The Reluctant Patriot, or How I Learned to Love the Flag

In a February article in The Atlantic, conservative David Frum gave some advice to the Resistance, an example of the strange alliances that have sprung up since Trump. Frum is a Never Trump-er and he wanted to let left-wing activists in on his observations from years of seeing our protests from the other side.

Photo credit Kristen L. Will

Some of his advice was easily dismissed, too much of a departure from progressive core values. But one suggestion struck me as completely sensible–start carrying flags. Frum writes:

“Remember Trump’s tweet about stripping citizenship from flag burners? It’s beyond audacious that a candidate who publicly requested help from Russian espionage services against his opponent would claim the flag as his own. But Trump is trying. Don’t let him get away with it. Carry the flag… Trump’s presidency is itself one long flag-burning, an attack on the principles and institutions of the American republic. That republic’s symbols are your symbols. You should cherish them and brandish them.”

As much as this perspective makes sense, it is also profoundly challenging. I’ve always had an ambivalent relationship with traditional symbols of patriotism. Starting in junior high school, I refused to stand for the flag at assemblies even though my classmates gave me a hard time. The way I saw it then, I was forced to go to school, forced to listen to teachers, forced to give certain answers on tests about America and democracy. Yet I was expected to praise the symbol of the very government that was oppressing me (by making me go to school, sort of the ideology of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall.) I was also completely outraged by America’s abuses of Native Americans, black people, women, gays and radical activists.

I grew up during the Vietnam War. No American war since I’ve been alive has been an unqualified ‘good war’ as WWII was for that generation. U.S. military actions have been fraught with controversy and moral ambiguity, a sense that America was only involved for greed and power, not for defending the values of the Constitution.

Rather than symbolizing the love of liberty, flags were like a warning sign that the people carrying them were not my people. Flags meant Republicanism, jingoism, being pro-war and anti-gay and anti-choice, believing in a police state, being racist. Flag wavers were also bible-thumpers who didn’t believe in the separation of church and state.

However, concepts once familiar and long-held have been put through a blender since Trump. Like many Americans, I’ve had to challenge my own biases and re-examine my comfort zone. For me, patriotism began to take on a whole new meaning when Trump attacked the Gold Star Khan family, whose son had died for America. Trump was running to be Commander in Chief, surely the most profound and important duty of the president, and here he was trying to hurt these loyal Americans as much as he could. I thought his chances to win were over then, because people who vote Republican are usually the ones who are for law and order and to always support the military no matter what.

But the flag-waving “patriots” were able to overlook this supremely vicious behavior by candidate Trump and they made him president and Commander in Chief anyway. Though many of them might feel his highlighting of a perished soldier at his State of the Union speech absolved him of this sin, I don’t. That was a white Christian American. Trump has never apologized to the Khan family, nor acknowledged their Muslim son’s sacrifice for America’s values.

I now feel the right-wing is not the holder of patriotic values anymore. If left to Trump and his supporters, the rights and liberties symbolized by the Stars and Stripes could be obliterated–are being obliterated already. It’s the democracy activists and the progressive blue voters who are holding down traditional American values, like how America is a nation of immigrants and we have equal rights under the law. The Republican party is working furiously to curtail voting rights and take over democratic processes and principles crucial to a functioning democracy. It’s up to the left to assume the mantel of defending traditional American values.

Like a lot of formerly disenfranchised lefties, I didn’t come to patriotism naturally or easily. But this reluctant patriot will now join the folks waving flags and not feel like an outsider. It’s not only our right but our duty to make the symbol of America match the reality of America.

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Change Hearts First to Change Minds on Climate Crisis

David Leonhardt of the New York Times asked his readers what I believe is the most important question about America’s resistance to the threat of climate change: What would a more persuasive message about climate change sound like?

I would go further and ask: How have the GOP won the hearts and minds of much of America on this and many other issues? And how do progressives win them back?

Cognitive scientist George Lakoff has answers to these urgent questions. Lakoff, a retired professor of linguistics, has been politely knocking on the doors of Democrats and liberal policy makers for years, encouraging them to use moral framing in their messaging, like the Republicans do.

Frames are subconscious mental structures that guide how we view the world. Tapping into language to activate those frames is the underlying strategy of persuasive politics. It was conservative Frank Luntz who reframed ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change’ in a deliberate attempt to make it sound less frightening.

Deliberate attempt? Isn’t that kind of paranoid?

Not at all. The conservatives have been working on how to communicate their values and their policies using moral framing for decades. That’s what all those heavily funded think tanks are about. They define their goals–how do we keep our coal-and-oil businesses afloat? How do we get the government regulatory agencies off our backs? Then they use language that evokes emotions and they talk in terms of values.

Conservative messaging speaks in metaphors of nature and the Earth as a resource, as property, as an enemy to be conquered. The GOP also won over the heartland on ‘climate change’ by appealing to cultural issues. Coal country is not just about jobs but about identity, tradition, a way of life. Government protections for the environment are cast as the Washington elite choking off businesses with over-regulation. Nowhere in the GOP messaging is environmental impact mentioned. They never talk about issues using liberal framing.

So how to communicate about climate crisis in a more persuasive way? How to take back our planet from the oil and gas barons who have usurped the public discourse by using the language of capitalism and marketing?

Start by describing the issue as what it is. Don’t accept a conservative euphemism. It’s climate crisis. #ClimateCrisis. Spread this subtle but profound shift in wording far and wide. Climate disasters. Climate action.

Instead of trying to argue facts, use the language of emotion and metaphor. In an Alternet article from 2015,, Lakoff suggests we conceptualize nature as ‘the giver of all life, as sustainer and provider, as having inherent value, imposing responsibility, and deserving gratitude, love, adoration and commitment.’ He suggested using metaphors of nature as mother, as a divine being, as a living organism, as a home. These words feel completely different than the conservative concept of Earth as a resource to be exploited for money and power.

Lakoff also applauds Pope Francis and how he framed the perils of Climate Crisis starting with the title of his encyclical on ecology, “On Care for our Common Home.” This is the most important concept for progressives to communicate. The Earth is our home where we live together as a family unit. What you do to harm our common home harms all of us.

“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all,” writes Pope Francis. This is a progressive moral belief that we feel profoundly but rarely say out loud. But we should begin talking the language of values, of our deeply held beliefs, of nurturance and care, of the common good and the common responsibility to each other and our shared home.

Climate Crisis is a human rights concern. Our shared environment is under threat from pollution and neglect. Our children’s future depends on us to act now. Without a stable climate, our children can’t be healthy and free.

Avoid divisive language. The environment belongs to everyone and so does the responsibility to keep it healthy. Stripped down to its core, liberal progressivism is about empathy for self and others, for the planet we call our home, for animals and all living things. Lead from this empathy and not from the wounds inflicted on us all by disaster capitalism and Trump’s ‘American carnage’ propaganda.

Using fear can be an effective method; conservatives have been using fear effectively on every issue. However, I feel it’s better for progressives to use the language of hope, of innovation and of the American can-do spirit. Imagine you’re talking to your grandson or your niece. Millenials will inherit this crisis so how can you empower them to tackle it without scaring them to death?

Talk about renewable energy and the promise of careers in this field. Mention innovation and alternatives to the status quo. The future belongs to those who can harness the wind and the sun. All humans will share our home in peace and prosperity with healthier bodies and no fear of climate disasters.

Don’t despair over Trump pulling out of the Paris accords. What’s happening is what always happens when the GOP is put in charge of seeing to our common good. They see to their own self interests instead. Look on the bright side of this development–progressives and moderate conservatives all over the world are waking up to the dangers of treating our earthly home as a resource to be exploited. We’re so offended because we know, deep in our hearts, that something precious that belongs to all of us is being degraded and despoiled.

We just have to take this deep knowing and turn it into language that most people will respond to. The GOP did it, and they did it even though what they were selling was the poisoning of our planet. Offer a real alternative message to the agitprop of the right. Envision the world you want to live in and speak from the heart.

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The Real Fraud is Voter Suppression and the GOP Have Been Doing It For Years

Instead of getting distracted by more propaganda from the right, stay focused on the need to stop the GOP from suppressing Democratic voters.
1) End the electoral college. One person, one vote. This can only be done by amending the Constitution and the GOP are never going to give up their main advantage in winning national elections. Vote blue and insist Congress eliminate the archaic practice of the failed electoral college.
2) No more gerrymandering–voting districts should be set by an independent, bipartisan panel, not by the winning party.
3) Restore the Voting Rights Act, the dismantling of which by a conservative Congress and Supreme Court opened the way to denying hundreds of thousands the right to vote in the last election.
4) Eliminate state voting restrictions on people serving time or on parole for felonies. This unconstitutional practice has been a way for the GOP to suppress voting for decades, and it should be discontinued at a national level.
5) Everyone is automatically registered when they turn eighteen. This would help curtail making some voters jump through hoops at the whim of the states.
6) Make voting day a national holiday or change it to Sundays.
7) Offer early voting and paper ballot voting, both of which have been shown to increase the numbers of voters and decrease the risk of potential voting machine tampering.
8) Reasonable accommodations should be made for the number of polling places and how to get to them.

Our democracy has been failing to reflect the will of the people for a long time now, instead reflecting the will of the people in power. Make these changes and see how many more Democrats win when more people are allowed to vote.

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Success!

George Lakoff sees some progress on framing progressive ideals.

George Lakoff

Normally I would never post a link to a story in Reason, a right-wing magazine. But I consider this particular story a tribute to the power of your voices and your actions.

The writer of this piece is upset that we are reframing regulations as protections. He’s upset because he even sees regulations being framed as protections in the pages of the newspapers.

He attributes this to the work we have done to raise awareness among journalists, elected officials, and our fellow citizens that, from the Public viewpoint, regulations are protections. And most regulations come into existence to protect the public from harm by irresponsible or unscrupulous corporations.

Specifically, the author references an essay I posted in January — aptly titled “Regulations Are Protections.” He does a great job of repeating all of our arguments in an effort to negate them. In other words, he’s saying: Don’t think of protections!

Please read…

View original post 40 more words

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An Open Letter to Paul Ryan From a Fellow Irish American on the Occasion of His Moral Triumph

Paul,
Can I call you Paul? It might be informal, but you just look so much like my Irish Catholic relatives, with your black hair and blue eyes. Like a Kennedy, except you’re unlike the liberal, social-safety-net-supporting Kennedys in so many ways.

For instance, in your zeal to overturn the life-saving ACA. You boasted (on St. Patrick’s Day, no less) of college keggers where you dreamed of destroying Medicaid, the public health care program for the poor. Most college boys, no doubt including the Kennedys, partied while dreaming of hot women and being superheroes. But you, Paul, you were jerking off to the glories of sending American health care back to the Dickensian slums of 19th century Britain. One hates to speculate that you spent many a fevered night reading Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burthen to their Parents, or the Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Publick, thinking it was a serious proposal to feed the children of the poor to the rich. Something tells me you don’t get satire, like you don’t get so many other skills most of our people have mastered, like liberal democracy.

Speaking of Britain, I noticed you wore a green tie on St. Patrick’s Day, but you seemed to have gotten everything else all wrong. (The Irish didn’t invent golfing and were not impressed by royalty. Oppressed by them, but not impressed.) You seem to have forgotten your O’Roots, Mr. Ryan, and adhere to the free market British economic system that nearly wiped out our people in the mid-1800s.

You see, it wasn’t really a potato blight that plunged Ireland into the Great Famine. It was a cruel and greedy land system imposed by the British government that made it impossible for an Irish farmer to rise above their impoverished station. Even as millions starved to death and millions fled to other lands, Ireland exported more food crops during those years than most. They had to pay the rents on their farms (which they weren’t allowed by law to own).

But, you say, the U.S. government doesn’t impose any such restrictions. Anyone is allowed to be free and follow their destiny and should do so ‘free of government assistance.’ Government programs rob people of their individuality, their ability to realize their full potential.

And yet, you took advantage of a government program–survivor’s benefits–to go to college, a luxury not afforded everyone. This was in addition to your well-off family’s support throughout your life as well as marrying a very wealthy wife. You were also born at the top of the food chain in the American social strata: a straight, white, upper class, Christian male. You can have no idea what life is like for millions of people who try to survive in a system without any government protections for their health. I could tell you, I could go on and on, but let’s not make this about me. (Here’s a link to Michael Patrick MacDonald, a fellow Irish American who grew up poor in Boston’s Southie neighborhood in the 60s. All Souls: A Family Story From Southie. I’ll let him tell the story of one of his siblings dying because the hospital wouldn’t take in indigents.)

It wouldn’t surprise me if there were some Congressional shenanigans going on here where you caved to the far-right Freedom Caucus’s heartless demands in order to get the bill passed (and placate your conservative billionaire funders). You figure the Senate will cut out the worst of it and send it back to you. But regardless of the politicking involved, that smile on your face as you slash the freedom of health care out from under millions is genuine. You honestly believe that what you’re doing is righteous and moral and true. You, like so many conservatives, believe that there are people who are worthy of life and liberty and health care, and there are those who deserve to starve to death, their mouths blackened from rotten food, the gnawed bones of their neighbors and families littering the countryside. (I am not engaging in Irish blarney here. Cannibalism likely practiced in Irish Famine.)

You have become a 19th century British politician, completely forgetting that you came from people who were lucky to have escaped the violent poverty their brutal laissez-faire “self sufficiency” inflicted.

For a while, you drank the Ayn Rand kool-aid like so many fiscal conservatives, crowing about how her monstrously selfish ideas provided the best argument for moral conservatism. (That is, until someone at the Jesuit Georgetown college whispered in your ear that she was an atheist and you recanted.) But why do you struggle so hard to find a moral justification for stripping poor people of health care? Could it be that there’s some sliver of Irish peasant in you after all, one that remembers the horrors of a political belief system that supports the ruling class above the very lives of everyone else?

Or maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part, because you should be one of us, one of the liberals, one of those that believes in helping our fellow humans when they’re down. What happened to your branch of the Ryans along the way?

I leave you with a verse from my favorite song when I was a child in Catholic church. I’m no longer Catholic, but I think I got the gist down better than you. If you sing those words in church too, I hope they sink into your cold, dark, blighted heart someday.

Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.
When I was hungry, you gave me to eat; When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink.
Now enter into the home of My Father.
Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.

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Reasons to Vote for Democrats–The Real Edition

At the risk of being accused of having no sense of humor, I’d like to fill in the blanks in the blank gag book that’s an Amazon bestseller. Here are just a few of the myriad reasons to vote for Democrats.

Cities: Most of America’s big cities swing left and Democratic mayors have been a vocal force against the heartless Trump/GOP agenda. Most city dwellers know diversity is strength and the Democrats celebrate diversity rather than using it as a wedge to create fear.

Democracy: Democrats love democracy and why wouldn’t they? When more people vote, Democrats win. If it weren’t for the Electoral College, that antiquated holdover from the American Republic, four of the last four presidents would have been Dems. The Democrats were primarily responsible for the Voting Rights Act (which the GOP gutted) and they continue to fight conservative efforts to gerrymander and obstruct the right of all Americans to vote.

Empathy: One of the reasons people are liberal is they feel a great deal of empathy for others, even those not in their immediate circle. Example: Donald Trump speeding away from his wife at his inauguration, leaving her alone, and then both Obama and Michelle putting a hand on Melania’s back for support while walking beside her.

Good government: You might think I’m kidding after all, but nope. One of the greatest achievements of the conservative war on government has been to convince the people who benefit most from a strong public sector that it’s evil and out to get them. Government should provide for the common good: that is, those aspects of life that aren’t covered effectively by a free market and investors trying to make a profit. When Democrats call the shots, good government functions for the common good.

The Planet: Dems keep fighting for clean air and water. The GOP gives us climate change deniers, Flint MI, and slashing oversight agencies like the EPA.

Policies: Democratic policies help the majority of Americans every single time we let them get into power long enough to enact them.

Protection: The social safety net, including Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, The ACA, Unions, Minimum wage, Labor Board, Workman’s Comp. Democrats are often the main thing standing between common Americans and the horrors of complete free market rule.

Public Speaking: Seriously, watch JFK, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama. Almost every time they opened their mouths in public, they said inspirational, soaring, empathetic, inclusive, hopeful things. How about when our current president opens his mouth? Don’t you just flinch and suck air between your teeth and wait for him to embarrass the whole country? George W. Bush was better but only because he took coaching.

Values: At the core of Democratic beliefs are the values of taking care of each other, helping those who are vulnerable and using government for the public good. Dems don’t just pay lip service to core American values like equal treatment under the law, individual freedom, the right to choose your own path in life, that America is a nation of immigrants. They enact those beliefs into law and policies that make them possible for more people.

And the best thing about Democrats is they believe in us even when we give up on them. They keep speaking to the angels of our better natures and hoping we’ll answer in kind.

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How the Left Can Keep From Tearing Itself Apart This Time

No one needs to remind left-leaning people what’s at stake so I won’t go into the horrors of the current Republican administration. But like many long-term activists, I’ve seen the GOP get ahead because the left can’t stop splitting itself into increasingly narrow and irrelevant factions. (From Monty Python’s Life of Brian: “We’re not the Judean People’s Front. We’re the People’s Front of Judea!” “Where is the Popular Front?” “He’s over there.”)

Here’s my ten-point plan for hanging together so we do not hang separately.

  1. Stop re-fighting the 2016 Democratic primaries. No one knows what would have happened if… Consider what the GOP candidates did to each other yet they came together in the end to get and stay in power.
  2. Don’t help the right succeed at splitting us. It’s infuriating that all the efforts on the part of conservatives and the Putin propaganda machine to discredit Hillary and the Democrats worked to a great degree. Putin has been busy undermining democracies all over the world–let’s not be among his success stories. Question everything you hear about the people you traditionally support because those propaganda bots are still running twenty-four seven.
  3. Focus on policies and laws rather than personalities and ideologies. What are the most important values to you? Which party reflects those values when they create policies or pass laws? Which party violates those values by their governance?
  4. Let go of the alluring myth that a multi-party system will save us. No matter how political parties are structured the world over, people tend to fall into two basic belief systems: conservative (or strict father values), or liberal (nurturant parent values). If blue voters splinter into more parties, they’ll only be fighting for the same pool of voters and the GOP will be in power for decades.
  5. Knock it off with the ideological purity tests. Just because a candidate or a Congressperson isn’t doing everything exactly as you’d like doesn’t mean you have to refuse to have anything to do with them.
  6. Resist the temptation to blow off all this participatory democracy stuff and start smashing windows. Many on the left have a natural inclination toward being anti-establishment. But not all of the establishment is bad. Someone is going to be in power; it’s up to we the people to make sure those who run the government are good guys and gals, and not bad ones.
  7. Stop blaming the Democrats for losing and start helping them win. Focus on strategy the way the Republicans do. The GOP are better at marketing their ideology, communicating their values in ways people can understand and at organizing at every level of government. How can you help the Democrats win? Or join the party and run yourself, getting your own values out there in the best way possible?
  8. Resist all pressure to move too far to the center or to the left. Progressive/liberal values are where most of us live and work and are the most viable for this mainstream movement.
  9. Learn the lessons of the now-irrelevant Occupy Wall Street movement. Occupy galvanized populist fervor against big money in government, but they had no follow-up plan and they had no strong foundation grounded in values. Just being against something isn’t enough to create change. At some point, you’ve got to pack up the sleeping bags, organize, and vote. (I’ll point out that the five justices that supported Citizen’s United, the decision that radically changed how much money is allowed in politics by granting corporations ‘personhood,’ were all appointed by presidents with ‘R’s’ after their names.)
  10. Stop saying it doesn’t make any difference which party is in power. Say this to my face and I’m going to start reciting all the ways in which the country changes for the better when the Democrats are in power (and by country I mean the majority of its citizens). I’ll start with the huge losses since Trump took office just six weeks ago. Then I’ll review what happened when we insanely gave the House back to the GOP in 2010, just two years after putting the Democrats in charge to fix the mess the Bush/Halliburton administration had made of the country. The Democrats haven’t been perfect and have made some regrettable mistakes, mostly by compromising and moving to the center. But nothing they’ve done can compare to what the Republicans do every time they get in power.

If you believe government should be there to foster freedoms for everyone instead of just for the very wealthy, if you value a humane, sustainable world, if you call yourself left-leaning, liberal, progressive, humanist, socialist, hippie, remember; we have more in common than we have differences. Let’s focus on our shared values and not sacrifice them to in-fighting. This time, don’t give the right the satisfaction of seeing the left do their dirty work for them.

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