America’s Sacred Cows Make Delicious Hamburgers

There has always been great tension between America’s founding principles and our reality. 

We’re the land of opportunity in which wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few. We’re the land of equality in which our Black citizens, whose ancestors were brought here in chains, are routinely denied the vote and killed by the police. We’re the land of the free in which the bulk of the world’s prisoners reside, many for nonviolent offenses. We’re the land of the brave in which white fear is manipulated to win elections. And we’re the land of religious freedom in which Muslims are banned.

Our religious freedom myth, in particular, has always bothered me. Can you imagine a U.S. president who was a Buddhist, Muslim, or Atheist? In order to qualify for the highest office in our country, there’s an assumption that one must embrace religion—specifically, Christianity.  Even those who never attend church are forced into a faith pantomime, saying “God bless” this, that, and the other. 

The most pious states even fight for creationism to be taught side-by-side with the theory of evolution in public schools. And abortion—rather than being accepted as a medical procedure as it is in other developed countries—has been warped into an all-consuming political tool to ossify that timeless dialectic: the Christian conservatives on one side and the Godless progressives on the other. 

Sure, there are some churches who eschew the divisive rhetoric and preach love, acceptance, and charity. But from where I stand, American Christian values have done much harm.

Christianity has been used: 

  • To justify slavery. It was argued that the Black sons of Ham were predestined to serve white America.
  • To suppress women. In many Christian sects, wives must submit to their husbands.
  • To persecute our LGBTQ+ community. How many “Christians” have kicked out their gay children or sent them to abusive conversion therapy camps?
  • To justify the theft of land. The baseless theory of “manifest destiny” devastated ancient Native American cultures and populations.

James Baldwin said it best in The Fire Next Time: “It is not too much to say that whoever wishes to become a truly moral human being…must first divorce himself from all the prohibitions, crimes, and hypocrisies of the Christian church. If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, it is time we got rid of Him.”

On the whole, the American Christian God has not made us “larger, freer, or more loving.” And our stubborn Puritan roots have been used to restrain normal human pleasures. To paraphrase Abbie Hoffman: this sacred cow of exclusion, pleasure-denial, and hate will make the most delicious of hamburgers. 

Consider this: American adults tend to be dishonest about the delights of sex and drugs when talking to their children. You still with me? It’s as if telling kids the truth will lead them to lives of sin. 

But what if I told you that the U.S. has so many teenage pregnancies and substance abuse problems precisely because of its overcritical attitude toward sex and drugs? That our Puritan values have backfired? That we’d actually be better off if we were more honest with young inquisitive minds? 

A portrait of my teenage American excess

With sex work and drug use, for example, there’s abundant evidence that pulling these modern realities out of the shadows leads to better outcomes. Decriminalizing prostitution and substance use could help remove the stigma surrounding both and reduce the non-violent prison population.

Stifling or ignoring parts of human existence leads to their more dangerous expression. It’s the difference between a legal brothel with regular STD testing and an unregulated operation where sex workers have no recourse for abuse. It’s the difference between injecting drugs in a safe space with a clean needle and shooting up in the corner of a decaying tenement. I argue that it’s also the difference between a teenage girl who isn’t ashamed about the pleasure of sex and a middle-aged woman who still hasn’t had an orgasm. 

When we bake our American religious shame into normal human pleasures, we deny ourselves growth and experience. 

The same goes for non-vices such as gender identity. If we had more evolved attitudes toward gender—recognizing it not as a binary but as a spectrum—our transgender citizens would have better life outcomes. 

That’s the type of Christian God we need: one who makes our citizens feel freer and more loved.

These are the facts: 

The U.S. has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the developed world—with most of those unplanned pregnancies occurring in the more religious Southern and Midwestern states

We also have the highest rate of alcohol, drug abuse, and substance-related disorders in the developed world. 

D.A.R.E. preached abstinence-only with the fervor of a religious organization. There was no room in the narrative for gray area or any explanation as to why our parents drank or smoked. And suppressing our healthy curiosity actually had the opposite effect: without knowledge of alcohol and drugs’ effects, we American kids tended to overdo it.

I’ve noticed that other countries handle adult pleasures differently than Americans do, with less Puritan scrutiny and more education. In France, Spain, Italy, for example, drinking wine with meals is common, even among adolescents. People from those countries are also less likely to become alcoholics compared to Americans. 

In Holland, it’s not uncommon for high schoolers to have their partners over for sleepovers. Is it a coincidence that they have one of the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy? That culture recognizes that kids have sex and they may as well be safe and educated about it. 

There’s also the issue of psychological reactance. When people—especially individualistic Americans, I suspect—are told to do something, it can be perceived as a threat to one’s freedom. As a result, they may “[demonstrate] an increased preference for the behavior that is restrained, and may perform the behavior opposite to that desired.” This is one reason why an abstinence-only approach to sexuality and substance use fails so spectacularly within the United States. 

In other words, by pulling sex and drugs out of the shadows of American scripture, we can make life safer and more enjoyable. 

I have a personal example. I was lucky to grow up in a progressive town with a mother who recognized when to let go. I lost my virginity at 15—the same year I started sneaking out, drinking on weekends, and occasionally smoking pot. There was a free clinic in Laguna Beach where I would go every three months to pick up birth control. It was within walking distance of my high school. I was grateful I didn’t need a parent signature.

When I was 17, my mom finally gave up and lifted my curfew, even allowing my boyfriend (who came from a rough family) to move in with us. This was undoubtedly a radical move—especially for an American single mother—but it was also the best thing for me. I was an incorrigible teenager, but I finally had the freedom and balance I desired. I maintained straight As and even went on to become our high school’s valedictorian. 

If my mom hadn’t let go and given me room for my rebellion, I’m not sure I would have been as successful academically. My opposition was fierce and I would have spent more energy struggling for my independence than on schoolwork. So by my mother choosing to stop fighting my urge to grow up—letting me know that I could always call her for a safe ride home—I thrived.

Normal human urges and knowledge can’t be suppressed. It’s better to be an educated young adult when confronted with life’s choices. And as much as American parents try to shield their children from sex and drugs, there always comes a day when mom and dad aren’t there. Kids need to learn how to protect themselves. 

Imagine a society in which adolescent boys and girls are educated about the pleasures of sexuality. Instead of boys being framed as “predators” and girls as “prey”—a myth that has robbed many young women of taking pleasure in sex since it’s something “given up” rather than enjoyed—we can let everyone know how to engage in sexual activity safely. 

Imagine a society in which there’s age-appropriate education for alcohol and cannabis use. Instead of young folks experimenting to excess and putting themselves in uncertain situations, they would better-understand responsible consumption and be able to make wiser decisions.

Pleasure-denial—like abstinence-only education—ultimately fails. These religious rules regulating pleasure are arbitrary and end up backfiring, producing a fearful and ashamed citizenry.

So if we still have use for that American Christian God, let’s make it one who embraces knowledge instead of dusty superstition, one who preaches love instead of intolerance. Our culture’s Puritan denial of the pleasures of sex and drugs only leads to abuse, ignorance, and discrimination against non-conforming folks. 

With a more charitable view of human pleasures and with an acceptance of diversity, our citizens will be better protected and happier. 

Isn’t this what all parents want for their children?

A Report from the Trenches of Sober January 2021: Making This My Last Dry Month Ever

Every January 1, I join thousands of hungover Americans in drying out. Around the holidays, near-daily intoxication gives way to a few weeks of reflection on the role of alcohol in our lives. 

I used to get annoyed by the self-righteous sober crusaders and their unpolluted minds. There seemed to be an arrogance in sobriety—it was as if they’d cracked some code to live booze-free and float proudly above the drunken ditches where my friends and I swilled with abandon. 

Since being a non-drinker is the exception rather than the rule, it’s often assumed that teetotalers are recovering alcoholics, barely able to control themselves around the stuff. They must have had a life-changing bender where they were forced to forswear drinking forever, right? What other explanation could there be? Booze is too delicious and too fun.

That way of thinking stemmed from my own discomfort around folks who exhibited such self-control. Who cares whether or not someone else drinks? I’m sure some folks reading this right now are annoyed that I’m even writing about being sober. That’s fine. I feel you. And trust me: I’m still of the mind that, “[Wo]man, being reasonable, must get drunk. The best of life is but intoxication.” Lord Byron was onto something. 

But for now, I can examine how this dry January has changed my thinking about drinking. It’s been easier since I haven’t had much to miss: the pandemic has all but destroyed everyone’s social lives. Attending concerts, dinner parties, and bars isn’t an option when people are confined to their homes. 

But this year has also been more difficult. I wanted to drink during the Racist Republican Riot on January 6; I wanted to drink when the House voted to impeach Trump for the second time; and I wanted to drink to celebrate Biden’s inauguration. I also had a death in my family—my 25-year-old cousin was taken from us too soon. That made me want to drink more than anything else.

I love drinking beer, so I hate to admit how much more productive I am when I cut alcohol from my life. I’ve been more efficient at work; I’ve written four blog posts (and published three); I’ve nearly finished a painting; and I’m reading my seventh book. My dreams have been more vivid and I’ve reset my tolerance, so when I do reintroduce beer, I will especially enjoy it.

Some effects haven’t been as great. I eat more sugar when I abstain from alcohol, so my skin is a mess. I’ve probably gained weight, too. 

My goal this time around is this: in 2021, I want to drink in a way where I never have to stop again. I want this to be my last dry January. It’s only when drinking becomes habitual—as it has for people across the world during this pandemic—that it becomes an issue. It’s drained of its pleasure if it’s simply part of an adult routine. 

It’s also costly. In December, I could drink a few beers with barely a buzz. I am my own most expensive date.

One of my favorite things about January is that it always pushes me to find new things to do and new beverages to drink. Some years it’s a matter of replacing one bad habit with another slightly less-bad habit. One year I drank 3-4 kombuchas a day. Another year, I just got stoned every evening. Both were effective in my month-long abstinence, but this year, I feel I’ve rediscovered the joy of totally sober days. It throws the non-sober days into the realm of celebration, where they should be. The balance is everything.

In the past few years, I’ve found a couple of tricks that have helped me during dry January:

1) Have specific pleasurable activities that you can reach for instead of a drink. For me, this is reading. At the end of the day, I grab my Kindle, which I pre-loaded in December with dozens of books I’ve always wanted to read. In the first 5-10 minutes of indulging in a book, I forget about beer. I’m also a walking addict. I take long hikes through the woods or urban strolls listening to podcasts. Whatever the activity is, it needs to have a low threshold for participation. It needs to be easy to reach for and something you can do on your own.

2) Come up with tasty replacements for your beverage-of-choice. I’m an Oregonian through and through—totally obsessed with beer—and this month, I’ve finally found a non-alcoholic craft beer I enjoy. It’s from Athletic Brewing. Their golden and dark beers scratch that itch for me. This month, I’ve also made a variety of mocktails, mixing flavors of sparkling water with kombucha, lime juice, and cardamom bitters. 

3) Try cannabis. On weekends, I’m Eugene-sober. I have a vaporizer and an assortment of gummies. I typically microdose—2.5-5 mg is enough for me to feel just swell. 

4) Plan your first weekend reintroducing alcohol. Another thing that’s gotten me through this month is planning a trip to the Oregon Coast to celebrate the conclusion of dry January. I’m hoping this will help me keep alcohol in the realm of weekends and holidays rather than a part of the everyday wind-down.

5) Don’t beat yourself up if you slip. It’s better to have a dry January minus a few days than it is to give up entirely after the first illicit gulp.

I don’t think I’ll ever give up alcohol—I’ve visited 350+ breweries around the country and that’s one of my favorite activities—but like millions of people around the world, I’m eager to develop a healthier relationship with it. 

If I succeed in controlling my consumption this year, this will be my last dry January.  Drinking in a way that I never have to stop will be liberating. I don’t want to deny myself my favorite vice because life’s too short to never indulge in what we enjoy. I just need to continue seeing the role of beer in my life differently: it’s a treat and a sporadic hobby—not an expected close to my day.

No, The Racist Republican Riot at the Capitol is Not Like BLM

Last week, I published a piece decrying the Republican support for Trump’s election fraud lies. The following day, a violent mob of Trump supporters waving confederate and neo-Nazi flags forced their way into the Capitol Building to disrupt the electoral college vote certification. 

Image Credit: Mike Theiler, Reuters

How will history refer to this disgraceful event? I’ve heard it called simply “The Insurrection,” but that’s a euphemism lacking an agent and cause. Future generations deserve to know exactly who fueled the bloodshed (and why) on January 6, 2021. Some suggestions:

  • The MAGA Mob Mutiny
  • Trump’s Failed Rebellion
  • The False Patriots’ Putsch
  • The Racist Republican Riot (RRR)

It’s tempting to say, “We told you so.” For years, progressives have been warning this country about the brutality of Trump’s white supremacist cult. One man in full tactical gear, Eric Munchel, was carrying flex-cuffs to take hostages. Molotov cocktails and pipe bombs were found on the scene. The Trump rioters even had built a gallows with a noose and they chanted “Hang Mike Pence!”—a phrase that also trended on Twitter before being removed. Many were carrying baseball bats, guns, chemical agents, and other weapons. 

Five people are dead, including one police officer (Brian Sicknick) murdered by the mob with a fire extinguisher. One woman was shot (Ashli Babbitt) and another was trampled to death (Rosanne Boyland). A man among the dead (Kevin Greeson) even had a heart attack from the “excitement.”

Over the past six days, people across the world have been asking themselves how could this happen in the birthplace of modern democracy? But thoughtful observers within this country know exactly why this mob got so close to taking Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi, and other legislators hostage: 

Law enforcement has consistently underestimated white supremacist (and Christian nationalist) violence within the United States. 

Hateful gatherings such as Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally and the Proud Boys marches have had little police presence and few arrests—unless, of course, there were counter-protestors of color in the crowd.

Time after time, groups of white men are treated as non-threats. Consequently, security forces were completely unprepared.  It’s important to recognize that some of the Capitol police officers acted courageously, trying to stop the deluge of red hats from entering the building. Officer Eugene Goodman, a national hero, led the initial wave of angry Trump supporters away from the Senate entrance where the legislators were still evacuating and fearing for their lives. The courage of this Black man running from an armed white mob feels plucked from another century, but racism still permeates our citizenry and institutions. 

By illustration, many other DC Capitol Police officers exercised that familiar soft touch with the white mob, taking selfies, inviting them past the barriers, donning MAGA garb, and escorting them down stairs. There’s evidence that some of the participants in the RRR were off-duty cops and firefighters. Also, two officers have been suspended (with more than a dozen others under investigation) for supporting the deadly riot.

Before the event, the DC Capitol Police actually turned down the FBI’s offers to help with security. Trump’s Department of Defense even tied the National Guard’s hands, limiting their ability to get riot gear and coordinate with local officials without the acting defense secretary’s permission.

The Capitol Police Chief, the Senate Sergeant-of-Arms, and the House Sergeant-of-Arms—the Capitol’s three top security officials—have all resigned. They failed to secure their jurisdictions, even though violent plans had been brewing for months in the internets’ darkest corners and on social media. 

While the Trump mob was storming the Capitol Building, I took to Facebook to share my thoughts:

Most of my friends weighed in with support for my statement, but three others expressed a common theme:

The comparison between the Black Lives Matter protests and the Racist Republicans’ Riot was a common “hot take.” Many conservative congressmen, pundits, and everybody’s white supremacist uncle decided that the progressive outrage over the RRR was hypocritical. After all, there was damage to government buildings and looting in both instances.

Here’s a primer to educate the folks in your life who who falsely equate the murderous RRR and the BLM Movement:

1) Black Lives Matter is grounded in real and provable causes—the RRR is not. BLM is a movement against the recurring slaughter of unarmed Black citizens at the hands of police. The violent riot at the Capitol inspired by Trump’s “Save America” rally was based on the lie that Democrats had stolen the election. There is near-zero evidence of Trump’s repeated allegations of voter fraud and he’s lost over 60 lawsuits.

2) There was no violent BLM leader or coordinated effort to destroy property; on the contrary, the leadership continually emphasizes that BLM is a peaceful movement and disavowed isolated incidents of property destruction. In 2017, BLM even won a global peace prize from the Sydney Peace Foundation—an award that has been given to Desmond Tutu, among others. The RRR, by contrast, occurred because President Trump and Rudy “Trial by Combat” Guiliani fanned the flames of savagery both in the pre-riot rally and on Twitter. 

After several Americans had died, Trump tweeted:

His Facebook and Twitter accounts were locked shortly after for inciting violence—and now he’s been banned indefinitely from both platforms. (And spare me the free speech crybabyism: our First Amendment laws do not protect the president or anyone else inciting violence.)

3) Law enforcement bodies have had very different responses to BLM and the RRR. The images contrasting the police responses speak volumes and underscore the racist roots of law enforcement in the United States. Sure, not all police officers are racist, but they work for an inherently racist institution. 

Image Credit: Martha Raddatz, Reuters (June 2, 2020)
Image Credit: Lev Radin, Sipa USA via AP Images (January 6, 2021)

On that last point, if anything, the tepid law enforcement response on the day of the RRR proves the point of BLM: people of color and their allies can’t march peacefully without being tear-gassed or shot with rubber bullets, but a disorganized swarm of white supremacists was allowed to enter the Capitol with little effort. 

The racialized double standard of policing—the primary cause of the Black Lives Matter Movement—was clearer than ever on January 6. When peaceful BLM protesters were violently suppressed by the police and paramilitary groups on normal city streets, we can only imagine how police would have responded if they tried to seize the Capitol by force.

For short-term gains, the Republicans and conservative news media have poisoned the minds of millions of Americans. They have used the fear of Black people, Islam, immigrants, and socialism to get out their vote. The racists have come home to roost—and it’s fucking ugly.

The RRR is already shaping up to be one of the most devastating days in U.S. history, but I remain hopeful. January 6 exposed the racism of law enforcement and the wave of resignations, criminal investigations, and arrests is just beginning. 

Americans can no longer ignore racist policing in the U.S.—a country where white violence is tolerated and Black protest is quashed. The RRR already has pushed more reasonable Republicans to condemn Trumpism and a second impeachment is underway in the House right now. Trump will likely face yet another criminal charge when he leaves office: this time for inciting the violent overthrow of our government.

This is a turning point. Republicans no longer have control of the Senate and presidency. They’re being forced to deal with the violent racists within their ranks. And they’re being forced to reckon with their deal with the devil in supporting Trump. 

Will they denounce their voters who have threatened to hang lawmakers because of Trump’s lies? It’s difficult to see how their party recovers from these four years of fear-mongering, deception, destruction, and spectacle. 

Bullshit provided a messy and unsteady foundation for the party’s platform. Maybe now the GOP will finally start telling their voters the truth.

The Old Liar Who Cried “Election Fraud!”—And the Congressional Chumps Who Support Him

“So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we have won the state.”

Donald Trump urging Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensburger to overturn the state’s election results (January 2, 2021)

In this era of savage partisanship, an American ratfucker is born every day. Traditionally, dirty tricks to sway elections take the forms of voter suppression, gerrymandering, and batshit crazy lies about the opposition. Both political parties have participated in the past, but these days, the Republicans have enshrined these tactics as part of their survival strategy. Perhaps the most glaring offense is happening right now: 12 GOP senators have turned downright seditious in their attempt to cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. 

Tomorrow, rather than certifying the Electoral College results, this fools’ brigade will oppose Joe Biden’s clear victory (306 electoral votes to Donald Trump’s 232). This shameful subversion of democracy isn’t limited to the Senate: two-thirds of U.S. House Republicans already petitioned the Supreme Court to prevent Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin from casting electoral votes for Biden. 

It doesn’t matter that Biden won the popular vote by 7 million. It doesn’t matter that Trump has filed (and lost) over 50 lawsuits in 7 swing states to overturn the election—many of which were dismissed by judges he appointed! It doesn’t matter that Trump was recently caught red-handed asking the Georgia Secretary of State to commit a crime and “find 11,780 votes.” 

What the fuck, GOP? You claim to be the party of patriots and Christians, but you’re shitting all over the Constitution with impunity. You are showing yourselves to be spineless lackeys who would rather burn down the country than transfer executive power. 

Um, no, GOP

Who are these treasonous Trump chumps?

  • Ted Cruz (TX)
  • Ron Johnson (WI)
  • James Lankford (OK)
  • Marsha Blackburn (TN)
  • Mike Braun (IN)
  • Cynthia Lummis (WY)
  • Roger Marshall (KN)
  • Bill Hagerty (TN)
  • Tommy Tuberville (AL)
  • Josh Hawley (MO)
  • John Kennedy (LA)
  • Steve Daines (MT)

What’s strange is that most of these folks know better. Ok, Tommy Tuberville, who can’t name the three branches of government, might not know better. (One too many knocks to the head, I reckon.) But Ted Cruz, Mike Braun, and Josh Hawley, for example, graduated from Ivy League law schools. They may be despicable, but they’re not stupid.

And to anyone who thinks this is how politicians on both sides of the aisle behave, let’s examine the 2016 presidential election: President Barack Obama called Donald Trump to congratulate him on Wednesday, November 9—the day after the election. Trump had received 304 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton’s 227—less than Joe Biden’s margin of victory in 2020. 

We’ve all been dragged along Trump’s bullshit sore loser crusade for months now. Perhaps if Republican congressmen hadn’t wasted so much time with Trump’s dick in their mouths, they could have articulated a robust response to Covid-19—the greatest public health crisis in generations. Or, you know, without that dick in their mouths, they could have set a good example to their constituents and worn a goddamn mask.

I’ve gotten some pushback on social media for being divisive in the wake of the 2020 election. I know that some Republicans are good people. Hell, they were the first political party to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment in 1940! I also come from a Republican family, but most of them have reasonably abandoned the GOP as it’s gotten more racist and embraced a rapist, tax fraud, and liar as its top leader. At this point in history, it’s morally repugnant, irresponsible, and anti-American to embrace the GOP.

  • Republicans claim to be pro-life, but they support capital punishment, assault weapon ownership, and murderers like Kyle Rittenhouse.
  • They claim to be Christians, but they separate young immigrant children from their families.
  • They claim to be supportive of “law and order,” but they say nothing to defend the lives of unarmed Black citizens who die at the hands of police officers.
  • They claim to not be racist, but they embrace the Proud Boys and other white supremacist groups.
  • They claim to be patriots, but again: a majority of the U.S. congressional Republicans are trying to overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election and refusing a peaceful transfer of power.

There’s a reason the GOP is so old, so male, and so white. And there’s a reason they continue to cheat to win elections. Their views are unpopular. They know that they are a dying minority party. They must suppress voters of color and gerrymander their way into relevance.

Calling out the modern GOP isn’t divisive—it’s an ethical responsibility. They don’t respond to well-reasoned sober arguments. The time has passed for meeting this party halfway. They’ve spent years manufacturing a “Blue Scare”—telling their base that dangerous socialists are coming for their guns and will turn their children into sex slaves for George Soros. Trump merely took advantage of the lies FOX News and others have been telling for years—and turned the volume to 12.

Fuck you very much, Trump’s GOP

In reality, progressives like me are just trying to create a more livable society with affordable healthcare and education, strong environmental protections, and a tax structure where the wealthy pays their fair share.

What part of this is unreasonable?

Unfucking the Divided States of America

As the turbulent Trump era draws to a close, the ties that bind this nation are frayed beyond recognition. Conservatives and progressives have locked horns in an exhausting battle for the future of our country, each side convinced that the victory of the opposition would destroy us from within. 

Our Arc of Progress

The Republican Party warns of the rise of the “radical left” with antifa at the helm, seizing the hard-earned cash of everyday Americans and burning down the suburbs. The Democratic Party paints the GOP with the broad brushes of racism and misogyny while arrogantly touting its superior academic pedigree and command of scientific facts.

Both of these approaches betray an American zest for exaggeration and self-righteousness, but we aren’t completely to blame for this divide. From behind our computers and cell phones, 2020’s Virtual Civil War has Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube stirring us all into a frothy indignation. They feed us alarmist headlines that fuel our mutual suspicion and animosity. Social media companies understand that there’s no motivation to consume information in the middle—there’s no profit in the compromises. 

To keep us scrolling, we must feel the minute-by-minute existential dread of an enemy. Big tech has mastered this and they dance on our nerves to extract our attention.

We are so much more than our tech-manufactured hate, and there is still common ground among us. The United States was founded on the principle that all people are created equal. While non-whites and women were excluded from this historic covenant, its modern application can provide a salve for our wounds and help reweave the fabric of our nation: 

We must recognize and respect the differences among individuals, evaluating each person on their actions—malicious or benevolent—and not their skin color, gender, physical ability, wealth, education, political affiliation, culture, religion, or whom they love. We cannot impose our own rigid ideas about how individuals should live their lives.

Accepting diversity as the bedrock of our country is much easier than fighting to bend others to our image of society. Even ideas that disgust us deserve their day in our marketplace of free speech. We cannot take it personally because our Constitution protects it.

Accepting human diversity in all of its forms will also diffuse our fear of others. When we approach individuals on a platform of mutual recognition and respect, we can stop wasting energy on anxiety and discomfort. 

We must understand that a majority of people in the United States and around the world are good and have similar desires for activity and connection. We share much more than differentiates us. 

We’ve lost sight of what unites us because conflict is more lucrative. Conflict not only keeps us scrolling maniacally through our phones, but it also serves to justify the seizure of power and resources, both within this country and internationally. We cannot feel honorable about suppressing peaceful dissent at home or invading nations abroad unless we feel tension with a group of outsiders. The manufacture of conflict and the othering of strife’s victims are intentional acts by those seeking control. 

We also gravitate toward simple explanations for complex phenomena. It’s easier to make assumptions based on someone’s appearance than it is to grasp a complicated and messy reality. This weakness is not difficult to exploit. It’s been used to drum up fear against immigrants, people of color, and women. And yes, it’s even been used against white men, when they’re assumed to all be a part of the same privileged tribe. 

No individual should be reduced to one observable trait. We are all so much more than the way we present to others. You can’t tell someone’s story or beliefs by looking at them—you just have to ask. 

Think about your own individuality. Would it be fair for someone to reduce you to your skin color or gender, or is there more to you?  Just as you’d like to be received with an open heart and an open mind, extend this respectful curiosity to others, who crave connection just as you do. 

We’re all destined to remain in near-total ignorance of unique individuals in our short lifetimes. There’s unity in accepting that.

How Republicans Are Stealing Another Presidential Election—And What We Should Do About it

Republicans are lashing out with the ruthlessness of an army defending a falling empire. They fear that a majority of Americans hold values inconsistent with theirs—and they’re right. Most of us believe in climate change, want to make college tuition-free, support increasing taxes on the wealthiest people, and want to protect women’s rights to control their own bodies.

Republicans look over a sea of nearly all white, all male faces and can feel the encroachment of a broader coalition. They’ve hitched their wagon to a racist demagogue who will never achieve majority support in this country. 

Artist Unknown

Most people in the U.S. and abroad are rightly disgusted by Trump—he’s a liar, a divisive tyrant, and an accused rapist. His Reign of Error has done irreparable damage to our country’s reputation. He has started trade wars, pulled us out of the Paris Climate Accords, and withdrawn us from the World Health Organization in the midst of a global pandemic. He’s responsible for the deaths of more than 200,000 Americans due to Covid-19—a crisis that was contained in the more capable hands of Germany’s Angela Merkel, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, and China’s Xi Jinping, and so many others. We already lead the world in Covid-19 deaths—and we may double that figure by the end of the year. 

Trump’s failures aside, Republicans have cheated to maintain power for decades. They purge voter rolls, reduce the number of polling locations in urban areas, and intimidate voters—and now, the GOP’s shameless voter suppression tactics are more blatant than ever. 

Perhaps most alarmingly, the Republicans have threatened to overturn election results within swing states. The GOP chairman in Pennsylvania stated that he could bypass his states popular vote and allow the Republican-dominated legislature to choose Trump-friendly presidential electors. The GOP has floated this idea in other swing states as well. A Trump campaign legal advisor admitted this possibility: “The state legislatures will say, ‘All right, we’ve been given this constitutional power. We don’t think the results of our own state are accurate, so here’s our slate of electors that we think properly reflect the results of our state.” 

In another blow to democracy, Trump has appointed campaign donor Louis DeJoy as the postmaster of the United States. DeJoy has systematically slowed down the mail by dismantling sorting machines, removing post office boxes from cities, and enacting other destructive and baseless measures. We’re in the midst of a pandemic and mailing in ballots is much safer than reporting to a polling place. These transparent efforts to thwart mail-in voting are criminal. 

And even if Democrats do win the election, Trump has made it clear he won’t concede peacefully. When asked if he would step down after losing, he told the press, “Get rid of the ballots, and you’ll have a very…you’ll have a very peaceful…there won’t be a transfer, frankly, there’ll be a continuation.”

One of Trump’s top appointed officials, Michael Caputo, is now on leave for a bizarre rant where he stated, “And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin.”

Voter suppression.

Corruption and lying.

Violent insurrection.

Are Republicans proud of what their party represents? They are breaking the most basic rules of decency to maintain power—rules that we all learned as children about the importance of fairness, respect, justice, and truth.  While the old Republican Party may have embraced these principles, they have abandoned them in their lust for power. 

Republicans try to drum up fear of immigrants with narratives about “violent caravans.” The truth is that on Trump’s watch, ICE has locked up Latino children in cages and forcibly sterilized their mothers.

Republicans try to drum up fear of the Black community with images of urban riots and looting. The truth is that white supremacists present a much graver threat to the peace of the country, according to the FBI.

Most Americans are too intelligent to believe Trump’s bullshit, but we fear that even when we show up to vote, Republicans will still rob us of this election. It’s already happened once in my lifetime when tens of thousands of votes from Florida’s Black community were wrongly disqualified to hand the election to Bush. The GOP pretends to be this country’s greatest defender and yet they lie, cheat, and steal under the cover of their flags.

It’s not enough just to call them out. They will happily take the low road to maintain power in bad faith. When we win the election, we need to use every tool at our disposal to implement a liberal agenda. 

  • Let’s add Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories as states to increase our number of Senators.
  • Let’s pack the Supreme Court with a progressive majority.
  • Let’s increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
  • Let’s pass the Green New Deal to create clean energy jobs and help curb carbon emissions.
  • Let’s ratify the ERA.
  • Let’s strengthen legal protections for LGBTQ+ folks.
  • Let’s fire racist cops and reform police departments to use community-based alternatives to brutal law enforcement.

And let’s throw Trump in jail for tax fraud, the obstruction of justice, soliciting campaign funds from foreign nationals, rape, or any of his other numerous crimes.

Democrats need to stand for something to heal this country—it’s not enough to simply be anti-Trump. We should lean into progressivism without compromise because that has always been the future of our country, what Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to as “the arc of the moral universe” which “bends toward justice.” 

Progressivism at its finest represents justice for the climate and for the American people, regardless of our gender, whom we love, our culture, how much money we have, or the color of our skin.

Let’s stop despairing and fearing one another. Let’s seize our future from this minority group of cheaters and liars. They don’t deserve a say in our lives.

To Win in November, Let’s Address the Razor’s Edge of Wokeness

“Simplicity rarely loses to complexity in battles in the public square” – Jeffrey Toobin (Painting: Carlos Estévez)

Childish Republicans love to salt their food with liberal tears. With Trump at the helm, it’s no surprise that the modern GOP drummed up support for its base in 2016 with messages like “Hillary Sucks…But not like Monica!” Growing up, I believed that taking pleasure in a decent person’s pain was something only kids and ruthless dictators did, but here we are. 

Progressives do not generally snipe at one another with malice. Recently, however, the left has had a bad habit of eating their own. For example, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders represent similar values and platforms. But during the primaries, the media (and the candidates’ followers) spent too much energy igniting mutual suspicion and animosity. And the divide is even more stark between the Democrats’ moderate and liberal wings, with moderates fearing a Squad takeover and liberals fearing a GOP-light administration.

There are valid debates—don’t get me wrong—but now that our two-party system has chosen a Democratic ticket, we need to take a page from the Republican playbook: we need to compromise and unite. Division and constant infighting is only strengthening the GOP.

I get it: Kamala Harris was a punitive prosecutor and made some bad calls. While she’s a fierce debater, she also has a difficult time expressing exactly what she stands for in interviews.  She wasn’t my first choice, but I am going to set my criticisms aside in service to the larger fight in November. My favorite candidates, Warren and Sanders, have urged everyone to do.

So why is the modern left obsessed with these purity tests? A friend reminded me recently that “an apostate is worse than a heretic.” We’re more likely to judge those who are nearly in our camp than those outside of it. We see this playing out in cancel culture, which stems from the zealous application of progressive values such as anti-racism, anti-misogyny, and anti-homophobia. “Canceling someone” can be justified for the worst among us, but it can also leech energy from more important fights. 

We can’t continually call out Trump’s racism, lying, and corruption—much less, unite folks behind a set of progressive ideals and policies—when we’re too busy bemoaning Joe Biden for being a gaffe-prone centrist. There’s only so much gas in our tank of indignation. While we should hold our own in check, but we also need to come together in November to close this devastating chapter of American history. 

As journalists such as Matt Taibbi have pointed out, the left’s Puritanical obsession with enforcing what’s “woke” is antithetical to its traditional values of open-mindedness, tolerance, and acceptance. Furthermore, ruining lives has become a spectator sport. The ultra-woke air grievances on Twitter and some folks such as David Shor have lost their jobs. Many of these discussions should have been more civilly resolved. Walking the new razor’s edge of progressivism has alienated people. It’s also threatening to shrink our coalition. The perfect cannot become the enemy of the good.

One major problem is that there’s no clear path to redemption once someone fucks up. It’s crucial to create space for people to admit when they’re wrong and to act like adults. When we have a coworker, friend, or family member who says something offensive, there needs to be a loving way to bring them back into the tribe without shame or recrimination. 

I’m reminded of Arthur Miller’s iconic play The Crucible, an allegory of McCarthyism and the communist witch-hunt of the 1950s. In defense of his life and good name, John Proctor cries out, “We are what we always were in Salem, but now the crazy little children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law.” The keys to the kingdom are Twitter campaigns calling for people’s heads; common vengeance is the online mob.

Take Christian Cooper: the Black Harvard grad and bird-watcher, who had the cops called on him by Amy Cooper (no relation). He did not press charges and did not think that she should lose her job. Even though I had delighted in the public destruction of her life—she is, after all, a liar and a racist who weaponized her status as a white woman—I admire Christian Cooper’s forgiveness and grace in handling this incident. 

In short, there must be a better way than the endless shame and condemnation. Nobody should be remembered for the worst thing they have even done. And within our progressive coalition—as large and multivariate as it is—cancel culture plays right into the hands of Republicans. While most of us mean well, constantly throwing mud at fellow lefties for being insufficiently woke or radically out-of-touch takes the spotlight off of our real opponents. 

As a general rule, the GOP respects what Reagan called the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. When they do, it’s hardly ever for egregious racism, misogyny, or destroying the environment. It’s typically for being a RINO (a Republican in Name Only), a person who does not vote with the party on a specific issue. They enforce their own unity through shaming their fellows for one sin only: that of non-compliance with the GOP’s agenda.

Although the GOP’s leadership consists of mainly white men, they have welcomed an array of interests under that red umbrella: Tea Partiers, anti-government gun enthusiasts, tax-cut junkies, QAnon conspiracy theorists, evangelical Christians, anti-mask “patriots,” and white nationalists all tend to be pro-MAGA. They are skilled at circling their wagons, playing offense, and doing what it takes to maintain power, even though they comprise a minority party. 

A majority of Americans actually hold left-leaning views on all of the major issues, but we still struggle to garner the votes we need. With such a diverse array of agendas (pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-Medicare-For-All, anti-racism) and demographics (men, women, LGBTQ+, BIPOC), it’s no wonder we struggle to achieve a consensus. Also, voter suppression and gerrymandering have disproportionately affected the left, especially people of color.

To win the White House and a Senate majority, we need to lift a page from the Republican playbook and create an alliance among these diverse factions of our party. Part of the problem is that progressives do not have a simple overarching message, a list of non-negotiable values that unite us. 

The closest I’ve seen to this list was detailed in Robert Reich’s exceptional book The Common Good. He describes this value system as “the norms we voluntarily abide by, and the ideals we seek to achieve.”

He elegantly summarizes a foundation for what a majority of Americans already believe. I’ve changed the formatting for emphasis:

“The good we have had in common has been a commitment to: 

  • Respecting the rule of law, including its intent and spirit
  • Protecting our democratic institutions
  • Discovering and spreading the truth
  • Being open to change and tolerant of our differences
  • Ensuring equal political rights and equal opportunity
  • Participating in our civic life together
  • Sacrificing for that life together”

This list isn’t perfect or complete, but it’s a solid start in rebuilding the civic trust within this country. We can’t forget that a majority of Americans are good people and are on our side. And the first step to combatting wealth inequality and fear-based scourges such as racism is to reclaim the presidency and Congress. Only then can we transform the country in the image of our shared ideals. Progressivism is a big messy umbrella of interests—and we have to embrace that to win in November.

Trump’s Reelection Strategy? Urban Fascism

“It stings. It’s hard to breathe. And I can tell you with 100 percent honesty, I saw nothing which provoked this response. It’s nasty stuff. I’m not afraid, but I am pissed off…This is an egregious overreaction on the part of the federal officers.”

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, After Being Tear-Gassed in a Crowd of Protesters 

Over the past couple of weeks, the world has witnessed Drumpf’s dangerous descent into domestic terrorism. In early July, he sent a vicious paramilitary force to Portland. They have blindfolded protesters and carried them away in unmarked vehicles, broken people’s bones, and tear-gassed a Wall of Moms. What had been a handful of remaining Black Lives Matter protesters outside of Portland’s Federal Courthouse has now swelled into the thousands. The people are standing up against this brutal occupying force.

The Feds Tear-Gassing Protesters, AP Image Credit Noah Berger (Portland, Oregon)

I don’t use the term “fascism” lightly, but Trump has earned it by the expression of a few key elements:

  • Having a dictator or authoritarian leader
  • Supporting extreme nationalism (often with a racial or ethnic component)
  • Suppressing opposition

After several excruciating years of the Trump presidency, we can safely say his administration meets all of the above criteria. 

And Trump’s motives for this federal invasion are transparent: he’s trying to win reelection by instigating violence within our most progressive cities. Sending his DHS thugs in riot gear is provocative and city-dwellers are rightfully enraged. Nobody invited them to be here.

Protester Shot by the Feds, Donovan LaBella, Image From The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon)

Over this past week, I’ve had several spirited debates on social media with folks who live far away from Portland. People in Texas, California, and rural Washington claim to know what’s best for my state’s largest city. Although conservatives and rural voters are usually concerned about state’s rights, many are applauding Trump’s federal overreach in the occupation of liberal cities. They shared these thoughts:

  • “So you mean to say, with all of the violent rioters out there, these feds rolled up and took out the peaceful protestors?”
  • “And why when black people are getting killed by other black people are you not protesting that?”
  • “Do you really believe that these protestors are all innocent and the big bad police are causing the riots! My God … All to take down Trump! Disgusting!!!!”

These misperceptions of the Black Lives Matter Movement are fed by a myopic and sensationalist media. Although Oregon Public Broadcasting has done an exceptional job covering BLM in my state, most major networks have flattened the narrative and focus on incidents of destruction. Media executives know that Americans will tune into content that’s disturbing or savage—but they are doing the public a dangerous disservice by amplifying isolated atrocities and ignoring the mission of the Movement. When FOX, CNN, and other companies only follow the smoke, graffiti, and broken windows—“if it bleeds, its leads”—Trump hopes that suburban and rural Americans will be frightened into voting for his law and order agenda.

DON’T FALL FOR IT.

Trump would rather not talk about the unemployment rate, his shameless corruption, his multiple rape allegations, his inhumane imprisonment of Latin American children, or his failed COVID-19 response, which has led to the death of 143,000 Americans and counting (CDC July 24, 2020).

There’s a historical precedent for Trump’s campaign tactics. In 1968, Richard Nixon ran on a law and order platform. When he accepted the GOP nomination, he stated, “As we look at America, we see cities enveloped in smoke and flame. We hear sirens in the night.” This is the image Trump is trying to sell us: a country being attacked from within by the radical Left. 

This is manipulative and absurd. How are we attacking the country? Are we ravaging the nation with our anti-racism, Medicare for All, Green New Deal, and Farmers’ Markets? Are we really destroying the country by trying to make education, healthcare, and housing more affordable for all Americans? 

Progressives don’t support the violence; we’re protesting against racism and police brutality—and isn’t it ironic how our movement is met with indelible proof to our point.

July 2020: The Wall of Moms, Getty Images, Published in The Rolling Stone, (Portland, Oregon)

In an earlier era, there were Americans who stood up for the rights of property, and those who defended the rights of people; those who supported slaveowners, and abolitionists who fought for the humanity of our Black citizens. 

The GOP and Trump prefer to not discuss the lethal racism of law enforcement and the death of George Floyd. They prefer not to acknowledge the dozens of peaceful protesters and journalists who have been critically injured by aggressive crowd dispersion tactics: rubber bullets, batons, tear gas, steel-toed boots, and fists. They prefer, instead, to stand up for the rights of lifeless buildings with insurance policies. They are more concerned about property than the blood of our Black citizens on the hands of police officers.

I feel for the small business owners who have to rebuild—but my heart shatters for the families of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Philando Castille, and Ahmaud Arbery, among so many others. 

I also fear what will happen in Chicago, Albuquerque, and other progressive cities Trump plans to occupy with his goons in army fatigues. He’s flexing the military in places he knows won’t vote for him. I’d like to ask Americans in the suburbs and rural heartland: if an aggressive federal force descended on your town without permission or invitation, how would you react?

Naked Athena, Image Credit Unknown (Portland, Oregon)

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year—And Why I’m Hopeful

Overwhelming.

Exhausting.

Awful.

Hopeless.

What words come to mind when you think of 2020? 

South Eugene, Oregon (June 3, 2020)

Many of us feel that this is one of the most difficult years in U.S. history—and it’s true. We are suffering from the mismanaged COVID-19 pandemic, which has now killed over 116,000 Americans, 39 times the death toll of 9/11. The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, among so many other black citizens, has activated massive protests against police brutality. We have a cowardly incompetent president, and the only tie that binds the public is our unmoored rage. 

To the racist institutions in this country, white anger is righteous and black anger is frightening. Large white men with assault rifles can march on Michigan’s capital to intimidate the Democratic governor without a reaction from the police; on the other side of the political spectrum, peaceful protesters for racial justice have been kicked, trampled, beaten, gassed, and shot by the police all over the country. Curfews were enacted and Trump threatened to send in the military to “dominate” his own country’s cities. 

When it comes to race, we have always been at war with ourselves. The devastating legacy of slavery has fed inequality in education, housing, criminal justice, and law enforcement, not to mention the daily indignities of individual prejudice. Until a white person experiences fear while jogging, playing video games at home, or walking and eating skittles, we cannot pretend to understand what it feels like to be constantly surveilled and over-policed for our skin color. 

Our collective discomfort and anger over racial injustice were long-overdue in the U.S. Although the Black Lives Matter movement felt dormant to white America in between the most egregious murders, we’ve reached a tipping point: millions of us have decided that doing no harm on the basis of skin color isn’t enough. We’ve embraced a new era of anti-racism, in which bigots are rightfully outed and fired from their jobs. 

A friend of mine told me that we’re living in “cool times”—an era that feels like hell on the ground but in retrospect will be considered pivotal in making progress. As uncomfortable as we all feel right now stewing in our rage and despair, I’m inclined to agree.

In fact, while the entire Trump era has been excruciating, the backlash to his lack of character has helped bring about important changes in American society. There has been a major international protest every year since he took office: the Women’s March (2017), the March for Our Lives (2018), the School Strike for Climate (2019), and the powerful resurgence of Black Lives Matter (2020).

It started with the Women’s March in 2017, the day after Trump was inaugurated. I was in Washington DC, and people protested in cities across the world in a powerful display of anti-sexist unity. The #MeToo era followed shortly, and a cascade of hideous and powerful men lost their jobs—many of them replaced by women.

While 1992 was branded the “Year of the Woman” when a four new female senators were elected to the U.S. Congress, the Blue Wave of 2018 brought 148 women into Congress, as well as six female governors. 

This represents real progress.

A year later, a young man killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A new student-led protest against gun violence was born. Nearly two million Americans marched in 900 cities across the U.S. and there were companion events across the world. The March for Our Lives became one of the largest protests in U.S. history, and it had a lasting impact on legislation: in 2018, 67 gun safety bills were signed into law across 26 states and Washington DC.

In 2019, the School Strike for Climate took shape. What had started in Sweden with an exceptional young woman, Greta Thunberg, became an international movement to take on the fossil fuels industry and protect our planet for future generations. There were large international protests in March, May, September, and November—all of them drawing millions of people into the fight to protect our world from global warming. September’s “Global Week for Our Future” event drew more than four million protesters and is hailed as the largest climate strike in world history.

And here we are now, confronting the shameful and enduring legacy of slavery in the United States. Racism in our institutions and citizens stems from our failure to confront this country’s festering wound: our nation’s wealth was built on the backs of African American slaves, and their descendants have barely shared in that prosperity. 

When the black community has accrued wealth, whites slaughtered them, as they did in the Tulsa Massacre in 1921, which devastated Black Wall Street. Most Americans hadn’t heard of this genocide until the graphic novel Watchman was turned into an HBO series. Our history books tend to gloss over white violence within our borders. 

But this has begun to change. Michael Brown Jr., Philando Castille, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and now George Floyd—among so many others—are household names. A majority of Americans are horrified by the ongoing brutality against our black citizens. And beneath the rage at the root of our American wound, we’re beginning to see some signs of healing.

The Minneapolis Police Department has been defunded in favor of more communal-minded actions, which address access to basic services. Charges are being filed against police officers across the country, and some have been arrested for their violent handling of protesters.  Black Lives Matter murals are popping up on large avenues across the nation.  Powerful businesses have stood up in solidarity with the BLM movement; Twitter, Nike, and the NFL have declared Juneteenth a company holiday. Even NFL Commissioner Gooddell has softened his stance on kneeling during the national anthem. This is a large step for a conservative white-owned institution, which denied activist Colin Kaepernick a job for taking a knee in a peaceful protest against police brutality.

In the same way the #MeToo movement cost countless assholes their jobs, racists are now being called out publicly. In May, Amy Cooper invoked her white privilege and threatened to lie to the NYPD about “an African American threatening her life.” Christian Cooper (no relation), the black man, is a Harvard-trained writer and editor who enjoys birding. His crime? Asking Amy to leash her dog in Central Park. For her racist lies, she lost her job as a VP of an investment firm. 

In Eugene (where I live), local business owner Paula McGuigan has been called out for her racism and insensitivity. She posted an appalling photo of her kneeling on the neck of a man with the bizarre caption “Ready for my Minnesota trip…#asianlivesmatter.” Her business, Home Spray Foam and Insulation, was flooded with so many one-star reviews that Yelp had to flag the “unusual activity.” She issued an apology, but the damage is done: you can’t get away with this racist shit anymore. 

Perhaps most importantly, white people across the country are opening their eyes—many of them for the first time—to the systemic racism that has plagued the United States since its founding. 

Some white people have been calling their friends of color and asking how they can be better allies. While these efforts are made with good intentions, the reactions have been mixed. After receiving a deluge of messages from white people in his life, a friend of mine quipped that he was “seriously considering hiring a virtual assistant and asking white friends to pay for it.” I can appreciate this sentiment, especially since it’s not the black community’s job to educate us—we have to listen and do the difficult work ourselves.

As clumsy as white Americans’ efforts can be, I still believe that the majority of us want to overcome personal prejudice and dismantle racist institutions. The media tends to amplify examples to the contrary—the Charlottesville racists, the MAGAts, our goddamn ignorant POTUS—but that braindead megaphone can’t drown out the millions that protest today.

There’s no single handbook for becoming “woke.” It’s a daily decision to rethink our implicit biases. It’s a desire to throw our bodies on the gears of the system—our roads, our workplaces—and demand the overhaul of racist institutions such as law enforcement. It’s a recognition that our racism at home is interwoven with our imperialism abroad; without stoking the white American fear of immigrants, non-Christians, and people of color, our bloated military wouldn’t be able to invade the Middle East for oil or Vietnam and Venezuela to “defeat communism.” Considering citizens of these countries as less-than-human—that peculiar and twisted racism—drums up support for these bloody colonial injustices. 

So how can white Americans confront their privilege and better understand how racism operates? Seeking out the experience of being the minority in a group is a valuable tool, whether it’s living abroad with an unfamiliar culture and language or volunteering in a different community. I lived in Niigata, Japan for two years, and the daily reminder that I was “the other” opened my eyes more than any book could. Growing up in a predominantly white city, I had a lot of blind spots that my Berkeley education in sociology and psychology couldn’t remedy. And I still have work to do. 

When you are the only member of a visibly identifiable group—a person of color in a white community, a woman in a room full of men, a trans woman among those who were born with female bodies—you’re both hyper-surveilled and invisible. People might stare or get uncomfortable in your presence, but they also might ignore or exclude you, not knowing exactly what to make of you. 

This lonely discomfort is useful and calls into question what we take for granted being in more homogenous groups. It helps build empathy for those unlike us—and a friendly curiosity of cultures unlike our own. Exposure to what was once foreign helps to allay deep-seated fears and can build mutual respect. 

I acknowledge the limitations of my experience. I cannot change my 0.1 millimeters of white epidermis, but I know this: people are mostly good everywhere in the world. And when we approach unfamiliar groups without judgement and with an open heart, everyone benefits. 

So let’s embrace the mass discomfort of 2020. We’re living in “cool times” and in retrospect, we’ll realize how instrumental this prickly awareness of sexism, gun violence, climate change, and racism has been for us to advance. The work is just beginning, but our rage, anxiety, and sadness are symptoms of outgrowing old ways of thinking and conducting ourselves. 

And that gives me hope.

Downtown Eugene, Oregon (May 29, 2020)

America’s Other Disease

“The American experiment, the original embodiment of the great Enlightenment idea of intellectual freedom, every individual free to believe anything she wishes, has metastasized out of control.” 

Kurt Andersen, Fantasyland

As COVID-19 ravages the United States with more than 213,000 cases, there’s another disease that’s killing us—a  myth born of the romantics, Ralph Waldo Emerson, cowboy lore, and life on the frontier: I’m talking about the dark side of our individualism. 

This immortal lie tells us that we’re free to believe what we want and that we can save ourselves if we just try hard enough. These unchecked assumptions have severely impaired our ability to coordinate a response to this pandemic. 

While individualism is useful to promote creativity and innovation, there are several features of this quintessential American trait that have undermined our institutions, leadership, and citizen behavior during this unprecedented crisis. It has made this nation a more fertile ground for COVID-19 than more collectivist or communal countries.

How Individualism Has Failed American Institutions

I lived abroad for five years and I’ve been tracking various governments’ responses to COVID-19 with great interest. South Korea had its first confirmed case the same day as the United States: January 20, 2020. While the Trump administration called the virus a Democratic “hoax” and panicked for several weeks that it would threaten the economy during an election year, the South Korean government initiated an aggressive testing program to identify who needed to be put into isolation. 

Two months later, the South Koreans have flattened the curve and life is slowly returning to normal. In the United States, COVID-19 is overwhelming hospitals in Seattle, Detroit, New Orleans, and New York City. And it’s just getting started.

Note the differences between individualist nations like the U.S. and the more collectivist nations in Asia (April 2, 2020)

Our Healthcare System

Our decentralized healthcare system is not equipped to fight for us during a pandemic. The main goal of American for-profit insurance companies and care facilities is to make money—and that objective does not align with the public interest, especially in this crisis. 

Instead of having one clear-cut entity such as the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS), Americans are forced to navigate a complicated bureaucracy of “in-network” and “out-of-network” healthcare providers, arcane insurance billing practices, and sky-high co-pays with surprise costs. And millions of Americans remain uninsured, with millions more about to lose their employer-sponsored plans as the economy crashes.

This desultory system has created a lot of confusion and supply shortages. U.S. hospitals are running out of personal protective gear (PPE) and states have had to engage in eBay-style bidding wars to secure ventilators. 

While some states such as Florida have gotten everything they asked for from the federal government within three days—N-95 masks, gowns, etc.—my state (Oregon) only received 10 percent of its request. The biggest difference between Florida and Oregon? Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida is a Republican and Governor Kate Brown is a Democrat. It’s hard not to assume that the Trump administration is picking favorites when he’s more concerned about feeling “appreciated” than getting Americans the assistance they need. 

If I wanted to get a COVID-19 test, there’s nowhere in my region to go. Public health officials in Lane County have said they’re advocating at the state and federal level for widespread testing, but they are still waiting. In theory, the cost of these tests is covered under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, but early American access seems to have been limited to government officials and celebrities.

If I needed to get COVID-19 treatment, it’s likely I would pay thousands of dollars with my high-deductible insurance plan.

Most American healthcare providers and leaders are telling people to simply stay home and wait out the disease, except in life-threatening situations. With refrigerated trucks serving as temporary morgues in New York City, it is clear that the for-profit American healthcare system has already been overwhelmed by this pandemic. Hospitals and states should not have to compete with one another for supplies. 

Our Media

“If I think it’s true, no matter why or how I think it’s true, then it’s true, and nobody can tell me otherwise”

Kurt Andersen, Fantasyland

The first step to fighting a pandemic is getting the correct information—and this is impossible in today’s hyper-partisan “choose-your-own-reality” media landscape.

Thirty years ago, there was an agreed-upon collective truth. Journalist Walter Cronkite Jr. was called “the most trusted man in America” and citizens believed him, regardless of their political affiliation. These days, even scientific facts—climate change, the effectiveness of vaccines, the importance of social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19—are treated as matters of opinion. By illustration, Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL), taking his cues from the White House, asked his state’s citizens to stay home only yesterday (April 1)—appallingly late considering their high population of vulnerable elderly folks.

According to a recent poll, viewers of Fox News are especially likely to believe that the threat of COVID-19 is “exaggerated.” The network, afraid of being sued, has already fired host Trish Regan, who called coronavirus a politically motivated “scam” on her March 9 broadcast.

Dr. Anthony Fauci—a man who has led the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since the year I was born—has been targeted by Trump loyalists. When Americans are free to select their own scientific facts—with Republicans eager to defend the economy and the president—it’s very difficult to mount a coordinated response to COVID-19.

How Our Selfish Leaders Have Failed Us

Right now, Americans have no trustworthy central authority to guide us through this pandemic. It feels as if half the country is listening to Dr. Anthony Fauci, and half the country is listening to the president.

But Donald Trump has shown time and time again that he’s a toxic individualist: he’s only concerned about himself. There is plenty of evidence for his tax fraud, theft from his own charitable foundation, and self-dealing while in office. He refuses to read intelligence briefings and spends much of his time watching Fox News or playing golf at his own properties at incredible expense to taxpayers—not to mention the multiple rape allegations and the general entitlement he feels to women’s bodies.

It is no surprise that Trump has failed his first real test as president. Instead of taking COVID-19 seriously, he dawdled and called it a Democratic “hoax.” He dragged his feet for weeks, downplaying concerns, comparing the disease to the flu, dispensing false medical advice about the usefulness of chloroquine (which killed one Arizona man), and appointing gay conversion therapy czar Mike Pence as the head of the COVID-19 task force.

The kicker? In an effort to save money following the massive GOP tax cut, Trump fired the U.S. pandemic response team in 2018. Oh, and I suspect he’s too proud to rely on the National Security Council’s pandemic playbook because it was created during the Obama administration.

To Donald Trump and congressmen like Sen. Richard Burr (NC-R), who sold millions of dollars of stock in anticipation of a crash, the health of the country was not their primary concern: they acted selfishly, saving themselves with little regard for their roles as elected officials. Leadership should be more than an exercise in ego and personal enrichment. 

Finally, American values praise people who “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and by extension, often degrade people who need help—the most vulnerable among us. How many times in the past three years has the Republican Party tried to poke holes in our already-dismal social safety net by cutting food stamps, education funding, environmental protections, and Medicare? Needing help is somehow unAmerican—unless you’re a multibillion-dollar company in need of a taxpayer bailout, of course. 

If individualism is serving American institutions so well, why does socialism/collectivism come around every decade or so to save our asses?

How Individualism Impairs the Behavior and Beliefs of American Citizens

Individualism can be beneficial when people choose to defy tyranny or mainstream bigotry, but there’s a dark side to assuming we are free to do and believe what we want. Consider the words of a now-infamous 21-year-old spring breaker:

“If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying. You know, I’ve been waiting, we’ve been waiting for Miami spring break for a while, about two months, we’ve had this trip planned, two, three months, and we’re just out here having a good time. Whatever happens, happens,” said Brady Sluder in mid-March. 

I lived in Japan for two years and I can’t imagine a young Japanese person saying something like this because there’s a constant awareness of how one’s own actions impact others. Many Asian nations are already in the habit of wearing masks when they’re sick to protect others from infection. In the United States, whether you’re an ignorant young man like Sluder or the Governor of Oklahoma, we do whatever the fuck we want—everyone else be damned.

To fight this pandemic, we can’t choose our facts. It’s not a simple matter of opinion to believe Fox News when it claimed that COVID-19 was an exaggerated hoax led by “panic pushers.” Those hosts dispelled dangerous misinformation and it’s downright irresponsible to believe them.

We need to heed the scientists’ advice and take other people’s wellness into consideration. Americans who are going against “shelter in place” orders may be unwitting carriers of COVID-19, putting more vulnerable folks at risk. 

The Opportunity of COVID-19

This isn’t the first time in history when we’ve been forced to come together to confront a common enemy. A person can’t conquer the frontier of this disease alone—and in order to beat COVID-19, we need to outgrow the dark side of our individualism.

In a 1935 fireside chat during the Great Depression, FDR stated, “The old reliance upon the free action of individual wills appears quite inadequate. The intervention of that organized control we call ‘government’ seems necessary.” The New Deal was in full swing, pushing financial reforms, putting citizens back to work on public projects all over the country. This coordinated action helped pave the way for our economic recovery in that uncertain era.

During the COVID-19 crisis, we need centralized logistics, which take care of the collective rather than individuals. 

Furthermore, this is a global threat and I see an opportunity not only for Americans to become more communally oriented but also for our country to recognize its place in the world as one nation among many. 

American exceptionalism has always been a childish myth—the fact is that we’re part of a global community and we need to work with other countries on an equal footing to mount a response to this pandemic. Our arrogance and self-righteousness have no place in the world, especially right now when we need to work together. 

COVID-19 does not care if you’re Brazilian or Japanese—it treats everyone the same. The first individualist thought is: how is this going to affect me? The first collectivist thought is: how can I help others and ensure this disease doesn’t spread?

Only the second approach will give us a fighting chance.