39 days until Trump and the fight is on

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In the coastal, elitist, liberal, intellectual bubble where I live, most people still say they “can’t believe what’s happened.” A month after the most bizarre election in modern United States history, we’re now plagued by a daily barrage of equally shocking appointments Donald Trump is making for his new administration.

A climate denier tapped for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. An anti-labor CEO of a hamburger chain for the Department of Labor. A retired neurosurgeon who doesn’t believe in a safety net for the poor for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. A lobbyist who’s pushed for failed school reform policies for the Department of Education. A white supremacist as chief strategist for the White House. And so on.

It has left our coastal, elitist, liberal, intellectual bubble so sick to its stomach it’s begun to organize in big ways and small. Here’s a snapshot of what’s going on.

  • Headlines are flying about what’s expected to be the largest rally against Trump’s agenda: the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017. So far, 142,000 people have confirmed on Facebook that they’ll join to “send a bold message to our new administration on [its] first day in office, and to the world, that women’s rights are human rights.”
  • For those with a more radical bent there’s also #DisruptJ20, which calls on protesters to “take to the streets and protest, blockade, disrupt, intervene, sit in, walk out, rise up, and make more noise and good trouble than the establishment can bear” on the day of inauguration. Filmmaker Michael Moore has promised to attend. “If by some awful happenstance Trump shows up to be sworn in on January 20th, I will be there helping lead the national protest and non-violently disrupting the inauguration of a man no one other than the electoral college elected,” he told the Hollywood Reporter last week.
  • Another protest march for inauguration day organized by the ANSWER coalition has 19,000+ RSVPs so far. Will they, and the 20-some other groups planning permits in time? That’s uncertain, but organizers continue to sign up participants and it seems inevitable protests will occur.
  • Liberal non-profits, including my own, have reported a dramatic surge in donations for the past month. If low voter turn-out marred the election itself, Americans are now stepping up to the plate. More donations pay for advocacy efforts and more lawyers who will fight the Trump administration in court. Or, like they said way-back-when in the environmental movement: “sue the bastards.”
  • In my city just outside Washington, D.C., the mayor and police chief have assured the many immigrants in our community that they remain welcome and, importantly, that they will be protected if Trump makes good on his promise to deport millions of undocumented residents from the U.S. My neighbors last week began to organize task forces in preparation for the fight. Large cities nationwide, including D.C., have also said they will resist deportation squads, even if it means they lose federal funds as a result.

Such efforts won’t keep Donald Trump from getting sworn in, or prevent him from nominating dangerous or unqualified people to his administration. But they show a different side of America that was overshadowed by the angry, populist noise of recent months – and serve as a reminder that a majority of voters on Nov. 8 did not vote from Trump.

They indicate that many of us are preparing to fight for inclusion, tolerance and evidence-based policies – core American values of which the Republican Party seems to have completely lost sight.

Photo: Stephen Melkisethian

Frayed nerves on the eve of the First Presidential Debate

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Our next-door neighbor Katy is holding a presidential debate party tomorrow night for anyone too nervous to watch alone or with just the immediate family around.

Well, it’s not exactly a party. The first of three showdowns between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump before the Nov. 8 election, Katy wrote in her invitation, is a night where “we may want to drink a bit and become belligerent or weep.”

Judging from the many responses she got, people around us are on edge. “I was in a quandary about how to face this,” wrote one invitee whose husband is out of town and who didn’t want to face the night alone.”This election has me in knots,” wrote another.

Our friend Catherine, who has a project due for work, said she’d break away if the debate becomes “too depressing” and she needs to be among friends.

A record 100 million Americans may tune in for tomorrow’s boxing match at Hofstra University, and Trump has been rising in the polls, incredibly, as he continues his campaign of bullying and division.

Meanwhile, the public discourse is getting sharper and more bitter.

A share image of emaciated Jews at a Nazi concentration camp has been circulating on Facebook, reminding people that “It didn’t start with gas chambers.”

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Educated Americans have watched their country take a sharp turn to the right, into a new territory that frightens. America’s proudest moment, when it freed Europe from German terror and helped end World War II, has fainted from the memory of Middle America. Tolerance and generosity has been replaced with hate, bigotry and fear.

I’ve had friends tell me they have trouble sleeping at night because they’re so worried about the upcoming election. Tomorrow’s debate may be Clinton’s last chance to turn things around.

All eyes will be on the former First Lady, Secretary of State and senator tomorrow to see if she holds up. Will she cough? Will she make an inappropriate remark? Will she be warm or cold? Will she be likable?

We’re holding our breath.

15 years after 9/11, hate and bigotry have gone mainstream

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Racism and stereotyping is something we usually learn as children, and it poisons us. It makes us lose empathy and do things like blowing up buildings, spitting on young school kids, or attacking people because of the color of their skin.

How else explain the decision by a 32-year-old New York woman to try to tear hijabs off the heads of two mothers pushing strollers the other day while reportedly yelling, “You don’t belong here.” How else explain that there’s now a party with neo-Nazi roots in the Swedish parliament, or that a Danish school is segregating kids by ethnicity?

How else can we explain the fact that the man who is now within a fighting chance of the White House has millions of supporters even though he’s called Mexicans rapists and promised to ban Muslim visitors to the United States? (Or, wait, does his plan call for “extreme vetting?”)

On this 15-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks, a time when the nation came together to mourn and the world showed its support, bigotry is alive and well. We haven’t learned a thing in 15 years.

Today we have people in our country who believe Donald Trump was telling the truth when he said that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims were celebrating when the twin towers fell.

Charles Dew, a history professor at Williams College, notes in his new book that the making of a racist in the Jim Crow South was a “process of osmosis” – years of mostly unspoken cues that form a world view of us and them, and ultimately of hate.

Americans are safer today than on that terrible September day in 2001, the Washington Post reported this morning. And yet, we’re more scared and more hateful.

How explain?

Photos: Mark Yokoyama

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In the richest country of the world, every dollar counts

Thirty-one years ago, almost to the day, I got off a plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, and saw, for the first time, the enterprise, affluence, inequality and decay that is America.

My friend’s mother picked us up in the biggest sports utility vehicle I’d ever seen, skillfully navigating pot holes and toll booths in heavy traffic. Trash was everywhere and rusty old factory buildings on the side of the road suggested a wealthier past. But all my friend’s mother talked about was her latest Apple computer which had just been released on the market that week.

They had a pool on their leafy Westchester County property and a housekeeper who shopped, cooked and cleaned. She’d been with the family for years and had managed to move to a decent apartment in Brooklyn with her daughter thanks to this gig, my friend explained. “It’s complicated.”

I had arrived in the richest country on Earth. This idea of superior wealth is repeated so often that many Americans still think of their nation that way.

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Of course, it’s more complicated than that. We’re also the most unequal country in that club of Rich Nations. (Sweden comes second.) As far as per capita income, the United States ranks 19th.

This, I explain to my 13-year-old son, is why I’m planning to donate $100 and maybe more to the immigrant families who were left homeless by a natural gas explosion earlier this month. I just need to wait until pay day – because after covering the mortgage, and paying for my new contacts and groceries, there’s no money left for charity.

We’re middle-class Americans, struggling to maintain a nice lifestyle that, in some ways, pales in comparison to what middle-class Swedes enjoy. For us, every dollar counts because life here is expensive, especially for the not-so-wealthy.

But let’s put things in perspective.

The owner of the apartment building that blew up earlier this month in Silver Spring, Maryland, a mere five-minute drive from where we live, had received more than 1,600 code violations in recent years for unsanitary conditions, rats, bed bugs, missing smoke detectors and a number of other problems that affect poor people in the richest nation on Earth.

Seven people died that night.

Newspapers and TV stations have interviewed people who were displaced, and some who live in adjacent apartment buildings owned by the same company. Families who still have a place to live don’t dare to turn their stoves back on.“We don’t feel safe here,” Angelica Alvarez, told The Washington Post.

At least 100 people remain homeless, some of whom cannot get certain government aid because they lack immigration documents. So it’s up to us to help – another very American idea.

The organizations that are assisting victims of the Silver Spring accident report that because of all food and clothes donations in recent days they only need money now. That’s where I plan to come in.

As soon as I have some extra money to spend. On Friday.

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Photos: Jodi Doff and 401(k)

 

5 reasons we’ll stay in the U.S. even if Trump wins

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Unlike the many Americans who insist they’ll move to Canada if Donald Trump is elected president, we’re among the few who actually could rent out our house and go into exile.

When you have two passports there’s always that option. A majority of Americans don’t even have one, much less a work visa for Canada.

So why stick around?

Here are five reasons we’ll keep living on this side of the pond after Nov. 8, and regardless of what happens that day.

  1. Americans support progressive policies when it really comes down to it, and that trend will solidify as Millennials take over. This election year is likely just a bump in the road.
  2. Demographics are on our side. It’s no secret that the mono-colored, angry crowds cheering at Trump rallies will soon be relegated to minority status. Within a few decades, they’ll be outnumbered. We can wait them out.
  3. We’ve had bad leaders before and survived. That includes some in modern times: Richard Nixon (Watergate scandal), Ronald Reagan (Iran-Contra affair), George W. Bush (costly and unjustified Iraq war) and so on
  4. This country offers the very best, and the very worst when it comes to culture, politics, food and education – and it’s been that way for a long time. Eight years of Trump, or any other president, won’t change that fact.
  5. As citizens, we have a duty to help this country improve. We’ll need all hands on deck to set our leaders straight after this possible and unprecedented disaster. We owe it to our children, and to 319 million other Americans who can’t just up and leave.

Considering all that, I still feel pretty good about where I am.

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(Photo:  Austin Kirk)

3 reasons America will never ban Muslims

After a week of Republican hand-wringing over Donald Trump’s persistent attacks on the parents of a slain Muslim American soldier, a development today added a new wrinkle to the debate over immigration from the Middle East.

The U.S. Department of State announced that the United States may actually surpass its goal to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year, almost all of whom are Muslims.

What’s more, these newcomers are moving all over the country, including to the 31 states whose governors protested against the resettlement plan a few months ago. Sorry, Gov. Larry Hogan.

Here’s why the idea that we’d ban people from countries such as Syria, Iraq or Iran will fizzle – if it hasn’t already.

One: Like previous waves of refugees, these Syrians will assimilate. Research from the Migration Policy Institute shows that refugee men are more likely than their American-born peers to work – two-thirds do, compared with 60 percent of native men. Refugee women are as likely as American-born women to work. As a group, Syrian immigrants are more skilled than most of us: 49 percent work in management, business, science and arts; compared with 38 percent of U.S.-born.

Two: America is a busy and noisy place, and everybody here has some kind of accent, it seems. Unlike in Europe – where countries such as Germany and Sweden have taken in, note, hundreds of thousands of refugees in recent years and struggle to assimilate them – it’s easy to melt in and find your niche in the United States.

Three: Terrorism in the U.S. is mostly a home-grown problem that has little to do with immigrants, or Muslims for that matter. In a country as violent as ours, people of all colors and backgrounds create mayhem. Americans know that.

Charities in Maryland and elsewhere are reporting a surge in phone calls from people who want to help the refugees settle. This is how this country works: We’re a nation of immigrants from all over the place and we help each other out.

And this is why we should be just fine with 10,000 more Syrians in our midst.

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Photo: UN Development Programme

I’m not white this time of year – and I’m definitely not “Caucasian!”

After more than 25 years in the United States, I understand why we dwell on color – I think… It’s so that we can make sure kids from disenfranchised groups get opportunities they might otherwise miss. And to ensure that certain people don’t grab what’s not theirs. Society must serve everybody.

That’s why government focuses on it, anyway.

So all these years, I dutifully filled in the box that either said “white” or “Caucasian.”

The latter term is getting rarer these days, thankfully, because it just never made any sense. Why did they think I was from the Caucasus when I hail from a country near the North Pole and now live on the East Coast of the U.S.? In fact, I’ve only met a handful of people from that part of the world my whole life.

The Caucasus, as you may recall, is a mountain range in southern Russia that has also given name to a large family of languages and a region that includes countries as diverse as Azerbaijan, Turkey, Chechnya, Dagestan and Iran.

None of it made any sense at all, until I stumbled across a video on MTV. Turns out, this Caucasian business was all a racist plot!

Since I’m not white, at least not in August, nor from the Caucasus, I’m now thinking European-American will do. Or Scandinavian-American, perhaps…Or maybe we should just scrap all these labels once and for all?

 

Report from a liberal bubble, 100 days from Election Day

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Living where we do, just north of Washington, D.C., in the reliably blue state of Maryland, we’re well-insulated from election year vitriol. But we’re not immune.

Friends are reporting back from visits with family in the Midwest and South that deteriorate into arguments over Donald Trump. Suddenly, there’s tension between siblings and children and parents who never before used to argue over politics.

Issues can arise even in a politically homogeneous enclave like ours.

I know of only one Republican in our town, a man I like and respect very much who also happens to be the father of one of my son’s best friends.

This neighbor barbecued fabulous ribs for us the other week and we could talk, like reasonable people on their best behavior, about why one should or shouldn’t vote for Trump. We all agreed he wasn’t particularly fit for office – not just because he spews hate, but because he may actually not have all his mental faculties in place. Our neighbor explained that his vote will be against President Obama’s economic policy, which he thinks Clinton will continue. He knows we don’t agree with his choice.

Back in the sanctuary of our own home, we’re not always as careful or diplomatic about how we word things. The other day, my husband and I didn’t know my son’s friend was in the house overhearing our conversation about whether people who plan to vote for Trump are racists themselves.

I felt bad when I realized the young boy heard this and made the point of telling him how much we like his dad. The single most important thing is that people vote come Nov. 8, I told him. Nobody should stay home.

“Even if they vote for Trump?” asked my son. “Yes,” I lied.

It’s a stressful time. Even a colleague at work, a young guy in his 20s, acknowledged he feels anxious this election season. A man I met at a local art show over the weekend, meanwhile, reported how scary it was to take his son to college in eastern Pennsylvania. “There were Trump signs in every yard!” he shuddered.

We stress because we feel that there’s not a thing we can do about Other States. Or about the people whose judgment is clouded by an undefined hate against Clinton, or by exaggerated economic concerns that don’t match reality.

All we can do is hope that sanity prevails when the day comes.

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The simple, homogenous world that was

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Everybody looked basically the same where I grew up: fair skin, blond or occasionally brown hair, blue or gray-green eyes. Most people I knew lived in a neighborhood that also looked the same with long rows of yellow or red boxy homes attached by garages.

There were two kids in my suburban grade school who stood out. One of them had black curly hair and an African-American dad, the other hailed from a Chinese family. The boys were famous in our school because they were different.

They were never a threat to our peaceful and conformist lifestyle.

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In Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s, citizens were secure and comfortable in their centuries-old traditions, and took pride in the nation’s rising disposable incomes, generous social benefits and successful export industries.

In those days, every year was like the one before, punctuated by the same holiday and vacation rituals, but each year a little better than the last.

You could compare the place where I grew up to white middle-class America a decade or so earlier – the 1950s Eisenhower era where people who shared the same values gathered for Sunday dinners, said grace, respected the President and looked forward to the next generation prospering in a thriving post-War World II economy.

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None of us could sense change coming. We didn’t know then that our idyll was just a cocoon that temporarily shielded us from the colorful, violent and complicated world that surrounded us.

And now, our innocence gone, it’s to that simple, untangled and cocooned life that so many Swedes and Americans want to return. They long for a place where people look, act, pray, eat, speak and want the same.

So they take solace in hearing Donald Trump promise to make Mexico pay for a wall that will shield the United States from illegal immigrants. Or, in the case of  one-fifth of Swedes, they support a party with neo-Nazi roots whose agenda includes repatriating refugees to their native countries.

They want to turn the clock back, except they can’t.

“The pace of change will only accelerate”

In America today, my kids have friends growing up with two moms who are married to one another, or with parents who speak no English.

Their schools, where students of European descent are now a minority, send home communication in English, Spanish, Amharic and French. Their classmates are Jewish, Sikh, West African, Central American, French Canadian, Ethiopian, Muslim and regular white and black Americans.

This extraordinary cultural mix prompted my wide-eyed father-in-law, from that 1950s generation, to note when he visited one of the schools, “It’s like the National Geographic.”

Diversity is one of the many fundamental changes that time has wrought in this country and in the one where I was born. Everybody’s no longer the same and the comfort zone is gone.

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It’s left some people scared that, maybe, they will never again feel at home.

As President Obama noted in his State of the Union address back in January, “whether we like it or not, the pace of change will only accelerate.”

For my kids, of course, it’s just normal.