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“There Are Rules Involved”: Want To Change The System, Trump And Sanders Supporters? Learn How It Works First

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” — George Orwell

Civic participation is one of the most important responsibilities of being an American. I’m old enough to remember when being selected to lead your homeroom class in the daily Pledge of Allegiance was a source of great pride. As kids, with our hands over our hearts, shoulders squared, we’d recite those venerable words, “…and to the republic, for which is stands…” with purpose. Unfortunately, the moral imperative of being a good steward of this great nation and understanding what it takes to preserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is an afterthought for many, if any thought at all.

Without question, the insurgent candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have jolted many Americans out of their normal political malaise. Bringing more citizens into the political fold is a good thing. But, what many of them are now realizing is that it takes more than just rolling out of bed to rage against the machine at big political rallies to select the next leader of the free world.

Surprise! There are rules involved. Rules governing the presidential election date back to our founding and the establishment of the Electoral College. The Constitution also gives latitude to the states in how to structure their nominating process. Electing the president wasn’t necessarily meant to be easy. Nothing worth safeguarding usually is. The founders deliberately designed our constitutional republic that way to avoid the tyrannical pitfalls of past societies like ancient Greece or the monarchies of Europe.

The Framers wanted multi-layered stakeholders invested in the best interest of the republic making it less vulnerable to the rash whims of a majority. They understood how pure democracy without checks and balances historically led to the subjugation of minority voices. It was true then and still rings true today. That’s why our Constitution does not allow for direct voting to elect the president.

The inconvenient truth is it’s our responsibility as citizens to be informed and understand how our voting laws work. And it’s the responsibility of any serious candidate for president to do the same. In this day and age, when the answers to almost anything are no more than a Google search or Siri question away, there’s no excuse for ignorance of the law/rules. With freedom comes responsibility by each and every one of us to pay enough attention to make sure those freedoms are protected.

The act of voting is one of the most fundamental rights and privileges of being an American, yet millions take it for granted and seemingly can’t be bothered to learn how their state voting procedures and deadlines work, i.e. Colorado or even New York for that matter. Just ask Trump’s own children.

It’s typical of not only Donald Trump’s personality to shift blame onto everyone and thing other than himself when he fails miserably, but it’s a growing characteristic of our society. Perhaps many are victims of their own uninformed apathy.

Perhaps there’s a lack of emphasis on the importance of civic engagement and what that entails.

Which brings me to a story shared with me by a former elementary school teacher of a charter school in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C.  She wanted to incorporate lessons on World War II into her curriculum. When she approached the principal about her plan, the principal scoffed and said, “What do we need to know about World War II for?” Seriously? If this is the attitude of some educators, no wonder it’s so easy to throw slogans around like Make American Great Again when so many don’t even understand what made America great in the first place.

Unfortunately, this teacher’s experience is not isolated. It’s going on in school districts around the country. Federal education policies like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have shifted emphasis away from social studies and history to a focus on standardized testing. In 2012, 21 states required testing in history and only nine of them required it to graduate. Only one-third of Americans can name the three branches of government, much less say what each does.

As a result of this disheartening trend, the Civics Education Initiative was born. It seeks to require high school students, as a condition for graduation, to pass a test on 100 basic facts of U.S. history and civics similar to the United States Citizenship Civics Test. The national effort is gaining traction with Arizona, Utah, and the Dakotas now requiring the civic proficiency test for graduation. A dozen other states are considering the same. It’s a start.

A dumbed down electorate is more susceptible to the manipulation of charismatic figures willing to allegedly “tell it like it is” while preying on their fears and ignorance of the history and framework of the country. It allows for someone like Donald Trump, or Bernie Sanders for that matter, to whip mobs of people into a frenzy believing they’ve been disenfranchised by a system they don’t even understand.

Scores of folks on both the Left and the Right complain that “This is not how democracy works!” They are right. This is how a constitutional republic works.

Is our system infallible? Of course not. Various changes have been made from the enactment of the 12th Amendment to the creation of the McGovern Frasier Commission after the tumult of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. If people are unhappy with the current rules, then by all means work to improve them.

However, the time to do that is not in the middle of an election cycle when the rules have already been set and agreed upon by all campaigns involved. There’s no whining in politics.

Albert Einstein famously said, “First you learn the rules of the game. Then you play better than everyone else.” Prior to running for president, Trump retweeted that very quote in 2014.  Too bad in 2016 he’s chosen to kvetch about allegedly “rigged” rules instead of putting in the campaign work to finish the job and win. It’s much easier to play the victim than take responsibility. Nowadays, it’s always someone else’s fault.

It takes effort to become President of the United States. Just like it takes effort to be a good citizen. When something is important enough, we make it a priority. It’s not the government’s job to compel us to pay attention.

How far we’ve come from President Kennedy’s decree to “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”

Let’s start by learning how it works.

 

By: Tara Setmayer, The Daily Beast, April 19, 2016

April 20, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democracy, Donald Trump, Presidential Elections | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Doesn’t Mississippi Have More Pressing Concerns?”: Fattest, Poorest, Sickest State In America Rails Against LGBT People

A portrait of Mississippi.

It has a lower percentage of high school graduates than almost any other state. It has an unemployment rate higher than almost any other state.

Mississippi’s fourth-graders perform more poorly than any other children in the country in math. Also in reading. Its smoking rates are among the highest in the country. Along with West Virginia, it is the fattest state in the Union. It has the highest poverty rate and the lowest life expectancy.

Small wonder 24/7 Wall Street, a content provider for Yahoo!, Time and USA Today, among others, has dubbed Mississippi the “worst state to live in.”

All of which provides a certain pungent context for what happened last week as Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law a bill legalizing discrimination against LGBT people. It is dubbed the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” which is a cynical lie. The only thing it protects is those doing the discriminating.

You want to refuse to rent to a lesbian couple? You’re covered.

You want to refuse to hire a transgendered woman? Go for it.

You want to force your gay adopted son to undergo so-called conversion therapy? No problem.

You want to kick an adulterous heterosexual out of your hardware store? Yep, the law says you can even do that.

Indeed, it says that any gay, transgendered or adulterous individual whose behavior offends the “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions” of a person, for-profit business, government employee or religious organization can be refused service.

As if your sexual orientation or marital status were the business of the cashier ringing up your groceries or the barber trimming your hair.

It is worth nothing that similar laws have been propounded in other states — Georgia, Indiana, Arkansas — only to be turned back under threat of boycott by Fortune 500 companies and professional sports teams doing business there. “The worst state to live in,” was immune to that kind of pressure because it has no such teams or businesses.

You’d think that would tell them something. You’d think it would suggest to Mississippi that it has more pressing concerns than salving the hurt feelings of some putative Christian who doesn’t want to bake a cake for Lester and Steve.

But addressing those concerns would require serious thought, sustained effort, foresight, creativity and courage. It is easier just to scapegoat the gays.

So the fattest, poorest, sickest state in the Union rails against LGBT people and adulterers and never mind that if every last one of them pulled up stakes tomorrow, Mississippi would still be the fattest, poorest, sickest state in the Union.

The point is not that such bigotry would be impossible in places that are healthier or wealthier. The point is not that such places are immune to it. Rather, the point is simply this: Isn’t it interesting how reliably social division works as a distraction from things that ought to matter more?

After all, Mississippi just passed a law that 80 percent of its eighth-graders would struggle to read.

If they graduate, those young people will look for work in a state with an unemployment rate significantly higher than the national average. But if one of those kids does manage to find work at the local doughnut shop say, she will — until the law is struck down, at least — have the satisfaction of refusing service to some gay man, secure in the knowledge that the state that failed to educate her or give her a fighting chance in a complex world, now has her back.

One feels sorrier for her than for the gay man. Her life will be hemmed by the fact of living it in a state that fights the future, that teaches her to deflect and distract, not resolve and engage.

The gay man can buy doughnuts anywhere.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 10, 2016

April 12, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, LGBT, Mississippi, Phil Bryant | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Ignorance, Racism And Rage”: The GOP’s Transformation To The Party Of Stupid Started Long Before Donald Trump

The top leadership of the Republican Party expresses horror at the popularity of Donald Trump as though his positions and values are somehow alien from their own. This is disingenuous. As other commentators have observed, the presidential candidacy of the bigoted, misogynist, ignorant Trump is a creature of the party’s own making.

This Frankentrump was not fashioned in a mere eight years, however. The Obama administration suffered only from an acceleration of Republican partisanship, not a change in its character. Instead, the transformation of the Republican base from the conscience-driven party of Lincoln to the anger-driven party of Trump has been a half-century in the making.

No political party neatly reflects political philosophy, of course. Parties always aim to mobilize diverse — and therefore conflicting — constituencies in order to win. But the original Republican Party, formed in 1854 after the Democrat-sponsored Kansas-Nebraska Act overturned decades of federal policy against the spread of slavery, came close to embodying the political philosophy behind it. And the founding Republican philosophy was liberal.

Not liberal in the sense the term came to be used in the twentieth century, to signify commitment to the type of federal welfare policies enacted in the New Deal of the Democrats. Not liberal as either epithet or fixed policy commitment. And certainly not liberal as in morally loose.

To be liberal in the nineteenth century meant to be devoted to freedom of thought above all. Above tradition, the American liberals who helped found the Republican Party valued the freedom to choose what is right and the freedom to develop socially, intellectually, and morally toward the highest possible potential. This is why liberals favored public schools for all children, which started in Massachusetts in the 1830s and only got established in the South thanks to Reconstruction.

The liberal principle of “moral agency,” as they called this divine right and duty to choose, also lay behind Republican opposition to slavery. Slaves cannot choose if they are coerced by their so-called masters, and if slaves have no moral choices they cannot develop. The liberal moral ethic centered on independent, open-ended thinking, constructive dialogue across differences, and a belief in the divine potential of every human being. Even slaves.

“Liberty of conscience” is how the Republican Party platform of 1856 gestured to its liberal roots. The phrase came from old Protestant arguments over whether Christians are free to believe non-Calvinist ideas, but it developed secular, political uses over the nineteenth century and lay behind the opposition to the expansion of slavery for which Republicans originally stood. Lincoln stated the liberal faith most robustly, perhaps, at the end of his famous Cooper Union Address of 1860: “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”

This got the Republican Party boycotted in the (white) South, not only during the years of the Confederate rebellion but long after.

Most Republicans, including Lincoln, were unsure just how equal African Americans could be, but some Republicans in Congress favored complete civil equality for the former slaves and their descendants. They drove the first civil rights legislation, including the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, abolishing slavery and providing the rights of voting and due process under the law regardless of race. The first African-American members of Congress were Republican.

The Democrats ran the party of white supremacy. Woodrow Wilson — the Virginian who segregated the federal government — knew how to keep the South in the Democratic fold. So did Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who allowed his New Deal policies to be administered in such discriminatory ways that one historian claims they amounted to affirmative action for whites.

The Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower is the leader who submitted civil-rights legislation to Congress to combat Jim Crow in 1957. It was Democrats in Congress who watered the bill down.

The partisan poles of the United States changed after the dramatic activism of the 1950s and early ‘60s prompted the Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sending white Southern and white working-class Democrats into Republican arms.

The Republican wooing of these voters took time and delicacy. Never did its strategists aim to become the party of blatant racism. Instead, they created concepts like the “moral majority,” “religious right,” “family values” and even color-blindness in order to attract white voters concerned about African-American socio-economic and political gains. And in so doing, they betrayed their moral roots in three ways.

First, Republicans allowed bigotry safe haven under the guise of morality, in the very name of morality, by broadcasting scary tales of black urban life as though it were proof of the irredeemable inferiority of African Americans. From the Southern Strategy of Nixon to the cynical electioneering of Lee Atwater, the campaign manager for George H. W. Bush, the line was straight. In 1981, Atwater explained that by 1968, the N-word repelled voters rather than attracting them, so he trained Republicans to “say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.” Reagan acted his part in disdaining welfare queens and “young bucks,” a phrase straight out of the antebellum South. In 1994, Charles Murray broadcast pseudo-scientific racism in “The Bell Curve” — amazingly, Murray is still in service today — arguing that so-called blacks simply are less intelligent and moral, if more athletic, than whites. Donald Trump’s retweets from white supremacist origins are consistent with this Republican precedent.

Second, the Republican Party adopted fixed positions on issues. The nineteenth-century liberal commitment to open-mindedness had meant that any position was only provisional, awaiting the testimony of further evidence or wider viewpoints for modification. For many decades now, the Republicans have insisted that lowering taxes, beefing up the military, and cutting social programs are what America needs. They oppose abortion because they need white evangelical voters, so Republican politicians claim that the resemblance of a fetus to a baby is more important than the resemblance of a criminal to a human being — Republicans favor the death penalty, after all, which they have to reconcile with their so-called pro-life conviction. Along comes Trump, calling for women who terminate their pregnancies to be punished.

Finally, the Republican Party has increasingly refused to engage in meaningful dialogue with its opponents. It has betrayed its origins in the culture of learning by attacking higher education in the United States — the colleges and universities all too liable to teach young people how to think critically — and by trying to privatize public education in the names of meritocracy and religious freedom. At the very least, Republican strategists have undermined public schoolteachers and pathologized urban schoolchildren. By deploying the language of culture wars, left versus right and liberal versus conservative, Republican strategists have fed a polarization allegedly too extreme to tolerate constructive dialogue toward consensus.

No wonder Frankentrump cannot even tolerate debate with his fellow Republican contenders for the nomination.

Since 2008, it seems that the top Republican leadership has realized that it must curry favor with voters other than white evangelicals, white workers and the moneyed elite. But it is too late for Trump’s enthusiasts to get the memo. Whenever thinkers concoct slogans, they produce culture. And the culture Republican strategists produced is decidedly illiberal.

To echo the words of Malcolm X in 1963, the Trump candidacy is as clear a case of chickens coming home to roost as ever history did see.

 

By: Amy Kittlestrom, serves on The Editorial Board of The Journal of American History; Associate Professor at Sonoma State University;  Salon, April 9, 2016

April 11, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Biggest Threat To Carson’s Campaign”: Low-Information Candidate Worried About Low-Information Voters

On Wednesday afternoon, Ben Carson told Wolf Blitzer that his biggest threat in the presidential election isn’t Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, the two candidates who happen to be beating him right now.

No, Carson, whose poll numbers have dropped so far that he could grab a toboggan and slide down them into irrelevance, thinks the biggest barrier to his victory is “the fact that people sometimes are not well educated.”

Back in October, when Carson was in second place, he was doing much better among voters without a college degree than he is doing today with any voters.

“They don’t have a clue what you’re talking about,” Carson, who was once described by his former campaign manager as “just living in an alternative universe,” said, “and yet these are people who vote … I implore people to really inform yourself about who the candidates are, inform yourself of what their positions are.”

Ben Carson — a very good neurosurgeon who reportedly doesn’t understand foreign policy even though people keep trying to explain it to him over and over — for example, believes that free college will destroy our nation; that pyramids were used to store grain instead of dead bodies; that the minimum wage is good or bad; that Muslims shouldn’t be president; that it is okay to take a break from your presidential campaign to sell copies of your book; that gun control helped the Nazis; that people in mass-shooting situations should yell, “Hey, guys, everybody attack him!“; that prison turns people gay (“So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.”); that spending a lot of money to raise money is a great idea; that Hamas is pronounced “hummus”; that New Hampshire is actually pretty far away from Vermont; and that “Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.”

Hopefully this list will inform voters of who Ben Carson really is — and inform Ben Carson that the biggest threat to his campaign is actually the fact that he just isn’t a very good candidate.

 

By: Jamie Fuller, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 27, 2016

January 28, 2016 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Presidential Candidates, Voters | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Power And Limits Of Symbolism”: There Is A Lot More That Goes Into Making Up Our Identity

I remember back in 1984 when I first heard rumors that Walter Mondale was considering the possibility of nominating a woman as his Vice Presidential running mate, my reaction was pretty dismissive. I thought, “Pffttt…another woman in a supporting role, no big deal.”

But then as I watched him actually announce that Geraldine Ferraro would be his running mate, I cried. The tears totally surprised me – I didn’t see them coming. Their source was not my rational mind. Instead, they came from something very deep inside.

I saw the same kinds of tears on the faces of people at Grant Park in Chicago on the night Barack Obama was elected in 2008.

That is the power of symbolism. It touches the place that needs to hear, “You belong.” Whoopi Goldberg captured that very well the next morning when she said, “I’ve always considered myself an American, but for the first time last night, I felt like I could finally put my bags down.” We should never underestimate the power of “you belong” for people who have felt marginalized in our culture. It is not something that we articulate often on a rational basis, but it resides deep in our being.

On the other hand, there are limits to symbolism. There is a lot more that goes into making up our identity than the fact that we are a woman, or African American, or a member of another group that has been marginalized. We are complex human beings with a variety of thoughts and feelings when it comes to politics.

That is something that Republicans (and some Democrats) don’t seem to understand about symbolism. It’s why John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate and thought that is all he needed to do to reach out to women. And it is what some pundits and political strategists think will happen with candidates like Herman Cain and Ben Carson. In many ways that kind of thing only perpetuates the marginalization by assuming that we can be reduced to the fact that we have a uterus or a heavier dose of melanin.

Keep that in mind when you hear pundits assume that a presidential candidate like Marco Rubio will attract Latino and/or young voters. It is, first of all, insulting to many Hispanics to ignore the very real differences between Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Puerto Rican-Americans, etc. And, of course, it assumes a linkage between both cultures and complex human beings that is reduced to the fact that – for the most part – they share the same language.

I also know of no better way to insult young people than to suggest that the most important thing about them is their age. What most young people are telling us these days is that they are ready to move past the racism/sexism/homophobia that has divided us for so long and get busy tackling things that actually affect their future – like education and climate change. I think they’re smart enough to chose a candidate who speaks to those issues and not get hung up on the year they were born.

So yes, there is power in symbolism. But to assume that marginalized voters can be reduced to one demographic factor is why the word “token” was introduced into discussions about diversity. It is demeaning to think that’s all that matters.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 1, 2016

January 2, 2016 Posted by | Symbolism, Walter Mondale, Young Voters | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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