Why Am I Not Angrier?

I want to understand why I don’t feel as angry as I think I ought to about the actions of the Trump Administration. We all know by now how controversial their first week was, with millions of Americans taking to the streets to protest (not to mention the millions of citizens of the planet who joined them), but if you’re still a little fuzzy on the details, here are some links where you can read about…

That’s a lot of shit I should feel angry about, and to be clear, there can be no doubt that I do feel that anger, but something is telling me — or maybe a better way to phrase it is someone is telling me — that I don’t feel angry enough.

Angry enough to do what, though?

I went to the Women’s March in Montpelier last weekend. I went knowing that I am a white heterosexual American male with a rewarding career and a wife who is intelligent, funny, kind, and supportive. We brought along our physically, mentally, and intellectually healthy four-year old daughter, who carried a sign that she helped my wife write before we left our house. Her sign read, “Women are Powerful.”

We were among the tens of thousands of Vermonters who joined together on the steps of our capitol building to stand proud and stand defiant in the face of the Trump Administration’s bigotry and aggression. We heard our famous Senator, a genuine political hero to tens of millions of Americans, speak in person about the need for courage and conviction. We heard Muslim and Latino teenagers rage in our predominantly white middle-class faces about the system that supports our lifestyles, and we applauded their righteous cry for justice. We heard the announcement that a young child had come to the front because she had lost her mother, and our hearts sank at the thought of our own daughter feeling so lost in such a big crowd.

Angry enough to do that? To drive two hours only to brave a traffic jam?

Yes, the Women’s March accomplished something. If it hadn’t been so successful last weekend, we wouldn’t have seen the protests at the airports this weekend. If it hadn’t been so successful, we wouldn’t have seen rogue employees of the National Parks Service demonstrate real courage by opening a Twitter account and refusing to remain silent. If the Women’s March hadn’t been so successful, we wouldn’t be reading about plans for the scientists of America to conduct their own march on Washington this spring, or hearing about the environmentalists planning a coordinated show of force on Earth Day. We wouldn’t have seen American lawyers descend on terminals throughout the country to defend (pro bono) the rights of foreign-born individuals. We may not have even seen something as private as a sign in a bookstore mocking the words of the President’s most senior advisors (“This way to the Alternative Facts section…we use to call it ‘Fiction'”).

If the Women’s March accomplished anything, it showed that there are millions of us who oppose President Trump’s words, actions, and policies, and we’re willing to stand up and be counted.

But is that all my anger is good for? Am I only willing to be counted?

There are a couple of memes going around that speak to what I’m talking about. The first one says something like, “If you’ve ever said to yourself, ‘I wonder what I would’ve done…,’ Now is the time. What you are doing now is the answer to what you would’ve done.” The other reads, “First they came for the Muslims. And we said, ‘Not today, motherfucker.'”

Those two memes capture the way I feel right now, but the fact that I only know them as memes better captures my reality. Because that’s what I’m doing. I’m reading things on the Internet, and then either sharing them or writing about them.

And yes, I’m also a teacher, so along with trying to influence my friends, family, and peers on Facebook, I’m also actively working to influence the next generation of leaders to take positive steps in the development of our humanity.

But again, is that enough?

Right now, on the streets of America, there are tens of thousands of people (including many members of our own government) who are either actively working to disrupt the president’s ability to effect change or actively working to reduce the harm of whatever change he succeeds in making.

The list includes college students who use the passion of their youth to set fire to the conversations of their elders, parents who leave their young children to enact real reforms through their local community-action boards,  politicians who use the microphones provided to them by their constituents to propose legislative changes and protest or block executive orders, mothers of murdered children who congregate in shared spaces to provide real sanctity to citizen protests, and so many more doing so much more. Thousands of them, making daily sacrifices, not just of their time (as I have done), but also of their blood.

Is that what I expect from myself? What should I expect from myself? If now really is the time and this is what I would’ve done, what, indeed, should I do?

Two different friends of mine have used this moment to engage deeper with politics. One of them is running for a seat on our local school board; the other contacted his state’s Democratic Party to see how his Ph.D in Natural Resources & Environmental Studies (with a focus on climate change policies) could best serve his state. Both of their decisions inspire me, but with two jobs, a working wife, a young daughter, and a part-time hobby at home, seeking to do more on a political level is a path that (currently) feels closed to me.

I’m also not about to get involved on the physical level. Teaching is exhausting, and I’m lucky when I have enough energy left to give to my own child at the end of the day. When the sun goes down, the dinner is made, and the daughter is washed, read to, and in bed, I’ve only got enough in me to watch TV for a couple of hours, play a 45-minute game of Madden, and then read for about 30 minutes until I fall asleep in bed.

When I’m feeling particularly energetic, I open up my laptop and do a little writing.

But that’s about all I’ve got in me. Physically speaking.

And I know the response: “That’s how they get you.” First, they get you to go into debt by creating an economy that basically forces you to go to college and a culture that basically forces you to buy a house before you can feel settled. That debt makes you work for someone else so you can have the security of a steady paycheck, and that work exhausts your body of all its active energies, leaving you depleted at nightfall. The creative forces that do exist concentrate on your attention span, distracting you with their bullshit or pleasuring you with their dramatic plots and/or pulsating lights. And then another day is done, and the status quo remains, and four to five years slip away.

But that’s the reality, isn’t it?

Unfortunately (or sometimes fortunately), no. That’s just the privilege of my reality. For others, reality looks like an immigration officer telling them they’re not allowed to get off the plane. Or a dead neighbor gunned down by a too poorly trained police officer or a too undereducated teenager. Or it looks like a cancerous father whose insurance won’t cover it. Or an out-of-work mother whose husband has been captured and deported.

And what’s my problem? Well, I’m a middle-aged white heterosexual American male. My problem is debt. And debt just isn’t something it seems I can get angry about.

Was Sec. Clinton going to fix my debt? Perhaps. The success of Senator Sanders pushed her closer to policies that would have addressed the indebtedness of the average American citizen, but I doubt she would have pursued them had she been elected. When it comes to Sec. Clinton’s relationship to America’s worst financiers, we only have to look at her wallet.

Will President Trump fix my debt? Not bloody likely. His tax policies will probably end up having zero effect on my middle-class tax bracket, and if my family stays healthy, our insurance should stay relatively reasonable (thanks to the indefatigable work of the  teacher’s union). We can feel pretty assured that he’s also not going to do anything to address student loan debt, despite the incredible weight it puts on our country’s economic growth; nor will he reduce rates for current (and probably future) homeowners.

But he’s also not going to come for my wife or daughter, not in any tangible sense, the way he’s coming for the families of Latino Americans and Muslim Americans. And the actions and policies of his justice department won’t rip my family apart by either shooting my child dead or sending her to jail. Unless he starts to come after the Atheists (which, let’s face it, won’t happen), I probably don’t have anything to fear from Trump or his platoons.

So, because of that, it seems I’m angry enough to write, “Not today motherfucker,” but I’m not angry enough to do much else.

I can only hope that that is enough.

Bernie or Bust (Basically)

I had a friendly debate last night with a couple of friends of mine. One of them lives in New Hampshire and voted for Secretary Clinton in the primary. The other lives in California and doesn’t plan on voting for any candidate in tomorrow’s primary, but he does plan on voting for Sec. Clinton in November. Both of them feel as if it is time for Senator Bernie Sanders to concede the election and unify the party. As a very liberal individual from Vermont, I disagreed, and even said that I plan on not voting for Sec. Clinton (or Donald Trump) in November.

Now, the debate took place via text messaging, with lots of overlapping conversation, so it wasn’t the most succinct way to argue. But hey, I’ve got a blog, so I figure, why not use it to make my argument as clear as possible?

Why Bernie Should Not Concede

While it seems incredibly improbable for Senator Sanders to win the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party, it is not mathematically impossible.

It takes 2,383 delegates to win the nomination. According to the Associated Press, as of today, Sec. Clinton has 1,809 delegates, while Sen. Sanders has 1,520. Sec. Clinton needs 574 more delegates to win, while Sen. Sanders needs 863.

Tomorrow, there are 694 delegates up for grabs, with Washington D.C.’s final 20 delegates to be decided next week on June 14th. While obviously you can’t trust the polls, they currently suggest that neither of the two candidates will win enough delegates on June 7th or June 14th to win the nomination.

That means that the election turns from the pledged delegates, which are decided upon in the primaries and caucuses, to the Democratic Party’s Superdelegates, all of whom do not cast an actual vote until the first ballot of the convention. According to the AP, Sec. Clinton has 547 Superdelegates and Sen. Sanders has 46 (I’ll also note that Wikipedia has a lower tally for Sec. Clinton [update: the AP now reports that Sec. Clinton has clinched the nomination based on a survey of Superdelegates, despite the fact that the Superdelegates haven’t voted yet]).

If every Superdelegate who has come out for Sec. Clinton stays true to their word, then Sec. Clinton will become the Democratic Party’s nominee. But they don’t get to vote until the convention, so it is completely fair for Sen. Sanders to continue his campaign to win their votes. The primary doesn’t end until there is an official nominee, and if his supporters believe there is a chance for him to win — as minuscule as that chance might be — then Sen. Sanders owes it to his millions of supporters to fight until the fight is over.

Why Bernie Should Continue to be Aggressive

One of the complaints my friends made last night is that the continued campaign of Sen. Sanders hurts Sec. Clinton’s chances in November, with one of them arguing that “he’s doing some significant damage right now to [her] prospects” and the other saying, “It is 100% about beating Trump…and Bernie is hurting that chance.”

Sen. Sanders’ primary campaign will come to a close, one way or the other, at the Democratic Convention at the end of July. Whether he wins or loses the nomination, Sen. Sanders will definitely pivot his campaign away from Sec. Clinton and towards Donald Trump. This pivot may not mean that Sen. Sanders supports Sec. Clinton’s policies or supports her as an individual, but it will mean he’ll work to reveal Donald Trump’s weaknesses to any independent or undecided voters whom might be open to such an argument.

But that’s what will happen in August.

My friends’ concerns are about what will happen during June and July. They believe that Sen. Sanders’ continued attacks on Sec. Clinton will weaken her candidacy in the general election. I believe that they are right, and the reason is because she has many weaknesses as a candidate and as a nominee.

Asking Sen Sanders to stop pointing out those weaknesses is like the emperor’s advisors refusing to point out that his royal highness is naked. If Sec. Clinton’s weaknesses make her a poor candidate against the presumptive Republican nominee, then that’s something the Democratic Party might want to face before they name her as their champion.

Why I Won’t Be Voting for Hillary

The first reason I won’t be voting for Sec. Clinton is because, if she is elected, that will mean there has been either a Bush or Clinton in the White House for 36 of my 42 years (assuming she serves all four years of her first term). If that’s not the definition of an oligarchy, then I don’t know what is.

Second, I won’t vote for a hawk. Sec. Clinton voted for the war in Iraq in 2003, persuaded a “wary” Pres. Obama to topple Col. Qadhafi in 2011, and supports the U.S.’s increased involvement in Syria, including increasing the number of special forces on the ground and giving our current troops in Iraq greater “flexibility” to engage with the action in Syria.

Based on Sec. Clinton’s record, Jeffrey Sachs, a Special Advisor to the Secretary-General of the U.N., the Director of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and one of the world’s leading economists, has called Sec. Clinton “a danger to global peace” who has “much to answer for regarding the disaster in Syria.”

To be clear, Sec. Clinton’s use of the military in Syria would not be for humanitarian reasons. Yes, it’s absolutely true that Syria is a horrible place right now and its people desperately need assistance. But that’s not why Sec. Clinton would get America involved. She’d get us involved because she wants to weaken the power of Iran in the region. Sec. Clinton sees the world through the eyes of realpolitik (hence, her fondness for Sec. Henry Kissinger), but to a liberal ideologue such as myself, who believes that America ought to act from a place of principle rather than naked self-interest, realpolitik is a dangerous perspective that leads not to increased security and prosperity for the U.S., but to increased numbers of terrorists and a generation’s worth of anti-American sentiment.

Third, (if she wins the nomination) Sec. Clinton and Donald Trump won’t be the only candidates on the ballot in November. The ballot will also include the nominees of the Green and Libertarian parties. The Libertarians recently nominated Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico (with Gov. Bill Weld of Massachusetts as his running mate). The Greens still have to officially nominate their candidate, but Dr. Jill Stein of Massachusetts is the presumptive nominee.

I don’t know much about Dr. Stein yet, but I like how she is reaching out to Sen. Sanders and his supporters, trying to give them another voice should Sen. Sanders lose the nomination in July. I’ll have to look into her some more before I choose to give her my vote, but if Sec. Clinton does take the nomination, Dr. Stein will probably find me in her corner.

Why A Vote For “Not Hillary” Is Not A Vote For Trump

The final piece of the debate I had last night can be summed up by what one of my friends told me: “Any Democrat not voting for Hillary is helping Trump. So you’re supporting him.”

First, I’m not a Democrat. I’m a member of the Progressive Party of Vermont. As a Progressive, many of my policy preferences overlay with the platform of the Democratic Party, but the two parties are not equal. Since the Progressive Party of Vermont does not nominate a candidate for President, it is up to the official candidates to win my vote. As I explained above, Sec. Clinton’s hawkish policies (and family connections) make it nigh impossible for her to win my vote.

I’m obviously not going to vote for Donald Trump, because…well…he seems to be just a few mustache hairs away from being a fascist.

I’m definitely open to voting for a Libertarian because a libertarian’s commitment to individual freedom overlaps a little bit with a progressive’s social values, but economic libertarianism of the Ayn Rand variety is a non-starter in my book, and so a Libertarian candidate would have to be particularly inspiring to win my vote.

Which leaves me with Dr. Jill Stein, on whom, see above.

But my voting for Dr. Stein or Gov. Johnson does not mean that I am supporting Trump. One of the biggest obstacles to our country’s progress is the never-ending stranglehold that the two-party system places on our politics. I refuse to kowtow to that system. If one of the major parties puts up a candidate whom I can actually vote for, then I have no problem voting for that person (and hence, that party). But if there is someone else on the ballot with whom I feel more political affinity, then I am going to vote for that person, regardless of party.

Sec. Clinton doesn’t get my vote simply because I’m not a Republican. She has to earn my vote by speaking to my issues in a way that is powerful and persuasive. Sen. Sanders earned my vote back in March. If he doesn’t win the nomination, then someone else will have to earn my vote in November — the two-party system be damned.

Fighting the Good Fight

One of the critiques you hear about Senator Bernie Sanders is that, while his proposals sound great, there’s no way he’ll be able to pass them through Congress, or as the NY Times recently put it, Bernie is “an idealist brimming with inspirational (if unrealistic) proposals.”

Bernie addresses this critique directly, saying:

No president can do it alone…What this campaign is about is building a political movement which revitalizes American democracy, which brings millions of people together – black and white, Latino, Asian-American, Native American – young and old, men and women, gay and straight, native born and immigrant, people of all religions…When millions of working families stand together, demanding fundamental changes…we have the power to bring about that change.

In other words, the only way to change the system is to start an actual political revolution, one that replaces the same old politicians up and down the ticket with progressive candidates who will fight for the working families of this country.

Is that possible? Maybe.
Is that likely? No.

Which is why many people say the best alternative to the inspirational but unrealistic Sanders is Sec. Hillary Clinton, whom that same NY Times article describes as “an evidence-oriented pragmatist committed to using public authority to solve big problems.”

After all, when you’re talking about a government that oversees a divided populace of more than 300 million people spread across an entire continent, why wouldn’t we prefer an “evidence-oriented pragmatist” over an “unrealistic idealist?” An “evidence-based pragmatist” would be more inclined to find the middle ground between competing ideologies, more open to hearing every side of the argument, and more reasonable when it comes to choosing his or her battles. It just seems much more realistic to elect someone like that and expect that person to at least be able to pass his or her more moderate proposals through Congress.

Unfortunately, we now have six years of evidence to show that “evidence-based pragmatism” is not a successful strategy in Washington D.C. President Obama entered office as a pragmatist, and his actions over the past eight years have supported that claim. He does what he can to move the country in a positive direction, but he doesn’t push too hard to move it too far too fast.

Yes, he passed the Affordable Care Act, but there are still 20 million people without healthcare and a host of issues with the Act itself, and to a large extent, the Act also ensured the financial security of our for-profit healthcare system, the “for-profit” aspect of which is at the heart of everything that is wrong with healthcare in this country.

Yes, he removed the majority of our troops from Afghanistan, but he also reversed his decision to withdraw and will instead leave office with close to 10,000 troops still on the ground in that country (not to mention that “we’re still in combat everyday” in Iraq).

Yes, he passed a massive stimulus bill to get the economy going again, but because he didn’t push for an even bigger bill or follow it up with continued stimulus bills, it eventually became looked upon as a failure, which prevented Washington from even considering the option of increasing domestic investments.

Yes, his administration (eventually) supported legalizing gay marriage (thanks, Joe Biden), but it took a surprise decision from the Supreme Court to actually make it the law of the land.

Yes, his administration has effectively decimated Al Qaeda, but his increased use of military drones has caused the death of hundreds (if not thousands) of innocent civilians, including children, which creates increased hatred for the U.S. throughout the Middle East and serves as a major recruitment tool for ISIS.

On top of all those moderate successes (and moderate failures), President Obama’s legislative successes since the rise of the Tea Party provides very little to crow about.

Now, I don’t want to take anything away from President Obama. There have been very significant and positive changes to this country since he took office in 2008. But because so much of what he accomplished was done by executive order, so much of it can be wiped out with the stroke of a pen. That’s not change we can believe in.

I have no doubt that a President Hillary Clinton would continue with President Obama’s legacy of fighting Congress when she thinks she can win and using executive action when she thinks she can’t, always with her eye on moving America in a more socially progressive and market-oriented direction; in other words, I have no doubt that President Clinton would give us more of the same.

And maybe that’s all we can really hope for right now, and maybe we ought to be glad to get it.

But I’m sorry: that just doesn’t work for me.

Because more of the same means continued stagnation of worker’s incomes, continued shenanigans on Wall Street, continued intransigence on gun control, continued prioritization of the corporate bottom line over the rights and lives of workers and communities, continued commitments to a hawkish foreign policy, and continued increases to our adversarial government.

Sen. Sanders is pushing for something different. He understands that we are at a pivotal moment in our country’s history, and if we don’t change something major about the way we govern this place, then we’ll never be able to address the major challenges facing us as a nation.

Sanders sees those challenges as income inequality, climate change, and campaign finance reform (which is really just a stand-in phrase for “stop having a government of and for millionaires”). Sec. Clinton and President Obama see these challenges as well (or at least, they saw the latter two, and now Sanders is forcing them to see the first one), but they aren’t demanding nearly enough to address any of them.

If President Sanders doesn’t get the political revolution he’s calling for, I have no doubt that he’ll be just as forceful as Sec. Clinton when it comes to fighting Congress on the issues he thinks he can win and using executive action on the ones he thinks he can’t. He’s not going to get rid of any of the advances President Obama made, nor will he fight any less than Clinton to make even more advances when he can.

The difference is that he will be a continued voice for income inequality long after the election is over, a continued voice for taking real action on climate change, and a continued voice for campaign finance reform. He won’t ever stop pushing to enact major and fundamental changes on those issues.

Sec. Clinton, on the other hand, will. She simply will. She’ll “take what she can get,” and then move on to something else. Bernie won’t give up.

And that’s why I won’t give up on him. I will continue to support Sen. Sanders’ campaign until the day he asks me to stop. And I will do so with my voice, with my wallet, and with my vote.

One Vermonter’s View after Super Tuesday

Here’s what the numbers are telling us: Secretary Hillary Clinton demolishes Senator Bernie Sanders when it comes to African-American and Latino voters. According to Harry Enten at fivethirtyeight.com, Clinton’s worst performance among African-Americans so far was in Oklahoma, where “only” 71% voted for her. In Texas, she defeated Sanders among Hispanics by over 40 points. In a party where the minority vote is absolutely critical to win not only the nomination, but also (via turnout) the general election, it seems as if Clinton is a lock.

It’s tough to dispute that.

It gets even tougher when you consider that the Democratic nominating contest awards delegates on a proportional basis, which means Sanders doesn’t only have to win in more states than Clinton, but he has to win by bigger margins than he is probably capable of.

The only way Sanders wins a significant number of delegates compared to Clinton is if something big changes the dynamics of the race.

The question is: what might that be?

Those on the right would probably argue that Clinton’s biggest potential issue is, as Bernie says, “the damn emails.” As most everyone knows, when Clinton was Secretary of State, she channeled her official email through a private, unsecured server, and some of the emails moving through that private server were classified. If true, Clinton could be indicted and found guilty of mishandling classified information.

But according to MediaMatters, there’s not a whole lot to this particular story that can’t be explained by the media’s need for conservative clickbait. It only has legs because it plays into the right-wing talking point that the Clinton family can’t be trusted. But as the National Law Journal wrote, “It is difficult to find prior cases where the unwise handling of classified information led to a federal indictment.”

So “the damn emails” probably aren’t going to change the dynamic (especially when you add on the fact that Bernie has already said, “Enough with the damn emails!,” signaling that he won’t try to make any hay out of this particular controversy).

What else we got?

The left might argue that Clinton’s biggest potential issue is whatever she said on “the transcripts,” where “the transcripts” is shorthand for Clinton’s apparent ties to (in Bernie’s parlance) the millionaire and billionaire class.

Before she began running for president, Clinton was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to give speeches to a number of Wall Street firms, including Goldman Sachs. The Sanders campaign, as well as the press, including the New York Times, which has endorsed Clinton, is calling for Clinton to release the transcripts of those speeches. Sanders’ supporters suspect that Clinton won’t do so because the transcripts reveal just how much she is in the pocket of those who caused the financial meltdown. According to a report in Politico, that suspicion may be true.

But even if it is true, even if the transcripts show her to be “so far from what she sounds like as a candidate now…more like a Goldman Sachs managing director,” would that be enough to change her appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters? Frankly, I don’t think so. She’s winning by such large margins among those groups that even if the transcripts were a deal breaker for a number of them, the number probably won’t be big enough to swing the election.

Which leaves Sanders with…what?

The only other thing I can think of (outside of some major surprise, such as the mainstream revelation that both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump are widely reported to have visited the private island of a man who is now being charged with keeping underage sex slaves on that island)…outside of something tawdry like that, the only thing I can think of that might change the dynamic of the race is Donald Trump himself.

It’s safe to say that Trump is going to win the Republican nomination: Kasich and Carson are also-rans, and Cruz and Rubio are both too self-involved to sacrifice their campaigns for the good of their party, which means they’ll all keep splitting the anti-Trump vote just long enough for him to win the nomination. Trump will have the whole thing wrapped up by mid-March (unless by some miracle, Rubio chooses to drop out later today, which he won’t do).

The Democrats, however, could be fighting for the nomination until at least May, and Sanders has already vowed that he won’t drop out until all 50 states have voted. That would give Trump a solid two or three months when the only person he has to campaign against is Hillary Clinton, while Clinton will still have to be defending her left flank against Sanders. Those months will give the Democratic electorate a chance to see how Trump plans to go after Clinton, and to decide whether they think her questionable skills as a candidate are up to the challenge.

The New York Times recently put together a graphic showing the differences between Sanders’ and Clinton’s core voters. It reveals, among other things, that Clinton gets voters based on the idea that she “can win.” But if Trump runs as masterfully a tuned campaign as he has throughout the Republican primary, the idea that Clinton “can win” against Trump might start to erode, especially since it’s clear that Trump is going to have a field day with all the skeletons in the Clinton closet.

Sanders, on the other hand, gets voters based on being “honest and trustworthy.” This is a man who has the highest approval ratings in the Senate, as well as the highest “favorable” and lowest “unfavorable” ratings among all the candidates (for what it’s worth, Clinton has the highest unfavorable ratings among all candidates). What this means is that people generally like the guy, and they trust what he says and why he says it. He basically doesn’t have any skeletons in his closet either (we would have heard about them by now).

In essentially every poll, Sanders does much better against Trump than Clinton does. Her unfavorability ratings are a real thing. We all know people who absolutely refuse to vote for her, for whatever reason (and yes, some of those reasons are absolutely sexist, but not all of them are). These are people who would vote for a Democrat, but they will not vote for Hillary Clinton.

What’s more, all of those reasons they won’t vote for her are going to trumpeted near and far by the Donald, and not just in September and October, but starting immediately after he wraps up the nomination, which will be in about two weeks.

That will give Democrats who have yet to vote in the primaries the chance to decide whether Trump’s juvenile tactics will actually do real and lasting damage to Clinton’s electability. If Democrats start to question whether Clinton “can win,” then maybe, just maybe, they’ll be smart enough to nominate Sanders.

But that’s an awfully big “if”.

Don’t Be Scared of Bernie

In an email exchange with a few of my friends today about Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign to become our next president, one of my friends asked, “Am I crazy in being worried that his presence opens the door for one of these crazy ass Republicans to become president?…Sanders is extreme enough to rally the conservative base and actually push one of these losers to the forefront.”

Another of my friends chimed in, “I’m with you…I could see some fringe Republican wacko beating Sanders. It would be the battle of the extremists and Sanders could lose…I guess the only question is if Sanders can become a mainstream candidate, but that seems unlikely.”

I suspect there are many Democrat-leaning individuals in the electorate who feel the same way as my friends, so as a hard-core liberal living in the great state of Vermont, I’ll do my best to explain why those of you who agree with Bernie on most (if not all) of the issues don’t need to be afraid that his victory in the Democratic primaries might only result in a Republican wacko winning the White House in the general election.

First, as Juan Cole wrote recently for Informed Comment, “Sanders’s positions are quite mainstream from the point of view of the stances of the American public in general.” Cole backs that up with some recent Gallup polling data that shows 63% of Americans say that the distribution of money and wealth in the U.S. is unfair and 52% favor heavy taxes on the rich as a fix for that. Since this will be Bernie’s primary issue in the election, it’s safe to say his stance is mainstream.

Cole continues to go down the list, showing how Bernie’s positions on campaign-finance reform, the student-debt crisis, and climate change line up with the vast majority of Americans.

But we all know that it’s not what a candidate stands for that gets him or her elected. What gets candidates elected is money. And if Bernie is going to take on the millionaires and billionaires with such fervor, then all of that money is going to flow to whomever it is that opposes him.

Thankfully, Bernie has some experience with this. In 2006, Congressman Sanders decided he wanted to become Senator Sanders, and he ran for the open seat. His Republican opponent was a man named Richard Tarrant. Along with being a former fourth-round draft pick of my beloved Boston Celtics (he was cut before the first game of the 1965 season), Tarrant cofounded IDX Systems, a healthcare technology company in South Burlington, Vermont, that he would later sell to GE for $1.2 billion. Though he announced his candidacy a few months before the sale, Tarrant was already one of the wealthiest individuals in the state, contributing $7 million to his own campaign.

The 2006 election would become the most expensive in Vermont history, with the candidates spending over $13 million to become the next Senator to represent our tiny state. In a report that NBC News put together after the election that calculated the cost per vote each candidate received across the country, Tarrant spent, nationally, the most money per vote of any candidate, a whopping $85 per vote; Bernie, on the other hand, spent $34 per vote. And the result? Bernie defeated him by 33 percentage points.

Now, $13 million is nothing compared to the $889 million the Koch Brothers have already budgeted for the 2016 election, so let’s not kid ourselves in thinking that Bernie has any real experience with combatting such a well-funded machine. But it’s important to note the success against Tarrant, and his original success at winning the position of Burlington’s mayor, because what those victories show is Bernie’s fortitude, his unflinching commitment to fighting hard for what he thinks is right.

You also have to realize just how angry people are right now. They’re angry in Kansas. They’re angry in Texas. And they’re angry in Iowa and New Hampshire.

And who are they angry at? They’re angry at the establishment. They’re angry at Congress. They’re angry at Obama (and for those who aren’t angry at him, they’re at least disappointed in him). They’re angry at Wall Street. They’re angry at CNN, FOX, and NBC. They’re angry at Time Warner and Comcast. Angry at AT&T and Verizon. Angry at Chase Bank and Wells Fargo. At Monsanto and Starbucks. At Hollywood and New York. At the Texas State School Board and ExxonMobile. People are friggin’ angry.

You know who else is angry? Sen. Bernie Sanders. And he’s not afraid to express it. Just listen to him tell some anti-Israeli hecklers at a town hall meeting in Vermont last summer to shut up. The guy simply doesn’t care about the spit and polish and general showmanship that everyone expects in their politicians. And that anger and that authenticity are going to resonate with a wide swath of the electorate, Democrat and Republican.

So, to sum up: he’s got mainstream stances, knows how to beat better funded candidates, and has the character and attitude to attract votes from both sides of the aisle. Which means that unless your name is Hillary or you’re one of the 32,000 Republican Wackos running for president next year, there’s simply no reason for you to be scared of Bernie.

Minnesota’s Question of the Year

A friend sent me an article about Minnesota’s Great American Think-Off, which poses a question for people to answer in essays of 750 words or less. Four writers will then debate the question, and the winner will receive a $500 prize (FYI: this post is not my answer).

This year’s question is: “Which is more ethical: sticking to your principles or being willing to compromise?”

While I love the idea of a “think off,” I don’t think the question is a very good one because, as in all things ethics-related, the answer turns on context. There are a thousand different examples we could come up with where the ethical thing would be to stick to your principles, and a thousand more where the ethical action would be to compromise.

One of my college professors, Steven Fesmire, wrote a book, John Dewey & Moral Imagination, in which he makes the analogy that being ethical is like playing jazz. Quoting Martha Nussbaum, he writes, “a responsible action is a highly context-specific and nuanced and responsive thing whose rightness could not be captured in a description that fell short of the artistic.” The jazz metaphor “spotlights and illustrates the empathetic, impromptu, and inherently social dimensions of moral composition,” by which he means, taking a moral/ethical action requires recognizing the social dimension of the problem at hand, understanding and empathizing with how all parties feel and what they’re trying to achieve, and then having the skill to add your own voice and interests in such a way as to contribute, build, and improve upon the general harmony of the moment.

To ask whether it is more ethical to stick to your principles or compromise is like asking whether it’s better to have a saxophone or trumpet in your quartet. The only responsible answer is to say, “Well, it depends.”

Ethics are not written in stone. Like jazz, they are improvisational while also aligning with received tradition and continuous feedback. You can’t write down a list of ethics. All you can do is develop your sense of empathy and add your authentic voice to the song that’s being played.

On Arguments Against Stricter Gun Control

In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, a lot of people I’m friends with on Facebook have reacted with posts defending the right of Americans to keep and bear arms. Those posts have argued that individuals who are intent on committing violent atrocities will do so regardless of their access to weapons (i.e., guns don’t kill people; people do). They have also argued that if only more members of society would take advantage of their right to carry a gun, then there would be more opportunities for violent individuals to be stopped (i.e., we need more people concealing and carrying their weapons in public spaces). And finally, they’ve argued that if we enact stricter gun control regulations, then only those individuals who have ill intentions will be the ones carrying the guns (i.e., when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns).

The first argument — “guns don’t kill people; people do” — falls down when you consider that access to a deadly weapon allows impulsive acts to be carried out much easier than those acts for which time and planning is required. We can look to suicides as an example of this. According to a 2001 study of people who committed near-lethal suicide attempts, “24% took less than 5 minutes between the decision to kill themselves and the actual attempt, and 70% took less than one hour.” While not all of those suicide attempts were gun based, another study found, after controlling for various characteristics such as alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and lack of education, that “the presence of one or more guns in the home was found to be associated with an increased risk of suicide.”

These studies focus on suicide, of course, and we’re talking about homicides, but the point I’m trying to make is that the presence of guns in a home allows people to act on their impulses in a way that is lethal. Sometimes those impulses will be directed at oneself, but often times they’re directed at someone else. While that impulse can obviously be acted upon in other manners (as the knife attacks in China show), reducing the number of guns available would decrease the opportunity for deranged individuals to act on their deadliest impulses.

The Harvard School of Public Heath recently completed a survey of the academic literature and found that “where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.” That held true across nations (controlling for income) and across states (controlling for poverty, urbanization, age groups, unemployment, alcohol consumption, and non-homicidal crime). While it may seem true that “guns don’t kill people; people do,” a more accurate statement reads, “guns don’t kill people, but wherever guns are present, more people choose to kill.”

If we accept that access to guns increases the chances that individuals will be able to act on their wildest impulses, then the second argument — that the best way to stop gun violence is to give more people guns — falls apart. This particular argument seems predicated on the notion that criminals would be frightened to commit any acts of crime on the increased chances that one or more of their potential victims would also be armed.

Well, let’s take a look at some data. In 2011, according to the FBI, 72 law-enforcement officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty. 63 of those officers were killed with firearms, and 50 of those were killed with handguns. Five of those officers had their guns stolen from them, and three of them were killed with their own guns. 10 of the officers attempted to fire their weapons, while 27 of them actually fired their weapon. 46 of the 63 officers were wearing body armor.

(By contrast, in 2011 in Canada, where guns are legal but strictly controlled, there were 173 firearm homicides. That’s 173 total; not simply law-enforcement victims, but all victims.)

If 63 armed and trained and supremely cautious law-enforcement officers can be killed by criminals, what makes you think Joe Six-Shooter could stop a deranged gunman who is wielding a semiautomatic or automatic weapon?

On top of that is about a decade’s worth of studies finding that conceal & carry laws do not deter gun violence (see this Media Matters article for a summary of the various studies). In fact, a few of those studies have even found that crime increases in states with conceal & carry laws. While the National Research Council (NRC) concluded in 2004 that the data does not make it possible to draw any “causal link between between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates,” a 2010 study re-examined the NRC’s analysis and said that right-to-carry laws “likely increase the rate of aggravated assault.”

All of which is to say that real-world data does not support the argument that conceal and carry laws stop individuals from carrying out their most lethal impulses, and that even those gun-carrying individuals who are trained to use their weapon against criminals often find themselves on the wrong end of a bullet.

The third proposition — when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will carry guns — is an outgrowth of the second argument, that more guns in the hands of more people will prevent more attacks from taking place. As with the arguments against the efficacy of conceal and carry laws, so it is here: the same real-world data does not support the assertion, and the same “more guns equals more killings” data argues against it.

What’s more, the proposition that only outlaws will have guns neglects the reality that our society includes armed law-enforcement officers, so the proposition is false on the face of it. A better version would read, “When guns are outlawed, police officers will have a better tool to determine who is an outlaw and who is not.”

In a fantastic and sprawling article in New York Magazine, “The Truce on Drugs: What happens now that the war has failed?,” Benjamin Wallace-Wells reports on the way Baltimore reduced the murder rate in its city (along with the number of arrests they made). The key was to stop focusing on busting drug dealers and users and instead focus on individuals with prior weapons charges.

Encoded in Baltimore’s murder records was a singularly interesting piece of data: Over half of the murderers in [the] city had previously been arrested for a handgun violation. The universe of offenders in Baltimore with prior gun convictions was very small, and most of them were serious criminals. Focusing on them seemed plausible. The commissioner did not publicly declare the war on drugs a failure, though he believes that to be the case, or petition the legislature to decriminalize possession. “We just deemphasized it,” [the former police commissioner of Baltimore] says.

Which is to say, police officers in Baltimore could use the fact of gun possession (in conjunction with gun violations) as a way to concentrate on stopping homicides. Not every gun owner was a murderer, of course, but over half of the murderers had guns. By prohibiting conceal and carry, we’d make it easier for law enforcement officials to arrest the bad guys.

Now, to be sure, I’m not arguing that we should ban guns entirely. I used to hold that view, but after living in Vermont for a decade, where the responsible use of guns are part of the culture, I now understand the values held by hunters and their families, and I fully support the right to purchase and use hunting rifles, but I do not and cannot understand why it is legal for individuals to buy automatic and semiautomatic weapons.

I also do not support the ownership of handguns. A 1998 study done by the Center for Injury Control at Emory University in Atlanta found that “for every time a gun in the home was used in self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.”

More recent data, taken from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, finds that (quoting from David Frum’s analysis for CNN) “an American is 50% more likely to be shot dead by his or her own hand than to be shot dead by a criminal assailant.”

In short, handguns do a ton more harm than good, and there’s just no reason for that.

“Well,” handgun proponents will say, “What about self-defense?”

The reality is that the chances that your home will be invaded by an armed assailant are rare, and falling steadily with the rest of the country’s crime rate. While there are no statistics for home invasions (no such crime exists; we charge home invaders for specific crimes such as burglary, rape, aggravated robbery, trespassing, etc., and not the broader “home invasion”), Home Invasion News tried to pin down some kind of number by running a Google News search over 24 hours to see how many stories came back. They found 50. There are over 115 million housing units in the United States, which means, on any given day, you have a 0.00004% chance of having your home invaded; in a given year, you have a 0.015% chance. Those percentages seem way too low to accept the increased risk that you or your loved ones will kill or injure yourself or someone else thanks to the presence of that handgun.

All of which is to say: the arguments in favor of the widespread ownership of guns seems highly flawed to me. And I wish people on Facebook would stop making them, unless they’re prepared to truly back up their argument with real-world data.