Appalling Dishonesty

I hate the term “pro-life” as it is used in the ongoing political debate about abortion.  Even though I don’t share this belief, there may be legitimate reasons to disapprove of abortion as a practice.   That’s fine, just like there are legitimate reasons to think taxes might be too high, or that efforts to curtail gun violence come too close to impeding our right to bear arms.   

But to shroud an opposition to abortion under the moniker “pro-life” or “right to life” is, if I’m being overly generous, an outrageous oversimplification that none should take seriously.  Yes, a clump of cells might technically be alive, but then again, so is your hair before you cut it.   So is your grass before you mow the lawn.  So are the limbs of the trees you prune.   So are the diseases you fight.  

While this is far from universal, a large percentage of people who claim to be pro-life also support the death penalty and are opposed to allowing the elderly and infirm to die with dignity.   They clearly regard death as a punishment and little else.  “Right to life?” They mean their right to decide who gets to live and who gets to die.  (Thank you George Carlin for that line…)

And that’s not even getting into the implication that those on the other side of the debate might somehow be anti-life.   Those who support the legality of abortion call themselves “pro-choice”. Pro-choice does not mean “anti-life”, but pro-life certainly means “anti-choice”.

For the reasons I stated above, I have for years thought that pro-life was the single most intellectually dishonest term in all of politics.   

I think I might need to walk that claim back, though.  There’s a relatively new political issue that, on its surface, has little in common with abortion, although many of the people who proudly bear the label “pro-life” are also adopting this label.  

Before I reveal more details, I should add that the majority of opinion with regard to opposing abortion is not based upon evidence but rather upon adherence to religious scripture, or at least the cherry-picked parts of scripture they use to justify their positions.  The same thing is true for this issue, even if there isn’t much overlap between the passages of the Bible.  

The issue is about the rights of transgender people.   In recent years, there has been a lot of press about the needs of transgender men and women, how being transgender isn’t a mental illness, how difficult it is to be trapped in a body that’s not really you, and about how, despite a binary with regard to the plumbing, there really are more — a LOT more — than just two genders.  (And I’m not even convinced that the plumbing is that binary…). 

The most visible backlash to transgender rights is in the “bathroom bills” that require a person to use the gendered bathroom that corresponds to his or her birth certificate.  (Think about the stupidity of enforcement.   You either carry a birth certificate or allow people to peek into the stall where you’re peeing.)

The Obama administration rightly saw that transgender issues are huge in schools (because adolescence is when people first come to realize if they’re transgender) and so issued guidelines on how to manage it.  And of course there’s been biblically-based opposition to this as well.   

And that’s where the dishonesty in labels comes in.  The people opposed to it — at least some of them — actually have the gall, the nerve, the chutzpah, to call themselves Pro-Privacy.    That link is to just one example of this but it takes either massive guts or massive dissonance to support positions that are an extreme violation of privacy and call it “Pro-Privacy”.  

Sorry, pro-lifers.    You’re no longer the most dishonest.   


American Pride

When I was a junior in high school, I took Advanced Placement US History as my social studies elective.   This is a university-level course, and a passing grade on the end-of-year exam counts as college credit.   

While the exam is a comprehensive overview of the history of the United States, beginning with European exploration to the “new world” up to the present time (which, for me at the time, was the end of the presidency of Ronald Reagan), it focused most heavily on the three decades in American history that were of greatest actual consequence.   I hesitate to say that more “stuff” happened in these three decades but you’d be hard pressed — if given the challenge of distilling American history to three non-consecutive decades — to find any decades more important than these three.  

  • The 1790s.  We had just won our hard-fought independence from the British empire, with the biggest complaint being the tyranny of the British government.   How do we maintain a semblance of order, especially with regard to commerce and defense, without being equally tyrannical?   The constitution, bill of rights, and the actions of the three branches of government were a start.  
  • The 1850s.   Pretty much from the start, the issue of slavery was one of the biggest thorns in the side of the government.  After decades of compromise on the expansion of slavery in new American territories, it was inevitable that civil discourse would break down.  I’ve repeatedly said that we should be ashamed that it took a war to end slavery, but if you look critically at the decade leading up to the war, the question shouldn’t be “is it necessary?” but instead “why did it take so long?”
  • The 1930s.   Black Friday.   October 29, 1929.   Okay.  That’s a little over two months before the 1930s actually began, but looking at the start of the Great Depression, its impact on the country, and FDRs efforts to get us out of it, there’s no question that this decade, for all of its complexity, mixes of successes and failures, and America’s role in the world, needs to be examined closely.   

I’m not trying to argue that other decades in American history aren’t important.   Take the 1890s, as America truly started coming into its own in its global reach (for good and for bad).   Or the 1960s, a decade of real turbulence in the midst of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.  Or even the 2000s, as America came to grips with a terrorist threat that it at least partially fostered.   

One thing that’s noticeably missing from everything I’ve said above, is a jingosim that pervades American politics today.   The notion that the good ol’ US of A somehow stands above the rest of the world.   Indeed, a couple of years ago, the Oklahoma legislature passed a resolution condemning the course for being insufficiently praiseworthy of the country and its history.   

But that’s the thing: if you need to teach children specifically to believe something without letting the facts speak for themselves, there’s something wrong with the belief itself.  Don’t teach children to be proud of their country!  Give them the facts and let them decide if pride is justified.   

In February, 2008, Michelle Obama made an interesting comment that still earns her criticism today from those on the right.   At the time, her husband, then-Senator Barack Obama started to look like he had a legitimate shot at securing his party’s nomination for the presidency.   Couple this with a deeply unpopular sitting president and that gave her hope that, in her husband, maybe the country could start to move away from the more shameful aspects of its history (both distant and recent).  

Yeah, I liked it when she said that.   That was legitimately something to be proud of.   

Donald Trump has just returned from his first trip abroad as president of the US.   Where he was treated like a king — Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, Israel — he seemed to be in his glory.   At the Vatican, he was received politely although Pope Francis seemed to struggle with withholding his disdain.   

Now THAT’S saying something.  The leader of the Catholic Church, who has dedicated his life to preaching love and forgiveness, has trouble loving and forgiving Donald Trump.   Just let that sink in for a minute even before you get to the whole Papal Infallibility doctrine.   

But the real problems came when he went to meet with our allies in NATO and the G7 summit.   His ego was not stroked the way it was elsewhere, and he demonstrated how little he really knew about America, its role in the world, and the world as a whole.   This has nothing to do with any specific policy: the man is an embarrassment, exemplified first and foremost by the image of him pushing Dusko Markovic, the prime minister of Montenegro aside.   

Donald Trump really is a walking stereotype: pick any negative image(s) foreigners might have about America and he more or less exemplifies it.   Boorish, arrogant, wanting to be the center of attention, claiming to know it all despite being out of his league, trigger happy…  The list goes on and on…

There are things in American history and in American culture to be proud of.   Donald Trump isn’t one of them.   

Unfair media treatment 

A few minutes ago I got this bit of breaking news on my phone:

I’m not trying to argue that you’re not being treated unfairly by the media, but I figured I should list the US presidents who probably could make a similar claim that the press and/or their political enemies treated them unfairly:

  1. George Washington
  2. John Adams
  3. Thomas Jefferson
  4. James Madison
  5. James Monroe
  6. John Quincy Adams
  7. Andrew Jackson
  8. Martin Van Buren
  9. William Henry Harrison
  10. John Tyler
  11. James Polk
  12. Zachary Taylor
  13. Millard Fillmore
  14. Franklin Pierce
  15. James Buchanan
  16. Abraham Lincoln
  17. Andrew Johnson
  18. Ulysses Grant
  19. Rutherford B Hayes
  20. James Garfield
  21. Chester Arthur
  22. Grover Cleveland 
  23. Benjamin Harrison
  24. Grover Cleveland, again
  25. William McKinley
  26. Theodore Roosevelt 
  27. William Howard Taft
  28. Woodrow Wilson
  29. Warren Harding
  30. Calvin Coolidge
  31. Herbert Hoover
  32. Franklin D Roosevelt 
  33. Harry Truman
  34. Dwight D Eisenhower 
  35. John F Kennedy
  36. Lyndon B Johnson
  37. Richard Nixon
  38. Gerald Ford
  39. Jimmy Carter
  40. Ronald Reagan
  41. George H W Bush
  42. Bill Clinton
  43. George W Bush
  44. Barack Obama

I’m pretty sure this is an exhaustive list as of the present point in history and I neither left anyone out nor included someone who doesn’t belong.  

Profiles in … something

The popular TV show The Twilight Zone has seen multiple reboots since it first went off the air in 1964.   I’ve been thinking a good deal about one particular tale from the mid-1980s reboot.  “Profile in Silver” envisions a world where time travel is possible, and a “field historian” named Joseph Fitzgerald from about 200 years in the future is observing the events of the presidency of his ancestor, President John F Kennedy.  

The episode begins with Dr. Fitzgerald giving a lecture at Harvard on November 21, 1963 and he gets a visit from one of his colleagues from the future.   He expresses the great existential crisis of every field journalist: why must he only be observer and not participant?  She tries to talk him out of going to Dallas the following day but he’ll have none of it.   

In what appears to be an unplanned moment, he trains his camera on the open window in the book repository, sees Lee Harvey Oswald leaning out with his rifle, and panics.  He calls out to the president to duck, and effectively saves the president’s life.   How Gov. Connally didn’t get hurt, isn’t answered.  

This seriously damages the fabric of time.   As history tries to restore the original trends, first a tornado touches down in Dallas but when that doesn’t work, Nikita Khrushchev is assassinated, and his successor seizes West Berlin.  As the history computer analyzes all possible outcomes from this turn of events, the world would be completely annihilated within a century.  The only solution is for the Kennedy presidency to end as history originally intended.  Of course, this is The Twilight Zone, so there’s a twist at the end.  I won’t reveal the twist but you can watch the episode below.  

There’s a scene in this show where JFK and Dr. Fitzgerald are aboard Air Force One, and Kennedy talks about how maybe his father might have been wrong about the importance of power.   “No one man should have that kind of power.   No man should have to have it.”

There is no question that Donald Trump has long had a love affair with power, and this goes back to long before he announced his candidacy for president in June, 2015.   Recall that this isn’t the first time he sought the presidency: back in 2000, he sought the nomination on the Reform Party ticket.  (Side note: I admit to being surprised that the party still actively maintains its website…)

They say that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely.   There’s a truth to that, but part of the problem is that once people get a taste of power, they tend to want more and more.  Someone with such blatantly narcissistic tendencies like Donald Trump would fall into this trap more quickly than the average person.  (Note that I’m not holding myself to a higher standard here.  If I were given more power than I could handle, I doubt I’d be any less vulnerable to its appeal…)

During one of the Republican debates last year, Trump all but admitted his corruption, albeit from a different angle than where he currently resides.  As his opponents, most notably Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, tried to illustrate that he’s not a true republican, they pointed out that he had invited Bill and Hillary Clinton to his wedding.   He shrugged off the charges, pointing out that he would do things like that to gain favors.  Nothing necessarily illegal about it but telling all the same.  

Which brings me to the recent firing of FBI director James Comey.   Let me make it clear that the president has the right to fire the FBI director at any time and for any reason.   Based upon that fact alone, this is neither an abuse of power nor a constitutional crisis.  

Or at least it ought not be either of those things.  After all, Bill Clinton fired director William Sessions a few months into his first term and nobody batted an eye over it.  

But it’s clear that this is a function of all of the negative trappings of power.   Comey had just requested more funds and personnel to investigate reports of collusion between the Trump campaign and a foreign power, Russia.   I suppose it’s possible that these facts are unrelated and that the real reason for Comey’s dismissal is as the White House said: the way he mishandled the reporting of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server.   Then again, it’s also possible that Gary Larson got it right in his old Far Side cartoon when he explained how the dinosaurs became extinct.

The congressional investigation into the Trump-Russia affair doesn’t seem to have much in the way of force.  With the status of the FBI investigation up in the air now that Comey’s gone, we should really consider an independent investigation.  

Oh, and it needs a flashy name, too.  May I suggest Russi-a-Lago?
Profile In Silver