and sculptures created by her great grandfather during the 1920s and 1930s in Poland, until he was murdered by Nazis in the Majdanek concentration camp. His work was sometimes stolen, certainly scattered by the war and Holocaust. The art brings alive for us a world now almost entirely destroyed, and which only a few of us can see in our minds but all of us breathe.

 

At one point, Rynecki’s grandfather is telling her a story from the war, and she suddenly realizes “how important, and yet ephemeral” are his stories. She listens, she hears, and then she feels how tenuous the story is. It depends on memory, which can disappear as suddenly as it appears.

 

And I immediately thought of my Dad, who died recently. My Dad, like Rynecki’s grandfather, was not only a beloved person, but a gateway to another world. Not only to a different time but to a different way of being, a way of being that relatives of mine had lived. Just like Rynecki, I feared forgetting his stories and thus losing the connection to this other world.

 

My Dad, as he neared his death, shared stories more and more often, as if he wanted us to carry his memories for him. I think he knew the power of stories to assist recall and carry life beyond death. He told us about his own grandfather, a caretaker of a forest in a Russian land so cold in winter a naked finger would freeze in moments. He told us about an aunt and uncle who blew up trains in the early part of the Russian Revolution. He told us about working in the US war department, where one of his jobs was to write instruction manuals to help soldiers use radar equipment—yet he never, ever saw or worked any such equipment himself. He just read other manuals and used his reason and imagination to write more easily understood instructions.

 

He told us stories about protests during the early 1930s, during the depression, to push for federal programs like Social Security. He told us about how his love for my Mom began, when they were both in high school, and which continued even after her death 71 years later.

 

Such stories make the world come alive for me, make the depth of my history come more alive. Even when the reality is horrific, hearing of my connection to it wakes me up, gives me a sense of power, that somehow history is not just a collection of facts and dates but a current that runs through me and all of us.

 

The more depths we perceive, the more sources of strength we discover. Understanding or at least knowing of our past can free us, not by glorifying or trying to resurrect it or by letting it dictate our present, but by expanding how much of what influences us we perceive. Only by perceiving and knowing what influences our way of understanding the world can we begin to act with any freedom in it. Only with such understanding can we see how each moment of our life is born out of the womb of the past but lives, as a unique creation, as the present.

 

Rynecki’s story, as I read it, touches my own, yet is so different. It is familiar yet unique. It is her story, yet it is, in some mysterious way, my own. Not only because I, too, am Jewish, but because I, too, am human.

 

*For those who celebrate Passover or Easter, I wish you a great holiday.

Madness, Immorality, or Greed? Facing the Hard Truth of Trump’s Presidency

At any moment over the past year and a quarter, you could listen to the news and marvel at or be sickened by the ignorance, immorality, greed, or insanity of the pronouncements of Trump and many of his GOP supporters. And I don’t just mean tweets like “my button is bigger than yours” with the leader of North Korea. I mean his statements on health care, political protests, media coverage, the FBI, Charlottesville, immigration, the Russia investigation, Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, etc. I mean the whole pattern of what is taken for the policies of this administration is based on ignorance of oneself and one’s place in the world.

 

This blog was just published by OTV, Open Thought Vortex literary magazine. To read the whole post, please follow this link.

Facing Pain and Aging Mindfully

On Tuesday, March 13th, I will have hip replacement surgery. The surgeon predicts it will take about three weeks before I can drive, two-three months to heal fully.

 

So, I am declaring myself on vacation. I feel better approaching surgery as a vacation then as a dreaded time of suffering. I realize it’s important, in difficult times especially, to be nice to myself. For the next few weeks or more, instead of feeling an obligation to publish a blog or story each week, or do any business-type activities, I will do it only when it feels right. I have a blog prepared for March 21st (for the online magazine, Open Thought Vortex), but before or after that—who knows. I will most probably miss writing, miss you as an audience, so I don’t know how long my “vacation” will last. It rarely lasts long.

 

Despite the joy of a vacation, I am not looking forward to this. I have been through similar surgeries before. I already have a new knee and hip and had hand and wrist surgery last June. And, as with the previous surgeries, I became sort of used to the pain—sort of. It is hard to believe I really need to do this. I can get around and do almost everything—as long as I’m careful.

 

I find this interesting. The pain was diagnosed a year and a half ago, and I put off surgery. In the end of January, just five weeks ago or so, I had a new x-ray. The surgeon said the hip is now bone against bone, causing my whole body to strain to compensate; I couldn’t put off the surgery any longer. Once I heard that, the hip became even more painful for a few days.

 

I also realize that I feel more vulnerable this time because of the political situation. Much of this nation feels constantly under threat, so it’s no wonder that a surgery would just add to the dread.

 

When I was recovering from the wrist surgery, I used a mindful approach to pain management, which has also been helpful with my hip. I thought of pain as an opportunity to better understand how my mind and body works. I am allergic to most of the usual pain medications, and had to rely only on Motrin and Tylenol, so I had a rich field of study. When pain arose, I breathed it in—if I could. I noticed whatever was there for me—how the beliefs and expectations I held influenced the sensations I felt. My response to the pain influenced how much I suffered from it. When I let go of the thoughts and images, and focused on the breath, the pain sensations moved to the periphery of awareness, and lessened in strength. Without resistance, pain decreased. It became one sensation among others. My response went from flight-fight-freeze to something a bit more open, more relaxed. I hope to do that again after this surgery.

 

I have also accumulated a few good movies and books to enjoy. And I am forever grateful that I still have good health insurance. On Tuesday, please wish for me a good result, a healing. Thank you and may you be well.

 

*Many Buddhist teachers write about how to face pain, or face whatever. Pema ChodronShinzen Young, and Jon Kabat-Zinn are three authors whose wonderful books I can recommend.

**My friend Eileen Ain recommended Peggy Huddleston’s Relaxation/Healing CD.

Compassion Develops the Strength to Reach Even to Our Enemies—Sometimes: Compassion Does Not Rob You of Power But Multiplies It

“…You can’t argue others free from their viewpoints. But if you can find the strength to embrace your own values and humanity and, yet, recognize and feel for the suffering of those others, maybe they will recognize your own. If you can disagree with others without dehumanizing them, maybe they will begin to listen to what you need to say. Maybe. But certainly, you will grow stronger and learn how to speak more clearly from the effort. Compassion does not rob you of power but multiplies it.”

This post was published by the Good Men Project. To read the whole post, click on this link.

Mindful Listening: Only If You Listen Can You Hear

I had a discussion with a friend yesterday. I made what I thought was a logical and possibly obvious suggestion to help him with a difficult problem he was facing. The result was my friend yelling back at me all the reasons not to do what I suggested—and then apologizing.

I realized he wasn’t arguing with me but himself. He was shouting back against the universe that had sent him the problems, hoping the vehemence of his objection would obliterate the reality. So today, when he brought up the topic again, I just listened, sometimes asking questions to check if I understood, and empathizing with him. The result: he came to his own conclusions.

I’ve seen this dynamic many times in the classroom. Students often argue a point not because they truly believe it, but because they don’t want to believe it. They hear something from friends or family and don’t want it to be true and want you or the class to argue them free of it. They might feel conceptually stuck and want a way out. They might say there is no such thing as love, for example, or all actions are selfish, because they fear a life without love or they have been hurt by the selfishness of friends, and don’t want to feel their own lives are meaningless.

This post was published by mindfulteachers.org. To read the whole post, please follow this link to their website.

The Politics of Gun Violence and Fear

This gun violence must stop. In the past, the gun-reform sentiment only lasted in the media for a few weeks after a violent attack. This time, we must keep up the pressure for change. For what needs changing is not only gun policy.

 

On Tuesday, February 20, on the MSNBC show “The Last Word,” Lawrence O’Donnell said that when teachers go back to school, none of them will know if they will be faced with the possibility of taking a bullet for their students. When they go back, it will be an act of “pure heroism.” The same for students. Going to school, getting an education in this new USA, takes an act of courage. Corporate media and many politicians have been deriding, attacking teachers for years, beginning with President Reagan. But now we see the true grit of educators.

 

But it’s not just teachers and students who are increasingly being forced to eat a diet laced with fear. It’s all of us. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine talks about increased rates of fear and anxiety in our nation. It mentions research by the Southern Poverty Law Center about increased incidents of harassment and intimidation, most commonly in K-12 schools. Others speak of a new disorder: Trump Affective Disorder or Trump Anxiety.

 

A new Quinnipiac poll shows 66% of Americans favor stricter gun laws, 67% favor a ban on assault weapons, 29% oppose it. This sentiment includes some Republicans, even gun owners. According to a poll by Morning Consult and Politico, 88% of Americans back the idea of better background checks. 76% support a waiting period after a firearms purchase and creating a database of gun sales. But some clearly don’t want any regulation. Some clearly do not want the fear and anger that sometimes causes and often follows gun violence to stop.

 

Fear sells guns. Fear sells votes to those willing and craven enough to exploit and create it. Fear creates social breakdown that can be exploited politically.

 

If guns could calm violence and fear, the U. S. would be the safest and calmest nation on earth. We have the highest rate of gun ownership in the world. According to Wikipedia, there are 101 guns per 100 residents. The US is the richest nation in the world. According to NPR, individually, in terms of education and income, we rank number nine. But in terms of deaths due to gun violence, we are number 31. That is eight times higher than Canada, for example. The US makes up 5% of the world’s population, but holds 31% of mass shooters globally. Gun homicide rates are 25.2 times higher in the US than in other high-income nations.

 

If gun ownership promoted peacefulness and a reduction in gun violence, the states that enacted new Stand Your Ground legislation would have fewer incidents of gun violence since the new legislation was passed. But that is not the case. Take Florida, for example, which passed a Stand Your Ground law in 2005. Since then, according to statistics provided by Safehome and crimeadviser.com, there has been a 32% increase in gun-related homicides. “Southern states along the Mississippi River have consistently reported some of the highest rates of firearm deaths.” One thing all of these states share, besides cultural similarities, is that none of them require a license or permit to buy a gun.

 

If gun ownership reduced violence, then passing legislation allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns would lead to a decrease in violent crime. In fact, according to an interview by NPR of Stanford Law Professor and researcher on gun ownership and violence, John Donohue, “the net effect of allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns was an increase in violent crime.”

 

Yet, what does the President and other GOP politicians call for? Arming teachers, bringing more guns to school. That will certainly improve open class discussion. Lawrence O’Donnell says this idea is like a fantasy war game. It is a call for teachers to take on and be trained for an extra job, of a police officer. Trump says maybe 20% (10-40%) of teachers should have guns, which means arming about 700,000 of them (there are about 3.6 million k-12 teachers in the US). That means selling possibly 700,000 guns, plus ammunition⎼and why not body armor? More money for gun manufacturers and the NRA. Just a few weeks ago, he had proposed cutting money for school safety and the education budget and now says he will give a “little bit of a bonus” to teachers who are armed? Where will the money come from? Arts funding (already cut back), maybe school nurses and counselors or after school programs (already cut)—or Medicaid? Social Security? Certainly not from tax cuts to the rich.

 

Fear sells guns. Trump talked of the “American carnage” in his Inaugural address and said the US is in the midst of a crime wave requiring more arrests and harsher penalties, not only for violent, but nonviolent crime (not including white collar or political crimes). This statement runs counter to statistics showing a substantial decline in crime from the early 1990s to 2016. More fear is what T wants.

 

In the past two years, there has been a 7% increase in gun ownership according to the Pew Research Center. According to Fox News, this is most likely an underestimate. In a survey by Zogby Analytics, 35% of gun owners told pollsters that it was none of their business to inquire into gun ownership. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System shows that the number of gun purchases has exploded, almost doubling from 2008 – 2015. Profits for gun sales and the NRA have increased dramatically since Sandy Hook.

 

Fear undermines the politics of mutual concern and replaces it with nativism and hate. Instead of supporting education and science, it supports privatization and militarization. “Beware the military-industrial complex,” said the man who led the US troops in WW II, Dwight D. Eisenhower. I add: Beware those who would turn this nation and its resources over to the overly rich. Beware those who use fear to create political division and polarization.

 

Right wing conspiracy theorists and media have been attacking, sometimes harassing, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for speaking out against gun violence. The students have been accused of being coached, or even of being actors hired by the FBI. This right-wing media is followed by about one third of the population, which will not read what it regards as “fake news” by “liberal” media. According to a new study by Oxford University, the “extreme hard-right” shared more fake news stories than all other groups combined. This fake news aims to fuel not only fear but also hate. For example, when anyone calls for real gun regulation, the NRA and right wing media spread fear, claiming Democrats are trying to end the second amendment, and take away their guns and freedom. This fear of Democrats or “liberal media” serves the overly rich in their drive to exhaust the resources of this nation for personal gain. The GOP tax plan, for example, gives the rich in this country, according to the Tax Policy Center, 83% of its tax cuts. By 2027, 53% of Americans will pay more in taxes than they did in 2016, and none of those people will be a high-income earner. Yet, those overly fearful will never allow themselves to see this information.

 

Gun violence fuels fear, polarization, and militarization. It undermines democratic institutions, clear thinking and empathy. Effective measures not only of gun control, but which promote more economic equity and community cohesion, must be found and utilized to decrease the hold of gun violence and halt the assault on democratic values in this nation. Instead of undermining the work of public school teachers, we need to increase support and recognition for them.