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Small-town America and New American Values

Brandon, South Dakota

Brandon, South Dakota. Small-town, USA, population 10,000., “Midwestern Values”, But we’re not immune to what’s happening in the country over the last year.

Brandon, South Dakota. population 10,000. Small town, USA. Yet our High School has a new and growing problem with racism and bigotry. That’s the message we got this week, when our son started as a freshman.  We attended a question and answer session, with members of the senior class responding to questions from parents of incoming freshman.  After one question about potential fighting or bullying at Brandon High School, the principal stepped in and sadly announced that last year, for the first time, Brandon High School had experienced notable confrontations related to racism. Small-town USA, in the heart of the Midwest, where people claim to take pride in their “Midwestern values”.  Yet here we were being told that our little town’s high school was having issues with racism over the last year.

The principal has been in Brandon for many years. He didn’t say these words lightly. In fact, he rightfully seemed rather ashamed of the fact that it had become and issue.  The fact that he’s been in Brandon many years, and that racism hadn’t cropped up in an widespread, overt way until 2016? It’s not exactly a mystery as to why overt racism is becoming more common, even here in Brandon, South Dakota.

As a scientist, and particularly as a scientist who touches on climate changes issues, the last year can only be described as “soul-crushing”. We now have state-sponsored attacks on science, and even on basic logic and empirical proven TRUTH.  They are attacks on the very paradigm by which I’ve led my career and life.  However, even as a scientist, there’s been one characteristic of presidency of Orange Hitler (sorry, the SOB is like Voldemort…I can’t say his fucking name) that’s been even more troubling…the bigotry and state-sponsored HATE that emanates from the Oval Office.  Beyond what happens in DC however, is how that hatred and intolerance is trickling down even to small-town America (or perhaps FROM small-town America).

The Texas coast is currently dealing with a disaster of epic proportions…Hurricane Harvey.  Thanks to the predictions of government-funded scientists and research from NOAA (ironically, some of the same scientists ostracized for climate-change related work), we’ve had several days notice of the likely progression of the storm. Hopefully loss of life and property is held at a minimum thanks to those warnings. It’s a time where the nation’s focus rightly is with the people suffering through the storm.  And what was Orange Hitler doing just as the storm was hitting? Using the office of the Presidency to spread his own personal bile, bigotry, and hatred.

As the storm was beginning to lash the Texas coast, Orange Hitler issued the first pardon of his presidency. There have been sickening abuses of Presidential pardons in the past…Ford’s pardon of Nixon, and Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich are the two cases most commonly cited cases. None can top Orange Hitler’s pardon of fellow bigot and hate-monger Joe Arpaio.  None tears at the very soul of a nation more than this action, particularly as it was accompanied by a near-simultaneous executive order instructing the Pentagon to to ban transgender service members. Ford’s pardon of Nixon was presented as a means of ending the traumatic events leading up to Nixon’s resignation and help a nation heal. Clinton’s pardon of Rich?  Likely even more disgusting, given that it’s primarily viewed as a tit-for-tat favor to a man who donated heavily to the Clintons.

But Trump’s moves last night? They go behind personal political favors or misguided attempts to move a nation past a crisis.  They DIRECTLY flout the very principles on which the United States was established.  We’re 240+ years beyond the Declaration of Independence. We’re 240 years past the point where we had established that “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights“. However, after 8 years of a (gasp!!) black President, Orange Hitler tapped into the bigotry and HATRED of vast numbers of Americans, and has used the Oval Office as a platform for spreading hate and intolerance.  The founding fathers of 240 years ago would be aghast at the events of last night.

Joe Arpaio is a hateful bigot.  He was convicted on criminal contempt of court charges after ignoring directives to stop his abusive and discriminatory targeting of…well…anyone not lily-white.  There’s no gray area here, no logical grounds for pardoning such a man. Pardoning a man such as this sends a clear message…that the kind of government sponsored bigotry and hatred practiced by a small man like Arpaio has now graduated to full-fledged sponsorship by the Federal Government. Moments later, the same message was sent when Orange Hitler went against the recommendations of his own military commanders, and banned transgender citizens from serving their country in the military.

Orange Hitler is what he is. It was obvious during the 2016 presidential campaign, when he used his thinly veiled dog-whistle calls to the millions of hateful, bigoted Americans that long for a return to the days where White Power was unquestioned, where anyone who wasn’t white and Christian “knew their place” in society.  Americans KNEW they were voting for a bigot.  They KNEW they were voting for a man who advocated for hatred and intolerance of their fellow Americans.

Confederate Flag in South Dakota

Yes, this is good ol’ small-town South Dakota. Taken near Corson, just outside of Brandon. A new feature since the election, just like the house in Brandon who put “Get on board the Trump Train!” in big block letters across their fence. Small-town values. Small-town hatred and bigotry.

And they voted for him anyway.  Or more accurately, they voted for him BECAUSE of those views.

The dismissal of logic and reason, the outright rebellion against science in Orange Hitler’s administration is sad and disheartening.  But that’s nothing compared to the knowledge that not only is the American President a hateful bigot, but that SO many millions of Americans sympathize with his beliefs.  It’s fundamentally changed how I view the country in which I live. When I go out in public now here in very “red” South Dakota, I can’t help but look at my fellow citizens with a mix of bewilderment, sadness, and even fear.  That hatred and intolerance is showing up even in our own high school, no doubt being “passed down” from South Dakota parents who share those views. Thanks to the election of Orange Hitler, racism, intolerance, and bigotry is now “OK”. It’s OK to express those views in public.  It’s now acceptable to hate your fellow man, to discriminate and abuse them if they happen to be a different color, creed, or sexual orientation.  For many, it’s now evidently OK to even express those views in a public school setting.

Soul crushing.  Orange Hitler is an odious, despicable human being, but he’s one man. It’s the knowledge that so many millions of my fellow Americans share those views that is difficult to take.

 

Actually, NO, Trump supporter…we can NOT be “friends”

Unfriend - FacebookLast week I got a direct email at work from someone I had unfriended on Facebook several months ago.  She (finally) noticed that I had unfriended her, and seemed a bit bewildered why I would do so after so many years. She was someone who was a friend / buddy while in high school and early into my college years, but someone I’ve not otherwise seen or communicated with over the last 30 years (other than Facebook). Over the time we were Facebook “friends”, it was obvious that our political beliefs were vastly different, but any political posts or comments to each other weren’t antagonistic or inappropriate.  However, late in the campaign her behavior  took a nasty turn, and the transformation was complete after the election was over.  It was a shocking and abrupt change in behavior that I also noticed with other “friends”, who now seemed empowered by the Trump election. It wasn’t acceptable, and I unfriended her.

As a result of last year’s political campaigns and the aftermath, my “friends” list on Facebook is decimated. I literally have half the Facebook friends now than I did when 2016 started, with some “unfriend” actions taken by others, but most taken by myself. None of these were people I actually physically interact with (which as my wife brings up…why were they Facebook “friends” in the first place?). They were nearly all old high school classmates or other acquaintances I haven’t seen or talked to for many years / decades, such as the old high school friend who contacted me through email.  The reasons I unfriended so many?  Their disgusting posts during and after the campaign.  The easiest choices?  The racist posts.  When 4 former high school classmates shared and joked about a cartoon showing Michelle Obama as a gorilla? A pretty easy (and fast) choice to immediately unfriend them. Other reasons were across the spectrum, as shown below, but were all because of online conduct and posts that any “friend” of mine simply would never dream of. It doesn’t matter if you’re an old, distant acquaintance, or if you’re one of the people closest to me today, there are certain lines that are unacceptable for any “friend” to cross. The former high school friend crossed that line, but it goes beyond just her. Frankly it’s ANY Trump supporter.  Some may howl and scream at some perceived lack of respect for other viewpoints, but I’m sorry, if you support Trump and his policies, we simply cannot be “friends” in any way. Why, you ask?

Let’s start with item number one…bigotry and racism.

If this past election revealed anything about our nation, it’s that there are still some incredibly deep racial divides. Trump did the unthinkable…he actually CAMPAIGNED on a platform of racism, something no other politician dared to try.  And sadly…it worked.  Analysis after analysis show the same thing… no driving force was a better predictor of a Trump vote than a person’s racist or bigoted attitudes.  I have ZERO tolerance for bigots. Supporting and actually electing an open bigot to the most powerful position in the world?   From the treatment of immigrants, intolerance towards any religion other than Christianity, and an open war on LGBT rights, Trump and his supporters have shown a shocking degree of bigotry that many thought was in our past after the Obama election. If you support this man, you’re supporting hate. I’m sorry, but that’s not something that I could ever overlook.  It was shocking how many Facebook “friends” (again, many former classmates who never left southeastern Nebraska) I cut based on an outpouring of bigoted comments over the last year.

Item number two — Attitudes towards helping those in need.

This is the issue highest on my mind at the moment, and the reason I’m writing this blog post to begin with, given that today Republicans are about to pass “health care” legislation (more accurately referred to as tax-cut legislation for the wealthy) in the House.  20-25 million Americans will simply lose coverage, while the sick, the elderly, and needy will effectively lose health care access after being priced out of the market. No other developed country uses a health-care system based on corporate profit. No other developed country fails to cover the health care needs of its citizens.  No other developed country bases the quality of your health care on your ability to pay. I have a son with Type-1 diabetes, a disease we’re managing rather well, but a disease he’ll be grappling with for the rest of his life. The REASON we are managing it very well is because we’re fortunate enough to have 1) good insurance, and 2) a level of income that allows us to utilize the most advanced treatment regimes that have been developed. Given that good blood sugar control is LIFE for a Type-1, with drastically lower chances of complications (eye and kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, nerve damage) as blood sugar control improves, having access to the best treatments available literally means a much longer, healthier life.  While we’re fortunate, other families facing Type-1 diabetes are not.  Some simply can’t afford an insulin pump.  Some can’t afford a continuous glucose monitor that constantly reports blood sugar levels.  Some can’t afford frequent doctor visits.  To put it simply, Type-1 children whose families can’t afford quality care will have much harder lives, with more health complications, and a much shorter life span.  Children are DYING sooner than they need to, because of the basic greed and selfishness of Americans who value their own short-term prosperity above all else.  If you’re a Trump supporter, if you’re someone who believes health care should be more of a personal burden and responsibility rather than a shared societal responsibility, I’m sorry, there is NO way I can call you a “friend”. It’s a direct slap in the face to a father with a Type-1 child.  It’s you telling me that all you care about is yourself, that helping the sick and the needy isn’t something you want to be bothered with. It’s an issue that goes FAR beyond health care, as the Trump / conservative ideology simply refuses to recognize that there’s a societal, moral IMPERATIVE to help those in need.  It’s a shocking indictment of the basic greed and selfishness of Americans.  “Friend”? I think not.

Item number three — Attitudes towards science, towards logic and reason

I’m a scientist.  I monitor, assess, and predict changes to our earth’s landscape. The very real, observable, and predictable impacts of climate change are a big part of my life’s work. More than that, my very persona and belief system is based on logic, and reason.  The Trump movement is a threat not only to climate change, not only to science, but to logic and reason itself. When Trump says climate change isn’t real, it’s a lie, and he knows it. When Trump states the GOP health care bill will lower costs, cover more people, and cover pre-existing conditions, it’s a lie.  When Trump states that he lost the popular vote to voter fraud, it’s a lie.  Trump supporters have no use for fact.  They have no use for evidence, for data. They have no use for reason, for logic. In a shocking (and disgusting) recent poll, 80% of Trump voters say they believe Trump’s lies are less important than “fake news” distributed by mainstream media. Only 3% (!!!) believe Trump’s own lies are the bigger issue.  The poll question itself irritates the hell out of me, as it presents Trump’s lies and supposedly false media coverage as equal choices in the eyes of poll participants. They’re not. There’s simply no question that climate change is occurring, and we are the primary cause.  They’re simply no refuting the fact that the new GOP health care bill will cover fewer people and hurt the sick, elderly, and poor.  There’s simply no refuting the fact that Hillary convincingly won the popular vote and there was no widespread voter fraud.  We have evidence, we have data, we have analysis that disprove the Trump assertions, yet his mindless followers continue to believe everything that’s spoon-fed to them by the Trump administration. I’m sorry, if you support Trump, if you are a climate change denier, if you think of scientists as “elitists” rather than dedicated professionals who devote their lives to serving humanity?  You’re not my “friend”.  You’re effectively calling my career, and indeed my entire LIFE, as the “lie”, rather than confronting the evidence right in front of your eyes and reconsidering the Trump positions.

Item number four — A life built on hate

Basically a culmination of the prior items, I refuse to be “friend” to anyone who bases their life on a platform of hate.  Hate of people of “other” races. Hate of people of “other” religions. Hate of people of “other” sexual orientations.  Hate and disdain towards the poor, the sick, the needy.  Hate towards “elitists” and “experts”, those with knowledge, skills, and positions in life that you yourself don’t have. The Trump doctrine is based solely on the TEARING DOWN of others…not building a happy, healthy, prosperous society.  HURTING immigrants through cruel policies. HURTING LGBT people through discriminatory practices.  HURTING the “experts” through government-sponsored misinformation with an underlying political agenda.  What’s been proposed by the Trump administration to truly HELP people (other than those who are already wealthy?)?  It’s an agenda, a doctrine, seemingly built solely on revenge, hatred, and greed.

Facebook “friends”? These are the reasons I’ve unfriended you. In short…I have no problem with my well-reasoned conservative friends.  I have no problem with my well-reasoned Republican friend.  Trump supporters, you are anything but well-reasoned. I don’t need the hate, the bigotry, the callousness towards the needy, the abandonment of reason.

American “Christianity” (or lack thereof)

Coexist

A great idea, different religions, people with different beliefs, living in harmony. It might actually even work…if people would actually practice what they preach, and follow the actual teachings of their religion.

Yes, I’m an atheist.  A 100%, dyed-in-the-wool, god-denying atheist. I DO respect the right of people to believe whatever the hell they want to believe.  I will NEVER give anybody grief for following the true doctrines of Islam, Christianity, or any other religion.  While I don’t believe at all in the underlying premise of religion, of some omnipotent, invisible, all-powerful god overseeing the universe, the basic tenets of the major religions are, overall, honorable and good.  Teaching love, understanding, CARING for your fellow man…the world would be a truly wonderful place if the primary doctrines of these religions were actually followed. Given the overall “good” that nearly all religious belief teaches, I could easily overcome my certainty that there is no god, could easily overcome my cynicism on how much energy is spent on religious activity, and even SUPPORT these religions, in terms of what they’re supposed to be trying to accomplish.  I COULD respect religion and religious followers more, except for one tiny issue…

The actual doctrines of these religions seem to mean very little to their followers.

I’m not going to talk about Islam. The teachings of Islam are primarily the same as those of Christianity.  Yes, there clearly is a very small minority of Muslims who have twisted the teachings of Islam into an agenda of hate and intolerance.  Guess what America…they’re not alone.  Christianity has also become perverted in the U.S., primarily due to the forces of fear, hatred, and ignorance.

I was raised a Lutheran.  I went to church with my family every Sunday.  I hated it…primarily because I had to get out of bed early every Sunday morning!  Despite that, overall it helped shape who I am.  It taught me tolerance. It taught to love my fellow man.  It taught me how to be good to people.  As I grew up, as I started viewing the world through an objective lens, through the eyes of a scientist, the underlying belief in any “god” quickly faded away.  But the primary belief system has stayed with me.

The simple mantra of “practice what you preach” clearly comes into play this week with the election.  During the entire campaign, Donald Trump played on the fears and hatred of Americans.  He reveled in racism, stoking fear of Muslims, stoking fear of ANY immigrant, whipping up anger towards ANY group with a different skin color or religious belief.  He talked about a return to waterboarding and other torture techniques.  He’s a man on his 3rd wife, with documented affairs during the marriages of each. He’s a man who speaks of women as playthings, who openly said in an interview that  he doesn’t respect women.  He’s a man accused of assault by a number of women. He’s a man who has been sued over 3,000 times, is known for purposely stiffing contractors who have done work for him, and is currently involved in a fraud trial for Trump University.

In short…he’s not the most “Christian” of candidates!! Instead, you can make a very strong case that throughout American history, Donald Trump is the most corrupt, least “Christian” candidate that has ever received a major party nomination, much less won the presidency.  Did that cost him at the voting booth?  Did it cost him support among those with strong religious beliefs?

Not in the least.  With the possible exception of Utah, where a sizable chunk of principled Mormon voters refused to support him, Trump received very similar levels of support from evangelicals as have all past Republican candidates. For the past 30 years, Republicans have tried to cast themselves as the party most associated with Christian belief.  I understand the one issue, abortion.  I’m as liberal as liberal can be, and will always support a woman’s right to choose, to manage her own body, but even for me, abortion is a queasy issue.  I could possibly understand all the evangelical support for Trump, IF abortion were the driving issue.  However, there was very little discussion of abortion during the election, and it’s QUITE clear what actually drove Trump’s victory.

Racism.  Fear. Hatred.

What happened to those strong Christian beliefs? What happened to the actual TEACHINGS of Christianity in this election?  What happened to love, tolerance, helping your fellow man?  Instead, the overwhelmingly white “Christian” electorate that voted in Donald Trump erupted with anti-immigrant hate, “Build that wall!!” chants, violence towards non-whites at Trump campaign rallies.  We’ve seen ugly racial epithets and images, with an even more pronounced spike this week after the election.  We’ve seen groups like the KKK and alt-right actively back and endorse Trump, dreaming of a return to a “white” America.  We’ve seen vast support to end Obamacare, an effort that would result in 22 million Americans immediately losing health care coverage.  Ironically, despite all the hate in the campaign, we’ve also seen a rather hypocritical push by these same supporters to increase the role of Christianity in American life (while simultaneously trying to suppress Muslim influence).

In short…there’s VERY little of Trump’s campaign that jives with a Christian lifestyle.  How do “Christian” Americans reconcile their (supposed) religious belief with their actual actions?  Clearly they can’t.  You can’t claim a Christian heritage, yet actively support racism. You can’t claim a Christian heritage, yet value money and selfish greed over helping your fellow man.  You can’t claim a Christian heritage, yet base your lifestyle on the fear and HATRED of others.

I have a very difficult time with the entire idea of religious belief, not only because of my stance as an atheist, but because of the incredible hypocrisy from many self-proclaimed Christians in the U.S. I may be an atheist, but if there should actually be a God, I can guarantee you that in his/her eyes, I would be considered FAR more of a “Christian” than the vast majority of self-identified Christians in this country.

 

Try walking in someone else’s shoes…

Perspective. If you’re a voter in lily-white land who thinks this is a “normal” election and it’s just another guy who won, just for a second look at things from the viewpoint of my co-workers at a VERY diverse workplace, my friends, my acquaintances:

– My Somali-born, Muslim, immigrant friend with 2 of the most beautiful young children you ever saw. Now has to explain to them why the President of the United States labels Muslims as terrorists, and just yesterday in Minnesota told a crowd about the threat of Somali immigrants.

– My female friend who first harassed, then sexually assaulted by a co-worker, now having to face an America where that’s “OK”, where the President himself openly discusses assault and is accused by many, many women of assault.

– My Latino friend, being told by his president that his kind are “rapists”, primarily criminals, hordes invading from the south that are taking jobs from good white folk

– Or a COMPLETELY hypothetical story of a father in South Dakota, with the most perfect young son in the world, a son with Type-1 diabetes. Think of it from that perspective, knowing Trump said the first thing he’ll do in office is eliminate Obamacare, eliminate abilities to carry insurance across jobs, eliminate guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions, eliminate the capability to carry your child on your insurance until they turn 26. Put yourself in that father’s shoes, and fucking tell yourself that this is “OK”, that your son faces a world where his very HEALTH is less important than politics, where HATE won an election and cost him his health care.

Try walking in those shoes for a bit before laughing off this election as just the same old “politics”.

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