Facing the Nightmare: The Threat that is Trump

On Wednesday, February 27, to conclude his testimony to Congress, Michael Cohen said: “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power…” Cohen’s revelations of Trump as possibly threatening the government, the constitution and rule of law with violence, affirms what many of us have suspected ever since he was elected, but it is frightening to see our fears stated so bluntly by someone who knows Trump so well.

 

Cohen is not the first to speak of this threat. Roger Stone warned America in 2017 of “insurrection” if Trump is impeached. Politico reported that Stone said, “Try to impeach him. Just try it. You will have a spasm of violence in this country, an insurrection like you’ve never seen.” This is probably another example of Stone’s political theatre. But, in case anyone still holds the illusion that Trump and most of his supporters value democracy or our constitution, think again. They will do anything they can to intimidate and confuse us.

 

This is, of course, part of the nightmare that is Trump. In 2018, he warned of violence if the GOP lost the midterm elections. When he said this, there was no proof of any planned violence by anyone. So, was he just stressing the stakes for his supporters, saying his opponents will “overturn everything” if the GOP lose Congress? Or was this an attempt to intimidate or to warn Democrats of what he was capable of doing?

 

Was he, as an article by Jonathan Chait in the Intelligencer wrote in November 2018, “tantalizing his supporters with the prospect of bloodshed”? He has often threatened and tried to dehumanize or encourage violence against those who oppose him, labeling them, us, as the “resistance mob” or the “radical resistance.”  …

 

If we want any chance of a future with a substantive choice at the ballot box, or elections without threats of violence, our first priority must not be to support whomever will promise our most dreamed of policies. We must support the candidate who is most likely to defeat Trump and what he stands for.

 

To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project.

Celebrating the Differences

On this day celebrating Martin Luther King Jr., it is important to remember not only the need to fight those who teach hate but to support those who model love. Remembering that we have had powerful leaders in the past who worked successfully to make the world a better place for all of us gives me hope that there will be such leaders again in the near future, and in fact are here, now.

 

One of my favorite quotes of King’s was one that echoes the Buddha and Gandhi, among others: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

 

King was not a perfect person. But there are no “perfect” people. We might feel the pressure, both from ourselves and others, to think we should be perfect. Or that if we aren’t perfect, how could we demand ethical behavior, clarity of thinking, or compassion from politicians? But what King fought for and the fact that he fought is inspirational.

 

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

 

We might think that those who are already social and political leaders must be either absolute saints or absolute sinners. We often want myths, not reality. It can be difficult to admire someone without mythologizing them.

 

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”

 

For example, some people of faith think the rich and powerful are favored by God, and so truth is what erupts from their leader’s mouth. However, when we think of our leaders as greater than us, greater than life, it’s too easy to ignore who they are or what they aim to do. The more real, the more human a leader is, the more we can learn from them. Instead of making a leader greater than us, we need to make ourselves into leaders, or at least informed citizens. We need to learn to examine the implications of policy proposals to determine as best we can what kind of world any leader would create.

 

“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

 

Do we want to “make America great again?” What does ‘great’ mean to T or his followers? From a study of T’s actions, we can see that he is trying to undermine democracy. His aim is to bring our nation back to a time before the Bill of Rights, before the constitution, maybe before the revolution. He wants a nation without a free press, without voting or civil rights, without a balance of powers between different branches of government, and with one-man rule. Or maybe he’s trying for something even worse, a white nationalist kleptocracy in which the rich are not controlled by laws but assume total power over the laws ⎼ something that didn’t even exist here 300 years ago.

 

“Every man must decide if he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the utter darkness of destructive selfishness.”

 

In 1947, in the Morehouse College student newspaper, Martin Luther King wrote: “If we are not careful, our colleagues will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts.” And this is what the Presidency is now teaching. T, along with his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is trying to replace education with propaganda,  public schools with private, a commitment to improving equity and protecting student’s rights and safety with a focus on producing workers desperate for income, open inquiry with religious centered mind-control.

 

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

 

We must not say: “This is awful but does not affect me directly. This is an assault on democracy and this is unjust, but I can live with it.”

 

Instead, we must be aware that: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

 

This is what, and whom, we celebrate today.

 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

 

 

 

*The photo of is of a wall painting of Martin Luther King Jr., in Lake Worth, Florida.

Don’t Let the Party of Grinches Steal Your Holidays

As linguist, cognitive scientist and author George Lakoff has clearly pointed out in his book The All New Don’t Think of An Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, Republicans have too often dictated the terms and imagery of political discourse in our country. It is time for this to stop. Read this book.

 

It was the GOP word machine that branded Conservatives as Populists out to save America from “big government” and “effete, wasteful liberals.” But after this week, and this year, this imagery is no longer going to capture anyone, except for those who have walled themselves off in forts built from right-wing news distortions. After this week’s debacle with the tax-health-care-environment rip off/”scam” bill, we see very clearly that the GOP attack on “big government” is just a way for the wealthy and their paid representatives to steal money from social programs. Americans are discovering new political metaphors that touch more and more people and undermine support for the GOP agenda. The struggle against oppression that we are waging is not just against politicians, but against metaphors and ways of thinking. Here are some metaphors I have heard this week. (If you noticed or created other liberating metaphors, please share them.)

 

Last night, I was listening to MSNBC. Chris Hayes and others were using imagery, with a sweet touch of humor. Humor is always helpful in dealing with a threatening reality, although I don’t feel very amused right now. Mr. T is the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The GOP is the party of Grinches. (This goes back, possibly, to Joe Scarbough’s album of Christmas music.) They are stealing not only Christmas but Hanukah, Kwanzaa, all holidays and vacations for years to come, if their tax bill gets enacted.

 

For those of us not in the dictator class, the cost of living, and health care premiums, will “rise” even more “precipitously” under this new bill than before the ACA. The tax bill will “de-stabilize” health insurance markets. (Some GOP supporters say the premiums for Obamacare are already too high. They should examine the rates before the ACA and look at how the GOP have been trying to increase premiums in order to undermine the Democrat’s program ever since the ACA was passed.) By 2026, when the temporary tax cuts for the middle class and lower class that are in this bill end, it has been predicted that health insurance premiums will be doubled. 83% of the tax cuts in this bill will be for the rich, the would-be dictator class. The GOP is not just trying to steal Christmas; they are stealing the future. They are “looting America.” One of my favorite images is from Bernie Sanders, who talked about the GOP tax plan back in October as “the Robin Hood principle in reverse.” Of course, I always loved the story of Robin Hood.

 

The future the GOP envisions has children suffering without care. About 50% of those on Medicaid are children. Yet, as the debt goes up next year, or the year after that, the party of Grinches is salivating over the chance to cut Medicaid. They have been trying to end this insurance for children, the disabled, the elderly for years. They do not believe it is right for people to help others. They also, somehow, forgot to renew CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program). They will fight for a foetus in the womb, but not a child who’s been born. They also want to cut Medicare and Social Security, to deny most of us the chance to collect our investment and retire with dignity.

 

Many Republicans are trying to reverse the American Revolution, and re-establish one-man rule. One aim of the constitution was to prevent any one person from getting the power of an autocrat. But create an autocracy is exactly what it seems Mr. T and his followers are trying to do. This is what traitors to democracy try to do. They are trying to take away our freedom, take away voting rights and freedom of the press. Going along with this, is the “figurative” assessment by former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, that Putin is treating T as an “asset” or “pawn” of the Kremlin.

 

They claim Dems are stealing their freedom by stopping them from polluting or limiting choices in health care. Well, how free are you if you can’t afford the premiums for health insurance? How free do you feel if you have to choose between paying a medical bill or your rent or food?

 

If you doubt the GOP are trying to reverse the American Revolution, just listen to the sycophantic ceremony of obeisance by Republican congresspeople yesterday. They were fawning over Mr. T for his leadership. Tennessee congresswoman Diane Black said: “Thank you, President Trump, for allowing us to have you as our president.” They sounded like politicians in North Korea giving obeisance to Kim Jong-un. Are Republicans equally afraid of what their ruler might do? Or are they being paid so much they don’t care?

 

They are certainly trying to undermine progressive taxation, which means a tax system that attempts to have those who get more from the economic system pay a higher rate of taxes. It is a way to preserve some power for the great majority of Americans to influence the political process.

 

Last night, Rachel Maddow talked about a report by Politico that there is a secret working group of the GOP in Congress, using material, even classified material, to try to deceive people into thinking the FBI is biased against the president and engaged in a criminal activity. They claim members of the Mueller investigation are so dastardly that a few even gave money to the campaigns of democratic legislators (as if it is only legal and acceptable to give money to the GOP). Ignore the fact that Mueller, McCabe, etc. are Republicans. The GOP claim that the FBI is involved in criminal behavior investigating the President. They talk about “the fix is in.”

 

When Mr. T and other Republicans do something illegal, they deflect. They claim those who oppose them are doing something illegal. They shout “lock her up” when they feel they might, deservedly, be locked up. This is not just Newspeak of 1984. It is the undermining of free speech that happens with dictators. It is Dictator-speech. It is undermining the rule of law speech. It is time to wake up and protest speech.

 

Senator Mark Warner said Republican congresspeople are engaged in “irresponsible” attacks, coordinated with right wing media, and aimed to undermine Mueller and undermine the rule of law. They are dangerous. He warned us to be vigilant. “No one is above the law… It is critical that all of us… speak up against these threats, now, before it’s too late.” Only if we can rise to the occasion will we save ourselves.

 

While I am sharing my outrage with you, another metaphor I’ve heard from more responsible media is that Democrats lack a vision. They are divided. The GOP who have been so divided they couldn’t pass a major piece of legislation until this week, try to influence the news media to say it is the Dems who are divided. They have taken the Dems imagery of the GOP as “The Party of No,” when Barack Obama was president, and turned it on Dems today. “The only thing Dems can unite on,” they claim, is an opposition to T.

 

Well, the Democratic party has, at times, certainly been confused and dastardly. But one thing this week and this year have made abundantly clear is that although both the GOP and DNC operate in the same money-driven system, there is a great difference between them. The DNC is made up of different people with different viewpoints, and underwriters, and many often fail to do what I think is just or reasonable. But I think Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and others have vision. I think most people who identify as Democrats share a vision of freedom, of the right to vote and of a free press. They share a vision where people can disagree without disagreement being criminalized. They support the role of government in caring for fellow humans. Do not forget that it was Democrats (Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton) who largely brought us CHIP (along with Republicans who were not afraid to work “across the aisle”), and it was liberal Democrats who brought us Social SecurityMedicare and Medicaid. Dems actually think science is valuable. Hopefully, we can get the DNC to catch up to Democrats.

 

We need to support politicians who recognize we are all part of the community of humans and we share the neighborhood with other species. Those who oppose the dictatorship of Mr. T and his right-wing followers need to unite, now, in any way possible to preserve the environment of the neighborhood and preserve the right to wander, speak and live freely, justly, in it.

 

So, for the holidays, whichever ones you celebrate, please enjoy, but be vigilant. And remember what has been done this week. Remember and work to support the rights, freedoms, dreams of justice, education, equity, and metaphors that most of us share yet some would squash.

 

 

 

If You’re Not In Control, Who Is?

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘control’? The word ‘control’ can be very ambiguous and slippery. For example, in an English class about ten years ago, a student asked me what I thought was most important to learn. I asked if she meant in school or in life in general. She said both. I replied that there could be several answers to that question. The first thoughts that came to mind were how to love, and then how to pay attention and learn from my own experiences. Then I thought of being able to control or be the master of my self. I asked her what she thought. Instead of answering directly, she responded to my answers. She liked the first but disliked the second.

 

I asked her, “When you hear ‘master of the self,’ what did you hear?”

 

She replied something like: “I hear the word ‘control.’ I hear someone telling me to ‘be in control’ or ‘get yourself together, be more acceptable, fit in. Put up a front. Not let the real me out.’”

 

Another student added, “Being in control is manipulation. My parents do that.’”

 

Another added, “It is fake. So why be in control?”

 

This surprised me and shook me a bit. “If you’re not in control,” I asked, “who is? Or who would you want in control?”

 

One response was “Why be in control?” These students did not want to be the “master” or even in control. “Master” sounded too much like a movie—pompous, or too S&M, joked one student.

 

I can understand not liking the connotation of control as in “control freak” or manipulating, falsifying, or oppressing others. But someone in control is someone who is an authority. An ‘author’ is an originator, the source, the creator of one’s own actions. One student stated that being in control meant speaking and acting their own truth. Many of us agreed with this perspective.

 

In a similar conversation in a Psych class, some students argued against “controlling” the expression of anger. They said to not express anger was oppressive and made it worse. I then asked how they felt when someone got angry at them.

 

“I felt awful.”

 

“Did you feel oppressed,“ I asked?

 

“I felt assaulted, actually. The anger frightened me.”

 

“It inflamed my own anger,” added another student.

 

“So how successful was directly expressing anger in diminishing it?”

 

“Not very.”

 

After a moment of silence, I went on. “Anger can be useful at times, however. But is there a choice other than unconstrained expression of anger and repression?” Students said there was, which we then talked about. To decide what action to take, you do one thing and not another and, thus, you exercise control.

 

There are strains in our culture that mistakenly link throwing off oppression and opposing falsity, with unchecked expression of emotion. That believes freedom is the same as unrestrained action, and the quantity of choices one has is more important than the quality. This view of freedom undermines the sense that each of us has the right and responsibility not only to act when necessary, for our own safety and principles, but to do our best to make our actions appropriate, and serve the well-being, not only of ourselves but others.

 

“Would you be free if you acted on every thought you had? What would happen if you openly acted on every emotion you experienced?” Some joked it would be a relief, different—until they thought about bullying, assaults, road rage, etc. It became clear to students how oppressive the situation would be if they acted on every thought—and how dangerous

 

Even though the testing culture in many schools is making such meaningful discussions more difficult, I think it needs to be done in whatever way teachers can do it, especially after the election. The President models one result of not exercising self-control, and being thoughtless or not caring of how one’s actions affect others. (These discussions might also reveal students who need one-on-one attention.)

 

We all bear a great responsibility to figure out, as best we can, how we, together, shape the fate of the planet and future generations. To do that, we need to study our self and others, to learn how to hear our own interior dialogues, feelings, and sensations, and be a conscious author of who we are. Who do you want in control, a conscious, aware you, or someone else?

 

**Photo by Kathy Morris.

Go Vote! And Consider What It Means To Be Free

We use the word all the time and often get worked up over it, so what does ‘freedom’ mean to you? The meaning has varied greatly amongst different people and times in history. For the early Romans, ‘freedom’ meant not being a slave, or being ruled by a Roman, not an Etruscan. Later on, it meant they could choose the rich Roman to rule them. At the height of Athenian democracy, it meant you could choose not only the rulers but the rules, and any citizen could be a ruler for a day (or lead the Assembly or Athenian Congress), but women and slaves were excluded from such freedoms.

 

Does freedom only involve political choices? Are you free if you can vote for someone to hopefully represent your interests, but in other areas of your life, choices are greatly limited?

 

Is having a choice the only criteria of freedom? My philosophy professor in college, Frithjof Bergmann, asked: What if you have many choices but none of them are meaningful ones? You can chose from twenty or a hundred cell phones or shirts, but none of them are what you really want or none satisfy the deep hunger in you. Or, is it free if you have ten insurance companies to choose from, but you can’t afford any of them, or can’t afford any that provide reasonable coverage? Or is it free if you have only one choice, but it’s a good one? And what if you have hundreds of choices of what to buy, yet the use of resources to provide such a selection shortens your lifespan or shortens the lifespan of humans on the planet?

 

What if your freedom means another person’s oppression? I frequently hear on the news Trump supporters say “now we will be free.” If they own a store, they will find religious freedom, for example, by not serving a gay person or pay for health insurance for a woman who makes the awful decision or medically needs to have an abortion. I had a discussion with a Donald Trump supporter who said one of the things most dear to him is freedom. He said he valued freedom to chose to have health care or not, or which health care provider. He said it was important to have freedom where to send his children to school. He also claimed that if tax money funded public schools, it should also fund charter and religious ones. But what if such policies meant the loss of a quality education for others, or the destruction of resources needed to provide people with the economic support they need to live? Which “freedom” is primary?

 

For many people, freedom means an absence of constraint. You are not locked up in jail, not forced to work in chains. It means, hopefully, that you are recognized as a fellow human being, with rights equal to all others. That is crucial, but is it enough? Defining ‘freedom’ as “not being in chains” is like defining ‘conscious’ as “awake” (not asleep). This is the beginning, not the end. You need to consider how aware you are when awake. And what if you are locked up for defending your principles? Or you “freely” act in ways that cause you and others suffering—is that freedom? Or you act only with your own interests in mind and, thusly, perpetually put yourself at war with all others. Is that freedom?

 

And what if one person out of ten or a hundred owns most of the wealth? Does that limit your freedom if you’re not one of the top 1%? In the US, approximately 1% of the population owns 60% of the wealth. When that happens, it means the richest people pay a smaller percentage of their wealth in taxes. It certainly means they have a much larger spendable income. Thus, they have more money to influence the political process, and less money is available for the infrastructure, health care, education, environment, emergency services and first responders, etc. that serve all of us. In the 1950s and 60s, the US economy was greatly expanding, but income tax rates for the rich were two – three times higher. As taxes go down on the wealthy, expenses go up for the majority. If you must work two jobs and have little “free” time, or spend most of your income to pay your bills, is that freedom?

 

Figuring out what freedom means is more complex that many realize. It is a great question for a teacher to raise with students, or a parent with children. My high school students loved such discussions. Not only what is freedom, but why is it important? If it is so hard to define, should it always be paired with love or compassion or equity? To me, it means not controlled by someone else’s interests, and not feeling stuck, confused, or lacking, not locked inside yourself so you can’t feel or respond to the suffering of others. To rule yourself, you must know your own mind, and be honest with yourself. As much as you can, you are aware of your own emotions and thoughts. You can’t act freely in the world if you don’t constantly expand your breadth and depth of understanding of it, and can’t feel the humanity of those people around you.

 

One basic freedom we have is to vote and participate in the political process in very basic ways. So, we need to use it, and as wisely as possible, or think about the consequences of losing it.

 

 

*This is a slightly amended version of a blog I posted earlier in the week.

*If you are in Ithaca, NY this weekend, I will be giving a talk on my book, Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy, and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching, on Saturday, November 12th, at 2:00 pm at Barnes & Noble.

Freedom Of Mind

In 1969, after being in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone for about four months, I was unsure if I was doing the right thing. I felt a personal sense of isolation. The culture was so different from what I had previously known. And I was only 22. I wasn’t sure that I knew enough to teach anything useful to my students. I took a trip one weekend to visit a colleague. There was no public transportation. To get anywhere, you hitchhiked or flagged down a lorry. I was at a crossroads and a man came to speak with me. After greeting each other, he asked where I was from. I told him. He asked how long I planned to be in Sierra Leone. I said that I wasn’t sure. I admitted that I felt like leaving. He said: “You can’t leave yet. You taught us how to eat with spoons. You can’t leave until you teach us how to make them.”

 

This story is very similar to a quote, of disputed origin, which is popular now but I didn’t know back then. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Instead of doing something for someone, teach him how to do it himself. The quote has also been interpreted in other ways, for example, as speaking about the value of teaching technological or employable skills. However, I think it is primarily about independence of mind. Knowing how to make the spoons you use frees you from dependence on other manufacturers. Knowing how to make your own choices frees you from mental dependence. It is mental freedom that is most important.

 

Learning a skill, like fixing cars or repairing computers or writing stories can be glorious. Career readiness is important. Many people think, as reflected in the Common Core, that the first priority of schools should be college and/or career readiness. However, without an equal concern with state of mind and social skills, this emphasis can teach students to focus in the wrong place, on some idea of the future instead of on what they are doing right now. Students can feel that being in school is not real living, and thus distance themselves from their own education and actions. If now isn’t real life, why care about consequences? And without the understanding that each moment is both real and important, students might feel that “real life” might never arrive. Learning is a moment-by-moment process, which is obstructed when the future, the imagined product, is valued over the process.

 

So, what exactly does freedom of mind mean to you? To me, it means having this broader perspective. ‘Freedom’ is the opposite of being controlled by someone else’s interests. It is the opposite of being restricted, stuck, bound or feeling lacking in some way, unless those bounds are mindfully self-imposed in order to accomplish some important goal, for example.  It means you think and act readily and fluidly. You rule yourself. To rule yourself, you need to know your own mind. To know your own mind you need to know how to think clearly and ask appropriate questions. It means understanding and being aware of your emotions and thoughts, so you know when your thinking and perception is distorted and how to let go of that distortion. It means that you can understand and thus better deal with the difficulties that arise in life. It means understanding how you create a sense of happiness and satisfaction. You can have all the academic and job skills most schools teach; yet, what does it matter if you never feel good about or satisfied with your life?

 

To rule yourself also means that you are free even from your idea of freedom. It’s not the idea that you want but what lies underneath it. An idea is not the same as nor as deep or complex as the reality it tries to describe. As I said in an earlier blog, your description of the taste of an orange is never as delicious as actually tasting an orange. The underlying reality is your ability to know, taste, change, and feel. It is the fact that you are never isolated from the world no matter how isolated you may feel.

 

Ruling yourself requires that you are attentive to how you influence others and they influence you. This requires empathy and the ability to hear other people’s viewpoints. So, when you find yourself holding so tightly to an idea or concept that your very identity or sense of security is dependent on it, focus instead on your awareness of what you are doing and with whom you are doing it. Realize that freedom of mind is the ability to perceive clearly and act fluidly, adaptively, in a harmonious relationship between your own mind and heart and that of others and the world.

 

When you combine the limited job situation in the U. S., the debt many college students accrue in order to get a diploma, and the habit of focusing on the future over the present, it is easy to understand why graduates can be filled with fear and anxiety once that future arrives. College graduates having difficulty finding a satisfying, well-paying job might easily feel something is lacking in them, their options greatly limited, or their lives held hostage by debt, afraid to speak out and take chances. A life aimed mostly at an imagined future only teaches you to live an idea, not a reality, and so misses the point of education–to learn how to live a good life, contributing to the reduction of suffering in the world. When you understand your mind, you realize there is nothing lacking in you. Only an education that fosters this understanding of mind is truly an education in freedom. And this needs to be made a central focus of schools and the Common Core.

 

 

*The photo is from Maui.