POTUS & Archie Bunker’s Toilet

It was a more innocent time, my childhood, when Jane Russell could only display the Platex Cross Your Heart Bra on a mannequin; it was a big deal that we heard the flush of the Bunker’s toilet; when a married couple must be shown to each have one foot on the floor in the marital bedroom (which contained twin beds). Some things were and still are illegal and other things, like underarms and Archie Bunker’s toilet, were considered crude, and either not permitted out of good taste, or played for cheap laughs. Both the extreme opinions of the far-right, bigoted Archie and his equally extreme, but far-left-leaning son-in-law were skewered by brilliant writing week after week; Archie’s toilet was daring for being heard at all, an extended fart joke. A much more innocent time.

Some firsts aren’t groundbreaking, or desired. This morning, mothers watching the news are shielding their children from anchors throwing around the word “shithole” because they are quoting the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Now, I am no prude and anyone who has talked to me for oh, maybe three seconds, knows I can turn the air blue. It’s not the language I object to; it’s who is saying it it, the context within which it was said, and his obvious, willful ignorance of History and breathtaking thoughtlessness of the world-wide implications of his every aside and tweet. How is it he doesn’t get that? Or, as I suspect and worse, he doesn’t care because this is him:  racist, misogynist, xenophobic in the extreme. Every day it is some new, crude, backwards-thinking embarrassment.

I am descended from people who came from places that, at the times they fled them, probably seemed like “shitholes”. But that did not mean my ancestors were ashamed of their origins – how could they be, when those places made them who they were? When those places gave them the very strength upon which America itself is built? People strong enough to leave a hopeless situation, strong enough to build entire new lives and a country, too, strong enough to send into the future tax-paying citizens like me.

I have had the privilege of working with immigrants from Africa, Mexico, South America, Pakistan, Lebanon, Singapore, Jordan, Kuwait, China, and Ireland. All were hard-working, and many were far better educated than I. To insult their homelands is to insult them.

When I look back at the TV of my youth, I am glad that the more ridiculous rules have fallen away; however, we currently have a Chief Executive with none of the governors over his behavior most sane people employ when in society, let alone anything like class or discretion. Every day his boorish, frat-boy behavior brings yet another new low, from bestowing ridiculous nicknames on world leaders, his insistence on propagating conspiracy theories despite empirical evidence disproving them, to the infantile Twitter battles with which he seems to start every day. He diminishes our good name with every waking hour, even as his robber barons strip healthcare  and food stamps from children and re-write tax code to increase their own wealth. Drain the swamp? Puhleeeze. He’s only added alligators.

Like getting spectacularly drunk at the office Christmas party, it is going to take us a long time to live down the embarrassment and regain our reputation. We will have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously after Trump (so for women and people of color, it will be business-as-usual on steroids).

The first place we can make a significant dent in that drunken reputation is this November. We have got to turn the GOP out, and I mean all of us, we can’t just let Black Women carry the weight. White Women: wake up. This POTUS is no good for us or our children. Vote in your best interests, which means can you get healthcare? Can you afford it? Can you afford your birth control?  Go away, Bernie. You’re not helping. Tell your voters to vote for a viable candidate instead of whining and staying home and then complaining when the Village Idiot is elected President.

Democrats need to clear out the Old Guard and yes, Nancy Pelosi, that means you. Let’s hear more from Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Julian Castro. Here in Texas, I am supporting Beto O’Rourke to unseat Ted Cruz.

The GOP owns this President and everything he is destroying in his path, but it is up to all of us, together, to rebuild our Country and our Ideals – this is no less than a battle for the American Soul, American Identity. We must tell our elected representatives this behavior will not stand. Call your representatives today: 202.224.3121, register to vote, and come November, VOTE. It has never been more important. Words matter.

When someone demeans your place of birth as a “shithole,” it is a fair bet he doesn’t think much of you, either. But he misjudges at his peril. Say it with me, like Ned Stark, “November is coming”.

America: Better Than Donald Trump

Something has been circling around my brain for months now, accelerated by the shambolic presidential campaign in which it seems each candidate is vying for the position of Most Unbearable. One insists victims of rape carry their unwanted pregnancies to term, another suggests carpet-bombing the Mideast is a viable foreign policy, one is a pleasant old man with unsustainable economic ideas, we have a woman who, while talented and capable personifies Hubris, and Donald Trump says nothing at all really, except to insult and insinuate against his competitors, or that a solution to illegal immigration is a giant wall. Because that worked so well in Germany. And we all stand back and laugh at his vitriol and watch as his poll numbers climb, and seem willing to elect him President of the United Butt-Hurt States come November.

Donald Trump connecting with the base
Cartoon from Cartoonli

What bothers me is that he’s just the loudest, most obnoxious example of something ugly that has been sweeping our nation for some time. Somehow, my own generation started raising kids whom we protected from every disappointment and the results have not been good. In eight years on high school campuses, taking phone calls from irate parents demanding a teacher’s head for having the temerity to expect his or her child to follow classroom rules, shut their mouths, or hand in homework on time, became a daily occurrence. Teachers routinely have to explain, with documentation, why they fail a student, and I’ve seen them have to fight their Principals tooth and claw to fail a student with a 67 because that was what the student earned. Rules became suggestions, always movable for the parents who yell the loudest.

Social media has turned every slight and insult into a world wide web embarrassment, and I’ve sent Assistant Principals scurrying to break up fights because of a rude tweet literally dozens of times. We laugh at celebrities Twitter-battles, and laugh some more when one or the other offers an insincere apology.

Children can hardly be blamed for merely following the example of adults, such as the  passengers  who applauded as a family left an airplane because the little boy’s severe allergic reaction had delayed take-off. Their inconvenience was of greater concern then his health. Where is the empathy?

We’re all insulted all of the time, by everyone and everything.

Donald Trump, abuser of Eminent Domain law, serial adulterer with two failed marriages and multiple bankruptcies, and who’s greatest skill as far as I can see is insult by insinuation, daily gains in popularity. All my life I’ve been working on filtering my speech for public consumption, but Trump is applauded for “saying what everyone is thinking,” as if that is good excuse for poisonous, unchecked speech. He is the Affluenza Teen writ large, but he’s merely a symptom; in a country where a flight delay has people applauding a sick little boy’s departure, it’s hard not to see that our whole country is sick and I’m just scared to death we’ll actually elect an unqualified, nasty symptom of our disease.

Yesterday I found myself snarkily complaining that I couldn’t find dried cannellini beans for a recipe, which is to show how insidious the disease is. I am aware enough of it all around me, but must always guard against the infection to myself, an infection of complacency, of  being insensible to things that really do matter, like the number of people going hungry, a cycle of endless war in the Mideast, or poisoned drinking water in our cities.

In a nation that has so much, can we not afford to be generous, not only monetarily, but also thoughtfully, collectively and individually?  It costs us nothing to get home a bit late, if it means a little boy gets medical treatment he needs. It costs nothing to let an insult pass unanswered. It costs nothing to let the person with two items go before us and our full shopping carts at the store. Call me a cock-eye optimist, but I believe we as a nation are better than clapping a sick boy off a plane, better than Donald Trump. I know it because I have seen teachers chase down truant students, explaining that they are holding them accountable because they care; I’ve seen a dozen bicycles around a Christmas tree at church, bought for local children in need; I’ve had young men with gang tattoos scurry to hold open a door for me when my hands were full. All these things and more tell me that within us all flows human kindness and compassion and as our election cycle continues, I beg of you, train yourself to find the good around you, especially in strangers, and then look hard at the candidates through that lens.

In the months ahead, let us set aside the easy temptation of feeling insulted, seek the common ground between each other, rather than dwelling upon our differences, and most especially eschew  the politics of fear. Let us thoughtfully consider which candidate best represents the basic goodness and strength of the American people, and then get out and VOTE. Because we are, America is better than Donald Trump.

Social Media: Taking Gossip to a Whole New Level

One Sunday, the text from Ephesians contained, “… let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. [ …] Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”  Maybe because the baby behind me was screaming and I couldn’t hear well, my mind wandered from Fr. Mark’s sermon to a day just before the end of the last school year when someone was making room for the Devil.

In my mind’s eye I see two tall, African-American, beautiful teenage kids: the girl, Marissa*, is at my desk, her finger flicking at her phone through a stream of  personally insulting Twitter posts. This is why she is in my office, having been ejected from her class when she posted up on the author of the tweets – another girl in her class.

Because her mouth is running almost as fast as her flicking finger, the young man entering my office hears every word. Both are well-known to me, they’re my babies, the kids who become frequent fliers through the Discipline Office, though Steven far less frequently this year. What he says now proves the strides he’s made, “You know what that right there is, Miss?” Marissa turns and shoots him a look,  “That’s the Devil right there, he’s always creeping around, waiting to cause trouble between people and YOU” here he points a dramatic finger at Marissa, “YOU let him in!”

I don’t believe (much) in unseen demons flying around, waiting to strike the hapless Twitter user but on this occasion, I have to agree with Steven and even Marissa grins a bit sheepishly at her own culpability. No actual violence occurred in the classroom and the teacher hasn’t sent a referral, so I park her in my office and let Steven run with it since he would give Marissa much more grief than the Principals are allowed to; I save them time and a fellow teen teaches Marissa that no one can piss her off without her permission. It’s a win-win situation, all around.

Social media may not be an actual demon, neither one of the “lesser demons and imps” nor “… the great Satan hisself…” , but it caused me more work during the last two years than any other single thing. Based solely on my anecdotal evidence gained working in the Discipline Office of a 5-A high school, I will bet you dollars to donuts the use of social media caused 98% of the fights, either verbal and/or physical between girls and about 50% of the boy fights on the campus last year. Note I said the use of social media, because while I might hate the havoc it wreaks, without our fingers on the keys, social media itself is inert.

Social media takes the usual, vicious teenage gossip and broadcasts it to the entire world. Thinking of all my teenage crushes, foibles, horrible outfits, questionable hairstyles, acne, and general idiocy broadcast by my enemies to the entire wired world to live there forever fills me with a horror generally reserved for trying on swimsuits.  It’s no use telling a teenager it will all blow over; remember your pimply, teenage self, who could be crushed by a single word or frown from the school bully? Now magnify that by about eight bazillion and you have an idea of what our teens today are facing, so many of them without a parent teaching them “…Let no evil talk come out of your mouths… (or fingertips)” or having a helpful Steven appear at just the right moment to point out their own culpability in a Twitter-feud.

And parents…. you’ve got to weigh in here. Nothing replaces a parent’s awareness of what their kids are Tweeting, or snap-chatting, or whatevering on-line, somehow without being creepy, over-involved helicopters about it. I’m not sure what the formula is, but I can tell you what it is not: it is not dumping it in the school’s lap come Monday morning when your teenager has been waging a Twitter-fight all weekend; it is not holding the school responsible when your child punches the other social media combatant, so please stop assuaging your conscious by blaming the school when you fail to shut down the fight before it happens with, I don’t know, maybe some parenting? The first time I took such a call, my Personal Cognitive Dissonance Meter (PCDM) blew several gaskets and had to be sent out for repair; it became so commonplace, I began to question my own sanity and parenting. In loco parentis means In Place of Parent, yes, but applies only to school and school-sponsored events. They’re yours on the weekend, folks, and it keeps your child safer when you establish rules when you hand them those Smart Phones, rules that are reviewed and revised as your child grows.

I’ve tried many times (always unsuccessfully) to explain to both parents and students that if another student is posting crap to someone else’s page-of-any-sort, they are in violation of the agreement they didn’t read when they set up the account, and can be shut down. They don’t want to hear this, they want the school to handle it, and in the interests of a safe learning environment, schools do. I just can’t help thinking how much more uninterrupted instructional time would result if parents established clear rules and consequences for using (and abusing) social media before the first Snap-chat set-to.

Not everything needs to be posted to Social Media.
Not everything needs to be posted to Social Media. Just sayin’.

Which is a long way round to saying this school year, Parents, pay attention to what’s going on with your kid’s social media life, somehow, without being overbearing. Listen to your child talk, and who he or she is complaining about. Try hard not to be blind to your own child’s guilt when necessary. Teach your children that what happens on social media, stays on social media. Forever. I recall my Developmental Psychology professor telling us, “Your job as parents is to prepare your children for life…. without you in it,” and this along with teaching something along the lines of  “…lets no evil talk come out of your mouths….” will go a long way to helping your student navigate the coming school year, and all those to follow.

*I never use the real names of Students.