Donald in the Classroom: Could Do Better

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 21, 2017 by deborah1960

Dear General Kelly,

I understand that you are concerned about your ward Donald’s lack of progress in Rhetoric and Critical Thinking, especially in light of Professor McWhorter’s latest assessment, and you have requested this update as a matter of some urgency.  It distresses me to inform you that I share your concern.  I cannot recall the last time I ran across a student with so little affinity for the subject.  It is not that he lacks ability—Donald certainly exhibits native cunning—but it is almost a badge of honor for him to disregard the most basic tenets of the discipline.

Perhaps the problem has its roots in a common, if inaccurate, belief that “rhetoric” is synonymous with “insincerity.”  However, given Donald’s tendencies, I would have thought that this false equivalency would have been an attraction for him.  But rhetoric, the study and practice of writing as a means of communication and persuasion, is more than glib flourishes. The truly persuasive writer marries eloquence to clear thinking.  Both are necessary:  persuasion without substance descends to demagoguery, while logic without fluency is devoid of humanity.  Perhaps that explains Donald’s lack of interest in the course.

Or perhaps he is just a lazy bugger.  Whatever the root of the problem, it is obvious that Donald’s ability to express himself clearly, persuasively, and logically is strikingly anemic.

While his areas for development are legion, it would be utterly dispiriting (and, I should think, beyond the realm of human possibility) for Donald to attempt to correct all of them.  Therefore, I think that he should take small steps and focus on improving his register and avoiding dangerous hyperbole. His most recent speaking and listening assessment (a speech before the UN entitled “Why America is the Best and the Rest of You Suck (Except You, Vlad)”) provides a dazzlingly apt vehicle for illustrating these deficiencies in his rhetoric.

“Register” refers to the degree of formality adopted by the writer or speaker.  To appropriately gauge register, the writer needs to be aware of his audience.  Here, Donald was supposed to be addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations, for heaven’s sake—not a bunch of bros hanging out in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven.  Referring to a fellow head of state as “Rocket Man on a suicide mission” is simply not the done thing, no matter how crazy you think he is. To call it juvenile would be an insult to adolescents everywhere.  Frankly, it was excruciating just to hear it, and judging from the photo of your reaction  while listening with the other grown-ups in the auditorium, I think you agree.  No wonder the judges gave him such poor marks.

However, such cringe-worthy remarks are indicative of an even greater problem.  Maybe, as has been suggested by some members of the faculty, his audience was NOT the legions of dignitaries and ambassadors seated before him.  Perhaps his actual audience were the very yahoos and locker room fauna that made him the student body president of this erstwhile fine institution of learning in the first place. The jarring informality of his tone certainly indicated that, even though Donald was standing behind the most prestigious podium in the world, his heart was in a half-empty convention hall in Phoenix.  But if that were indeed the case, then it might indicate that Donald’s narcissism is even more full-blown than the school psychologist had previously reported.  It takes a damning degree of self-regard to twist a solemn occasion into a campaign rally—especially when the election is long over.

I also believe that his tone deaf register is inextricably linked to his use of dangerous hyperbole. Instead of using facts, expert opinions, or any of the other tools available for developing reasoned arguments, Donald relentlessly resorts to facile exaggeration to make his points.  It’s always easier to use bombast than to take the time to unravel the threads of a diplomatic tangle, and it’s tempting to lob a grenade when we lack the patience (or wherewithal) to devise new approaches to intractable problems.  But as personally satisfying such tactics can be, they frequently cloud the issue, blind the listener, and needlessly antagonize the opposition.  We need only look at how the delegates’ collective sphincter visibly tightened after Donald threatened to “totally destroy North Korea” to understand how destructive gratuitous and emotional hyperbole can be.

Finally, although you did not request information about Donald’s behavior in school, I would be remiss in my duties as his homeroom teacher if I did not express my concerns about Donald’s continued association with young Stevie Miller.  Frankly, I find Stevie’s mesmeric hold over Donald not only confusing, but pernicious.  Donald exhibits truly nasty tendencies towards Mohamed and Maria whenever he and Stevie spend recess huddled together in a corner of the playground.  I hardly need to remind you of the trauma the class experienced earlier this term when Donald ripped Barack’s prize-winning essay, “My Birth and Childhood in Hawaii,” out of his hands and force fed the pages to the class’s pet lizard, Tucker. Furthermore, I’m aware that Vice Principal Mueller will be sending you a thorough report on Donald’s unhealthy relationship with Vladimir and its possible consequences on the student body president election.  On a more positive note, I would like to point out that Donald has become far less disruptive (although perhaps more disgruntled) since we moved the Bannon lad to a different homeroom.

I hope that this information is of use to you.  If you require any further assistance, please let me know.  God knows you’ll need it.

Best regards,

 

The Critical Thinking (And Homeroom 7B) Teacher

The New York Military Academy for Troubled Scions

 

©2017 D.R. Miller

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My Non-Racist Bones Will Not Suffice

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2017 by deborah1960

Dear Fellow White American,

I’m afraid I have a confession, and it is this:  if I hear one more time that you don’t have a racist bone in your body, I think I might have to smack you.  It isn’t that I don’t believe you, even though we both know that this statement or something similar is frequently the preface to an outrageously racist remark.

No.  That’s not it.  I’m willing to assume the truth that your skeleton is, indeed, lacking the racist bone.  I’m even willing to go even farther in my assumptions:  not only are you entirely non-racist, you are also utterly colorblind and totally devoid of implicit biases (you know, those impulses that make you assume that the black woman in your doctor’s office is a nurse’s aide and not the new internist).  Somehow, you’ve managed to escape the pernicious effects of living in a racist society. I know you, and I honestly believe that most of you possess good faith and good will in abundance.  But even under those conditions, I’m afraid that your non-racist bones (and mine, for that matter) do not suffice.

That’s because, as innocent as you individually might be, you (and I) are still the beneficiaries of centuries of racist attitudes, actions, and policies that have placed us at the top of the heap.  The issue is not that things would change if only black people were more like us.  The issue is that things won’t change until we are less like us. And if that surprises you, then I suggest that all of us (myself included) need to stop blathering on about our non-racist bones, and instead shut up and listen.  If we did that, we might understand that nothing is going to change unless we change our attitudes, assumptions, and actions about race.

Here’s an example of what I mean.  A lot of people I know get very riled about the idea of “Black Lives Matter,” not because they are racist, but because in their idealistic, good old fashioned liberal way, they think that all lives matter[1].  People of a certain generation were raised to believe that because race doesn’t matter, we shouldn’t ever make distinctions based on race.  And when applied to things like water fountains, school buses, and public restrooms, that seems about right.  But we need to make distinctions based on race if not to do so would result in the perpetuation of an injustice.

Frankly, the reason why the movement is not called “All Lives Matter” is that our history has shown time and time again that this is simply not the case.  White American hands have torn, broken, and burned black bodies with impunity since the arrival of the first black slaves to Virginia in 1619.  You don’t have to go far back to see the violence wrought upon black bodies.  There is no reason to look at the Civil War photos of Private Gordon’s scourged back or the photos of Emmett Till’s desecrated body in his coffin to see what I mean; you can look at Trayvon Martin’s body, shot down for buying Skittles in the wrong part of town.  Perhaps they should have called the movement “Black Lives Matter, Too.”  Sigh.  For want of an adverb, a cause was lost.  And who says grammar doesn’t matter?

But easy flippancy aside, I doubt that even the inclusion of “too” would make the acceptance of “Black Lives Matter” more likely, because it flies in the face of what we white people believe about our country and ourselves.  We are raised to believe in the fundamental fairness of America, where due process and equal rights exist for all, and the American dream is attainable to anyone willing to put in the hard work necessary to achieve it. But what due process did Trayvon Martin have when George Zimmerman tried and convicted and executed him for being a young black man in a white neighborhood?  What equal protections were afforded to Sandra Bland, who was pulled over for not signaling a lane change, beaten by the cop who arrested her, and then found swinging from a sheet in her cell three days later?  And how attainable is that American Dream to a black child born into a black neighborhood that had been transformed by racist housing policies from a “nice” white neighborhood to a living diorama of urban ills?

And the list goes on:  incarceration rates sky rocket among black men and women; schools are increasingly segregated, while white schools receive more funding than black schools;  and  even though the life expectancy gap has narrowed, black life expectancy is still significantly below whiteeven in the same city.

The easy and, frankly, most popular way to explain these disconnects between white patriotic ideals and grim African American realities is, simply, to blame the victim.  To assert that there must be something wrong with them that creates these difficulties.  A nice idea, except for one tiny flaw:  it ain’t so.  These ills have their roots not in black capacities or inclinations but in the systems that allowed and then justified the subjugation of blacks.  Crap housing and dilapidated neighborhoods?  Thank the block busters who instigated white flight by terrifying white homeowners with the vision of black neighbors, while selling the resulting abandoned houses to black families at inflated prices they couldn’t afford.  Shitty schools in black neighborhoods?  Take a hard, long look at Brown v. Board of Education, which enshrined in educational law the belief that black schools were inherently inferior, thereby holding up the white school as the institution worthy of support and improvement.  Entrenched poverty?  Blame the vast difference in wealth between white families (with a median nest egg of $111,146) and black families ($7,113—not so much a “nest egg” as a “nest crumb”) on, among other factors, the lasting impact of the discriminatory housing policies in the GI Bill.  Most of our wealth takes generations to build, and the houses of our ancestors have contributed much to our present wealth.  But what if your ancestors were precluded from buying houses?  Or if they were forced to buy inferior housing stock?

See?  The typical American narrative—the plucky immigrant who came to America and worked his socks off so his children could have a better life—doesn’t apply to the African American experience.  For one thing, despite the assertions of a Texas history book to the contrary, the African Americans who found themselves on our lovely shores were not “immigrants” or “workers”; they were slaves, property, chattel, whose designation as “souls”  in their owners’ accounting books demonstrates unequivocally their absolute subjugation to the white population who regarded the black people in their midst with little more respect than what they would show a draft horse or mule.  And despite their emancipation, they were subjected to an unrelenting campaign to keep them “in their place.” To white eyes, the Civil Rights movement, Dr. King, and the election of Barack Obama are proof that the campaign is over and the battle against racism won.  However, the hate-filled faces of the white-supremacists in Charlottesville, and the support given to them by our Equivocator-in-Chief, are chilling reminders that the struggle is far from over.

And the fact is, the struggle might never be over if we white people don’t do our part.

So, what is our part?  Well, as I said above, we all need to shut up and listen.  How about inviting a black friend for dinner, and then letting him or her speak without interruption, explanation, or excuse?  Just take it on the chin, no matter how much you want to interject.  And then we need to read histories and analyses to learn what our textbooks have long hidden from us.  A great place to start would be “The First White President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, recently published in The Atlantic. It is an eye-opening analysis of the role white supremacism played in the 2016 election of that man.  For a magisterial history of how racism and racist policies shaped our country from its foundations, you really need to read Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi.  The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander is another crucial book.  But you should also check out Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, because you can never underestimate the power of metaphor to explain the truth.  And there are lots more out there.

After that?  I don’t know.  Taking a stand?  Calling out bullshit? Writing a blog? Going on a march? Donations to Black Lives Matter or the Southern Poverty Law Center?  Any constructive ideas gratefully received.  It’ll be a start.  But not a finish.  Not by a long shot. But in the words of John Milton, “Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light.”

© 2017 D.R. Miller

 

[1] I’m perfectly aware that there are many rabid racists who foam at the mouth at the thought of “Black Lives Matter,” because they really think that black lives don’t matter.  Some of them even hold the highest positions of authority in our government.  But I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to you!

Budgets, Tax Cuts, and Dog Whistles—Oh, My!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2017 by deborah1960

 

Unless you have the amazing good luck of living under a rock, you have, by now, heard about Trump’s proposed budget. In a nutshell, the budget factors in the $600 billion tax cut to the wealthiest citizens resulting from the not-yet repealed ACA, slashes governmental programs across the board with an extra whack of the budget axe to those that provide assistance to the poor, and gives a nice, fat increase to defense spending.

It is a mark of Trump’s diminishing standing among his fellow party members that several GOP members of Congress have chipped in and bought themselves a spine, and declared the budget “dead on arrival.”  However, the moribund status of Trump’s proposal has not prevented a spirited –nay, dare I say, feisty?—defense of this latest manifestation of Trumpism by a variety of surrogates from the Office of Management and Budget,  Congress,  and various “think” tanks.  And from Mick Mulvaney on down, these apologists have glommed onto one particular talking point with alarming alacrity.  In defending their slash and burn budget, they claim that they are “showing compassion to the taxpayer” by cutting federal programs to the bone.  It is not fair, they declare, to expect hardworking middle-class tax payers to continue footing the bill for the lazy slugs who are sucking undeserved milk from a worn out public teat. Fully 45% of American households do not pay income taxes!  Why should we subsidize them?

In other words, they’ve cynically split American citizenry into two camps:  makers and takers.   On a certain gut level, this argument seems to make sense.  You work your butt off, this line of reasoning goes, so why should you pay for free breakfast and medical insurance for the illegitimate spawn of a feckless welfare queen?  And the legitimacy of this position appears to be bolstered by the additional fact that approximately 45% of American households do not pay federal income taxes.  But the very ire that this stance provokes in the listener—that sting from the enormity of this insulting injustice—is precisely what should make you pause and consider the legitimacy of the argument.  Remember:  logic is boring, dull, and analytical.  It should rarely make you need to reach for an extra dose of your blood pressure medication. If an argument leaves you feeling absolutely murderous, then you need to see if it is grounded in logic, or if it is mired in knee-jerk provoking emotionalism.

So, let’s put on our Spock ears and look dispassionately at what they’re saying.  Personally, I think there are at several logically sound reasons for rejecting Mulvaney’s argument.

First, that 45% figure that’s bandied about is interesting as far as it goes, but it doesn’t really go that far.  For example, it doesn’t include all of the other taxes that people pay:   even if you don’t pay federal income taxes, the chances are pretty great that you do pay some combination of payroll, state, property, excise, sales, sin, and gas taxes. According to Roberton Williams, an analyst for the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, the actual percentage of people who pay no taxes is actually closer to 1%.[1]  Pretty much all of us are makers, as it turns out. Similarly, many of the households who didn’t pay federal income taxes had taken advantage of various deductions and credits that they were entitled to because Congress decided to use the tax code as a mechanism for carrying out important social policies, such as encouraging home ownership or giving to charities or making sure that the working poor can afford to go to work or keeping your granddad out of the poorhouse[2] or deciding that families that make less than $20,000 probably have too much shit on their plate already to worry about paying taxes.  You know, compassion.

Second, let’s just look a bit at who is eating the federal pie.  According to their really pretty pie chart, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) found that in Fiscal Year 2015, the federal government spent $3.7 trillion, of which $3.2 trillion was from taxes and the rest from loans.  In that year, 16%  of the federal budget went to defense, 24% went to Social Security, 25% (or $938 billion) went to Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP[3] , and ACA marketplace subsidies, and 10% went to Safety Net programs.  Debt, vets, transportation, education, science and medical research, non-security related international programs, and miscellaneous crap made up the rest of the expenses (about 25%).  Now, you might tot up the Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, marketplace, and safety net programs and think, “Holy shit!!  The poor really are sucking up all of the federal resources.”  But slow down, okay? First of all, Social Security, including Social Security Disability Insurance,  is an insurance program, and current recipients have contributed to the program through their payroll tax contributions.  Second, of the 25% of the federal budget that went to paying for the poor’s health bill, two-thirds went to Medicare—which is available to all Americans over the age of 65, both rich and poorall you have to do is pay in and hope you make it to 65.  Social Security and Medicare are not programs for the poor.

But let’s be truly Scrooge-ish in our analysis and do our best to root out the freebooters in Granny’s nursing home. In 2015, 24% of Medicare recipients were at or under 200% of federal poverty levels.   However, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 41% of Medicare payments come from general federal revenues, while 38% was from pay roll taxes, 13% from beneficiary premiums, and the rest from state transfers, interests, and the ubiquitous but tantalizingly vague “other.”[4] Part A of Medicare, which covers hospital, nursing home, hospital, and home care, is the most expensive part of Medicare ($261.2 billion), and, guess what:  in 2014, only 1% of the Part A bill was paid for through income taxes!  The bulk of Medicare payments that were covered by federal income taxes were under Medicare B and D. These two programs totaled $338 billion, of which $253.5 billion (or 75%) is paid for by federal tax dollars.[5]  So, if we assume that 24% of that $253.5 billion was spent on the elderly poor, then the total of federal tax dollars spent on the poor for Medicare B and D is $63.4 billion. Add in the $633 million the feds chip in to the poor in Medicare A (25% of $2.5 billion in federal income taxes paid under Part A), the total payments to the poor under Medicare that originated from federal income tax is $64 billion.

So, let’s add up the federal income tax dollars that were spent on the poor (in billions of dollars):

 

Medicare 64
CHIP 9.7
Medicaid 351
ACA marketplace subsidies 41
Safety net programs[6] 362
Total: 827.7

 

Now, let’s see what percentage of federal income tax dollars were actually paid directly to the poor.  Taking the $3.7 trillion 2015 total budget as our starting point, I’ll immediately knock out the $938 billion in Social Security because, as I’ve pointed out before, that is funded by payroll taxes.  Similarly, I’ll toss out the $343.2 billion for Medicaid that came from non-federal income tax dollars.  That leaves us with roughly $2.4 trillion, of which $827.7 billion is 34%.  And since in 2015 32% of Americans were at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level, I would be inclined to say that seems about right.  And here’s a point:  if you thought it was unfair for 55% of potential federal income tax payers to subsidize the 45% who don’t pay income tax, then how fair is it for 32% of the population to bear the burden of 60% of the budget cuts?

When you think about it, the middle and upper classes get quite a lot out of the budget.  After all, who benefited from bank bailouts?  Who gets the most benefit from agricultural subsidies and shiny new airports?  I have a guess, and it isn’t the under-employed white guy living out in the country who’s about to lose his pick-up truck because he can’t make his loan payments.  Furthermore, this is not taking into account the very real benefits to the rich that are not accounted for in the budget. In 2015, $1.2 trillion dollars were exempted, excluded, or deducted from potential federal income tax and payroll tax revenues.  Also known as “tax expenditures,” these funds would have been enough to pay for Social Security, or Medicare and Medicaid combined, or defense and non-defense discretionary spending. In essence, because these dollars that are not captured by the federal government, they act as subsidies for the people who are eligible to claim them. While the poor benefited from the Earned Tax Credit, most tax deductions and exclusions are overwhelmingly skewed towards the wealthy[7] :  according to the CBPP, 50% of tax expenditures were claimed by the top 20%.[8] But because by their very nature they are not revenue, this benefit is not reflected in the federal budget. So who’s the real piggy at the trough?  Not sure, but I bet it’s the one whose chauffeur drove it to the food fest, and not the one who can’t afford the bus fare to get there.

All of this raises an important question:  why focus on the poor if they represent only a third of federal income tax dollars spent?  Well, for one thing, it’s easy to pick on the poor.  Practically by definition, they are vulnerable to attack, lacking the education, savvy, and resources to defend themselves and their interests.  And, let’s face it, we don’t really like the poor.  For all our protestations about being a classless society, we have a long, extensive and fairly vile history of abusing and denigrating the poor[9].  They make us feel bad, especially when it turns out that it’s not people’s  poor choices that create poverty (or even their state of mind), but ingrained societal inequities, including the failure to provide a living wage and the disproportionate impact of inherited wealth.[10] So when we’re feeling sad and scared and want to blame someone for our shitty state of affairs, the poor make a convenient whipping boy. Perhaps that’s why Trump’s budget really packs a wallop against the same white, rural, poor who voted for him.

But let’s be real here, right?  We know what Mulvaney is really trying to do.  He’s blowing on his dog whistle.   The tendency of white Americans to associate poverty with African-Americans has been well-documented, as has its connection to attacks on welfare systems.[11]  Using “poor” as a surrogate for “black” is a time-honored tradition at least since Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” in the 1968 presidential campaign—and not just for Republican presidents.[12] And nobody can blow on that particular dog whistle half as well as Donald Trump. He won not despite using overtly racist language, but because of it.  So Mulvaney, by picking on the poor, by pitting hard-working “us” against shiftless, feckless “them,” is using the same tactics his boss used to such great success back in November.[13]

So what do we do?  Point out that in 2015 41% of people living under the poverty line were white? Discuss how his budget will actually hurt Trump supporters the most?  Convene symposia on the links between structural racism and poverty? Well, as much as I love to think that reasoned discourse would bring an end to our racial woes, I really, really, doubt it.  Racism is an emotional response to the world, mired in shame, guilt, and greed, and as such is pretty immune to logic.  Anybody who has had Thanksgiving dinner with their Archie Bunker uncle knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Engaging in the debate on Mulvaney’s terms will do nothing to eradicate the inherent racism of his argument, but it would actually play into his hands by deepening the chasm between Trump supporters and reasonable people and hardening the differences of our positions even more. I therefore suggest that we reject Mulvaney’s position in its entirety and refuse to participate in it at all.  Instead, we need to replace his emotional appeal with one of our own.  And ours, I humbly suggest, would have the double charm of being grounded in fact and patriotism.  Hooray!

Here’s how it goes. While a mere 99% of households are makers, I would argue that 100% of us are takers.  We don’t all take the same things, but we all take something.  Some people get retirement benefits from having served our country, while others get help getting preventive medical care for their kids.  Hipsters might go to an exhibit funded in part by the NEA, while little kids like going to their local libraries and museums to learn[14].   Student loans help our kids get further education, and clean water and fresh air are universally popular, even if, for some unfathomable reason, you don’t “believe” in the impact of greenhouse gasses.  Nobody wants to lose their fingers at work.  The National Park Service is nifty, and how would I get my giggles without the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report? I don’t know about you, but I like  science and medical research, and disease prevention is something I could definitely live with.  Some of us need help to afford to eat, while others like to rake in agricultural subsidies . See how it works?  Something for everyone.  The federal budget accommodates the needs and desires of all citizens, and that’s cool because this country, like all countries, is a joint enterprise.  If Justice Holmes were right, and taxes are the dues we pay for a civilized society, then the budget is the mechanism for establishing and maintaining that civilization. What we need, instead of attacking the users, is a fair and equitable means of raising tax revenues—including from the oh-so-favored top 20%.

Basically, there is a division in our country, but it is not between the makers and the takers.  Instead, it is between those who see government as a means to provide for the common welfare of all its citizens and those who see it as a way to redistribute funds from the poor to the rich. Reader, I think the choice is obvious, but we need to beat our drums about it more, because there are those who will buy Mulvaney’s false dichotomy and deepen the rifts that are already dangerously close to ripping our nation apart.  Sad!

 

©2017 D. R. Miller

[1] For a good explanation of the limitations of the 45% figure, click here.

[2] According to The Economist, in 2011, 22% of families that didn’t pay federal taxes were seniors receiving tax-exempt Social Security benefits.

[3] Children’s Health Insurance Program.  Oh, those pesky kids.

[4] Figure 6 on the KFF fact sheet.  The KFF fact sheet is based on FY 2014 figures, but, you know what?  I’m willing to bet that the percentages are about the same for FY 2015.

[5] Part B = 259.8 billion, and Part D = $78.2 billion.

[6] These programs include SNAP, and Supplemental Security Income for the elderly or disabled poor, and unemployment insurance

[7] The disparity between the haves and have-nots is especially eye-watering when looking at who benefits from the capital gains preferences.

[8] 16.6% went to the top 1%.

[9] And if you don’t believe me, check out this light-hearted tome, the genteelly named White Trash by Nancy Isenberg .  Also available on Audible for your listening pleasure.

[10] Stupid poor.  Always choosing the wrong parents.

[11] See, for example, Gilens, M. “Race and Poverty in America: Public Misperceptions and the News Media” Public Opinion Quarterly, 1996, found at http://www.uvm.edu/~dguber/POLS234/articles/gilens.pdf.

[12] Bill Clinton’s campaign for welfare reform springs to mind, for example.

[13] You really need to read the National Book Award winning Stamped from the Beginning by Dr. Ibram X. Kelly of the University of Florida.  I mentioned this book in my last blog, but I really can’t recommend it enough if you’re at all interested in the evolution of racist ideas and their role in justifying racist beliefs, actions, and policies.

[14] Because Christ knows they won’t be able to learn anything at their local public school, thanks to Trump’s budget!

Presidential Grammar 101: Dynamic, Stative, and Modal Verbs

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2017 by deborah1960

Verbs are wonderful.  The root of a verb is aptly called “the infinitive” because any given verb can take place at any time: the past, the present, the future.  With verbs, we can express actions that occurred in the past but continue into the present (present perfect:  Trump has always been a buffoon) or that will take place in the future after something else occurs (future perfect:  I hope that Comey will have completed his public testimony before Sean Spicer’s ass is fired.)  Heck!  Verbs are so flexible that we can even use them to express hypotheticals, situations contrary to fact, or wishes (conditional:  If Paul Ryan loved his country more than power, he would start impeachment proceedings; and subjunctive:  I wish McConnell weren’t such a bald-faced liar and hypocrite.)

So, verbs are gifted with temporal agility, and if that were all they were capable of, I think we could still agree that they are pretty remarkable indeed.  However, the true beauty of verbs is their ability to allow us to express a limitless range of physical and mental and emotional actions.  In other words, they not only allow us to express what we do, but also what we are—and even what we should.  It is this aspect of verbs, which is so fundamental to their nature that it is frequently overlooked, that I wish to examine.

In general, then, there are three basic types of verbs:  dynamic, stative, and modal.[1]  Dynamic verbs, as their name suggests, involve some type of action, process, or behavior.  In other words, it’s what we do.  Here are some examples:

Hillary Clinton laughed until she nearly wet herself at the notion that Trump had fired Comey because of the FBI’s bungled investigation of her emails.

Anderson Cooper’s eyes rolled like a wheel of fortune during his interview with Kellyanne Conway.

The hundreds of Benghazi “patriots” who had gathered in front of the White House to protest Trump’s loosey-goosey sharing of top-top-top secret intelligence with his Russian comrades screamed, “Lock him up!”[2]

Stative verbs, on the other hand, reflect our states of being, or who we are. These include verbs of existence (“Trump is totally irresponsible”); appearance (“Kellyanne seems really shifty”); feelings and emotion (“McMasters really hates lying to the press on behalf of his shit-storm of a boss”); mental processes (“Mitch McConnell forgot the meaning of the phrase ‘checks and balances’); and possession (“To their chagrin, many GOP congressmen own their votes in favor of TrumpRyanCare”).  Generally, you don’t use the progressive (continuous) tense[3] with stative verbs.  So, for example, you would say “The chocolate cake tastes all right but really it’s nothing to write home about,” but not “The chocolate cake is tasting all right but really it’s nothing to write home about.”  However, there are lots and lots of stative verbs that can also be dynamic.[4] Here’s an example of what I mean:

Sean Spicer lies to the press (stative:  he always does it).

Sean Spicer is lying to the press again (dynamic:  he is currently in the act of lying).

Sean Spicer is lying prostrate on the rug after the daily briefing (dynamic: using a different meaning of the verb “to lie”).

“To be” can, under certain circumstances be either stative or dynamic, depending on how it’s used:

Sean Spicer is a liar (stative:  he always is a liar)

Sean Spicer is being a liar (dynamic:  right now, at this moment, Sean Spicer is lying).[5]

“To have” can also be dynamic or stative:

I have had a nasty case of nausea since November 9, 2016 (stative:  possession)

I am having a particularly nasty case of nausea right now (dynamic:  I am in the process of being sick right now).

However, even though they can behave similarly,[6] they really do not mean the same thing.  Consider the difference between these two sentences:

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts”

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which is absolutely right to do, facts”

Now, as delightfully refreshing as it is to see Trump dealing in facts, even in the most unfortunate of circumstances, I think we can agree that the first sentence (his actual tweet) is quite different from the second sentence (which is what I think he wishes we would think he said).  To have the right to do something does not mean that it is right to do it. You would think that was obvious, but, well, you know.  Trump.

But this exploration between having a right and being right—the difference between “can” and “ought,” in other words–makes a nice segue to modal verbs.  Modal verbs are words that express degrees of necessity and possibility.  They include could, should, would, ought, may, might, can, shall, will, and must. Hardly anyone (besides English teachers and other grammar enthusiasts, that is) realizes that these words are verbs at all. They simply don’t act like normal verbs; hell, they don’t even have an infinitive form (there is no “to must”).  When diagramming a sentence with modal verbs, most students just scratch their heads and wonder where in the world the goddamned predicate is.

Yet, in many ways, the modal verb is what makes civilization possible.  They establish our bounds, and also act as a reality check.  When joined by “have”, could, would, and should allow us to evaluate our past actions, and enable us to learn from our mistakes.  They really are the most marvelous words.  But don’t just take my word for it:  look at these incredibly useful examples to see what I mean!

A president may disclose top secret information to a traditional enemy, but perhaps he oughtn’t.

A president could choose to share top secret information with a traditional enemy, but he should not do it just to prove how cool his intelligence sources are.

The Russian officials must have been beside themselves with joy when they received the top secret information from the president.

The next time the president thinks about sharing top secret information with the Russians, he might want to remember that he has a duty to the citizens of his country to act in their best interests.

So, that’s it, then.  Dynamic, stative, and modal.  Now, you might be thinking that all this is nice, but has nothing to do with real life.  Reader, I could not disagree more.  If you think about it, looking closely at these verbs should remind us about the difference between our thoughts and our actions, between innate qualities that cannot be changed and attitudes that can be, between the things we can do and the things that we ought (or ought not). That’s because our words and the rules that govern them are not separate from ourselves and our actions, but are entwined in them.  We once had a president who understood that, and chose his words carefully as a result.  Alas, that is no longer the case.  So, if the current president won’t pay attention to his words, then we have no choice but to do it for him.  Sad!

[1] Yes, yes, yes.  I know that there are auxiliary verbs (AKA “helping verbs”)—to have, to do, and to be.  But when these verbs are functioning as auxiliary verbs, they are used to just change the tense of verbs.  In other words, they perform a purely grammatical function.  So screw them—they’re boring.    But please note that I said “functioning as auxiliary verbs” because all of these auxiliary verbs can be dynamic, and two of them can be stative and dynamic (but no prizes for guessing which ones). Verbs.  As slippery as the slope the GOP is pushing us down.

[2] Not really—I’m just fucking with you.

[3] The continuous or progressive tense is formed by joining some form of the verb “to be” with the present participle (-ing) of the verb in question.  Here’s what I mean:

Past continuous:  Donald Trump was eating the most delicious piece of chocolate cake when he shared state secrets with the waiters at Mar-a-Lago.

Present continuous:  Right now, Donald Trump is eating the most delicious piece of chocolate cake while sharing state secrets with the waiters at Mar-a-Lago.

Future continuous:  Without a doubt, Donald Trump will be eating the most delicious piece of chocolate cake the next time he shares state secrets with the waiters at Mar-a-Lago.

[4] Well, of course there are.  This IS English grammar we’re discussing, after all!

[5] However, you need to be careful—there are some conditions that are so innate that you cannot convert them to a dynamic state.  So, you can say “Donald Trump is a narcissist,” but not “Donald Trump is being a narcissist.” That’s because Trump’s narcissism is the very core of his personality, and not something that he can turn on or off like a faucet.

[6] And now you know which two auxiliary verbs are both stative and dynamic!  Good for you!

© 2017 D.R. Miller

How to Tell BF from BS

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2017 by deborah1960

A recent op-ed article in the New York Times raised an interesting (and eponymous) question:  has Trump stolen philosophy’s critical tools? The author, Casey Williams, argues that some of the blame for Trump’s rather casual relationship with the truth lies in some measure with the philosophers, literary critics, and social scientists who have chipped away at the notion that truth can in any way be deemed objective, universal, and unquestionable.  In a world where the one universally acknowledged truth is that the truth cannot be known, it is a short hop, skip, and a jump to proclaiming the legitimacy of “alt-truth.”  Certainly, truth is subjective.  If nothing else, neuroscience has established that the evidence of our eyes and of our memory is anything but reliable.  A quick peek at Neuroscience News reveals how researchers are learning how fragile, friable, and fantastical our memories—so critical to our understanding of “truth”–are.  Trump therefore cannot be lying, because there cannot be such a thing as the truth.  Instead of lies, Trump is merely recasting his version of the truth, or rather, is positing one of an infinite possible truths.  This situation raises the hitherto unthinkable possibility that Trump is a b.f. (bona fide—good faith) philosopher, and not a b.s. (bullus shittus) artist.

And yet this prospect doesn’t sit well with me, and I think Williams finds it a quite uncomfortable notion, too. Indeed, he ends by stating that the only way for us to determine the legitimacy (or otherwise) of Trump’s pronouncements is for us to use critical thinking skills.  After all, philosophy and truth-seeking should be supported by sound reasoning, right? So, let’s put on our Critical Thinking Caps and do it!  Let’s root out rotten reasoning!

First, intentions should matter. And something tells me that Trump’s intentions are not pure.  Someone who acknowledges the possibility of a subjective truth, and who rejects the notion of a universal truth, tends to be anti-authoritarian.  If you have a nuanced view of the world, and are willing to accept that there is, indeed, more than one way to skin a cat,[1] then you are far less likely to attempt to impose your world view upon others.  This is evident in literary criticism, which by its very nature encourages the reader to develop personal interpretations of texts.  Analyzing a canonical work such as Othello through a feminist lens, for example, enables us to view the characters of Emilia and Desdemona as far more critical (and interesting) than if we simply accept the heavy-handed traditional view that the female characters are merely stock figures whose sole purpose in the play is to move the plot along.  Similarly, adopting different ways of viewing the world might make one a bit more sensitive to the impact of history upon current events.  So, for example, one might be a tad more willing to concede the importance of asserting that “black lives matter” if one looked at the history of slavery, Jim Crow, and lynching through the eyes of African Americans.  I know that if I were African American, I would be a bit shrill in asserting my right to exist in the face of a power structure that has done everything possible to downplay the importance of black lives.[2] Absolutists, on the other hand, appear to have no difficulty with declaring that their point of view is the correct position to take. Frankly, there is nothing in Trump’s biography, rhetoric, or actions to support the idea that he is a subtle observer of the human condition.  Indeed, I think that Trump himself would scoff at the idea that he really need to see things from another person’s point of view. Atticus Finch he is not.[3] At the very least, his sweeping generalizations indicate that he is a man who sees the world in absolute terms.

But even if we assume that Trump’s intentions are as pure as Sir Galahad, and that Trump were posing an alternative truth instead of a downright lie, there should still be some relationship to the “truth” he is refuting.  Let’s look at the example Williams used:  Trump’s tweet in response to the increased heat generated by the investigation into Russian interference with the election.  Here it is, in all its glory:

 “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism.”

Now, you might look high, and you might look low, but there is nothing in this statement that is in any way relevant to the question of just how far up his puppet Putin’s hands go.[4]  This lack of a logical relationship between the statement (“Putin really had his hand way, way, WAY up his puppet!”) and the refutation (“Obama bugged me!”) can be either intentional (a red herring) or inadvertent (ignoratio elenchi)[5].  But either way, as any Critical Thinking Teacher worth her salt can tell you, this disconnection is a fatal flaw to the argument Trump is making, because all it does is throw sand into the reader’s eyes.  Instead of shedding light on the matter at hand, Trump is obscuring it.  Blurts do not sound reasoning make.

Furthermore, even if “truth” doesn’t exist, “facts” sure do.  There are observable, measurable phenomena whose existence can be verified.  Temperatures can be measured, stock prices recorded, and hot mic remarks  replayed.  To date, he has not offered any evidence to back his claim about Obama bugging Trump Tower.  Nor is this an isolated lapse: Trump’s relationship with facts is notoriously lax. Politifact, an independent fact-checking website, reckons that 71% of the 394 statements by Trump that they fact-checked were mostly false (20%), false (33%), or “pants-on-fire” (16%).  And these statements include easily fact-checked falsehoods (“All pipelines that are coming into this country from now on has (sic) to be American steel”) and some just plain silly pants-igniting lies ( “Before the presidential campaign, ‘I didn’t know Steve [Bannon]’”). I think that we can all agree that a philosophical truth-seeker will, if nothing else, at least try to make his or her statements consistent with the factual record.

But mostly, Trump’s rhetoric is simply not consistent with typical philosophical discourse.  Can any among you honestly say that The Critique of Pure Reason was simply un-put-down-able?  Or that Of Grammatology was a real page turner?  Anyone?  Bueller?  Bueller?

Of course not.  And there is an excellent reason for this:  philosophical writings are intellectual, rational, and about as exciting to read as paint can labels.  That’s why most people don’t read them and instead use Sparknotes.[6]

Now, there are many things you can call Trump’s rhetoric, but “dry” and “intellectual” certainly aren’t among them.  Look at these examples to see what I mean:

“Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”

“I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

“If I were running ‘The View’, I’d fire Rosie O’Donnell. I mean, I’d look at her right in that fat, ugly face of hers, I’d say ‘Rosie, you’re fired.’”

They are not identical in tone or subject.  In that first quotation, Trump’s New Year’s greeting manages to conflate love and vague threats to his “enemies” in a rather memorable –and disturbing—manner, while the repeated references to the greatness of his wall in the second quotation brings to mind the hubristic musings of an illiterate eight-year-old.  The revenge fantasy of the third quotation is marked by its viciousness.  But they share a vital quality:  they are all riddled with emotive language.

Emotive language, as its name strongly suggests, is used to create an emotional response in the reader or listener.  And that emotional response is often visceral, which literally means taking place in the gut.  Fear, love, humor, horror all have physical manifestations: sweat, increased heart rate, laughter.  Even my usual response to Trump’s language, nausea, is merely the physical manifestation of my disgust.

You might notice that in the midst of all this emotion, there is very little intellectual reaction going on.  It takes real effort to think after reading a Trumpism, because you feel emotionally drained.  A b.f. philosopher, on the other hand, leaves you exhausted because she exercised your brain.  By purposely creating an emotional reaction, Trump is using linguistic prestidigitation to distract the reader from the critical task at hand of evaluating the legitimacy of his “alt-truth.”  Far from seeking his own subjective truth, he is preventing the reader from engaging with the meaning of his words in any substantive way.

And that, dear reader, is why I feel utterly comfortable with labeling Trump as a b.s. artist, and his “alternate truths” as lies.

[1] My cat hates this expression.

[2] And in case you think I’m being ever so slightly hysterical, you might want to check out this book.

[3] I am, of course, referring to the Atticus Finch of To Kill A Mockingbird, or, as I like to call him, the real Atticus Finch.  Someday I will write a blog about the immorality of tricking an old lady with dementia into publishing a draft of a crap novel she had abandoned decades ago.  But more of that anon.

[4] My!  That’s a disturbing image!

[5] If you want to know the difference, I suggest you click here to read a really, really AMAZING blog that uses the best words to explain it!! Nice!

[6] Yes, yes, yes.  I know that there are a few among you who have, indeed, read these works in their entirety and really, really liked them.  Bully for you.  But I was talking about normal people.

 

Copyright 2017 D. R. Miller

Why we need mourning bands

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 13, 2017 by deborah1960

I first ran across a mourning band back in my teens, when watching a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery on PBS (I was a very strange teenager).  The band in question was worn by Detective Charles Parker, Wimsey’s sidekick, brother-in-law, and confidant.  I don’t recall which mystery it was, or for whom Parker was in mourning, but I was very struck by the idea of the band itself.  It was a simple piece of black cloth, neatly worn around Parker’s well-muscled arm.  The effect it had on the other characters was amazing:  open hostility would spontaneously morph into quiet deference, as the band silently, but clearly, announced that this was a man who has sustained a loss.  Be gentle with him.

What a quaint custom, I thought.  I wonder why we don’t wear them now

And I never thought about them again, until last week.

If you happened to have been in my local Home Goods store last week, you might have been startled by the bewildering sight of an otherwise sane-looking middle-aged woman crying silently, but openly, while holding a turquoise colored ice bucket to her chest.  That would have been me.

Certainly, there were several people out there who did see me—I could tell that they had noticed me by how wide a berth they gave me (and believe me, given the crowded conditions of your typical Home Goods store, it involved some pretty tricky maneuvering to give me even a narrow berth).  I certainly don’t begrudge them their wariness.  Indeed, if the roles had been reversed, I would doubtlessly have sent my cart careening down the aisles in my rush to avoid contact with such a sight.  After all, in these perilous times, who knows what insane thoughts and dark desires could have triggered those tears?

As it happens, I do know what had caused my tears upon beholding the ice bucket:  it was the recent death of my eldest sister. My sister, you see, had pancreatic cancer, which, after a string of disastrous misadventures too gloomy to enumerate, resulted in her being able to ingest only liquids and ice chips. She especially liked chewing the ice, because it allowed her to pretend to be eating something.  Consequently, we had to make sure that she had a steady supply of ice. Now, my sister could hardly be unique in this regard: after all, a hospice is generally chockerblock with the dying, and surely a fair proportion of them would be unable to eat anything but ice chips.  So you would think they would supply you with a halfway decent ice bucket, wouldn’t you? However, the hospice had only those flimsy Styrofoam ice buckets/pitchers, the kind that seem to specialize in turning ice chips into ice slush.

So, when I saw that sassy little ice bucket, with its efficient insulation and darling little rope handles, I immediately thought of my sister, whose favorite color, as it happens, was turquoise.  Cue water works, because her death is so recent, and my heart so raw, that any reminder of her is likely to get me going.

Having put the string of events into words, it is quite apparent that the connection between the ice bucket and her death is so tenuous that it is hard to say with a straight face that there is a connection at all.  Indeed, to a rational mind, the existence of a turquoise ice bucket would hardly rise to the stature of a mere coincidence.  But that’s grief for you:  crazy, fitful, and prone to mischief.  That’s precisely why a mourning band would be so handy:  it would tell the world, “Watch out!  Grieving sister ahead!  Be careful:  she might do something in-saaaane!”  And the world, in turn, would gently nod its head and allow me to cry in the middle of the party section of my sister’s favorite store without feeling too embarrassed about it.

Mourning bands were first introduced to the male mourner’s wardrobe in the 1770’s, but they really hit their heyday in the Victorian era.  When Prince Albert died, Queen Victoria ordered her male servants to wear their mourning bands for eight years! Now you generally see them on police badges when an officer dies in the line of duty, but even then, they are so small (they’re generally worn on the badge) and on for so short a time (usually from the date of death to the funeral), that they are hardly noticeable at all.[1]  Given how prevalent death was in the Victorian era, with little kids, pregnant women, and consumptive factory workers kicking the bucket all around you, you would think that people would try to escape it.  But no!  Instead of avoiding death, Victorians positively wallowed in complex and restrictive funerary practices. But that is the paradox identified eons ago by Elisabeth Kübler Ross in On Death and Dying:  when death was prevalent, we incorporated dying into our daily life.  Now, when death is conveniently boxed away in a hospital, we keep it at arm’s length.  Or else, in the event of spectacular deaths like the victims of mass shootings or marathon bombers, death becomes a media event, something that happens to other people, and thus remains beyond our personal experience. But that’s crazy, really—we’re all going to die.  We are all born, and we all die.  That’s life.  Get used to it.  Yet we rarely do get used to it, and we rarely treat death as the inevitability that it is.

In this, as in so many other things, my sister was an exception.  She had been a nurse, and therefore had both the experience and the analytical mind necessary to meet death head-on, in a totally matter-of-fact manner.  Thus it was that I actually read out loud the obituary I had written for her in order to obtain her editorial approval—the fourth most surreal incident of my life. I suspect that if my sister had seen a sobbing woman in the middle of Home Goods, she would have guessed that the woman had lost someone dear to her.  I don’t know exactly what it is she would have done, but it would have been done with the knowledge that here was a person who needed special consideration.

Most people do not have my sister’s preternatural powers of observation, which is why a mourning band would be handy.   Even though it started out as a mourning accessory for men, there is no reason why it couldn’t be used universally.  It would give the mourner space to grieve, to cry for no apparent reason, and it would also allow the on-looker to back away discreetly.  Or even to pat a stranger’s shoulder, in recognition that we are all at death’s mercy.

[1]Different cultures do still have mourning practices.  For example, Jewish men don’t shave their beard for thirty days after the death of a loved one.  But, frankly, that wouldn’t do too much for me, as I don’t generally shave my beard anyway.  No one would notice.  Also, the mourning band has the advantage of being universal:  anyone can use it, even a grieving atheist such as myself.  It is merely a simple banner stating that the wearer is grieving, with no religious or gender-specific overtones (or undertones, for that matter).

Copyright 2017 D.R. Miller

Ban Banners and the Banning Bannons That Support Them!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2017 by deborah1960

I started out this blog as a way to share breezy little essays about things of interest to me:  The Archers, the wonders of Britain, Steinbeck’s superb use of structure to convey meaning, and even how not to raise your kids.  Lately, I’ve been applying the principles that I taught to my erstwhile Critical Thinking classes to the various idiocies spouted off by the current regime, mostly because I find its total disregard of logic and intellectual honesty to be beyond outrageous.  The voice I’ve been adopting in these latter essayettes has been pedantic sarcasm on steroids—as if I have been channeling a rabid Mr. Peabody—all in defense of sound reasoning and honest argumentation.

However, today I find that neither voice suffices to address today’s topic.  Trump’s Executive Order on “Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”[1] is so grossly wrong on so many levels, that the only justifiable response to it is a fierce moral outrage.  The New York Times provides a nice synopsis of the order:

President Trump on Friday closed the nation’s borders to refugees from around the world, ordering that families fleeing the slaughter in Syria be indefinitely blocked from entering the United States, and temporarily suspending immigration from several predominantly Muslim countries [Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen].  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/27/us/politics/refugee-muslim-executive-order-trump.html?ribbon-ad-idx=11&src=trending&module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=Politics&action=swipe&region=FixedLeft&pgtype=article

Frankly, documenting all of the many ways that Trump has offended even the most lax standards of decency is too heavy a load for this little bagatelle of a blog to carry.  But let me run down a few.

First, the class of people targeted by Trump’s pernicious decree are amongst the most miserable of the miserable. A refugee does not choose to leave his or her home country:   under Department of Homeland Security (presumably those who would know best who constitutes a threat to the nation), a refugee is “a person who has fled his or her country of origin because of past persecution or a fear of future persecution based upon race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group (https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/refugees/questions-answers-refugees ).”   I think that the operative word to focus on here is “fled,” the past tense of “flee,” the first definition of which, appropriately enough for the purpose of this particular essayette, is “1. a :  to run away, often from danger or evil :  fly <The family fled from the war-torn zone.>b :  to hurry toward a place of security <Refugees fled to a neighboring country.> (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/flee).”[2] There is nothing voluntary about becoming a refugee.  Indeed, the DHS regulations explicitly exclude those who have chosen to leave for economic or other reasons.  It is compulsion, not desire, that induces the refugee to leave her native land. Targeting this vulnerable group of people, people who have had to leave behind all they knew and loved, is a despicable act of bullying—even coming from one of history’s all-time great despicable bullies. The fact that he chose to sign the order on Holocaust Remembrance Day is further proof (if any were needed) of Trump’s utter callousness to the suffering of others.

Second, Trump’s stated desire of ensuring “extreme vetting” of refugees in order to “protect the nation” is a straw man made of the shoddiest of materials.  Refugees already undergo “extreme vetting”:  the State Department undertakes an exhaustive review of each applicant’s claim for refugee status.[3] Typically, the process takes 18 to 24 months to complete,[4] hardly what you could sensibly call a lighthearted decision. How could this vetting possibly be more microscopic?  What he calls “extreme vetting” is actually “exclusion.”

Further, Trump is creating a false equivalency between refugees and foreign terrorists. He asserts that refugees are somehow a threat to the country:  if we take pity on the miserable, they will inevitably turn around and attack us.  How sharper than a serpent’s tooth, according to Trump, it is to have an ungrateful refugee.  Yet there is little to back up Trump’s bald assertion.  A recent study strongly suggests that in Germany, which has welcomed over a million refugees from the Maghreb, there is “no clear link between refugees and most kinds of crime (http://www.dw.com/en/study-contradicts-efforts-to-link-migrants-to-crime/a-19390414 ).”  Indeed, increased numbers in immigration are correlated to decreases in crime overall, not only in Germany (ibid), but even here in the good old U S of A (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0002716212438938).[5]  If immigration in general is beneficial to the host nation, how much more so is welcoming refugees, the people who have the greatest motivation to be grateful to their port in the storm?

Additionally, Trump’s particular definition of “foreign terrorist” is so narrowly drawn that it is nothing more than a coded word for “Muslim.” This is made absolutely clear by the fact that exceptions will be considered for members of “religious minorities”—or, as they are commonly referred to, Christians.[6] Trump’s fear, hatred, and fundamental misunderstanding of Islam is well-documented:  it is amongst the highest pitched of his many dog whistles.[7] He is blatantly and deliberately targeting members of a particular religion.  Perhaps Trump has suffered from a spectacular case of amnesia, because he certainly seems to have forgotten that, just a little over a week before he signed this evil document, he took a pledge to “uphold and defend the Constitution”—including, presumably, the First[8] and the Fourteenth[9] Amendments.

But, purely for the sake of argument, let’s forget all the moral, logical, and constitutional objections that I have raised to the Executive Order. Let’s even forget the possibility that other countries might start taking a long, hard look at US citizens entering their country.  Instead, let’s look at the Order’s stated purpose:  the protection of the nation.  If that were truly Trump’s aim, then it is hard to see how he could have missed the mark by any wider margin. First, one would expect that at least one of the seven countries named in the order to have had citizens involved in terrorist attacks against the United States.  However, such is not the case.[10]  Not only that, but the refugees who are fleeing those countries are, in fact, the victims of the very violence that Trump is purportedly seeking to curb.[11] In fact, many of the Iraqi refugees now banned from entering the U.S. have been targeted for retribution by ISIS because they aided the U.S. military.[12] How does forsaking the people who aided us in any way make us safer? And what motivation will they have to help us in the future?  What position does Trump’s actions put American military and civilian personnel currently in Iraq?  The illogic of Trump’s position is more than mind-boggling:  it is soul destroying.

And finally, the greatest danger to the nation is the fact that this Order, based as it is in venality, bigotry, and idiocy, is a 24 karat gift to ISIS or any of its ilk.  It is not generosity that inspires terrorism.  To the contrary, it is the clear injustice of this document that will serve as a clarion call to would-be martyrs, threatening US citizens not only here, but abroad.  By acting so foolishly in order to “protect” us, all Trump has done is to place us in even greater danger.

© 2017 D R Miller

 

 

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/27/us/politics/refugee-muslim-executive-order-trump.html?_r=0

[2] How marvelously apt those example sentences are! Bravo, Merriam-Webster.  Bravo.

[3]   Q.  What Kind Of Processing Can I Expect Under The United States Refugee Program?
A.   The U.S. Department of State Resettlement Service Centers (RSCs) carry out most of the casework preparation for refugee eligibility interviews. The RSCs pre-screen applicants, help prepare the applications for USCIS, initiate background security checks, and arrange medical examinations for those refugees approved by USCIS.

Following USCIS approval, the processing entity also asks for the names and addresses of any relatives in the United States, for details on the person’s work history and job skills, and for any special educational or medical needs of the refugee and accompanying family members, in order to determine the best resettlement arrangements for the refugee.

The International Organization for Migration generally arranges transportation to the United States on a loan basis. Refugees are expected to repay the cost of their transportation once they are established in the United States.  Individual refugees or their relatives may pay for transportation costs in advance. (https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/refugees/questions-answers-refugees )

[4] https://www.state.gov/j/prm/releases/factsheets/2017/266447.htm

[5] However, there does appear to be one category of crime that has worryingly increased since the influx of refugees to Germany: crime against refugees.

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/28/trump-immigration-ban-syria-muslims-reaction-lawsuits

[7] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/11/donald-trump-islamophobia-president-161109065355945.html Indeed, Islamophobia is only one of the many traits Trump shares with Vladimir Putin (“In almost every case it has been his distinctive combination of homophobia and Islamophobia that has made Putin one of the Christian right’s favorite international figures (nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/12/why-the-christian-right-shares-trumps-affection-for-putin.html)”). Putin infamously consolidated his power in Russia through his war on majority- Muslim Chechnya—a war that he justified in response to a “terrorist” attack on a Moscow apartment building that most likely was plotted and carried out by Russian security agents (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/putins-way/transcript/).

[8] “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances (https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/bill-of-rights-transcript).”

[9] “Section 1.  All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws (https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/amendmentxiv ).”

[10] As this Huffington Post article unequivocally declares in its title: There Have Been No Fatal Terror Attacks In The U.S. By Immigrants From The 7 Banned Muslim Countries ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/no-terror-attacks-muslim-ban-7-countries-trump_us_588b5a1fe4b0230ce61b4b93 ).

[11] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-muslim-ban-immigration-visas-refugees-syria-iraq-terrorism-isis-attacks-most-victims-a7550936.html

[12] http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/iraq-kind-phone-call-tells-lot