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No such thing as “other people’s children”

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Photo credit: CBS News

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Like many of you, I woke this morning worrying about other people’s children.

Infants and toddlers and ten and twelve year-olds, stored like cargo in an abandoned Walmart; children sleeping on concrete floors and locked behind chainlink; children thrown-in with strangers under giant, white, revival-like tents along our southern border where June temperatures can reach a hundred.

Yes, our immigration system is broken. It has been broken for years. But it is also a monstrous crime against humanity to rip children from their parents when you do not have a plan beyond basic imprisonment and not enough caretakers.

Is this where you tell me it is a crime to enter our country illegally, that there are consequences? Will you feel better if I tell you that you are right?

Okay, you are right.

But being right does not change fact that the Trump Administration’s policy of separating immigrant families as a deterrent—a policy defended by both the president and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions—is cruel, inhumane, and decidedly unAmerican.

Texas Monthly reports one mother begging, as her “child started screaming and vomiting and crying hysterically, and she asked the officers, ‘Can I at least have five minutes to console her?’ They said no. In another case, the father said, ‘Can I comfort my child? Can I hold him for a few minutes?’ The officer said, ‘You must let them go, and if you don’t let them go, I will write you up for an altercation, which will mean that you are the one that had the additional charges charged against you.’”

The president throws up his hands and inexplicably blames the Democrats. Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham says, “President Trump could stop this policy with a phone call.”

And while everyone is pointing a finger at everyone else, we are inflicting irreparable psychological damage upon the most vulnerable among us. We should all be ashamed.

On Father’s Day, while the president played golf, a few members of Congress and the media toured facilities where children are being warehoused. After one such tour, Jacob Soboroff of MSNBC wrote on Twitter, “They told us we only had 7 minutes to go through a 77,000 square-foot facility. But we stretched it out much longer. They told us this is the biggest border patrol detention center on the southern border. Currently total 1,129 detainees.”

Some facilities would not grant access.

Most would not allow cameras.

Ask yourself why.

Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont tweeted this after touring a place nicknamed The Ice Box: “I saw chain link cages full of unaccompanied children. They sat on metal benches and stared straight ahead silently. And I met a woman named Reina who was being extorted in Guatemala. She traveled 14 days with her 13 year-old daughter and turned herself in at the border for asylum. She hasn’t seen her daughter in two days and didn’t know where she was. No one had told her that her daughter had been taken to a shelter.”

Note that it is not illegal to seek asylum.

The Associated Press reports seeing a four year-old girl “so traumatized that she wasn’t talking. She was just curled up in a little ball.” The AP also reported witnessing a facility official “scold a group of five year-olds for playing around in their cage, telling them to settle down. There are no toys or books, and “one boy nearby wasn’t playing with the rest, he was quiet, clutching a piece of paper that was a photocopy of his mother’s ID card.”

Many of these children are being kept in conditions beneath the standards of the kennel where I take my dogs. Ask yourself, is this what Jesus would do?

This morning I woke up thinking about other people’s children. But I was wrong. There is no such thing as other people’s children. It takes a village, and we are that village.

Flood the White House switchboard. Call your senator and your congressman and insist they work with the other side of the aisle to find reasonable solutions for the border. Tell them they work for you, and that you are enraged and disgusted at the humanitarian crisis this administration has created.

Tell them to act like Americans.

_________

The White House switchboard:  (202) 456-1111

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:   (202) 224-2541

House Speaker Paul Ryan:  (202) 225-0600

Kentucky Rep. Andy Barr:  (859) 219-1366

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul:  (202) 224-4343

 

 

 

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NFL players kneel for peace, but the president wants to fight

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“If we weren’t fighting all those years,” Aunt Mary says with a dismissive laugh, “what would we have done with ourselves all day, played Tiddlywinks?” I am scrubbing her dentures over the nursing home sink as my favorite aunt—dying from stomach cancer while simultaneously recovering from a broken leg—tells story after story about how she and my mother grew up in a family of fighters. “I mean, that was just normal life,” she says, putting her dentures back in, checking her charming smile in the mirror I’ve handed her. “If nobody was mad, what would we have talked about?”

Growing up in a family of fighters, in the land of gossip and grievance, of who-got-what-and-who-didn’t, is exhausting. As much as I loved my aunt, my mother, and my grandparents (all long dead), I also remember just wanting to turn it off and make them stop, and I often wonder if this is why our current president and his Twitter feed feel so sickeningly familiar. So like home.

Much like my grandfather, this president wakes up most days with a bone to pick and stays that way. Fake News! he tweets with his trademark exclamation points. Greatest witch hunt in political history! SPYGATE is in full force! No collusion! The appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!

Not a day goes by without the president blatting out his every resentment. We are plumb wore out; we want to turn off the noise and go live our lives; we start to think, Jesus already, just give him what he wants and be done with it. But isn’t that, after all, his whole point?

On June 5, the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles cancelled their trip to the White House.

For months, the president has been relentless in criticizing NFL players for kneeling during the National Anthem (exercising their 1st Amendment rights) to bring attention to police brutality and violence against African Americans. He insists they are doing this to dishonor the flag, the military, and the anthem, that maybe they should not even be in this country—a false narrative the president refuses, all evidence to the contrary, to give up—even as he calls them sons-of-bitches.

And, as he predictably does, he took to Twitter to put them in their place. “We will proudly be playing the National Anthem and other wonderful music celebrating our Country today at 3 P.M., The White House, with the United States Marine Band and the United States Army Chorus. Honoring America! NFL, no escaping to Locker Rooms!”

The same day the Eagles stayed away from the White House, police officers in Mesa, Arizona were caught on video brutally beating a black man. While responding to a domestic violence call, officers approached a man—not involved in the dispute—on an open-air balcony as he talked on this phone. At no point does the man raise his hands; he does not reach for anything; he does not approach them nor even lean in their direction. And yet, within seconds, they are on him, brutally beating him into submission.

The Mesa police department issued a statement, which read, in part, “The misconduct of these officers would have gone unnoticed if it had not been captured by surveillance.”

This is why NFL players are kneeling. The president is lying. How easy would it be for him to choose peace, to stop fighting, to call a meeting, to sit down at a table and talk with, listen to, these men? How easy would it be to shine his powerful spotlight away from himself and onto stopping unnecessary acts of violence?

And yet, he does nothing but fan the fight.

Shortly after Trump won the 2016 election, “The Art of the Deal” ghostwriter Tony Schwartz told The Nation magazine what we could expect from our new president. “[He] is 100 percent self-absorbed, incapable of interest in other human beings, and completely self-referential. He viewed every event through the lens of its impact on him. Even 30 years ago, he had an incredibly short attention span. Lying was almost second nature to him; he did it as easily as most of us drink a glass of water.”

I come from a large brood. My grandparents had 9 children. I have 4 brothers and sisters and two dozen cousins. My mother is dead. Aunt Mary is dead. My grandparents are dead. And we are still fighting and exhausted and miserable, because this is all we know to do.

Our president chooses to tweet at NFL players instead of talking with them. Like my grandfather, he wakes up angry and lets us know it, working like mad to keep up his lies about patriotism to stoke the daily drama and the fights.

Why? Because fighting is all he knows. He has no interest in us. Lying is second nature. This is our new normal. And, as Aunt Mary might say with her winning, broad-toothed smile, “If he’s not fighting, what would he do all day?”

Rural women explain Amy McGrath’s big Kentucky win

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Photo credit: Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

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Two weeks after Amy McGrath’s unlikely primary win in Kentucky’s 6th District—notching a W in all 18 rural counties and setting her up for a midterm showdown with GOP incumbent Andy Barr—the potential blue wave we keep hearing about nationally is finally beginning to emerge locally.

I live in Anderson County, a place where voters often feel invisible; a place where Republicans pocket our votes like spare change and Democrats can’t afford to waste their pennies. Seeing candidates out here is as rare as good wifi.

And yet, McGrath held several events here over these last many months, even as voters, skeptical of the attention, often approached her as more foe than friend. What was she doing here? Where was she on guns, on abortion and women’s rights, on healthcare and infrastructure and teacher salaries and pensions, on our horrifying opioid crisis? And if by some miracle she made it past the primary, what was her plan to defeat Barr?

We did our damnedest to rattle her, and failed. She kept coming back.

Billy Piper, former chief of staff to Senator Mitch McConnell, dismissed McGrath’s win outright. “I think that the Democrats,” Piper said, “have nominated the worst possible candidate they could have nominated.”

The worst possible candidate, really? Did Piper have a point? I decided to ask the Kentuckians least likely to be asked by Piper or anyone else: rural women.

Molly, a former schoolteacher: “When Lt. Colonel McGrath agreed to visit with a roomful of Anderson County Democrats early in her campaign I was surprised, but proud. I was also concerned that the ‘real her’ compared to her brilliant candidacy announcement, would be disappointing. But we got the real Amy, and she was great. And the best part? I was able to meet and talk with her five times, without leaving the county, and I met the same real Amy every time. She really did listen and learn.”

Pam, a retired physician: “You don’t have to be a politician to be well-read and well-informed with thoughtful ideas about how to improve our country. Amy broke a glass ceiling, as did her mother, yet does not carry a chip on her shoulder. She seems real when you meet her in person, and I think she can beat the Republican which is important. Plus, we have real infrastructure needs (like high speed internet) which have been ignored.”

Maxye, a former magazine editor: “Amy campaigned in every county in the 6th, and has offices in several of them. She was extremely visible and is very personable. I doubt that any of us has seen, much less met, any of the other candidates in person.”

Sallie, an environmentalist and former technical writer: “Anyone who meets Amy would be hard-pressed not to vote for her. I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered such a powerful mix of earnestness, compassion, intelligence, and vigor. I liked all three of the major Democratic candidates, but she blew me away. She looks you in the eye, she listens, and she doesn’t shy away from expressing an opinion, instead of parroting some mushy political platitude. If she continues to connect personally with both rural and urban voters, I think she has a real chance to beat Andy Barr.”

Margaret, counselor to families suffering from addiction: “Amy focused on our area and the fact that we need to focus on our strengths. She was extremely well-informed and made me feel like she was a centrist. This is how you can win in Kentucky. This is our only hope. She seemed tireless and traveled to every area she could. We support her and will be volunteering to help her.”

Talking to these women, I am reminded of the opening lines in Judith Guest’s 1976 novel, ORDINARY PEOPLE. “To have a reason to get up in the morning, it is necessary to possess a guiding principle. A belief of some kind. A bumper sticker, if you will.”

Billy Piper is wrong. We are believers out here in the rural counties. We have our principles. We count. And we are seeing a lot of bumper stickers that read: Amy McGrath for Congress.

______

You can find more information on Lt. Col. McGrath here.

The Cancer of Columbine

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Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. Credit KTRK-TV

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There they were in the Breaking News live-shot, terrified American teenagers lined up like criminals on the sprawling green lawn of their high school, following the commands of law enforcement by emptying the contents of their backpacks then doing the perp walk, single file, arms raised high, fingers spread wide, demonstrating their innocence.

Another school shooting. Santa Fe, Texas.

As a New York Times reporter wrote, this is what school looks like now. “Lockdown drills, active shooter drills. It’s a procedure they have learned, and what you are seeing is a kind of horrible field trip, a deadly exam. You send your kids to school, and one of the things they learn is how not to die.”

This summer I will go to my 35 year high school reunion, and it occurs to me that these are the things I worried about from 1979 to 1983: Will I ever get more than a C in Mr. Wittenborn’s science class? How many lunches can I afford this week? What if I don’t make the basketball team and, if I do, how will I get home from practice? Will Shawn ask me to the homecoming dance? Can I fake my mom’s signature on a “this is why she’s late” note? Will John’s Corner Grocery give me a job before I turn 16 so I can save $800 to buy an old green Gremlin?

What I did not worry about, what none of us could fathom back then, was getting gunned down in art class.

“It’s not the guns,” we insist, banking upon our memories of the past. We say things like, “I grew up with guns,” or “we never locked up our guns,” or “I was bullied but I never shot anybody,” or “I drove to school with guns in my truck.”

We cannot fathom getting gunned down in art class because we grew up before April 20, 1999. We grew up before Columbine.

Columbine (and every mass shooting for two decades after) made the unthinkable thinkable. You can do something about the bullies, about feeling like a nobody; you can teach that girl who embarrassed you a lesson; you can put those smug, arrogant jocks in their place; you can gun down the mean teacher. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and by-God you’re a boy with easy access to weapons and you know how to use them. You could be famous. And what is more quintessentially American in 2018 than our beloved 2nd Amendment paired with the fantasy of eternal fame?

Columbine was our Stage I cancer, and it keeps metastasizing and killing us because we have made a choice to wrap ourselves in the constitution and do nothing.

After the mass shooting in Santa Fe, when asked if she was surprised it happened at her school, one little girl said heartbreakingly no, “It’s been happening everywhere. I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here too.”

As if on cue, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick then said, “There are too many entrances and too many exits to our over 8,000 campuses …maybe we need to look at limiting the entrances and exits to our schools.”

When I heard this, I imagined the horrified reaction of my friend Kim, a retired fire chief. Kim, who scared me into rarely lighting candles and warned about the dangers of portable propane. What would he say about a thousand kids and teachers locked in a giant building with only one or two ways out?

On Sunday, Lt. Gov. Patrick told CNN, “We stand strong together on the rock of faith and the rock of our constitution. We believe in our freedom and our liberties and our 2nd Amendment.”

And yet, mass shootings are as all-American as baseball. Is this freedom? Our kids are afraid to go to school, and we are afraid to send them. We are willing to consider arming teachers, limiting the number of doors, putting more police officers on campus, retrofitting entrances and exits, clear backpacks, kevlar backpacks, metal detectors, bulletproof glass, and new and improved lockdown drills.

We are willing to consider turning our schools into prisons. We are willing to consider everything. Everything but guns.

The decimation of decency

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Photo credit: The Daily Kos

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More than a week after White House staffer Kelly Sadler allegedly said that Senator John McCain, suffering from terminal brain cancer, is “dying anyway,” making his vote on CIA nominee Gina Haspel irrelevant, there remains no public apology.

No apology, though McCain’s daughter Meghan says Ms. Sadler promised one. No apology, though any decent public servant, any decent human being, would have clamored to give one. No apology, because this is the No Apology Administration, led by a man who once said, without a scintilla of remorse, that McCain is only “a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

We have grown both exhausted and accustomed. We are not surprised. We now both tolerate and expect, from our highest office, this decimation of decency.

And yet the sea of red “Make America Great Again” hats we witness at Trump rallies would have us believe differently.

As recently as last week, hardcore Trump supporters lined up outside for hours awaiting his rally in Elkhart, Indiana. Inside, the packed crowd cheered with abandon when he proclaimed, “America is being respected again!” He then touted his upcoming summit with North Korea, reminding us of his unique powers of persuasion while getting in his customary dig at the American free press. “You remember everybody in the fake news, when they were saying he’s going to get us into a nuclear war?” he said to boos. “And you know what gets you into nuclear wars, and you know what gets you into other wars? Weakness.”

Ah, the perception of weakness. Or, as we have come to know it, Trumpian kryptonite.

So long to doing what is decent, what is right. So long to the delicate and time-honored art of diplomacy. Like the offering of an apology, diplomacy in the Trump era means weakness, and if we know nothing else about our dear leader by now, we most certainly know this: he operates with a singular, destroy-the-enemy determination, and he reminds us of this regularly, as he did in his May 4 speech before an adoring NRA crowd when, after throwing a printed Wall Street Journal article theatrically to the ground, he bellowed, “I love fighting battles.”

And while he bellows and fights, Americans pay. We still can’t afford decent healthcare, mass shootings remain the norm, his proposed tariffs threaten farm exports, and we have withdrawn from our allies in everything from the Paris Climate Accord to the Iran Nuclear deal. Refugees trying to enter the U.S. illegally will soon be met with an unconscionable decree, family separation, because we are now people who rip children from the arms of their mothers as punishment. We even champion the importing of elephant trophies, which will no doubt increase their slaughter by uber-wealthy, big-game hunters, one of whom is the president’s own son. And for what?

“This is not who we are,” I often hear. And yet, our president’s own public appearances prove otherwise. More than a year post-election, while goading his supporters to scream at, or even spit at, the free press, he looks out upon that sea of red “Make America Great Again” hats along with t-shirts that still read things like “Trump that bitch” and “Hillary sucks but not like Monica.” And he revels in it.

I recall the story billionaire businessman Richard Branson told about meeting our future president back in the 1990s. “I thought we would have an interesting conversation about a whole range of issues,” Branson said, but “he just spent the whole lunch talking about five people he rung up to try to get help from … and how these people had refused to help him and how his life’s mission was to going to be to destroy these people.”

This is the man we elected President of our United States. This is, I would argue, exactly who we are.

On May 15, the president spent considerable time on Capitol Hill with Republican senators. Afterward, it was reported that no one—not a single lawmaker in the room—challenged him or even mentioned the “he’s dying anyway” comment about cancer-stricken war hero McCain or that a public apology would be the decent thing to do. How could they, a person inside the meeting reported, “He talked nearly the entire time.”

Are we great again yet?

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On Friday, 93 year-old President George H.W. Bush spent a heartbreaking and exhausting day by his wife’s casket, greeting the 5,000 mourners who came to pay their respects. And the next morning, as we awaited the funeral of First Lady Barbara Bush, our current president awoke at his Florida country club and fired off a round of tweets that included words like flunkie, crooked, destroy, drunk/drugged, trouble, lying, witch hunt, and horrible. Then he played golf.

This is the state of things.

Last week, as the president’s longtime lawyer dominated headlines for being under criminal investigation, a real head-scratcher slipped under the radar. The Department of Health and Human Services redirected federal funds from teen pregnancy prevention to programs that strictly teach abstinence. Yes, I said abstinence. Abstinence that did not work in the 1950s and will not work now. If this administration is serious about being pro-life, why not adopt a program like the one in Colorado, where they have documented a 50% drop in teen pregnancy that has led to 64% fewer abortions?

Abstinence? The Trump administration may as well have driven a stake into the heart of pro-lifers.

On the international front, President Trump played golf last week with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while playing at an ill-advised trade war with China. According to financial analysts at Forbes, new Chinese levies could devastate U.S. pork farmers, fruit and nut growers, and Midwest soy bean producers.  Not to mention what could happen to steel prices and the cost of popular electronics like cell phones. Contrary to the president’s claims, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) was never a bad deal. It just wasn’t his deal. And his ego is about to put American workers and families in jeopardy.

Speaking of families, in April 2017 the president saw horrifying pictures of “beautiful little babies” killed by a Syrian gas attack, so he dropped his first bombs while eating “most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen.” Remember that? This month, he saw more pictures and he dropped more bombs. But what of the thousands of displaced women and children, those so-called “beautiful little babies”? We have accepted only 11 Syrian refugees this year. Eleven. Where are the pro-life advocates? How do you say “I’m pro-life!” while backing a president unwilling to take in mothers and children?

At a Waffle House in Nashville, a man killed 4 people with an assault rifle. We have had more than 30 mass shootings this year. The year is only 4 months old.

Thankfully, there is some good news. The Trump tax cuts, passed four short months ago, are already paying off. A machinist in Dayton, Ohio tells the New York Times he’s banking $30 more per paycheck, and his buddies are seeing anywhere from $2 to $40 extra every two weeks. The real boon, however, is on Wall Street. In the first quarter alone, the six largest banks reported near-record profits of $3.6B, putting them on pace to save a whopping $19B this year. It sure is good to see the president putting those big city elites in their place, is it not?

I keep thinking about 93 year-old President Bush, a gracious man laying his sweetheart of 73 years to rest. As president he said, “I take as my guide the hope of a saint: In crucial things, unity; in important things, diversity; in all things, generosity.”

I hear Trump voters say are happy, thrilled even, with the man they voted for. A man who demands that private citizens (like political opponents and the former FBI Director) be thrown in jail without due process. A man credibly accused of having unprotected sex with a porn star while his wife nursed their newborn, then allegedly paid to keep her quiet 10 days before his election.

A man who—as mourners celebrated the extraordinary life of Barbara Bush and worried over her ailing, heartbroken husband—played his 109th round of golf and tweeted slurs about James Comey, Hillary Clinton, Loretta Lynch, witch hunts, the “fake and disgusting news” media, and pondered which convicted criminals he’d dare to pardon.

This is the state of things. Are we great again yet?

 

How much longer can we sugarcoat our racist attitudes?

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At $27,000, the antique desk was so laughably beyond my budget I gave up and made for the door, but the quick-thinking saleswoman scuttled my escape. “If you’re looking for something simpler,” she said, “we have a storage shop down the street with some rougher items. I’d be happy to walk you down if you’d like to take a look.”

I tried to say no, but I’d driven all the way to Bloomfield and my back was killing me from working long hours on my couch. Would it hurt to take a look?

The storage shop was, indeed, rougher but still way too pricey, so I gave up on desks and gravitated toward an old table I thought might work. Eager to make a sale, the woman rattled off a potential discount, a description, and a civics lesson. “That piece was built around 1870, right after the Civil War. You can see one of the legs has been replaced and a corner was broken off. It’s had a rough go,” she chuckled, “kind of like The South.” While I looked the table over more closely she filled the quiet with talk of southern pride, how the war was all about states’ rights, and how her own ancestors had fought and died for our values.

I recall this story whenever someone explains why, despite his many flaws and moral failings, they voted for Donald Trump. We suffered 8 years under Obama, they often say. Or, I got tired of being politically correct. Or, we need to keep foreigners from coming here and our taking jobs. Or, a favorite of late, the Democrats want to take away our 2nd Amendment rights.

Like the antique saleswoman with her version of the Civil War, we tell the story that makes us feel best. Because surely we did not vote for Donald Trump because he is a powerful, wealthy white man with a history of racial discrimination (see: the Central Park Five) , or because he questioned the legitimacy of our first black president (see: birtherism) , or because he promised to ban all Muslims, stem the tide of hispanics at our border, return jobs to rural white America, or protect white gun owners.

Or did we?

In a recent interview, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu explained that southerners need to stop glossing over, stop sugarcoating. We need to “quit saying that the Civil War was not about slavery. Quit saying that the Civil War was some kind of noble cause. It wasn’t. The Civil War was fought to destroy the United States of America, not to put it back together. It was fought over the cause of slavery. And for some reason we have a difficult time dealing with that issue.”

On April 6, during a South Carolina town hall, Congressman Ralph Norman laid a loaded gun on a restaurant table. Norman has a conceal carry permit. He insisted laws are already on the books and it was all okay. He smiled and said, “I pulled it out to make a point that guns don’t shoot. People shoot.”

But what if Ralph Norman wasn’t white? Could a black man walk into a crowded restaurant, lay a loaded gun on the table, smile and say, it’s okay folks, I have a permit and that’s the law, I’m just making a point that guns don’t kill people?

Of course not. Not without getting himself killed.

Mayor Landrieu is right. We southerners have a difficult time with unpleasant facts. Six months post-Hurricane Maria, 60,000 Puerto Rican Americans remain without power. In Flint, Michigan, more than 1,400 days have passed since residents have had clean, safe water. The women and children dying from chemical attacks in Syria are the very refugees, the Muslims, the Trump administration has insisted are not welcome here. The president is deploying the National Guard to the Mexican border to keep a few hundred Honduran refugees from finding asylum (and low-skilled jobs) here.

Would we tolerate 1,400 days without clean water in a white Lexington suburb? Imagine the uproar if we treated post-hurricane Houston like we have Puerto Rico? What kind of military response would we deploy to save Christian white women and children from a chemical weapons attack? Does the president’s protection of our beloved 2nd Amendment apply equally to black and white Americans?

Like with the $27,000 desk, we have to think about what is too costly for our comfort. The Civil War was not fought over states’ rights; it was fought over slavery. We did not elect Donald Trump because we despised Hillary Clinton; we elected him because, after 8 years with a black president, he was a powerful, wealthy white man who promised to make white America comfortable again.

What price are we willing to pay to keep sugarcoating it?

______

Donald J. Trump has been president 14 months. I’m curious — how’s he doing, what are your thoughts?