Where do we go from here?

The last 8 months, going from immediately before Mr. Trump’s election to the Presidency to today, have seemed to have passed by in a chaotic whirlwind. The media report on horse race after horse race story, on whatever new scandal Mr. Trump has stumbled his way into. I’d like to believe that the man who has become President is smarter than the rambling, cocksure fool he appears to be, but this man seems to not know any bounds when it comes to thumbing his frustrations and national security secrets in 140-or-fewer character spurts. I’ve been hoping that at some point, I will awake from the coma I have been in for the last eight months from a traumatic brain injury and be brought back into a world where the sane and competent have the loudest voice and the most sway.

However, this fevered nightmare continues. Donald Trump is the President of the United States. Perhaps more worrying is that in the wings resides an arch-conservative Vice President, whose actions would match Mr. Trump’s rhetoric because Mr. Pence has the political wherewithal to properly manage accomplishments. I want to believe that none of this is true – that Mr. Pence isn’t the super conservative nightmare that I’ve been able to cobble together from his record, that Mr. Trump isn’t this duplicitous canker sore on the mouth of American democracy. But all evidence leads to the contrary. Mr. Trump’s America First/MAGA ploy has been exactly that – a ploy to gin up the anger of an electorate that’s been deceived time and time again. And now it has deceived itself into believing that someone who has built his empire on something as vacuous as a brand could Make America Great America, TM.

At this point, there are few things I take for granted, because every second, every day seems to be on borrowed time for us as a society. We have hired a flim-flam man to the most challenging job in a nation-state: the one to lead it. And with our flim-flam man, it certainly seems that his every act seems to build one self-serving mission upon another. And if this is true, if our flim-flam man is nothing but a sham, what do we do? Why should we have trust in each other in the political process? I don’t have answers, mostly because I am afraid of the answers.

I am afraid that the answer is that we can’t trust each other. I am afraid that the answer is that every person, to the last man, is a duplicitous actor whose motivations only serve to maximize the self, regardless of the cost to everyone else. Why else would we elect people who deny basic, foundational, and evidence-based science to be in charge of the programs that fund basic, foundational, and evidence-based science? Why would we elect people who constantly drive fear into the hearts of others for the sake of their own re-election? Why would we elect people who work tirelessly to conceal the sources of their campaign contributions so as to protect themselves from controversy? There are so many whys that need to be answered and I don’t think any of the answers will be either satisfactory or comforting.

And maybe the lack of comfort is a good thing. Maybe it’s time that we mobilize ourselves en masse to confront the issues of our time: to tackle racism, to restore wealth to communities decimated by decade upon decade upon decade of economic dispossession, to repudiate the wars that these politicians launch to line their contributors’ pockets, to restore the integrity of the American Project, to empower the working class with strong unions that represent all American workers, to bring about a living wage, to insure that people have access to health care that doesn’t cost them their rent or home, to have the so-called service class become the working class, and, in the words of the Preamble to the Constitution, to promote the general welfare.

So: where do we go from here? Let us be frank – the federal government is where go ideas go to die. The best course of action is to work within our communities to mobilize the promotion of the general welfare of the American public. There will be few grand victories, but our victory will be total if we dedicate ourselves to getting to know our neighbors, understanding their plight, and sharing in our common humanity. Our victory will be total if we share in our common victory and not pursue individual glories for the sake of an individual ego. Our victory will be total when we, in fight after fight, bring the cause of justice to our neighborhoods and give it a home with us. This is where we go from here. Do not look to Washington – they don’t give a damn. Look next door. Down the road. That is our way forward.

That is where we go.

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Self-care

Something that I think we as a society don’t encourage ourselves to do enough is to engage in self-care. I know certainly haven’t been engaging in it. By self-care, I don’t mean bathing, brushing your teeth, combing your hair, and going to the doctor when you’re sick. Those are indeed forms of self-care, but constitute a bare minimum.

In a world that overflows with distractions and stressors, it is easy to get carried away in the stream that becomes a river that becomes a torrent of things that are dragging your attention away from your mental and emotional well being. That Facebook alert that pops up on your phone? Distraction to pull you in one way away from your mind. How about that email from work that comes up at 9:00pm? Another thing that pulls at your energy.

As many of the few of you who read this know, I have a history with anxiety. My most recent bout with it was this prior week where my body put me through an adrenaline-fueled anxiety bender that caused me to think that – more than the previous anxiety attacks – I was a) having a heart attack, b) going to die, c) losing my mind, and d) not in control of my life. After getting divorced, I was determined to be in full control of my life, calling as many of the shots as I could. An anxiety or panic attack strips you of that feeling, despite every contrary indication that your life is not an omnishambolic trainwreck.

After an emergency intervention and a resumption/increase of my medication, I am feeling a little better, though still somewhat ill at ease. To help me cope, I developed and Clarissa helped to refine an Anxiety Action Plan. It is a list of action items that include things that can be done immediately and things that are ongoing concerns. Ryan’s Anxiety Action Plan is as follows:

  1. Until otherwise directed, maintain prescription use.
  2. Get a referral to seek appropriate modalities of care. (Mine is actually more specific, but just sharing the general idea.)
  3. Clean the car. (Gotta have control over something, so make it easy to control and something that reflects how you want to feel.)
  4. Get outside, exercise, and track it. (Getting outside every time my anxiety spiked helped me feel better, though it didn’t completely beat it back. Tracking it can help create a positive reinforcement.)
  5. Use adjusted work schedule and delegate tasks. (Great if work has been causing stress and you’ve got the ability to manage the change the way you want to see it.)
  6. Manage and balance social obligations.
  7. Express gratitude and spread love. (Sharing warranted positivity with people makes me feel better.)
  8. Talk about your stress and anxiety. (It’s okay to feel like crap and stressed out – it happens! However, bottling it within you creates the likelihood of your becoming an emotional powderkeg.)
  9. Don’t drink caffeine. (Damn it.)
  10. Reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption and celebrate periods of non-use daily. (I don’t drink a lot, but minimizing the potential for an adverse reaction, especially while on medication, is ideal.)
  11. Continue not smoking and keep track of it. Celebrate each day without tobacco. (The nicotine feeds the anxiety, not to mention all the other garbage that tobacco use can cause.)
  12. Meditate daily. (Center yourself before the start of a work day. It does wonders.)
  13. Have device-free time. (Seriously, you don’t need to be on Facebook all the damn time.)
  14. Eat well. Cut out fast food and make healthy, savory meals at home that can be reused. (Just a general healthier living tip.)
  15. If you’re comfortable with it, seek out dietary/herbal supplements that can help abate stress. (Certain teas are good for this.)
  16. Lastly, see a therapist. A professional can help you manage your stress and provide insights on what you can do and what you need to do to feel better.

Being less stressed out of course can make you less prone to severe bouts of anxiety, but I’ve also noticed that when I’m stressed out, I’m more prone to get sick. I’ve been sick with sinusitis and other general cruddy ailments this winter more often than I normally am. On top of that, stress is a contributing factor to heart disease and my family’s history with cardiac issues is less than stellar.

With all of that being said, this is all advise coming from someone who is not a medical professional, but someone who is seeking out ways to help combat stress levels in his life. I hope that you are able to identify stressors in your life and manage them the best you can.

Be well.

-rl

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I don’t even know what to say.

I haven’t had much to say in a while because, to be honest, I’m not sure what to say anymore. These times have made me feel like a confused old man: the world has been taken over by scary people and it takes every bit of strength in me to not let fear win the day. How else can such a feeling be appropriately expressed? We live in a time where enough people in enough locations across the United States chose to vote for a manifestly incompetent fool to become President of this country. And, thanks to the 18th century design of our laws, that manifestly incompetent fool is now merely days away from being inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.

It would be sufficiently bad enough were the man merely manifestly incompetent, but he is not merely manifestly incompetent. On top of mere incompetence, the man has no capacity for restraint or self-reflection – constantly bickering with those he feels wounded by via smart phone app. Moreover, the man makes no mistake about it: he intends to be deceitful. When confronted with words that he said, he denies them, in the face of recorded proof. No “journalist” in this country has dared stand up to this loud-mouthed thug to truthfully expose the ceaseless deceit. The man soon to be elevated to the highest office in this country fed the fire of hate and welcomed people whose hearts are filled with fear and hatred of others, bringing out the worst in what is mythologized as the great melting pot.

It turns out that the melting pot is still trying to differentiate itself. Finding ourselves in 2016, going into 2017, having to work out demons that we thought had been exorcised long ago is a frightening task. In the light of those individuals whose fear has delivered us into the hands of the orangenointed one, we must act with due deliberateness and consideration, so that we may fight our battles effectively.

With that being said, I’d like to mention an annoyance that seems to crop up every two years. Yes, the elections to the United States House of Representatives is a tedious and disgusting task, made even more repulsive by the declamations of those who say that the House is the democratic institution of our legislature. Let’s get serious – when a Representative has a district that is more populous than some states, the body that purports to be democratic is certainly not. Let’s consider Virginia. In the House of Representative elections of 2016, 50.22% of Virginians chose a Democrat to be sent to the House, 49.78% chose a Republican. However, of Virginia’s Congressional delegation, 7 are Republicans and 4 are Democrats. North Carolina provides an even more staggering picture. In 2016, 46.6% of North Carolinians chose a Democratic candidate and 53.22% chose a Republican candidate, with the balance going to independent or 3rd party candidates. In an ideal world, North Carolina would then send 6 Democrats and 7 Republicans to the Capitol. However, here in Panem, District Thir– I mean, North Carolina actually is sending 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats to the Capitol. California has the opposite happen – they would be sending 6 fewer Democrats and 6 more Republicans if their Congressional delegation was sent by proportional representation of the whole state and not through geographically meaningless doodles on a map.

Eh. I’m tired. It’s time to resist.

R

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Debate Night – Date Night #1

Tonight is the 1st Presidential debate between a candidate who has the qualifications to be President and a braying ass of an orange-toupéed fool. What to expect? FIREWORKS! JABS! HOT TAKES GALORE.

I’d live blog it, but I don’t think it’s worth the energy. However, you can follow me on Twitter: here.

Adios.

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Good to be home.

Silence, save for the sounds of leaves shaking and branches swaying under the influence of a light and lazy August breeze, greeted me as I returned home for the first time in nearly a year. Following an excursion that took me from Roanoke to Chicago, Cleveland, and Buffalo, silence was a welcome greeting. Silence broke when it was followed by my mother’s embrace – she was happy to see me! Why don’t I come home more often? The usual welcome that I get when returning home after an extended absence, so the usual welcome at this point.

I’ve spent my adult life running away from the rustic – some might say quaint – trappings of the homeland. Oh? Homeland? Yeah, upstate New York. No, not White Plains. That’s too far south. Albany? Nope, you’re still too far to the south. Keep looking north – keep going north on Interstate 87 until you hit the end. Seriously. A stretch of lonely villages that dot the Northern Tier of New York as it comes to abut Québec and Lake Champlain. Yeah. There. This time home was no different from any of the previous, save for my sister – my baby sister! – was getting married this weekend and I was in the wedding party.

Mom, I don’t go home because there’s nothing. Home is a shell of a place that is being left behind by a confluence of global economic forces and stubborn unwillingness of locals to move forward. Life back home is a perpetual snapshot of high school, senior year, now fifteen years removed. Those of us who had the sense or good fortune to leave did. Those of us who didn’t or couldn’t are sinking into a crowd of aging millennials drowning in a sea of narcotics and alcohol. So mom, I’m sorry I don’t go home more often.

It’s just too damn sad.

As a result, any time I leave my mother’s house, it’s with trepidation – fear that I will see the fleeting wraiths of the past entangled with a displaced, zombified present. A trip to the mall in the nearest city, twenty miles away, typically confirms that worry. This time did not fail. While at Target in the mall, my best friend from high school walked up to me, taking me by surprise. I hadn’t spoken to her or seen her in eight or nine years. We caught up. Her daughter was going to be ten years old, her daughter’s father an abusive alcoholic. Her mother was living in the same apartment complex she’d lived in when I last saw my friend. My friend told me about how she limits her daughter’s time with her daughter’s grandmother – my friend’s mother – because her grandmother is perpetually drunk. My friend’s brother? He had a terrifying experience because after he’d been clean for a year, he went on a multi-week bender, shooting and snorting every drug he could find until the drugs didn’t work any more and nearly killed himself after drinking a handle of the least expensive scotch he could find.

He said it was a wake up call.

The ghosts were all around. The shuffling of the gaunt and barely living skeletons, bound by the chains of drugs, time, and location. I told my friend that this was why I never come back. Everything’s gone to hell. And if it had already been hell when we were younger, the sleep was cleared away from my eyes and a newly focused set of eyes saw the ugly reality, able to perceive the desperation and the desire to be transported out of time and place. Some of us were lucky, some of us were able to leave physically. The rest have had to chemically transport themselves away from their environments. My friend told me that she would have left, too, but she couldn’t.

And that’s a damn shame. You see, by virtue of her environment, all of her talent was leached out. I remember that she could easily transpose anything she heard on the radio to piano. Literally anything. She was interested in history, science… But back home, family life, the area beyond the event horizon that is our shared black hole of a home, there couldn’t be a future for someone who couldn’t get out, regardless of the talent. If you wanted a good paying job, you were left with few options: the Border Patrol, the State Police, the Department of Corrections or the drug company. When the drug company left, options dissipated. Retail. Food service. Any job to pay the bills and live to barely scrape by.

Mom, this is why I don’t go home. Going home is returning to Roanoke.

Roanoke’s got its share of problems, many of them not so different from the problems plaguing the area of my birth. However, we’re a community that has resources by virtue of its size. We’re a community that’s moved towards the future instead of haphazardly recusing itself from the future. As I drive down Elm Avenue and Hershberger Road, there are periodically homeless people, begging for help at the corners and medians, but these are the exceptions and not the norms. And yes, we have drug abuse, issues with violence, and significant issues with inequality. However, here, unlike my home region, people are present who care to fix those problems.

The morning after the wedding, I left at 5:45. The drive back home, to Roanoke, took just over twelve hours. It was still light when the Mill Mountain Star first appeared as I drove down 581. A smile grew across my face.

It’s good to be home.

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Scorched Earth

Lately, I’ve heard several acquaintances repeatedly state that if Senator Sanders doesn’t get the Democratic Presidential nomination, they absolutely will refuse to vote for the Democratic nominee or, worse yet, they are willing to sabotage this country and vote for the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. This trend is deeply troubling. I’ve called out the myth of the Bernie Bro previously, because I don’t believe that there’s an actual gender aspect to it that’s beyond surface deep. I think, however, there is a deeper read available for us in many of Senator Sanders’ supporters’ minds – and, full disclosure, I am a supporter of Senator Sanders. This read transcends gender, race, and creed. It is the complete and utter distrust that many of the Senator’s supporters have of the status quo.

To them, the status is not quo. It is bad, very bad, and an election of Hillary Clinton is tantamount to an election of Donald Trump.

I’m not going to try dispelling that idea. I think Mr. Trump’s words can speak for themselves against Senator Clinton’s. Do I think that Senator Clinton has some deeply troubling ethical issues stemming from acts during her tenure as Secretary of State? Yes. Do I worry that for all of the talk that Senator Clinton has laid down, tacking to the left over the course of the primary, she will be as faithless to her base as Senator Sanders’ supporters are threatening to be to the country? Absolutely. I have no doubt that Senator Clinton will tack to the center and govern from a center-right, that she will continue to be a Wall Street Democrat, and that she will be more hawkish than the base Democrat will like. But against a candidate who has declared that his modus operandi is chaos, who wants the United States to behave as a rogue nation, who talks out of both sides of his mouth in total incoherence, who offers vitriol and rage without solutions, who seems to be out to prove that America was emasculated by the Obama presidency – someone who is utterly and totally unqualified to be President – Hillary Clinton is an infinitely better option.

A Donald Trump presidency is not a risk I am willing to take. Not now. Not ever.

Why this post? I think most people who know me know that I am a dedicated liberal, a progressive without question. I write this post to those who do not believe that I am an affirmed and proud progressive, those who feel compelled to question why I would support Senator Clinton in the general election versus Jill Stein or some other third party candidate. I am progressive, but I am also pragmatic. This election is the fourth where I have been an active participant. The lay of the land is clear to me. I could truly vote my conscience and encourage people to vote with Jill Stein with me, but there aren’t enough people to turn that into a win. The lay of the land is clear to me. I would rather swallow a bitter pill and sit through 4 years of a Hillary Clinton presidency, all the while working to get more progressive candidates into the House of Delegates, State Senate, and Congress, than I would ever deign the notion of a Trump presidency. The stakes are far too high to allow someone as tiny and petty as Donald Trump become the representative of our country.

I would welcome a Clinton presidency over a Trump presidency. Without question and without hesitation.

That being said, the Democratic presidential primaries are far from over. There remains a long slog ahead for whoever ends up being the nominee. My hope is that Bernie Sanders will be the standard-bearer for the Democratic Party this fall. But if Hillary Clinton is? So what? The choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump or between Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz is, to me, not a choice. I see it as an obligation of my progressivism to not let a Republican win. If the Green Party wants to have a chance, they need to start winning elections at the local level. Same for Libertarians. Same for any other third, fourth or fifth party. The work is hard, the work is endless, but the fruit of those labors is far greater than the work itself.

But right now, the lay of the land doesn’t support a national Green Party victory. Or Libertarian Party. The lay of the land is what it is. This hand is the hand we have dealt ourselves and we must play that hand.

Blame the media. Blame the corporatocracy – or whatever neologism that you choose to coin describing the collusion of big money and politics. But accept some blame for yourself if Bernie doesn’t win. Politics is about getting people together to vote with you. If you haven’t gotten enough people together, you don’t win. The Clintons get that. Senator Sanders’ supporters need to understand that as well. Tossing around the notion of winning the convention by using superdelegates subverts the very ideas that you, supporters of Senator Sanders, claim to cling to about democracy. The Democratic Party’s presidential nomination process is not democratic, just like how the Electoral College isn’t democratic. But because you are not getting your way does not mean that you are entitled to subvert democracy. Leave that to the other guys. Win elections fairly. Win elections by convincing people that your candidate is their candidate, too. Similarly, petulance about Senator Clinton winning spilling over into either a) not voting or b) voting for Trump, subverts the work that you’ve tried to accomplish. Play the damn game. Play it to win it. And if you don’t, don’t be a sore loser.

Because it’s a long way to November.

-R

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In Catilinam (except replace Catiline with Trump.)

While this addresses one person in particular, consider this An Open Letter to all Political Candidates

This might be because I’ve gotten older and wiser to the ways of political candidates, this might be because I’m cynical about personal motives or this may be because of the current crop of candidates and slate of politicians who dominate headlines, but this is an open letter that needs writing.

With the leading candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination to the Presidency currently touting everything that’s special about him, I think it’s important for candidates and politicians to remember what serving in public life is all about. It’s not about you. It’s about everyone else. I see candidates in local, state, and national elections try to make elections a judge of their character or popularity, about who they are, not about what solutions they will offer for the people whose votes they seek.

I recall the famous words that John F. Kennedy uttered in his inaugural address: ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. This doesn’t apply to only the citizens whom he addressed, this applies to candidates and politicians as well. People began to see a system that was so rife with corruption that they lost faith in the capacity of the government to function of their behalf, so they began to vote for people who were against everything the government did. Voting for those people reinforced incompetence and then reinforced the perceptions of corruption when it was found out that these people were just as corrupt. This quickly became a self-perpetuating disease. People who were less and less competent at governance began to climb into higher and higher levels of power.

Enter Donald Trump. Six years after the rise of the Tea Party, which was at the time the height of right-wing activity, we have a man who has proposed to build a wall all along the Mexican border, saying that Mexico sends over drug dealers, murderers, rapists, and, oh yeah, sometimes good people; a man who has proposed expelling Muslims out of this country; a man who threatens to sue anyone who dare expose a falsehood he has told; a man who at one time renounced David Duke and then later couldn’t remember who David Duke was after Duke endorsed him for President; a man whose stories about his wealth and prowess at business are exactly that, stories; a man whose vilest and basest attacks on the most truly dispossessed have inflamed the passions of those who only merely feel dispossessed; and finally, a man for whom the truth is nothing but a footnote of a footnote, a trifle that needn’t be bothered with. Everything about Donald Trump is about him. It’s all about the brand, not the substance. And it terrifies me that when you dig into the substance of what he says, it either brings out the worst in people or brings the worst people out.

Donald, this election isn’t about the yuuuge things you’ve done in New York, New Jersey or wherever. It’s about what you are going to do to “Make America Great Again.” Your slogan is exactly that: just a slogan. There’s nothing behind it. You can rally behind “Make X Y Again,” but unless you have a real plan for action that exists in the world as it is and not the fantasy you’ve managed to delude both yourself and your adherents into believing, it means absolutely nothing. Just mere words. And for those of you who are going to vote for Donald Trump come primary election day or the general election, bear that in mind. This election isn’t about him. This election is about us.

Think about it: would you want this man making the decision to launch a nuclear weapon because of a slight, whether real or perceived? Would you want this man going across the world, representing the United States in its worst possible form: the one with so much swagger that it doesn’t care what it destroys, so long as it gets what it wants? Do you want to trust a man who claims to be incredibly successful at business, yet has managed to be, by his daughter’s admission, billions of dollars in debt? What is real about him? I can’t fathom a world where Donald Trump is the President and he doesn’t lead us head first into the first fully-armed nuclear war between nation states.

There’s the old adage that politics isn’t personal. But to Donald, everything is personal. He attacks people critical of him, tries to talk over those who dare disagree with him, and creates a mythology of the reality that surrounds him. The Donald’s is a cult of personality. He commands the incredible loyalty of those who buy into what he says. He attacks those who don’t. What happens when this man becomes President and someone from the press dares investigate him? For every time Republicans have declared that President Obama has demonstrated contempt for the Constitution of this country, Donald Trump has done so at least four times over. He wants to do things by force of will. That’s the terrain of despots, dictators, and tyrants. That is not a feature of the republican democracy that was constructed, flawed though it may be, by the likes of Adams, Jefferson, and Madison.

This is a mistake not worth the consequences. Electing Donald Trump to be President is not a mistake that you can fix with an eraser. Elections have consequences.

For everyone who claims that they respect the Founding Fathers and want to go back to the way it was, I suggest you read the Constitution and understand the context from which it grew and then compare those words that claim to purport liberty; the right to speak freely from one’s conscience; the right to practice (not impose) religion; the right to due process; the right to a speedy trial, the right to not be punished neither cruelly nor unusually; that being necessary to the security of a free state, a well-regulated militia, that the right to bear arms shall not be abridged; that no religious test shall be required ever as a qualification to an office of the public trust of the United States; and that while power is reserved to the states for many circumstances, the increasing interconnectedness of our country’s fabric requires that the commerce clause be invoked by the Congress.

Being a politician, maybe more specifically, being a governing leader, is about more than the self. I don’t believe that Donald Trump sees the Presidency of our nation as anything more than the final step of his self-aggrandizement. He offers no solutions, he offers only the Donald. And surely he may say what he feels – and what he feels seems to change with the wind – but do you, as an employee, as a family member, as a friend, always utter the first syllables that pop into your head? I try not to. Donald neither gives the appearance of trying or caring.

We deserve better than that.

-R

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