It’s More Than Just The Economy, Stupid.

Donald Trump could be reelected in 2020. Just look at the economy! The stock market is explodingGDP growth is at 3%. 401k’s are looking good. Consumer spending is up and unemployment is down. On paper, the economy is strong, a fact that has historically helped an incumbent’s reelection chances. It’s also a fact that says a whole lot about America.

We as Americans love to put our faith in the economy which, in 2017, has come to mean a series of insufficiently-representative metrics used by the average voter to determine their opinion on the state of the much more complex actual economy. This truncated version of the economy is how we measure our nation’s non-military strength, and it’s supposedly all we care about come election time.

Remember? It’s the economy, stupid! That’s what they say! And if you care about anything but the economy, then man, are you stupid.

You’re stupid for caring that 80% of stock market wealth creation goes to the top 10% of investors. You’re stupid for being concerned that many new jobs are low-paying, part-time positions with no benefits. You’re stupid for wondering if today’s bull market is sustainable or if those 401k’s will fall just as quickly as they rose or if another panic is just around the corner. You’re stupid for questioning the motives of our President and America’s biggest companies or for asking why Congress would make it harder for people to sue banks that engage in fraud. You’re stupid for worrying if the average person is any more financially secure today than they were 10 years ago, or if the youngest generations will live their lives in constantly increasing debt.

It must then stand to reason that you’re also stupid for thinking it matters that, socially and culturally, America is broken. You’re stupid for mourning civil discourse and lamenting the lack of adults in government these days. You’re stupid for feeling ashamed that our president admitted to sexual assault and attacked the widow of a dead soldier. You’re stupid if you’re concerned about the poor state of the American education system or the environment. You must be extremely stupid for getting upset at the constant negativity flooding our screens and minds, or for acknowledging that overt racism and hate crime are at their highest levels in years. Only a very stupid person would consider our criminal justice system unfair and be shocked to learn that of all the prisoners in the world, 25% of them sit in American jails. And you’re definitely stupid if you’re outraged that guns and drugs kill hundreds each day,  or that America is deporting sick children, or that millions of Puerto Ricans are still without power.

You’re stupid for caring about any of this when you go to vote, because “the economy” is doing well, and that’s all that matters.  Right, stupid?

Wrong. In America and around the world, real life is clearly about more than just the economy. Not only does this tired political adage no longer ring true, it willfully ignores the significant role complex social welfare issues do and should play in civilized society. Issues of public health and safety, education, environmental stewardship, socio-economic justice, social mobility, multicultural harmony and overall quality of life are rarely considered outside of economic terms (if at all) yet each has a significant, qualitative impact on how we progress as a society. Unfortunately, these issues also require a deeper level of both personal reflection and sacrifice, a calculus in which most people are unwilling to consistently invest. Instead, it is far easier to glance at some economic highlights and quickly form an opinion regarding the state of our wellbeing overall.

Using the economy as a general bellwether does makes sense under capitalism. But nowhere in the rules of American capitalism does it say we should concern ourselves with the stock market to the detriment of other, more important areas of life. In fact, the Declaration of Independence states the exact opposite. Attributing our livelihood to some numbers on a ticker oversimplifies our problems and causes us to lose sight of what truly makes America great: the pursuit of happiness.

Cue the groans. But having the freedom to pursue your happiness, however you define it, is a powerful emotional component of the American Dream. And you can’t have achieve your own happiness or realize your individual dream without someone showing you compassion, tolerance, fairness or empathy along the way. That’s just how life works. These are quite literally the most positively constructive forces known to humanity. So why shouldn’t they compel government decisions on policy as much as, if not more than, economic ones? Is it really so hard to elect officials and support companies that actively work to improve the lives of all and not just the portfolios of a few? Considerations beyond the sheer accumulation of concentrated wealth must have value, or else what the hell are we doing?

Yes, economic success can contribute to a full and happy life, but listen to your inner child here- there are more important things in life. Besides, for millions today, financial security is more perception than reality. Of course we should all be able to live free and safe lives filled with passion and opportunity, but how is one supposed to live free if they’re shackled to debt, safe if their savings are subject to speculation, passionate without a constructive outlet, or optimistic without upward mobility? People weren’t meant to worry so much about the financials of life. Dreams weren’t meant to be deferred because of mortgages, tuition and debt.

But today, in America, we accept this all as normal, so long as stocks keep rising. This is wrong. We should judge our society not by the performance of our biggest companies but by how well we take care of each other. We should consider the bigger and broader picture more often. We should tread gently and act as if our presence will be felt for millennia, because it will. We should expect and demand more from our government in terms of supporting the public interest, and not just what interests the public. And yes, we should work to provide financial security for all. But life is about more than the economy and it’s time we all act accordingly.

It’s imperative now, more than ever, that we think beyond the economy when we vote because America is currently facing a number of non-economic crises that the Trump Administration is either neglecting or making worse. But the Dow is up, and this fact alone could be enough to ensure Trump’s reelection in 2020. If that’s the case, “it’s the economy, stupid” may become more prescient warning than political adage. It may even wind up as America’s epitaph.

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Unions Will Save Us. Again.

We have been here before, America. In fact, the world has been here before. Trump is not the first egomaniac to grab the reigns of power and steer a nation away from the public interest. Modern corporate titans are not the only one-percenters who have tried to take more than their fair share of the pie. Our current period of social conflict, so crippling and divisive it seems to stop progress in its very tracks, is not our first. That creeping sense of helplessness, that life is just too unfair or expensive? It feels so familiar because it is.

I know I’ve harped on this before, but do yourself a favor and read about America’s Gilded Age, or, more broadly, the years of American history between the Civil War and World War I (1865-1914). You will be shocked by the similarities between this era and our own. From income inequality and campaign finance reform to racial injustice and immigration, from gamechanging technology to simmering global tensions, the issues of America 150 years ago closely mirror those of today.

The second half of the 19th century is when the America we recognize today came into being. An old nation, one built by farmers and merchants, was dying, and from its ashes, a new nation, forged in steel by millions of citizen and immigrant laborers, was taking shape. The United States transformed from a largely agrarian economy into an industrial one. This transition resulted in massive but unbalanced economic growth, most conspicuously of which was the trickling up of billions to a small group of wealthy industrialists- the largest concentration of wealth America had ever seen.

Like today, those screwed in this transition were mostly poor workers with families to feed and no influence to wield. They were the unquestioning cogs in the wheel, by necessity and design. Boatloads of immigrants fleeing famine and war in Europe and Asia provided cheap and plentiful labor. These laborers were socially, culturally and geographically separated from and antagonized by both the locals and each other, a divide-and-conquer strategy designed to keep the public’s fire trained on itself rather than the at top of the pyramid. (In the immortal words of robber baron Jay Gould, you can always hire one half of the poor to kill the the other half.) Workers of all ages, genders and races were exploited, forced to work backbreaking hours in inhumane conditions, and fired, beaten or worse if they tried to speak out. Long story short, times were tough for the little guy.

So how did average Americans break through and end up building a 20th century middle class historically unrivaled in size and scope? Well, war helped. Nothing unites people quite like justified violence. Trustbusters like Teddy Roosevelt made a difference, although not as much as people think. And the benefits of the middle class were restricted to certain homogeneous groups (white people) and therefore dispersed in standardized fashion. But there was another factor, one that grew from the ground up and sparked a national conversation about what it meant to be American. I’m talking about the rise of labor unions.

Sensing they were getting left behind, workers in the late 19th and early 20th century, tired of corporate mistreatment and greed, came together to speak with a single voice. And not just in America- all over the world, average men and women asserted their humanity and began to demand that management respect their rights and address their concerns. They fought for reasonable working hours, safe labor conditions, and health care. They fought for collective bargaining rights and an end to child labor and police brutality. They fought for a seat at the table from which they had been previously denied, and they won. Management responded. Conditions and quality of life improved.

Some of these victories (the 40-hour work week) are today taken for granted. Other battles (ending police brutality) must still be fought. But labor unions brought a sense of parity to the American economy. They helped mobilize the nation’s response to world war. And, most importantly, labor unions built the American middle class.

It’s hard to overstate just how stable, strong and productive the American middle class was in the middle of the 20th century. It’s also not a coincidence that this period of prosperity correlates closely with an era of high union membership. Even if you weren’t in a union yourself, you still benefited from the efforts of organized labor. But in the 1970s and 1980s, things changed. Corporations began listening to investors instead of worker-consumers and figured out how to cut corners in pursuit of ever-higher profits. They had help. Our lawmakers assisted in this hostile takeover. Over the past 40 years, special interests have sought to increase their control over our government and economy by systemically eroding the influence of organized labor. And it’s working.

Today, union membership is down to its lowest rate in half a century, and we can see the results. The once-impenetrable middle class is crumbling, with real incomes dropping and more Americans falling into poverty than climbing out of it. Industry and influence is concentrated within a minuscule fraction of the population. The wealth gap widens while luxuries become necessities and necessities become scarce. Divide-and-conquer roars back with a vengeance. Jay Gould would be proud.

So many of our current socio-economic problems have their roots in the intentional weakening of the middle class and the splintering of the social bonds that come with it. How can America rebuild these bonds? Unions, the lifeblood of the middle class, are the answer, as they were 150 years ago. We must unite behind them, as we did then.

It’s true that 19th century labor unions weren’t exactly bastions of multi-ethnic tolerance and inclusion. That’s why we need a new, broad and diverse labor movement in America, one that eschews  ethnocentrism and efforts to divide for clear and effective advocacy on behalf of all workers. A labor movement to preserve our rights as human beings, to keep our economy fair, to ensure responsive and accountable management, and to balance the power of corporate interests in Washington. History has shown us the way out, if we are only wise enough to walk its path.

If there is one constant in human history, it is that power is never shared voluntarily. Even if ideas like fairness and equality are enshrined in founding documents, they must still be zealously fostered and maintained. It takes effort and energy and sacrifice. Sometimes a lifetime of sacrifice. But the alternative is oppression. So pick a side. Join a union.

It’s Time For Sensible Gun Control

As heartbroken as I am over the tragic events in Las Vegas, my gut tells me it’s never too early to talk about how to prevent such unnecessary and violent loss of life in the future.

Up until 1975, the vast majority of Americans, including the National Rifle Association, agreed that automatic weapons had no place in civil society. Machine guns were widely viewed as weapons of war, or the gun of choice for organized crime.

What happened in 1975? The NRA, previously a membership-based advocacy group for marksmanship and responsible gun use, established its direct lobbying arm- the Institute for Legislative Action- and one year later, the Political Victory Fund PAC.

This meant that for the first time ever, the NRA began pressuring (and paying) lawmakers to roll back restrictions on gun ownership and security safeguards like background checks, waiting periods and assault weapon bans. 

Since 1990, the NRA has spent $23 million pushing irresponsible and dangerous gun laws at the state and federal level, spending the most directly after mass shootings.

Today, much of the NRA’s funding comes not from citizens exercising their constitutional rights, but from the arms industry.

In pursuit of its legislative agenda, the NRA has systematically funded junk science and launched a brutally effective disinformation campaign to push two distinct but interconnected ideas: that more guns make us safer, and that nothing is more American than unrestricted access to guns.

Neither of these ideas have any basis in fact or history. (The “what about Chicago” argument only proves the flaws of localized gun control, which cannot effectively prevent guns from being purchased and carried across state lines.) 

If you think the only thing keeping you both safe and American are guns, maybe it’s time to admit that you just like owning and shooting them. And that’s fine. That’s your right. 

But please consider the broader implications of your choice- is it worth the potential for 60 dead and 500 wounded, in a matter of seconds? Even one dead? This is the real world price of your enjoyment, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. It is a price that we as Americans pay in blood.

We shouldn’t have to. Nothing, not the Constitution, not the Supreme Court, prevents Congress from enacting sensible and comprehensive gun control legislation. The Second Amendment stays intact and Americans stop tragically and senselessly dying. Sounds like a fair deal, right? The NRA doesn’t think so.

America has a higher rate of shootings than any other developed nation on Earth. By a lot. “Do you think it’s because Americans are homicidal by nature? Or do you think it’s because those guys have gun control laws?”

America Needs Institutional Empathy

“Goodness and strength are not mutually exclusive.”

As I write this, Donald Trump is President of the United States and currently speaking to the U.N. General Assembly. Maybe he’ll talk about cooperation, or cooperation without commitment, or the evils of bureaucracy and globalism. Maybe he’ll use this opportunity to promote his chain of hotels, or control himself and painfully read from a semi-prepared script. Maybe he’ll threaten to nuke the world.

In some ways, this is a crucial test for him and his geopolitics on the world stage. In other ways, it really doesn’t matter. The damage is done.

America is broken and in desperate need of repair, and the root of the fracture is as deep as it gets. The fact that an entertainer and shameless huckster was president during this era is the only fact future historians will need to understand the people who lived through it. And we were, in a word, selfish.

Humanity at this point in time is unique in that it has the knowledge and tools to accurately predict the manner and approximate timeframe of its self-imposed demise, yet it refuses to stop the behavior that will bring it about. Why? Because we can. Because we were promised everything and are therefore entitled to it. Now.

Purchasing stuff and convenience ad nauseum with no immediately observable consequence. Ignoring the true and total cost of our demand for everything all the time. Destroying the world and responding with shock and outrage when it fights back. Creating our own realities with no regard for the only one that matters.

And as we do, facts disappear. Attention spans and news cycles shrink to seconds. Years become quarters. Priorities and considerations narrow. The world becomes distant and disposable entertainment, cycling out of sight and out of mind.

A nation as diverse as America must surely reflect the world, and so selfishness is not unique to Americans. It is a human epidemic. We as a species have a shockingly high tolerance for the suffering of our own kind, so long as we’re comfortable and our garbage disappears. Which is a shame, because, for the first time in history, we have largely moved beyond the need for several inherited defense mechanisms once required for survival. But we have not shed them entirely, and our stubborn refusal to evolve threatens to cause us great harm.

These instincts- to view life as zero-sum, to shoot first, to fear the other, to limit emotional attachment- are all vestiges of our evolution from a harsh and unforgiving world, amplified and preyed upon by hyper-competitive, hyper-capitalist forces. But while the world is still harsh and unforgiving, developed nations today have the ability, and therefore the responsibility, to at least try to create the conditions for people to sustainably thrive in peace and harmony.

This is where government comes in. Unless you hold a vested interest in deregulation or personal animus untethered from reality, you probably agree that government should prevent the worst self-serving abuses by individuals and entities whose actions affect the general public. And maybe you also think that government should reward actions taken in the public interest. But this is not enough. Because people are inherently selfish, government must also take steps to actively incentivize them to make empathetic choices.

Let me be clear- I’m not saying government should try to make people feel more empathetic. People can feel what they want. I’m saying government should, from top to bottom, by example in both conduct and policy, work to reflect empathy in its decision-making processes and encourage altruistic behavior in its citizens. In doing so, it would help create an environment of thoughtfulness and understanding that would ease communication, limit distraction and generally make problem solving run more smoothly.

From education, healthcare and criminal justice to immigration, climate change and nuclear war, whatever its scope and function, people agree that government should serve the long-term interests of many over the short-term interests of few. An empathetic populace would likely vote with the former in mind and provide political cover to go after the latter. So government should make it easy for us to live thoughtful and considerate lives. Most of our problems have solutions and only government has the resources to implement them and a mandate to do so for the public good. Fostering a more empathetic citizenry is not only in the public interest, it is a pivotal step on our road to repair.

With human activity and destruction spread across the globe, government must become a solver of man-made problems. And when solutions are found, government should use the full reach of its authority to educate its citizens, promote altruistic decisions and deter selfish ones. This should be the overarching task of government- to address the reality of our unfair, oppressive, contaminated and violent world and illuminate a path to the fair, free, clean and safe world we all want for our children. Politicians are not doing their jobs if they espouse moral platitudes about togetherness and teamwork while rubber-stamping massive tax breaks for multinational corporations, funneling hundreds of billions of dollars into America’s bloated military industrial complex, and allowing the nation’s health and social safety net, education system and infrastructure to crumble.

No good person would want their child to grow up like Donald Trump, but good people today can’t help but contribute to a system that breeds and rewards people like him. Those who are tired of a selfish world must certainly stand up and demand a more responsive government. But it is also up to the men and women in power now to get the ball rolling in this, our hour of need. There is no time to waste. And don’t tell us the money isn’t there (See: Defense budget). The money is always there. What’s eternally lacking is the political will to do what is right.

Political access and influence must no longer be the province of the short-sighted and deep-pocketed. At the very least, in 2017, government has a responsibility not to actively promote self-destructive behavior on a global scale. It’s time we demand even more of our government and of ourselves. Maybe a more empathetic world isn’t in the cards, but using it as a beacon can only help as we try to find our way out of the darkness. If only we had a government strong enough to lead by example.

Thoughts on the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France originally intended to celebrate one hundred years of American independence. But from the moment of its unveiling, it has always meant something more to immigrants. To argue otherwise is insulting and wrong.

The statue was built during a time not unlike our own. The old world order was crumbling, new alliances were forming and geopolitical tensions were rising. Inequality was obscene, technology was evolving. Nationalism and militarism were spreading.

During this time of global chaos, millions of people risked everything to flee oppression, war and famine in search of a better life. They chose to find refuge in America. And when they did, the first thing they saw when they steamed into New York Harbor was the Statue of Liberty.

These people came to America seeking the universal and borderless ideal of freedom, which the statue represented to them. That is exactly why Emma Lazarus wrote her famous poem and why our government decided to permanently inscribe her words on the most recognizable symbol of liberty in the world.

To argue that the Statue of Liberty does not hold a special meaning for immigrants is to intentionally distort world history and betray the millions of people who see the statue as a manifestation of the American Dream and a reminder of all they had to go through just to breathe free. To deny what the statue means to them is to deny the humanity of those who built this country and truly made it great.

American liberty, like American strength, rests upon an open invitation to all who wish to participate in our great democratic experiment.

It’s Time for a New New Deal

It’s no secret that Trump and the GOP are unpopular. But you know who’s even less popular? Democrats. That’s because they have no plan, no message and seemingly nothing to offer the American people, whose interests at this time aren’t being represented by either party. But at least Republicans have a plan. A destructive and short-sighted plan, but a plan nonetheless. Well, Democrats, here’s a plan:

Forge a new New Deal with the American people. Base it on fairness, efficiency and growth. Offer jobs, security and opportunity. The primary concerns of average people haven’t changed much since FDR’s time. Doing something productive, providing for your family and safeguarding your children’s future, all while remaining safe and solvent, are values shared by everyone. Introduce legislation aimed at promoting these values and supercharging one of government’s most vital functions- providing economic opportunity and security to people when the private sector can’t or won’t.

Come up with a specific economic agenda that includes targeted investment, training and job creation initiatives in the technology, energy and infrastructure sectors. On these issues- just as with healthcare, tax reform, climate change and trade- the American people agree that bold new action is required if we are to thrive as a nation in an increasingly and irreversibly connected world. Most people don’t want America to fall behind. It’s up to you, Democrats, to come up with a plan that reflects this reality and works for everyone. And don’t assume that people will instinctively divine the righteousness of your position. Get on the road, IN ALL 50 STATES, and speak with people about how and why your ideas are better than the alternative.

Be honest with the American people. Don’t be afraid to stand up for facts, science and the role of government. Speak hard truths and follow up with bold ideas. Most Americans agree with progressive principles in theory but are individualistic by nature and wary of them in practice. Remind them of the popularity of Medicare, Social Security and the Voting Rights Act. Most Americans still want to believe in the American Dream. Remind them that the Dream is most accessible when unions are at their strongest. Most Americans don’t remember what strong progressive leadership looks like. Remind them that the ideals of FDR, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson are still alive and that the idea of effective, efficient and inclusive government is not a pipe dream.

Make the government work for the people again. Over the years, Democrats and Republicans alike have played a role in selling our country to the highest bidder instead of working to ensure that every American can afford to live a decent life. Money shouldn’t dictate access, and access shouldn’t dictate policy, but today it does. Most people don’t mind government, but they won’t tolerate inefficient, unresponsive or corrupt government. They’ll turn their backs on it. Remind the American people that government wasn’t always like this and that it doesn’t have to be. Show them true representatives who are ready to put the people’s interests first, no matter the consequences.

Be decisive and responsible. Whatever your plan, make sure that it’s bold yet cost-effective. Use that newfound inner strength to increase revenue by cutting waste and dismantling the corporate welfare state. Require top earners to pay their fair share again (they used to). Reform the tax code to eliminate costly and oft-abused loopholes. Institute cap and trade (it works). Reign in the defense budget. And with the proceeds, invest heavily in programs designed to keep America prosperous, healthy and secure. Use the money to help rebuild the middle class and adapt America’s economy to the 21st century.

Democrats, it’s time to remember that you are the party of working people. In the 1930s and 60s, two of the most transformative decades in American politics, Democrats weren’t afraid to take action and the result was the longest sustained period of economic opportunity and growth in American history. For the most part, Republicans sat on the sidelines and obstructed. Sound familiar? Today, we are all bearing witness to what happens when a party running on the steam of partisan opposition finally reaches the pinnacle of power. It’s not pretty.

You, Democrats, risk becoming the new party of no. Don’t rely on anti-Trump fervor to carry you through to 2018 and 2020. You’ll need more than that. You’ll need a plan. Listen to the people and strike a deal with them.

Americans are ready for strong progressive leadership. Show them what it looks like.

The Secret AHCA Process (And The Media’s Failure To Cover It) Is Everything Wrong With America

Just like with climate change during the 2016 campaign, the American news media seems poised to negligently ignore another massive issue that affects us all. This time, it’s healthcare, in the form of the GOP’s American Health Care Act. (Or AHCA because let’s face it, Trumpcare isn’t catching on.) There are so many things wrong with this bill and the process by which it is being passed, but here’s my shortlist:

1. It’s a terrible bill. Say what you want about the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare, because Republicans know how to make a brand stick) but at least it actually tried to, and did, help people. The AHCA will do away with many of the most popular aspects of the ACA or at best leave those decisions up to states and employers, giving them the option to kick poor and sick people off insurance instead of prohibiting them from doing so. If this bill becomes law, millions may lose health insurance. It will result in higher premiums and less accessible coverage for most Americans, all without addressing core healthcare issues. That’s because what this bill really does is provide massive tax breaks for insurance companies and wealthy individuals. It’s essentially a corporate-friendly tax bill with “healthcare” stamped on the front, which is probably why…

2. The bill is being drafted and reviewed almost entirely in secret. When I say it’s a terrible bill, I’m really just assuming so based on the House version. That’s because NO ONE HAS SEEN the Senate version. If things continue at their current pace, the AHCA will pass next week in a deeply divided Senate where not a single hearing was held and without any input from the opposing party, save for a relatively meager 10-hour floor debate. Yes, Democrats rammed through Obamacare, but only after a year of hearings, public comment, outreach and attempted negotiations made it clear they would never get any Republican support. Now that they are in control, Republicans, with historically breathtaking arrogance, aren’t even pretending to care what the public thinks about their bill. That’s not good for anyone, because…

3. This secret process is a threat to democracy. I get that most of what happens in government happens behind closed doors. But when it comes to legislation, legislation that affects the health of millions and one sixth of the economy, legislation that has already passed one chamber of Congress, legislation that will become law in our name using our money, the people have a right to see it and an obligation to demand it. If the job of a representative is to reflect the will of the people they represent, how can they do their job if the will of the people is unknown? Good or bad, the AHCA, like all legislation, should be available for public review and comment. Members of Congress should publicly and individually explain their support or opposition and request the input of their constituents. With a bill so broad in scope and impact under consideration, such input is essential to the process. To deny this approach is inconsistent with the democratic mandate of any representative body and consistent with a body that has ceased to work in the interests of the general public. Keeping us in the dark sets a dangerous precedent and will become the norm unless and until light is shed. Which shouldn’t be too hard, except…

4. The media has not reported enough on these secret proceedings. Even by today’s standards, with the presidency of Donald Trump standing tall as a monument to the news media’s abdication of its duty to advance public discourse and promote civic engagement, this amounts to a shameful disservice. I’m not so young that I can’t remember a time when very few stories made the front page over “Hugely important bill affecting America’s health and economy all but certain to pass in secret.” It’s a shame that the only networks with the access and influence to actually pressure these lawmakers into letting the public in on the process would rather spend their time hyping up the politics of fear in pursuit of ratings. But what else is new? Until we get substance over style, the public will never be truly informed about the issues that matter. Then again, maybe the media hasn’t been paying attention because…

5. People don’t seem to care. Unlike other, more hotly contested issues in the Trump era, there doesn’t appear to be enough passion around pressuring lawmakers into making their health care deliberations public. Whether it’s fatigue, boredom or resignation, not many people have the energy for another healthcare fight right now. Polls show wide support for Obamacare’s most popular provisions, including the Medicaid expansion, but with seemingly no one pushing for them in government or media, I guess I understand why it would be a daunting task for individuals to take on. But few issues are more important and this pervasive “wait and see” approach does not bode well for any opposition to whatever the GOP decides to send to Trump’s desk next week. Those in power must be constantly reminded that we care about their actions or they will start to think we don’t and act accordingly. On this one, I hope I’m wrong because once the bill is passed and its bones laid bare, and the outrage machine finally kicked into gear, it will be too late.

So, just to recap: Congress is planning to destroy health care as we know it and pass a massive tax break for the rich, the Senate is keeping its final bill a secret, the media is completely ignoring the story and the public couldn’t care less. Welcome to America 2017.

Donald Trump Does Not Have Your Back

By now every American should be accustomed to a government that puts the short term interests of few above the long term interests of many. But Trump’s decision to pull us out of the Paris climate agreement today feels different. It doesn’t just feel shortsighted, it feels evil. This decision so blatantly serves such a small and unrepresentative group of people, I’m surprised Trump didn’t announce it flanked by two raised, oil-dipped middle fingers. Let there be no doubt that today, Donald Trump, in epically reckless fashion, turned America’s back to the world.

Despite our president’s incoherent ramblings to the contrary, there is no justifiable reason for us to abandon our commitment to take action against climate change. However toothless and imperfect, the Paris agreement represents the practically global consensus that climate change is real, affects us all and must be addressed now. This type of consensus is rare and ignoring it is bad for everyone, which is why countless heads of state and corporations (even ExxonMobil!!!) support the agreement. Now, America stands with just two other nations, Syria and Nicaragua, in opposition to this universal understanding.

Why? It can’t be the economy. Forsaking renewables for fossil fuels will have negative consequences for all of Trump’s stated policy goals- jobs, growth, security. That’s because green energy represents a potentially massive global economic engine that will bring prosperity and stability to people and planet alike. American labor, manufacturing and technology should be involved in the construction of this engine, which will be built regardless of our involvement. This is why American diplomats worked so hard to forge the agreement in the first place. It is a roadmap for creating the next big industry, but Trump wants no part in its creation.

So America will sit this one out for now, which is a shame. The pros of investing in renewable energy- economic, environmental, public health, national security- far outweigh the cons. Unless, of course, you are an anti-globalist misanthrope or heavily invested in the fossil fuel industry. But most of us are not. Most of us just want our children to have long, happy, healthy lives on the same beautiful planet that we enjoy today. Perhaps this future will still come to pass. But if it does, it will not be because of Trump’s announcement today. It will be in spite of it.

What is the Deep State?

Credit where credit’s due: Trump has a talent for branding. More than just his name, the man knows how to frame a debate and define its terms. In some cases, even redefine them. From “fake news” to “fair trade,” Trump has shown considerable skill at taking existing phrases and concepts (often used against him in a pejorative light) and regurgitating them into something with a completely different meaning more to his liking. Team Trump’s latest use of this tactic is with the term “Deep State.” They have been trying this one out recently with demonstrable success, applying it to Obama holdovers in the White House allegedly blocking the Trump administration on everything from job appointments to policy implementation. By using “Deep State” in this manner, Trump has effectively perverted the phrase to fit his own self-serving narrative. But his intentional misuse of the term obfuscates a very different and very real threat to American democracy.

So what is the Deep State? Let’s start by defining what it’s not. The Deep State is not a cabal of career civil servants embedded within the executive branch hell bent on sabotaging the Trump administration in service of Shadow President Obama. First of all, this is ridiculous on its face. All new administrations are substantially comprised of holdovers from past administrations, especially in the first few months. Some of these people have spent their entire careers in Washington, serving for decades under both parties. This practice helps promote continuity of government function, not subversion and espionage. Now Trump wants us to believe (with no evidence) that for the first time and in broad daylight, a former president is running a secret government so powerful it can keep the current president from fulfilling his most basic of presidential duties? Come on. The more likely scenario is that Trump, whose unbridled rage against the DC establishment alienated him from anyone with knowledge of or experience with the business of governing, has no one but himself to blame himself for his administration’s failures thus far. Second, as far as conspiracy theories go, this one is pretty weak. The true power behind our government lies in the hands of pencil-pushing bureaucrats stroking white cats and laughing manically in fluorescent-lit, dropped ceiling basement offices? This one should bore even the tinfoil hats. And third, the Deep State is already a thing.

The most prevalent definition of the term “Deep State” in reference to the United States comes from Mike Lofgren, a longtime Republican congressional analyst who spent almost 30 years in Washington, many of them working on the defense budget. In his book, “The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government,” Lofgren defines the Deep State as a behind-the-scenes “web of entrenched interests in the US government and beyond…that dictate America’s defense decisions, trade policies and priorities with little regard for the actual interests or desires of the American people.” He identifies these interests as a confluence of corporations including Wall Street banks and Silicon Valley tech giants, but primarily focuses on defense contractors and arms manufacturers. These interests have rendered the democratic process obsolete; through their endless financial resource and global reach, they deftly exploit our dollar-centric political system in order to persuade elected officials, regulators and government leaders of every party to adopt their agenda. These agendas often run in direct opposition to what is best for the people and the planet and typically thrive off of conflict, but due to their intrinsic importance to and inseparability from the world economy (think “Too Big Too Fail”), these powerful interests are able to exert their global influence on everything from war and trade to domestic policy.

You might be thinking: How is the Deep State different from the Military Industrial Complex  that Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell address? The terms are interconnected, but while Military Industrial Complex refers more to the private sector industry of war, Deep State refers to this industry’s relationship with and influence on the public sector. Governments are the largest source of revenue for defense contractors and arms manufacturers, as they are the only entities with the demand and budget to justify business on a consistently large scale. Lofgren’s warning builds off of Eisenhower’s and directs our attention to the increasing size and scope of the Deep State, as well as the complicit involvement of the civilian private sector including finance, communications and tech companies. From endless and increasingly privatized wars, to ever-expensive healthcare, an unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels and the death of privacy, government and private sector interests are closely intertwined at the expense of the general public.

I’m not here to pitch wild conspiracies, but if there ever were a credible, textbook example of one, Lofgren’s Deep State is it. If economics is the impetus of nearly every decision our government makes, doesn’t it follow that whoever controls the economy controls the government? It’s not even that wild. Last year, defense spending took up 54% of the US discretionary budget, with hundreds of billions of dollars in contracts awarded to private sector suppliers. America and the rest of the industrialized world have been corporate-friendly for a long time now and it’s only getting worse. Privatization now seems more the rule than the exception, expanding to arenas once exclusively under government control. The gap between rich and poor has widened to levels never before seen in modern history. In America, corporations are literally people. Money has always meant influence, and more money means more influence. Today’s corporations are bigger than ever, with revenues higher than the GDP of some countries. The private sector’s influence on government is at unprecedented levels and the benefits don’t seem to be trickling down to the rest of us, but deluging up to a select few. This is the Deep State.

But back to Trump’s version. By misidentifying and manipulating the meaning of the Deep State, the White House has not only deflected attention away from a serious issue but has also managed to excuse their own ineffectiveness, with a little Obama-bashing thrown in there for good measure. And the worst part is, Trump’s disinformation campaign is working. (Even Wikipedia has adopted the wrong definition, albeit with an editor’s note on the importance of keeping current events in historical perspective.) The media debate seems to focus only on the validity or absurdity of Trump’s usage of the term and not its inaccurate application. At a time in history when corporate interests are driving policy and policy is increasingly focused on conflict, clarification of what exactly the Deep State is seems imperative to the public discourse.

This is why I highly suggest you read Lofgren’s book. It explains the dangers of the real Deep State with an experienced and nuanced analysis you won’t find on cable news (or here). It’s eye-opening and terrifying but necessary reading. Check it out, and the next time someone tries to drop some Deep State knowledge on you, you can judge for yourself whether they just read Infowars or actually know what they’re talking about. Use it as a chance to educate and come together. It’s been clear for some time now that the balance of power in America and around the world favors the rich over the poor, conflict over peace, security over liberty. But it’s also clear that tax revenue, or at least its allocation, sustains this imbalance. If we demand better use of our tax dollars, maybe the balance will shift. Maybe then our government will actually work for us and not the Deep State. But the first step to solving any problem is correctly identifying it.

The Case for Multiculturalism

Selina: “I wish I won.”
Richard: “I wish everybody won.”
– Veep

Trump’s vision for America is not for everyone. Instead of using his awesome power to unite, he has chosen to divide. But Trump’s divisiveness is a symptom, not the disease. Cultural discord has always been present in America and around the world but in recent years had been relegated to the fringes of society. While no reasonable person truly believed we were ever living in a “post-racial” society, for some there existed a palpable feeling of calm and confidence that we were heading in the right direction, that we were coming together. A feeling that old biases, still held by some, would at least never return to the forefront of mainstream American life and dictate policy. That feeling is now gone. From travel bans to mass deportations, openly racist calls for homogeneity from our leaders to a 20% increase in hate crimes nationwide, it is clear we have some work and soul-searching to do. Despite its recent (and relative) dormancy, the scourge of ethnocentrism is back with a vengeance.

This is nothing new. The odious identity politics employed by Trump and others merely reflect a sheltered, distorted and all too common worldview. For those ensconced in demographic and ideological bubbles with delusions of a simpler time that may have existed for some but never for all, diversity, tolerance and unity are talking points devoid of any substantive meaning. While some harbor legitimate grievances, they misdirect their unproductive blame upon the blameless with an untethered rage ignited by ignorance and stoked by the true architects of our afflictions. This limited worldview is tacitly shared by those who neither consciously subscribe nor vocally support, but find enough comfort in the familiar to drown out any sense of guilt or shame. Racial solidarity and fear of the other are deeply ingrained in the human psyche and not unique to America. But to base policy on these instincts is not only morally reprehensible but doomed to fail. For the world is changing. It is growing smaller and more interconnected by the day. America’s melting pot has more ingredients than ever. For all of us, the future is undeniably multicultural.

In light of these facts, there are many reasons why we should embrace multiculturalism, but here are three. First, embracing multiculturalism (defined here as the “presence of, or support for the presence of, several distinct cultural or ethnic groups within a society”) is the right thing to do. Our differences are real but they need not cause division and pain. As long as they aren’t hurting anyone, every human being has the right to live as they see fit in peace and happiness. Anyone willing to come and participate in the democratic experiment should be welcomed with open arms. We must practice not just tolerance, but acceptance. We must strive for not just diversity, but unity. We must give not just respect, but love. This goes for everyone, myself included. We must be ready to accept that we are all capable of growth and change, that none of us are inherently bad, that all of us are largely products of our environment. We are all unhappy with the country’s direction; we all expected more from America. And yes, the world is a scary place. But as a result we must now, more than ever, look out for our fellow human beings and inhabitants of this fragile planet. To neglect our shared humanity and responsibility to each other is simply wrong.

Second, multiculturalism makes us stronger and safer. Though rare in human history, truly multicultural societies are peaceful and prosperous. There is strength in accepting each other’s differences. Such acceptance builds unity and (paradoxically) a common identity. When people feel welcome, they feel part of something. They feel a moral obligation to give back and improve their community, their country and the world. Imagine if every American, every human being, felt this way. Subjecting patriotism to an exclusive litmus test serves only to weaken us and embolden our enemies. Our strength and security depend on our ability to be conscious of our shared humanity even in the darkest of times, for there will always be those who wish us harm. It would be naive to envision a near future without violence in the world. But the answer to such violence is not to blame others and build walls. It is not naive to combat the acts of those who seek to divide with bolder acts of inclusion, it is courageous. Through these acts, such as the recent Muslim fundraising effort to help rebuild a desecrated Jewish cemetery, the long and hard-fought battle against hateful ideology is eventually won. Multiculturalism sees to the prosperity of all and forms an unbreakable bond of social cohesion, able to withstand any threat.

Third, multiculturalism is inevitable. America’s demographic trends speak for themselves. By 2060, over 50% of the U.S. population will be non-white. Across the world, humanity is currently experiencing its greatest period of integration. This is nothing to fear and, especially in America, nothing surprising. Our country was founded and branded itself for centuries as a refuge for those fleeing oppression and searching for a better life. The only difference is today, America’s appeal has expanded beyond Christian western Europe and is reflected in our evolving population. Ethnocentrists point to this evolution as evidence of multiculturalism’s perceived threat to “American culture.” But there is no single American culture, nor has there ever been. That’s what makes America great- this country means something different to everyone. Our history, like our world, has always been shared. To deny this fact and push each other away does a disservice to the millions of men and women from every race, ethnicity and religion who have lived and sacrificed for the American dream. We cannot deny both our past and future at the same time. Accepting the reality of multiculturalism is necessary if we wish to thrive as a nation.

Existential threats to any civilization never come from abroad, they always come from within. The real threat to America is not our ever-changing complexion but our instinct to equate our apparent differences with inherent divisions. If we can’t move past ancient conflicts born of fear, we will cease to grow and progress. History has shown time and again that capitulation to fear leads to the breakdown of society. We must not be afraid of our differences and permit them to divide us. Such negligence of our common duty distracts us and cedes our nation’s future to those who honor no duty but their own. But without our complicity, without our disunion, without our fear, such forces are powerless. True power lies in a united people, and in the 21st century, no one people can make it on its own. Which is why we need each other. The future is multicultural and the only way forward is together.