political essay

Reflections on the election: Sexism & Racism in America

Friday, November 11th, 2016

I don’t seem able to process my anger or grief over this election, so this response is my way of expressing what I believe and know to be true. A brief examination of history and culture in America explains what happened in this election, although many of us got side-tracked by what is right. (My thoughts below are not to say that Hillary didn’t have her flaws or baggage. But compared to Trump, she is nearly flawless.) We are perennially naïve. As a woman who grew up in Kansas, I should have known that I was kidding myself to think that a woman could be elected president in America at this time in history.

Bernie millennials lost their futures. I was afraid that Bernie had unearthed an innocent group of individuals who would “take their dollies and go home” when they didn’t get what they wanted. If they had shown up in more numbers, Bernie would have been chair of the Senate Budget Committee with tremendous power to fully implement Dodd-Frank (regulation of big banks and corporations), the Supreme court could have overturned Citizens United, college could have become affordable, civil rights and the environment protected and on and on.
As election scholars, David McCuan among others, have pointed out that Bernie was not electable. The right wing had kept their hands off Bernie because he was chipping away at Hillary. If he had been the candidate, it was clear that a Jewish, socialist, atheist individual could never be elected in middle America. Why did he do so well in the primaries? He, too, was a gruff father figure and thus better than a woman.

Gender politics. A Palestinian friend and I once considered writing a book to be titled “Middle West meets Middle East.” The thesis drawn from our experiences as women in both settings was that there was little difference between the two cultures. Our experiences were strikingly similar. Few women that I know in that part of the world consider a woman qualified to be president. Does it surprise anyone that 27% of Latino males voted for Trump? Many Latinos—and blacks– reported that a woman is unacceptable as Commander in Chief.
Further, as Lakoff points out, those who grew up with authoritarian fathers seek an autocratic candidate (al la Trump). Vance in Hillbilly Elegy described in this cultural tendency in detail among folks living in Appalachia and the Midwest.

Race in America. Racism, like sexism, is rampant in middle America and the south. Our history of slavery, a Civil War and Jim Crow laws still keep racism very much alive. Our founding fathers assured this legacy during the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia when they allowed slavery to continue indefinitely, bolstered by the import of slaves until 1815. In cultural politics, we can never think, “well, those days are over.”
When LBJ said to MLK in reference to the civil rights act in 1964, “there goes the south,” it was crystal clear what he meant: the racist south would turn to the Republican party.
During the last eight years, racism and gun ownership and protection joined forces like never before. The KKK was so pleased to endorse Trump. White supremacist groups grew by 500% during the Obama administration. Was it inevitable that a racist would follow a black into the White House? I tend to think so.

A two-party system. Democrats have long drawn their power from the working man and woman. Labor. Increasingly, the educated elite, SNR (spiritual but not religious) and social justice devotees found a home among the Democrats as Republicans exited the party of Lincoln and Hamilton (particularly in the ‘60’s) and sought refuge in bigotry and rejection of “the other.”
Democrats lost labor when it followed the civil rights path into a womans’ right to chose, gay marriage, and LGBT bathroom rights. And, particularly, when it had the audacity to believe that we could have a black and a woman president.
Further, and just as important, we are in one of those major turning points in history: the transition from a manufacturing to a knowledge/technology society. Those caught in the middle do not have the skills or dispositions to make the transition. As a society, we must assist these 50-64 year olds until they can reach Social Security age and have faith that the next generations will be prepared for our new world. Further, individuals with large home mortgages voted for Trump—even in formerly Democratic strongholds. The economy recovery is still underway, many who have not yet caught up.
Republicans have rotted from within with racism and sexism and the worship of the autocratic father figure; but, now in charge, they will see fewer reasons to reform.

In Over our Heads. Robert Kegan wrote a provocative book by this title in which he pointed out that when life gets too complex humans retreat to tradition, a smaller world, known rules, and their tribes. The result: blaming the other, building walls, nationalism, self-protection, religion, and tribalism. How do we reverse this? That’s another essay centered on education and cultural transformation.

All said, it is a miracle that Hillary won the popular vote!

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The Dangerous Future of a Junior High Boy

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

There are few places as fertile as junior high schools in which to study arrested development. As a former junior high principal, it is pleasurable to recall those lovely young teenagers who are emerging into adulthood: the quiet, nerdy boys who loved science and technology; the junior athlete; the spirited student leader who always had the next new idea; the dreamy young girl writing poetry on her peachy. It was as though a parade of human development was unfolding before my eyes.
Before I went into education, I was a juvenile probation officer for a couple of years. This is when I first met young boys—and a few girls— who struggled with their own confused identity, who were either arrested in their development, or worse, were hard core enough to grow into adulthood as the same narcissistic bullies they were in junior high.
As a principal, these kids were easy to recognize once again. Fortunately, they were few in number. Never responsible for their own damaging behavior, when conflict occurred, blame was invariably attributed to others. They could do no wrong, nor did they harbor regrets. When asked to apologize, they might say, “He started it first. The teacher is stupid. I’ve got nothing to apologize for.” Later, the claim would become, “I never apologize.”
In public, these boys appeared to feel themselves superior to others. Contemptuous and quick to anger, their talk about others was often arrogant and condescending, contrasting their own relative perfection with the limitations of others. Others are “stupid,” “liars” or “crooked.” Worse yet, the failure of others may be explained by difference: they are girls, Blacks, Latinos, handicapped. In order to maintain their fragile sense of self, these young men consider one form of transaction essential: if you attack me, I must attack you.
Fortunately, as most individuals mature, they learn to rise about the fray, to take the high road, a road that is formed by values and nobler aspirations. But not for these young men, for they have to “even the score” each time. Since they hold grudges, they assume that others do too. These bullies use strength to hurt or intimidate those viewed as inferior or weaker.
Yet at the heart of all of this bravado is fear. Fear of being discovered, fear of not being enough, fear of not being loved. I often looked upon these young boys with compassion, sometimes a sense of failure, questioning: how can I reach him, redirect his life? There is hope. At the age of 12, a sensitive teacher or mentor can find the frightened child beneath and alter his future.
However, if these attributes and fears continue into adulthood, these individuals are not going to change. Further, if one of these men acquires wealth, power and the bully pulpit, he becomes a danger to those around him. Some may fool themselves into thinking his narcissistic outbursts can be moderated and controlled, shaped by history and institutions and law. Think again. The world is in for irretrievable damage.

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