Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Blind Eye to the Self-Evident

A cynic might question the motivation for declaring, in the United States Declaration of Independence, that, "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The bare hypocrisy of slaveholders declaring all men equal would prove inconvenient, but a laziness may have been fostered when it comes to defending a truth that is declared "self-evident."  It seems in the United States that the self-evident can be acknowledged with platitudes rather than the courageous actions, integrity and a pursuit and protection of a truth that required more stalwart champions.

There have been champions at times who have strived to make their fellow Americans aware of this self-evident truth and often they have met with exceptional resistance. McCarthyism came and ultimately went, but it had a platform and institutional powers to wreak havoc on the lives and potential of a significant number of people before the witch hunt was brought to heel.  The Ku Klux Klan has had the opportunity to wax and wane in popularity rather than be ostracized for the bigotry they espouse and their violent sidebar in American history.

Meanwhile, those who strived to bring equality and justice where it was merely self-evident -- Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Harvey Milk to name far too brief a list to do justice to the dignity, defiance and integrity that have been demonstrated by so many for the simplest of causes -- and posed an inconvenience to a society that congratulated itself for overlooking the injustices that troubled it met daunting resistance before the institutions and American government and society acknowledged and included each newly-acknowledged minority.  Unfortunately, however, the obstacles facing minorities in the United States get erected again and again and the so-called inalienable rights get challenged by the favour that is given to collective rights over individual rights.

The country that has E Pluribus Unum - "out of many, one" as its motto is hobbled by an array of hyphenated diversities where only one ought to exist. Instead of a commitment to individual rights that extends to all, regardless of race, religion, gender, gender identification, or sexual orientation, there have been efforts nationally and at the state level to implement laws that restrict freedoms and rights of specific groups.  Some laws are obvious in their target, such as those bathroom laws aimed at transgendered individuals. Other laws and initiatives are subtler on first glance, but are aimed at repressing the right to vote among minority groups.  Over time, some of these initiatives to reduce the rights of minority groups may be fought back, emphasis on may.  Until the time when those initiatives are recognized as the efforts by those in power -- whether by virtue of political office, corporate advantage or being among the majority -- to retain or hoard more power, American society will fail to be the pluralistic society of individuals it brands itself to be.  

The slow, hard-won and begrudging inclusion of one minority group at a time only sustains the American power structure rather than open it to allow all, as the Declaration of Independence states, the pursuit of happiness.  I might be inclined to quibble about the merit of this of all goals or pursuits, but to turn it the other way people deserve the right an opportunity to avoid the devastation and misery that comes with gun violence, and for-profit health care that is limited to the very few. As the US is run today, people are denied the opportunity to pursue happiness.

Since the election of Donald Trump, collectives have become empowered to assert their intolerance against minorities or those weaker than themselves. Two executive orders aimed at the travel privileges of individuals from predominantly Muslim countries have been pushed back against by the US courts, but the moves have, "activated Trump's base." The base probably feels a sense of security or certainty thanks to the ban and may have felt secure enough in their inclusion amongst the privileged to act out against minorities. There is some uncertainty as to whether hate crimes have risen or fallen since the 2016 election but Trump's initiative to have Homeland Security establish a unit to respond to complaints of crimes committed by immigrants is an ominous step toward establishing further obstacles for minorities in the United States, despite the reality that they are less likely to commit crimes.

Given the President's knack for distraction from the real issues, it seems that the initiatives he and other Republicans have embarked on to target minorities provide ample smokescreen for the policies and programs that are actually denying more people, not just the minorities, their rights to their inalienable rights. As the collectivist (what a nasty communistic sounding word) distribution of rights and powers continues to be bestowed upon those who are from the groups already with the greatest privilege, more and more of the very people who see him as their champion will be left out in the cold.  The concern is that these people will not likely turn against Trump as their quality of life continues to erode.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Cosmopolitan Cities Versus a Tribal Nation

Boston protests against Trump's immigration ban, January 2017.
It was not so long ago, or so it seems, that the likes of IBM and Cisco Systems were promoting their big data capabilities and the impact that they were having and could have on cities and large systems. There was something vaguely utopian about the potential of the ideas about the data and statistics that marked the life of a city, the world or the environment that could be compiled to adapt large systems to meld themselves to the collective will of a community, or at least time the traffic signals and bus schedules in a manner that reduced one's hair-pulling and steering wheel pounding in traffic. There was talk about, an aspiration for, evidence-based decision-making, but that has been pushed aside in this paroxysm of alternative fact and decision-based evidence-making. Those reasonable days of data, coherence and, perhaps, promise should not feel so long ago.

There is a sense that in America (and other countries where a tribalist impulse has taken hold with such appalling virulence) that the interest in data has waned and that it has even come to be distrusted. Whatever truth or reality there may be in the information that each other us willing offers via the countless tethers we have lashed between our smart phones and the myriad networks or algorithms we have plugged ourselves into, people are misplacing the compromise to their privacy on such things as their search for public transit arrivals, while disregarding more invasive and obvious assaults on their freedom, privacy or even economic well-being or accepting them as a key to achieving security.  Such a cognitive gap is one example of the emergence of half-baked ideas, ill-formed argument and outright bullshit that define discourse at this moment. In the face of that, it is hard to believe and delusional to hope that facts and rational argument would become central to dialogue anytime soon. The thrall of mythology about the United States has prompted many to discard the facts about America in favour of narratives that are familiar and comfortable thanks to good branding or sheer repetition -- despite the gross inaccuracies -- in a time of uncertainty.

The pendulum swing from fact and data to impulse and appetite as motivations in government is startling but that may actually be a matter of a shift in lens rather than reality. IBM and Cisco were not promoting their capacities to bring data into the service of a nation, but rather a city. The distinctions between city and nation ought to be considered carefully, especially at a time when the term "sanctuary city" carries the optimism and sense of responsibility that nation fails to possess right now. Nation is a far more emotional, perhaps even primitive, term in light of the anxieties and misplaced expectations Americans seem to be attaching to their nation at this time. The governance of the nation is a greater challenge, not simply because of the size and complexity but because the "leaders" choose to ensconce themselves in distant self-interested Washington and away from the communities they purportedly were elected by. It seems the elected officials are in the Capitol to misbehave as they wish, distant from their voters and serving a different combination of constituents. Decisions in favours of relaxed gun control, loosened financial regulations and other winks at special interests who will promptly grease the palms of the elected indicate a different set of principles guide those elected to Washington.

To take a closer look at the city, there are the simple logistics of city councillors going back to their homes at the end of the day and being more in touch with their voters. Beyond that is the capability of a city to become cosmopolitan, which few nations, especially not those the geographic breadth of the United States, can attain. There is a sophistication and an awareness that comes with share city space and having life paths that intersect with those who are, individually, well beyond or well behind our point in life. It is in the cities, not in a nation, that newcomers eke out their daily lives and strive for the goals they hope to achieve for their children. It is on city streets and in restaurants that people overhear different tongues and accents, not to mention the story of struggle and courage that are the result of a newcomer's hope and perseverance. The ongoing exchange of glances and narratives that occurs in the streets of a city is what imparts a nation its potential and it is the reserve of empathy that has accumulated in the cities that prompted protests to occur in airports on the last Saturday night of January in 2017.

It is the precise, informed, thoughtful and nuanced compassion of the cities that will eventually carry the day as the United States goes through this adolescent stretch of wanting to have its way regardless of the facts and the ultimate consequences of having the rules, benefits or grand bullshit narrative that it choose at this time. It is the calm, rational awareness of the cities that will restore moderacy to the United States.

Monday, January 30, 2017

First Contact

The first hands that ever touched me, directly, were the hands of an immigrant.  For all the times my mother may have caressed me through her belly and my father reached for the thud of my feet or heart, the first person to touch me in this world was the Islamic doctor who delivered me 50 years ago.

Whatever else I might say about the wonder of my parents meeting each other despite the odds that can bring two people together at the right time or keep them apart, the baffling coincidence of being given the names Patrick Henry on the exact anniversary when the American Revolutionary of that name gave his "liberty or death" speech, the less considered reality of my arrival is that the doctor who delivered me was a gentleman of Turkish heritage who had landed on the remote shores of Canada and went on to a length career as a successful physician.  Dr. Nejat Coskun delivered me and was one of a general practice in Dartmouth that looked after our family throughout the time we were there.

Any suggestion that the man's touch has had a lasting impact on me is a matter of rather poetic speculation - something that I may regularly be given to, but ought to forego at a time when pragmatics, no matter how badly deformed or baseless they may be, reach further than poetry, compassion or an appeal to collective humanity.  Throughout the time that my family knew him, he tended to our health and that of countless other families that were served by the practice he shared. The fact most often overlooked in the assault on the rights of minorities is that they have been here for an exceptionally long time and the contributions that they have made to the countries that have welcomed them outweighs the perceived threat they are accused of posing.

Dr. Coskun also built his community.  He and his wife contributed to the establishment of the first mosque in Dartmouth. I can only guess the extent to which he contributed to the sense of community and home that he provided to the people whom he shared that mosque with and the newcomers who arrived by boat or plane he welcomed throughout his life.

At this point, I ought to part from Dr. Coskun's story as there are people who would know his accomplishments and character far better than I could attest.  I am not sure if it was him or another doctor in the practice who responded to my brother's overreaction to a spot of blood after a vaccination with a flippant wipe of his finger across the spot of blood.  Dr. Coskun remains, however, a brilliant illustration of the people who immigrate and the efforts that they make throughout their lives in their new homes.

I have been exposed to the brief chapters of immigrant families throughout my life. From having Maria from Portugal in my elementary school, to standing in front of Reza in Grade 5 whenever we lined up in alphabetical order to playing street hockey with Nishan and Bruce as a preteen.  It goes on and on through school and into university when my circle expanded with international students who came to remote old Antigonish.  All of this took place in apparently homogeneous Nova Scotia.

Throughout my life, time and again, I have come in contact with individuals and families who broadened my horizons with the stories of holidays to farther-flung relatives than I could imagine and a recognition of what Canada offered and what they could offer to this country in terms of the commitment they made there.  They knew, far better than those born in Canada, that they would be rewarded immensely for hard work and that their aspirations and hope here only knew the limits of their confidence and their effort. I do not know where all of those people have proceeded to in their careers and their lives but among those I am still in touch with their are doctors, lawyers, engineers, PhD's and other professionals.

As time has gone on, I have become familiar with the stories of other newcomers who have staked their hopes on coming to Canada and they have patiently and diligently devoted their lives to their families, both here and in their respective homelands. They have withstood the culture shock and the challenge of adapting to a country that is not as welcoming as it could be. In the vast majority of the cases they have thrived and contributed to their new homes. It is their commitment to their dreams, their humble lack of entitlement which has made such a substantial contribution to the life, and success of this country. They have contributed to the economy too despite the obstacles that now hinder the efforts of professionals to work in the areas they have trained in.

When weighed against the evidence of the contributions that newcomers have made throughout history, not only in Canada but in the United States, as they so dearly know but may not know widely enough, the actions that President Trump has introduced are defined by a pragmatics of hate. Apart from the economic impact that can be calculated in terms of the inefficiencies generated by such an impulsive and completely uninformed decision, there is the further damage caused by the hatred that will be repercussions of these actions and the discrimination that is targeted at a group that possesses far, far more potential than threat.

Such hateful discriminatory behaviour will only foster more hatred, distrust and uncertainty when the possibility of trust and understanding is so close at hand. If people take the simple challenge of reflecting on the diversity of people who consistently touch their lives and strive to make an effort to understand the possibilities of the lives that have lead them to cross paths with us at a given moment. The asinine decisions that have such immeasurable consequences on individuals are made by the entitled with an eye to gaining favour among a group of people who may feel threatened by the unknowns that newcomers pose but lack the motivation to master their own destiny.  The malignant white nationalism of the Trump administration is a tragic mark on the United States and hopefully people will pause long enough to look within and recognize the benefits of living in truth and trust in the decency of all mankind.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Challenge of Tolerance

As women march the streets of Washington, New York, St. Louis, Calgary and throughout the world,
the first peaceful, defiant salvo is being brought to the agora.  There is no firing or violence as was the unfortunate and off-key case yesterday in Washington during the inauguration. The new normal and all of its uncertainty and anxiety is officially on.

Those of the stripes we refer to as liberal, left-wing, progressive, and moderate are steeling their spines to respond not only to the actions and messages of the new administration but also those with whom they ought to engage with to make the case against the new president's decisions. After years of the right expressing their disdain for the decisions that have been attributed to environmentalists, President Obama, moral relativists, tax-and-spenders, pinkos, and anybody else whom right-wingers, Tea Partiers and Republicans have opposed and obstructed going back to the rise of Newt Gingrich, it is now the left's turn to activate and make their case.

The Women's March on Washington (let me acknowledge that the branding was no reflection of the scope and extent of marches throughout and beyond the U.S.) has hopefully been a peaceful, non-confrontational step forward and the model of peaceful dissent as it will be demonstrated in the weeks and months ahead. (Note my unbridled optimism in limiting myself to those two measures of time.)  Apart from demonstrating the sheer size of this opposition to what Donald Trump has stood for throughout his life and his rather unpresidential campaign, there is the task of making the case for opposing him.  It seems anathema for me to state that there is a need to make a case against him, but there are people who support him, among them elected Republican senators and congressmen who will not only strive to support him and keep him safely ensconced from the threat of impeachment, but indulge in their own shenanigans while the red-hot focus of the world is on every keystroke Trump indulges in on Twitter.

There are mechanisms of voter suppression, both legalistic and strategic, that will be abused to retain power and their are cohorts of voters who will be relied upon to ensure that power is kept in the hands that assume to currently wield it from the padded benches of the branches of power that reside in Washington, DC.

Apart from those powers, there are also voters who strongly believe that Trump will restore America to the Rockwell-era purity and power that they are so nostalgic for.  The desire to regress to that era is, in 2017, an expression of intolerance. Many of the social and security policies that Trump has expressed and won support for are going to compromise the rights and freedoms that have been hard-won over the last 50-60 years and they are target women, Muslims, immigrants and the handicapped. I limit myself to this list in a rare effort on my part to keep a sentence brief.  Apart from those targets, it has not been ruled-out that free speech and assembly will be undermined during this administration. A simple demonstration of this would be a highlight reel of Trump demanding his minions ejected those of different opinions or even infants from his events.

The challenge for the left is to resist the temptation to indulge in a similar rejection or oppression of opposing viewpoints - to essentially squash the free speech of the right and challenge their right to assemble.  Despite the infuriation that the left might grapple with when hearing opinions that are (rightly?) perceived to be misinformed sloganeering from the right or the conduct of shills or sheep for Trump and the establishment, that option cannot be ponder because of the prime commitment to tolerance.  After the left's commitment to the countless minorities who have been discounted and oppressed and held back, it may still be tempting to make an exception in the case of those who have done the oppressing, but that option must not and cannot be exploited. That will make the task of bringing down this government a rewarding one in the end, because it has been done properly and by legitimate means.

The values that liberal democracies stand for, free speech being the key one to protect in the immediate future there must be a commitment to tolerance and beyond that a desire for dialogue.  It will be difficult to convince those of the right to listen and risk the threat to the apparent certainties that they want to cling so dearly to, but it is necessary to commit to that give and take and to the careful, calm committed and trusting listening that has to take place in order to make the case that the changes that Trump has implemented and wishes to add to his regression thus far are ultimately threats to the comforts, security and well being that Americans long for.

A reminder of how this tolerance must be embodied dates back just to November as President Obama was stumping for Hillary Clinton in North Carolina. Obama strived to bring the crowd under control and remind the audience of the values that Americans want to stand for and tolerance for dissent is among those values.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

On the Eve of the Trump Interregnum

1. Uncertainty is a consequence of taking things for granted. In this case, the shape and requirements of democracy have been neglected by millions of people who have chosen not to vote, or be informed or expect better of their electoral system.

2. The changes which are about to occur in the United States and beyond are, in part, the result of a significant number of American people being uncomfortable with the uncertainty that has come with tolerance and the recognition that America is not as exceptional as she thinks. The people who were uncertain about the things that went against their values system took to the streets to make their voices heard.  There may be an inclination to denigrate them for having an opposing few but the gaps between the various thems and "us'es" needs to be closed.

3. In his book Dangerous Animals Club, actor Stephen Tobolowsky says, however, that certainty is like "Fritos: a comfort food best taken in small doses while drinking a beer and watching the game." The quest for certainty is underscored by contradictions, hypocrisy and oversights that ultimately make its pursuit fruitless or delusional.  Much of the certainty that people strive for is rooted in the protection of their religion, and occurs at the expense of the words "love thy neighbour."

4. Beyond the conspiracies and the misogyny and other directions people are aiming their fingers at, there is the simple fact that people disengaged from the process of voting for their leader.  It is not unique to the United States.  In the end, the collective indifference of millions of Americans has made their nation vulnerable to the decisions that will be enacted in the days ahead.  Trump is not entirely to blame - he is an egomaniacal loose cannon.  As advertised.

5. Those who took comfort in the luxuries of hard battles won will have take up causes for the most fundamental human rights. Defending the (formerly) self-evident for the first time will challenge people's courage, dignity, patience and countless other virtues but these battles will be rewarding in ways that cannot be foreseen.  They will also be heart-breaking and puzzling in ways that cannot be expected.  The frustration of a challenge to logic and faith cannot be cause to walk away.

6. The period we are heading into is a stark reminder that the world is subject to cyclical change. There are ebbs and flows rather than an unhindered story of linear progress.  If people want to restore the progress or minimize the regression they must stand up for the things they believe in.  It will be challenging and ultimately progress will be most certain in the dialogues where cases are made and trust is hard-earned.

7. We are not in a post-fact world, but one where the appetite is nothing more than the superficial take or the junk food equivalent to clear thought.  Even those of us who have grounds for claiming a degree of wisdom forego the task of reading beyond headlines or tweets and getting to the heart of the story or an issue that we read about. The means of discerning truth from fiction or not gone, we just have to dedicate ourselves to making use of them again.

8. The challenge ahead is to wean ourselves from having our way and striving to be right. There seemed to have been a degree of vengeance among those who voted for Trump, a "take America back from [insert your villains here]."  Again it is a matter of engaging in the difficult dialogue to arrive at what is right and move away from the positions, opinions and beliefs that many people because they are so intrinsic to their sense of self.

9. The remaining question is whether or not people have the inclination to grapple with the difficult discussions with the respective "other" that they attribute the problems of America to.  I think too many people are too out of practice for this.  We'll wait and see.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Gym Shower Politics

In the weeks since Donald Trump's election to the US Presidency, I have wondered if there once was a period of broadening tolerance before the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Adolf Hitler. In that case there may have been such a period of tolerance emerging, but the Versailles "peace," the economic burdens that came with it and the flaws in the Weimar system opened the door for Hitler far outweighed the possibility that there was a retreat from tolerance as appears to be the case under the looming Trump administration.

Still, comparisons can be drawn between the economic uncertainties of 1920s and 30s Germany and those that have dogged the US over the last decade or so.  Industrial erosion removing working class jobs and leaving the intrigues and games of the financial services industry to be become a bigger chunk of the economy. The innovators who found competitive advantages with new inventions and gadgets from the 1860s to 1960s have been replaced, with the exception of a handful of industrialists of Mount Rushmore calibre, by those who came up with the ideas of exporting jobs instead of some other value-added creation and turned their innovative eye to the mischief that was achieved in the preamble to the financial crisis of 2008.  Add to the financial difficulties of this century the burden of solo superpower status and the aftermath of September 11, 2001 and there is a cause for defensiveness, concern and an aversion to anything that changes the rigid definition of America that so many cling to for refuge.

However, during this period there has been a significant period of reflection and adaptation to take pluralism to a new level.  More tolerant attitudes toward homosexuals and transgendered individuals were emerging, the two-term Obama administration indicated and fostered social progress.  The problem with that emergence of tolerance was the belief in some quarters that it was not tolerance, but permissiveness running rampant and undercutting "American" values.  This has not been the case. Apart from the tolerance, there have been efforts to reduce bullying, ensure greater safety in sports at all levels (particularly football), enhance the experience for cyclists and pedestrians in cities large and small and make the argument that racism is still an issue in the US.  Each of these changes, and these are but a few of them, have valid rationales behind them and definitely benefit a wide number of Americans, not to mention aligns with the preamble to the US Constitution.

There has been an instinctive, irrational response against those changes to advance tolerance and extend basic human rights to all people. There has been push-back of various sorts in recent months and years, whether it is legislation about bathrooms in North Carolina, the Vice President-Elect's own legislation allowing discrimination based on religious grounds or merely the renewed threat that education will move away from what secular and pluralist components it has toward a more Christian orientation under the new nominee as Secretary of Education.  Sadly, people usually cite the guidance of their Gods when prefacing acts of prejudice or hatred, not charity or understanding.  Such blind adherence to creed and a distaste for dissent or discourse, once the most American of bull shit deflectors, has left the nation without the intellectual or moral armour to remain true to the vision it was founded upon.

Given the opportunity to increase rights to all, there has been the sense among many Americans, or at least their politicians, that the expansion of human rights is a threat or that equality is a zero-sum game.  As a result, more and more people have asserted that in the name of their God, certain people need to be punished for their beliefs, actions or in a prime fit of anti-elitism, their knowledge.  This mindset has been what energized rallies among Trump supporters and made it hard to distinguish the Republican also-rans from the presidential nominee.

The social progress that has been sought and would have been further heralded under a woman president if she had been elected on November 8, 2016, would have pushed people into circumstances that they would have been instinctively uncomfortable with.  There have been significant economic issues in the US that prompted people to vote Republican in the recent election, but a platform that promised to roll back the social progress that has occurred over the last eight or the last 75 years was a significant part of it.  It is a false assumption that a brash, ostentatious businessman could right the US economy instead of padding his wallet and worse still is the sacrifices in social progress that will occur as a consequence of this shell game.

The election of Donald Trump has energized neo-Nazis, the KKK, schoolyard bullies, the racists, the rapists, the sexists and so many other individuals or groups who embody our baser impulses and instincts.  While not so long ago, it may have been easy to assume or hope that a society would do its best to proceed toward become more just, peaceful, free or egalitarian, the recent election outcome and the early warning signs that have emerged as Trump has made his key appointments, white nationalists have voiced their hope and approval and those minorities who had gained so many rights in recent years wait with uncertainty about what their futures hold in the land of the free.  At a time when progress on social matters could be continued, it seems that discomfort with such changes may uncork a regression to the adolescent ferality of the boys in Lord of the Flies.

The only outcome I foresee that would ensure the justice, domestic tranquility and liberty that Americans claim to stand for is an event that would jolt them away from their irrational attachment to a past that will not be recaptured or restored.  Given the geographic, religious, economic and spiritual suburbanization or Balkanization that has occurred throughout the country, it will only be a moment of profundity and calm (not fear) that would make them recommit themselves to preserving the values and Constitution that protect and define them.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Who DOESN'T Think They're the Moderate?

At the risk of confusing people with the possibility that I am referring to climate, I am citing the possibility of an echo of the 1968 Prague Spring or the Arab Spring of 2010.

As we have lurched for historical references to give us a context for where we are at, the options are countless. There are the easy comparisons and my references to 1968 and 2010, I suspect, would be regarded as optimistic, or, more likely gravely naive.  I would rather not give into the pessimism that has coloured so much of 2016 and I refer to the Springs because I believe that is the type of collective action that would be required to stem what is occurring and what will unfold in the coming months.

Donald Trump is the embodiment of a state of mind among a significant number of people and with the regression in American politics that goes back to George W. Bush's purported compassionate conservatism, Newt Gingrich's efforts to undermine the Bill Clinton administration in the 1990s', the recount debacle in 2000, Watergate or the tacitly racist opposition to Barack Obama there seems to be an inevitability to this precipice in US history.  While Donald Trump has done an astounding or appalling job of amplifying the simplistic certitudes about America that provide comfort to those who are unable or unwilling to make the effort to define their lives and dignity in the face of an uncertain, changing time where people must rededicate themselves to a greater purpose.  We are at a time when terms like freedom, faith, truth, neighbour, comfort, greatness, man, family, success and of course, American are all subjected to the most rigid and simplistic of interpretations.  

Trump has amplified these simplicities for much of the past year and it is abundantly clear that he now embodies the interests and concerns of a group or demographic despite his own disdain for the group who has voted for him.  He was the most audacious of the Republican candidates for president in pursuing those voters and he was not far out of step with the beliefs or platforms of his opponents. With that in mind, a Trump downfall that does not dent his popularity amongst those who have pinned their hopes to him will not result in an orderly transition to a more benign presidency.  The appetite for witch trials, bullying, deportations, religious registries, kleptocracy or the hatred-guided assertion of hierarchy will not disappear with Trump's dismissal from office.

The appetite that is hardest to slake at this time, however, is that for ridicule. For the past year we have seen the comments of America's finest comedians surpass the news organs in terms of insight and prescience, but they did not influence the outcome of the November 8th election as much as their audiences may have hoped. Social media is rife with as much snark as false news and both are indications of how hard it is for people to communicate in a meaningful manner anymore.

The United States certain to enter an embarrassing phase of its history that will make the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) seem like merely a recurring blip of paranoia.  Faced with that realization I am fighting back the urge to quote Vaclav Havel or slap a passage from Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being I have been saving on my desktop into the next paragraph in impressive italics with the anticipation that a scant 100 words or so of translated Czech will make everyone nod knowingly, say he nails it, and send on the link to this.

Instead of going that route, let me simply point out our most common assumptions about our children.  Not that they are the most beautiful kids ever; that would be a bit irrational.  We do, however, operate on the assumption that our kids are the most advanced and that they are at the 90th or 95th percentile for whatever we aspire to pin our hopes on. 

Just as we are so optimistic about our children, we are equally convinced that we are the moderates.

None of us are. Well, okay, not none of us, but the world champion fence-sitter on all issues probably does not even know who he or she is.  I know it is not me as there aren't that many moderates who spend their honeymoon highlighting their Havel... not the whole honeymoon... for just the opportunity to trot it out when the livid head of tyranny is being reared all ugly and such.  None of us are the moderate, but that does not mean that we do not have the opportunity or the responsibility to be a moderating positive influence.  

We need to be committed to being a moderating influence when an instance of hate is occurring around us.  At the same time it is more important than ever, not to mention more difficult than ever, to have the conversations required to test the opinions that we are so inclined to grasp with body and soul at a time of such uncertainty.  We have to set the ridicule aside and hear someone out and assert everyone's right to be heard and at the same time we have to hold people to account for the opinions they hold and respectfully test the beliefs that they hold and hope carry the day.

The simple desire of treating one another with respect that we owe one another regardless of our gender, station, income, creed or race has been grossly undermined not only in the discourse that our politicians have exchanged over the past year but in our own interactions and in the assumptions we make about people we do not know.

It is time to determine where we are and close the distance between ourselves and the people we disagree with.