Monday, September 4, 2017

Other Ways to Say I Love You

(for Shaneeka)

Me (eyes full of passion): I love you.

Her (eyes full of passion, voice sultry): I have a suspicion that, it may be possible--with an undetermined statistical probability--that somewhere in the general vicinity of where we currently are standing--give or take a vicinity--that there may be one, or possibly several people, who are feeling an emotion or emotions either precisely, or relatively similar, to the emotions and/or emotion that the words you employed just now are typically used to describe. I mean, I'm not not saying that this hypothetical person or people just proposed doesn't feel the same way that you have suggested you feel, and I'm not not saying that they don't not maybe potentially feel those feeling about you, but it's possible I'm saying other things which may or may not refer to different issues or causes, or also be in response to different emotional experiences. Do you know what I mean?

Me: ah, baby. That's so sweet.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Men, with no authority over anyone else,
Kicking their dog, reprimanding their dog,
A little toy breed that is
Unable to afford a gun license,
But is fully able,
To validate its master.
Simply by being small.
Men, yelling at their wives,
Teaching their boys not to cry,
Teaching their girls that their future husband
Needs to be their king (not by words: by action)
Sitting down
Pot-bellied after mowing the grass
Drinking a beer and watching the game.
He will hit mom tonight.
The world told them, 'Make your kingdom!'
But they have no kingdom.
They work jobs that do not lionize them.
The bosses they listen to get younger
And younger.
The world told them in a whisper,
'You alone are qualified!'
But what has this wrought?
No promotion.
Kid is a fag.
Talk radio.
Men: but on the inside, boys.
And they were beautiful once,
But those days are gone.

Monday, August 28, 2017


I am surrounded by ghosts,
My body is a map of their travels.
Every scar, burn, stretch mark,
Every pound of flesh that expands their map
Is guidepost. Is landmark. Is roadside attraction.
See here? When I flex my forearm, made firm by labor?
This introduces a long blue river to the map.
When I am surrounded, I imagine erecting a dam,
Building a fence or wall,
Drilling deep into the blue that comes with flexing,
And I feel comfort in the idea of retreat.
Yet I move forward,
Through discomfort and on to understanding,
Until the river disappears,
And the landscape
To uninterrupted flesh.

Friday, August 18, 2017

There Is No Space Between Us

One night, when I was the manager at the Drop Inn Center, I had to kick a very large and aggressive man out of the shelter for sexually assaulting one of our female clients.

Typically, when you are kicking someone out of a shelter, or having a difficult meeting with them--one where you suspect their ire may get up--you make sure someone else is present, and you are in a place with very clear exits.

I was about 28 at this time, and cocky. I would often do one-on-one discipline/exit with a variety of unpredictable characters.

I didn't behave differently in this situation. I asked the large man if I could talk to him, took him into the lobby of our intake area--where it was just he and I, and the only exit out of the room was through him. I told him the news. He didn't deny it. He looked down for a second, and then locked eyes with me. "So I'm out, right?"

"Yes." I said in a neutral tone.

He stepped up to me, and put his chest in my face. Our bodies were touching.

"You're in my space." I said, suddenly feeling the weight in the room.

"There is no space between us." he said.

What followed involved me trying to get away from him, him following me, chasing me, cursing and threatening me, telling me he was going to break my back (and I believed him). Eventually a more seasoned co-worker got hip to what was going on, and slid himself between the two of us, coaxing the man outside with a cigarette and the observation that, 'You don't want to go back to jail, man'.

I had a tall pair of brown work boots that I always wore in those days, and I was literally shaking in them.

I learned from that lesson--I am a hard learner: rather than following good advice, I usually need to leave a little blood on the floor before I find myself accepting basic wisdom--and from then on, I had someone else present during those tough conversations. I also worked on my delivery, and built up some empathy for the people I interacted with.

One thing that has stuck with me above all else from that night, almost in a kind of spiritual way, was that ominous threat: "There is no space between us."

Over time, as I recovered, I learned to respect what a cool line that is. When I would tell the story of that night, the impetus of my telling would shift from, 'Man, that was scary, and that's how I learned to not act like a cowboy', to 'Damn. That was an absolutely awesome and terrifying line. I wish I could pull off that level of intimidation in a pinch!'

And the line shifted even more after that. My son was having a bad day one day, and didn't want to talk to me. I gave him his space for awhile, but he seemed really down. I did some deductive reasoning, sat down with him on his bed in his room, and proposed my guess as to what might be bothering him. He looked at me, teared up, and hugged me. He asked me how I guessed. "There's no space between us', I said.

It was a transformative moment.

I have had the opportunity to use the line a few more times since then, but it has also become a rallying cry and motto with me and the boys. Whenever we are separated for awhile, we say it to each other: 'There is no space between us'. Whenever we are feeling lonely in this world, we realize we are not alone, because there is no space between us.

It is funny and strange how we are able to use life experiences, and appropriate language that was intended in a wholly different fashion, to build and move forward.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Social Work Conversations

A young black client of mine recently told me that he didn't understand why other black people hated white people. 'Slavery was forever ago, and there are white people like you out there, so why are they mad?'

My response? 'Don't let me off the hook.'

It's so easy to see a fairly evolved white person as an ally. But ask yourself what it costs a white person to be an 'ally'. The answer is that it costs nothing, and the reward is great. If I'm not a total open racist, I get rewarded for it. I'm 'woke'. I don't have to answer for systemic discrimination. I told this kid that I was glad he liked me, and I like him too, but don't let me off the hook. What do I do to change the system other than posting something on Facebook every now and then, or show up at the random rally? I am not your ally, because while I may be concerned about the way the police treat you, or by the way you have to work extra hard to access the privilege I glided into, what have I given up? I'm being rewarded for honoring the basic lessons we all learned while watching Sesame Street, although I haven't put in half of the work. Yes, young man, don't let hatred cloud your heart, but please understand that I am not your ally. I am a white man who has benefited from a system designed to promote my race and gender, and although I may like you, I will never give up my own position for you, and I will only help you until it cuts into my own bottom line. Be your own ally. Don't look for others to boost or improve you. Don't let hatred and anger make you ugly, but be realistic: I am not the one who is going to boost you to the next level, and I will never give up my position in order to advance your own.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Radical Islamic Terror:It's a Thing, Liberals

I feel like I understand the liberal concern with using the phrase 'Radical Islamic Terrorism'. They feel like it marginalizes and 'others' a minority group, and does a disservice to Islam as a religion. I also think this concern is a mistake. Christians have had to deal with the phrase 'radical Christianity' for years. The 'right' and the 'left of our political spectrum has also had to endure having the word 'radical' ascribed to their particular worldviews. Where was this concern then? The fact is that there is such a thing as 'radical Islamic terror', and it is something our country needs to be concerned with. Maybe it is blown up and used as a tool by the right to bolster their own power, but it is real. To acknowledge the radical element of an ideology is not an insult to the foundation ideology. It is a radical element of that ideology. It is acceptable to note this. By being offended by this phrase, liberals not only give cover to radicals within that religion, they also cede the ground of reasonableness to the opposition. Also, by adding this phrase to their stable of protected-class no-no words, they do a disservice to deservedly protected classes, like LGBTQ, racial minorities, women, and the handicapped within the zeitgeist. All of these are natural orientations. Radical Islamism is a chosen worldview. Islamophobia is a justifiable term, because it pertains to the wholesale fear and delegitimization of an entire religion, and usually extends to a certain kind of racism and xenophobia. There is nothing wrong with using the term 'radical Islamic terror'. Let's take the words one at a time. I am personally a radical leftist. Is the word radical wrong? No. Is the word leftist wrong? No. Personally, I don't even think all acts of terror are always wrong. Think of Harper's Ferry. So what's wrong with accepting the phrase 'radical Islamic terror? It's a legitimate descriptor of an actual movement, and it's a descriptor liberals haven't hesitated to use on other radical branches of an ideology. In the popular imagination, the liberal refusal to accept this phrase looks a lot like either collusion, or pollyannishness. This gives your adversaries the ideological high ground. Accept the term, and learn how to talk about it while making distinctions you feel need to be made. That's the only way to make this world and this country safer and better. Of course, I'd love to hear dissenting views.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Anatomy of a Fascist

What is Fascism?

From Merriam Webster: “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”

From “a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.”

“Fascism is Capitalism in decay”. –Vladmir Lenin

“Fascism is Capitalism plus murder”. – Upton Sinclair

“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power” – Benito Mussolini

“A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends.” – Henry A. Wallace

“I really am a pessimist. I've always felt that fascism is a more natural governmental condition than democracy. Democracy is a grace. It's something essentially splendid because it's not at all routine or automatic. Fascism goes back to our infancy and childhood, where we were always told how to live. We were told, Yes, you may do this; no, you may not do that. So the secret of fascism is that it has this appeal to people whose later lives are not satisfactory.” – Norman Mailer

“I am your voice.” – Donald Trump

“Believe me.” – Donald Trump

“Nobody knows the system like me. That is why I alone can fix it” – Donald Trump

“They’re not going to refuse me. If I say do it, they will do it.” – Donald Trump

How to Become the Fascist Dictator of the U.S. in  5 Easy Steps

Step 1: Identify a cultural majority that is privileged, and has traditionally controlled the zeitgeist, but now feels dispossessed by economic woes, a changing cultural milieu, and progress. Convince them you are their voice. Convince them you can bring them back to their glory days. Convince them they are heroes and tie their sense of heroism to their national identity. You will make them great again. You will Make America Great Again.

Fascist Dictators do not occur in a vacuum. The soil has to be fertile. Right now in America, the soil is fertile, at least for a large enough demographic. Donald Trump has discovered that poorly educated whites aren’t exactly feeling the greatness of this country right now. Economically, they’re not doing well. They’re struggling to make ends meet, and are often barely surviving. Meanwhile, they are also being told that there is something wrong with them for being white. At least, that’s how they see it. They are being told that they are competing for jobs with illegal Mexicans. They’re seeing African Americans, women, and Asians rising through the ranks of the business and political world, while they are struggling. Historically, America has been a country designed for white men. They grew up learning all of the racist and sexist jokes and stereotypes, and when they looked at the founding fathers of this country and all of their favorite movie and sports heroes, they saw themselves. That was America. This view was wrong—America was never designed for them to be successful. It was designed for an ever growing oligarchy to be increasingly successful: they were effectively just cattle—it was important that they believed it. When they saw the whiteness and maleness of their masters, they assumed a kinship where there was none. But they had to believe they were not too different than the great white men they admired, otherwise the system wouldn’t work.

And now they’re scared. They’re angry. They feel their grip on the social ladder slipping, and they are falling into the abyss of being just another minority. They believe in America. They believe in the police. They believe every American war is somehow a war to protect their freedom, and cops and soldiers are heroes by default. They are Christians. They see self-righteous liberals with better educations attacking their faith by advocating for equal rights for gays, women, and minorities. These same deviants are insisting on making these good white men accept the idea of sharing a bathroom with transgendered people. They’re insisting that people like that are not able to be discriminated against.

And everyone is so politically correct these days. There must be a secret thrill that runs up the spine of these poorly educated white men when they are able to gather and talk about women and muslims and Barack Obama. When they’re able to say the word ‘nigger’, and not be reprimanded for it.

And Barack Obama. Talk about a smack in the face. His name doesn’t sound American. He’s black. He’s well educated. He doesn’t succumb to the stereotypes they want him too, and he was way too effective as president. He was re-elected twice. He does not know his place. Worst of all, he does not accept the idea of American Exceptionalism.

And men just can’t be men anymore. Women are so sensitive. They can’t just appreciate a compliment. They’ve become rigid in this new America. And look at what’s become of the newer generations of men? As Rush Limbaugh calls them, they are ‘the new castrati’. They’ve given up any desire to resemble John Wayne. They’re soft. And as Limbaugh also recently opined, why is everybody so hung up on consent?

Our peculiar American Christianity—a fusion of nationalism and cherry picked doctrines—is under attack by both the secularists and Christianity proper. There are all of these annoying atheists talking about evidence. Uppity blacks are filming police abuse and misconduct and demanding fair treatment. The educated class is talking about global warming: another means by which they can control us. The white men we respected who claimed to stand for conservative principles have been absorbed into the system and no longer represent us. No one takes the flag seriously. Irony abounds.

And then there are the guns. Guns are an essential element of this demographic’s mythology. They have these guns because they need them to protect themselves and their families against a tyrannical government. ‘You can have my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hand’. ‘Come and take it!’. Although it’s amusing to imagine these typically out of shape, older men with no formal training and no significant amount of actual firepower combatting the biggest, most well trained, well equipped military in the world, the symbolism is very important to them. Suddenly everyone wants to regulate their guns, the last token of their supremacy. This is very emasculating.

Enter Donald Trump. He is a rich, powerful white man, but he’s not like the white men who betrayed us. He’s not a part of the system, but he has succeeded in it. He has manipulated it for his own gain. He understands how it works. He doesn’t talk like the politicians. He tells us we’re great. He tells us we are the heroes that we’ve always thought we were. He doesn’t use big words. He doesn’t do nuance. He tells it like it is. He’s by no means a conservative or a Christian, although he will toss those words around. He is a force and an ideology unto himself. He tells us he’ll get things done. He’ll return us to power. He doesn’t say how, but we believe him, because things have gone awfully wrong. Besides, he’s kind of a Molotov cocktail we can throw at the system that has abandoned us. He is the great ‘Fuck you!’ to the white men who finally let us know, we are not their kind of people.

Step 2: Inflame racial/ideological/economic fears inherent in your target group. It’s us versus them. You can fight them, you can make them go away—or go back to their proper place—but you can only do it through me. I am the strong man.

Trump has made it clear. He is the candidate of the uneducated white male. Not surprisingly, that is the only constituency he is carrying. Sure, he has made overtures to other groups. “I will be so good to the African Americans. They’re amazing people’. ‘Ask the gays who will protect them’. ‘Latinos love me’. ‘Nobody is better to women than I am’. And so on. But one thing that is obvious from the get-go. First of all, he refers to these groups as if they are part of some kind of hive mind. They are all the same. They’re ‘amazing people’. Individuality is out the door right away. Secondly, Trump is not really appealing to these groups. He is sanding down the edges of his implicit bias against these groups in order to appeal to more moderate members of the white underclass. ‘See? I’m not as racist as people say I am. I said African Americans are amazing! I’ve told them I’m going to be so good to them! Ignore the frequent retweets from white supremacist groups and the direct appeal to the idea that America was great sometime before the most recent 10 to 30 years, you know, before all of these other groups started giving us lip. Trump’s own behavior towards women has made it clear that he is not the gentleman he claims to be. He has bragged about sexually assaulting women while he believed he was engaged in a private conversation. Some folks pretend everyone is getting upset because he used the word ‘pussy’, but, no, it’s because he was bragging about sexual assault. He was also asserting his own status as a person who was above the law and decorum. Because he’s a star. Because he’s rich. Because he’s Trump. He has been investigated and charged with discriminatory housing practices. He has claimed that Mexican illegal immigrants are largely rapists, killers, and criminals. He fanned the flames of the racist conspiracy that Barack Obama was not born in the United States using National Enquirer type tactics that he so loves: ‘I don’t know, but people are saying…’, etc. The Alt Right, a racist (not conservative) white nationalist movement has been one of his biggest constituency groups, led by Steve Bannon, Breitbart magazine, and others. Bannon is even an official member of his campaign now. Trump has welcomed these actors into his fold with open arms, and routinely winks at them to let them know he is with them. By not rejecting these figures (he was even hesitant to renounce David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan), he has subtly normalized them. It is these elements that come to his rallies and beat up protesters (often black), and create an overall threatening environment for any kind of dissent.

Step 3: Make outlandish promises. Use simple language. Either tacitly or explicitly encourage violence and/or social bullying tactics.

He’s going to build a wall to keep out all of those scary elements. Mexicans. Isis. Syrians. Mexico will pay for it. How will he do it? He just will. Trust him.

He’s going to renegotiate trade deals to make them better. What is his strategy? He makes the best deals.

He’s going to defeat ISIS, and he has made sure to let you know that they are a clear and present danger to you personally. How he is going to do it? Just trust him. But, know that torture and war crimes are on the table, and soldiers will follow his orders because ‘They’re not going to refuse me. If I say do it, they will do it’.

He’s going to be so good to America.

He is the law and order candidate.

He will restore America to its former glory (wink)

He will get rid of all the things you hate, and replace them with things you will love.

How? Just trust him.

And anyone who questions him must be marginalized. People who question him are ‘losers’ and ‘liars’ and ‘crooked’. Everybody gets a nickname. He even saw fit to publicly mock a disabled reporter for daring to question him. Isolate and eliminate the target.

During his rallies his followers whoop and attack and shout down opponents. They spew all kinds of racial slurs and violent language. They want to lynch people. What does Trump do? He ruminates on how he’d like to punch people in the face. He demands people be removed. He smiles as the target is heckled and assaulted on the way out. He winks and talks about what a love fest his rallies are. He demands loyalty pledges. He passes on the most outlandish conspiracy theories (I hear people say Ted Cruz’s dad was involved with Lee Harvey Oswald…). If he loses, the system is rigged. Get ready to do your patriotic duty and take the country back. Maybe ‘second amendment people’ can take care of Hillary Clinton. He is actively encouraging and recruiting ‘poll watchers’ to make sure no funny business is going on at the polls. Gangs of his followers are being encouraged to stand around and monitor voting lines and to harass and cajole voters. Folks were livid years ago when a few black panthers showed up at a voting location on their own accord to monitor the polls. Here we have a candidate actively recruiting for the same behavior. But then again, Trump’s followers are not black.

Step 4: Details are not necessary. Things will work because you will make them work. You are a powerful protector of this disenfranchised group. Make bold proclamations, but feel no need to stick to or even elaborate on your plans. By shifting your plans or changing them outright, you make your followers prove their loyalty to you.

I’ve discussed above the nature of Trump’s policy details: There really aren’t any. We’re just supposed to trust him because he is the strong man. The genius of his movement is that he managed to recruit his demographic’s die-hard loyalty on the sole basis of his lack of political correctness, and his promises on immigration. When after the primary he indicated a softening of this position into something more aligned with the position of Jeb Bush (whom he maligned for his position), his followers shrugged and accepted it, even though they claimed to be voting on issues. No, they’re not voting on issues. They’re voting for the strong man they pledged their loyalty to. Trump has maneuvered many of his vague plans over and over, and has proved that his followers are there for him, not the ideas. He was right when he said he could stand in the middle of the street and shoot someone and not lose a vote.

Step 5: Demand loyalty. Isolate and humiliate outsiders. Threaten political enemies with death or imprisonment. Threaten the media. Create distrust in the system. Create distrust in the system. Lie outright and unapologetically: It is true because you say it is true, and anything that they say is aimed to sabotage you. The system is rigged against you, but you will fight it because you are strong.

You cannot challenge Trump. You can’t ask too many questions. You have to respect and admire him, and fawningly do his bidding. Otherwise, you’re out. You’re in the way of progress. He has expressed admiration for dictators in the past: Kim Jong Un, Putin, Saddam Hussein...and much like those people he admires and would seek to emulate, he wants to force his opponents into compliance. He is unique among presidential candidates in this country because he has publicly threatened to jail his political opponent. He has cut off coverage from media outlets because he didn’t like the way the reporting was going. He wants to open up libel laws to make it easier to sue the media. He’s stated that he hates the media ‘but wouldn’t have them killed’, ha ha. His lies have been well documented, but he continuously tosses them out there. Why? Because a lie stated often enough becomes the truth. Trump’s lying is also a good way to reinforce loyalty. If they will believe it because you say it, even though it has been demonstrated as false, then you have them right where you want them.

Donald Trump is the perfect embodiment of fascism. He is very much an ends justifies the means kind of guy. Very much a power for power’s sake kind of guy. The question of, ‘is it right for me to do this?’ never seems to occur to him. The question is always rather, ‘What can I get away with?’. He brags about this. He even uses it to extol his qualities as a candidate. With Donald Trump, we will have the perfect fusion of government and the corporation. He has shown an absolute ignorance of this country’s history and its founding documents, and has avidly stated his enthusiasm for totalitarian regimes and cults of personality. It's true that Trump doesn't have much of a political history outside of his bragging that he buys and sells politicians. Some people mark that as to his credit. But his whole life has been one long Freudian nightmare. He represents the grossest and most evil things about America. He is absolutely amoral, and relishes in decadence and recognition. His persona is emblematic of a deep insecurity and fearfulness and need for validation. Sadly, he does not care about the constituency he has gathered around him. He is here for him, and that is all. A discussion of Trump can't be a discussion about ideals, because he doesn't have any. A discussion of Trump will always be a discussion about character. Sadly, his is very poor. For Donald, it’s all about being huge. Hopefully in November his loss will be the hugest thing he has ever seen, and it will cause him to shrink back into the nothingness he came from and belongs to. Then, hopefully, we can get back to a principled discussion about ideas and return to constitutional notions of freedom, and ethical notions of integrity.

Incriminating Links:

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Hate Diet

I'm driving to work. I've only been awake for about 35 minutes, yet I'm already seething. My knuckles are white, and my fingers are wrapped tightly around the steering wheel. My jaw is clenched. My eyes are squinting.

No one has done anything to me this morning. I am simply revisiting past wrongs. The person who committed these wrongs is no doubt not thinking about them at this moment, but I am absolutely chained to them. Where is this hate coming from?

I call my friend, and let it all spill out.

Luckily, my friend is wise. She doesn't fan the flames of my anger or assert the righteousness of my position. She states to me that my hatred is mine, that it is something inside of me that is always there, and that it is always looking for something to attach itself to and feed on. The person who hurt me did not give me the hatred that I carry. The hate was there before the wound, but when it saw the wound, it moved fast. It latched on. It fed. It expanded itself.

So where did the hate come from?

I guess for everyone it's different. For me, some of it was absorbed through various environments I have passed through in my life. We are social creatures, and we pick up some of the traits of those we socialize with. Tribal adversaries and codes get absorbed through our pores. Some of it was cultivated by me. Wounded pride, resentment, missed opportunities, failures, fears...they all get mixed up together and solidify into hate.

These adversities in and of themselves do not act as properties of hate, but the mismanagement of these adversities do. Adversities pass through everyone's lives, but not everyone ends up carrying around this amorphous hatred. It's the way we look at things. It's the way we process them. Maybe we were raised by and around people who respond to adversity with hatred, so hatred is our natural tool for translating these events into our being. But we are not bound to this tool. There are other tools. Stoicism. Understanding. Empathy. Self awareness. These tools work too.

At work this month, we're doing a 'biggest loser' contest to see which staff person can lose the most weight. As I was talking to my friend during my hate-drive, I thought, maybe it's time to try another kind of diet. I'm going to try a hate diet.

I have plenty of hatred in me. Some of it is fairly easy to identify, and some of it is relatively easy to imagine recontextualizing and parting with. But I love some of it. Fantasies of revenge and justice are intoxicating. The power of hatred is singularly focusing, and there is a weird kind of protectiveness one can develop in regards to their sense of grievance. I have some hatreds that would cause me to lash out at a person who challenged their legitimacy. I am capable of taking the deepest offense at someone who is unwilling to acknowledge my sacred victimhood in certain areas. To point out a common humanity that exists between myself and my enemy, to impartially explore the possible motivations of my adversary...these are deep blasphemies.

I want to challenge these hatreds. Even the ones I love. Even the ones that have come to define me. There's no scale I can step on to tell me that I'm succeeding in my Hate Diet, so measuring success will be difficult. But I feel like I have methods. I am going to unchain myself from this spiritual weight before it irreversibly consumes me. I am going to conquer this disease before I spread it on to my own children.