Erasure in the USA

Rain began with his words. It’s difficult to ignore the metaphor. We’ve heard it before: the sky wept. I admit, my own bias goes into that reading. For many, the rain bespeckling the president’s speech was surely just a product of DC in January. But to others, there was deeper symbolism.

Rain, beyond sorrow, represents cleansing and removal, and much was removed by his words. What we witnessed as the 45th president took the oath of office was the subtle erasure of millions. His words removed the humanity and the reality of many US citizens, Americans, and people of the world at large.

Indeed, even by referring to us as Americans he continued the long-standing tradition of erasing the rightful claim to the name held by those who live in the rest of North, Central and South America. This act was, of course, not unexpected or new. Neither was the display of the religious preference.

Having five Christian readings along with a Jewish one has the impact of isolating those of different faiths and the nonreligious, who make up at least 30% of the country and whose numbers continue to grow. This isolation was worsened by the readings chosen, which paint Christians as the victims of prejudice, when sadly, they historically inflict it, legally, racially, and colonially. This abuse of power is made easier by the fact that even today, the majority of US lawmakers identify as some form of Christian. It makes you wonder how representative a government can be when the demographics are so heavily skewed. As an agnostic, I rarely ever feel seen by this country, despite the growing numbers of those who share my beliefs. But it’s worse for other groups.

The LGBT+ was not mentioned at all by President Trump, though one of the speakers did very briefly tip his hat. The gesture meant less given the immediate removal of the group (in all forms of its initialism) from the White House website immediately following the inauguration. Over a week later, the term is still nowhere to be found. The most disturbing part is that this means not only current but historical references were expunged. Likewise, Native Americans were ignored, even as violence at Standing Rock resumed, and they too disappeared from the White House website (only reappearing today anecdotally in the bios of White House Fellows). Climate change as well vanished just as quickly as government scientists were silenced. Erasure in words and deeds. The word Orwellian is too often used to hyperbole, but for once, I think it’s appropriate. In a digital age when media is synonymous with information and truth, and when you can edit that media with the ease of administrative access, you can control reality by the keystroke. A couple clicks and facts, pages, and people disappear. What climate change? What gays? What lesbians? Bisexuals? Transpeople? Queers? Natives? What the government doesn’t say speaks just as loudly as what it does.

So, what does this tell us about their call for unity? About his call for inclusiveness? About the transfer of power from the government to the people? The subtext seems to be that he wants to unify and include those who already voted for him, and those who might’ve if they’d voted, which almost half the country did not. They exist. The rest of us do not. Their opinions and wants have weight. Ours do not. But perhaps there are worse things than being excluded. Just look to the groups damaged by their unwarranted mentions in his speeches.

Immigrants and refugees, illegal and otherwise, have been relegated to buzzwords for all the brutality inflicted upon them. With his executive order in place, along with immigrants and refugees, even visa and green card holders are having to fight to get into the country and many will fail. He wants to list their crimes in a disturbingly familiar type of periodical. He wants to build a fiscally impractical and environmentally devastating wall. Barriers and insular thinking are clearly discernable themes.

He turns our attention inward, away from the world, save to blame our connection to it for our problems. By condemning our aiding of other countries in his speech, he vilifies those who not only supported such causes, but those who provided the aid. What’s worse, he’s already vilified certain aid with action as well as words. Thus, he’s turned this country’s back on those who received and needed that aid. Culturally, this may lead to isolation from our allies on a governmental level, whilst simultaneously creating a backlash from those who are more globally collectivist.

“Buy American and hire American,” aggressively threatens to rend the US from the global village and ignores the complex interworkings of the global economy. It’s odd that a businessman with so many global interests, who routinely bypasses domestic labor for foreign would go there. It’s also a direct affront to many of our allies who he seems hellbent on antagonizing, particularly those whose economies are linked to ours. They and their needs are erased. Yet when the press calls out the administration they make excuses. Even when the issue is something as petty as crowd size, they shamelessly brand their own story alternative facts as though facts were adjustable and interchangeable, as though the alternative to a fact wasn’t a lie.

Again and again, they revise what is with what they want to be. This extends from the press pool all the way to the administrative level. Just look to his executive orders, which strive to maintain his campaign’s narrative, exist at the expense of millions, and may not even be fulfillable. Look to the erasure of ethics as he maintains copious conflicts of interest and ignoring precedents in place for decades.

This is not a partisan issue—it’s a democratic one. This is made painfully clear by the fact that we were downgraded from ‘democracy’ to ‘flawed democracy’ after the turbulence of the last several years. President Trump alone is not at fault for this. We as a country, as a culture, and as communicators are at fault. We erased concerns with laughter when vulgarity became the norm. We shrugged off lies in the media or argued their truth without bothering to confirm them, let alone read the article before sharing it. We routinely did not vote, and we did not research when we did. We ignored the suffering huddled between this show and that ad. We complained about the state of things and in the same breath said we did not have the power to change them. And when the election rolled around, we raised our voices and put on masks of care. We demanded that everyone pick a side and then attacked them for their choice. We turned a country united into a country divided. And in doing so, we made this situation.

Yes, it is concerning, and regardless of your stance, you should be concerned with the laws, precedents, and rights being violated, with the people and facts being erased. But pointing the finger does little good when nearly everyone had a hand in creating this. The question now needs to be what do we do? How do we prevent the erasure? How do we reveal reality? How do we mend it?

The answers are obvious and simple, albeit time-consuming. Educate yourself. Look at the laws; learn your rights. Know who represents you and make sure they hear you. When you hear a story, double check it. How many sources are reporting the same thing? What are their sources? What else has the author written? Are they affiliated with biased groups? Assuming the story appears true, what is the benefit in sharing it? Does it spread awareness or merely outrage? What perspective can be gained from experiencing the content? What will you do knowing what you know?

What will you do? What should you do? What is right? Who is it right for; you or everyone? Ask yourself these questions over and over. Do not let the people of this country be erased. Do not let the people of this planet be erased. Do not let the foundations of this country be erased. Do not let the truth be erased.



You Can’t Win


Are you scared? Did I spook you? Did you consider closing the window and running for the most rural, brambly-bunker of Internet deadzone you could find? I don’t blame you. Maybe some of you screamed “Yesssss!” in your best Brain impersonation and flexed your fingers, anticipating the first opening to fling in a dissenting opinion. Unfortunately, this isn’t a carnival game (though it is arguably just as rigged). There is no winning, no matter how sharp your wit or how many likes your barb hooks. Unless you are at the politician on stage and your words win you the election, you’re simply talking.

In this heated election season, as in many before it, we often hear “I don’t want to talk politics.” However, this reaction is neither spontaneous nor in response to the topic at hand. Rather, it comes when we disagree, and its subtext ranges from “I don’t want to argue” and “I don’t want to say/hear this again” to “I don’t want to hear you be wrong and ignore my rightness.” The latter is the most common and least acknowledged by far.

I think the source of this sentiment, which I’m definitely guilty of, stems from entering discourse with the intent of converting the other party. We aren’t trying to hear them or their argument, we’re only letting them open their mouths to get them to swallow our answers to the problems. And we want them to do it now.

I was made aware of this when my friend Brandon told me he’d reduced heaps of conversational stress with his socially, religiously, and/or politically conservative friends by ceasing to enter into a discussion attached to the belief that he’s right, and by virtue of that rightness, needs to win. It struck me immediately that I am exceptionally competitive conversationally, which is a serious source of my dissatisfaction in social interactions. My circles are eclectic and, while comprised of overlapping shades of intellectuals, opinions, beliefs and even values stray far afield.

My circles are eclectic and, while comprised of overlapping shades of intellectuals, opinions, beliefs and even values stray far afield. This leaves the grounds of conversation fertile for disagreement. And when there’s a disagreement, it seeps into my boots like festering swamp water, irritating and chilling me, distracting me from the steps of the exchange and forcing my focus onto the discomfort of the disagreement’s presence. Discomfort stagnates if left unchecked, saturating awareness, rotting away patience, and sapping me of any desire to venture deeper into the jungles of debate.

So I stop. I sit down with the disagreement, bemoaning its existence, accusing the other of causing it, of leading us into the swamp in the first place, straying from the path of rightness I knew so well. I stop the adventure and lose the chance to learn, and ironically, ignore the fact that the other person is often in the exact some position.

This is a tragedy, not only because it can add antagonism to close relationships, but because it halts intellectual advancement. If I only focus on conversion and the absolutism of my, more truthfully, casual authority on matters, then I have enshrined my opinion as a religiously omniscient icon, and in worshipping it, cast only my shadow to the world at large. I stop seeing the rest of the picture, sacrificing perspective for a perpetual view of what I believe to be true. I may as well talk to a mirror.

I’m exaggerating just a smidgen.

And frankly, I argue with myself too, so the mirror remark reflects layers. But ultimately, the end is the same. Even when dealing with interior monologue, half of me has the inflexibility of a sugar-ramped toddler at nap time (“No” means “I’LL SCREAM SO LOUD YOU’LL DIE”). It’s the antithesis of helpful.

Opinion and belief are malleable, and should be treated as such. Expressing them should not always equate to defending and propagating them. There is a time and a place for persuasion, there are forums and foes who welcome the effort, but rarely are either found in casual conversation. Consider this if election season mires your days in strife.

Now, perhaps more than in any race in recent memory, remaining open and level can strike strife from democrat and republican couples, families, and friends. It can stop the retreat of independents, progressives, and the often ignored green partiers, from bipartisan engagements and aisle-cleaved arguments. With one internal act, one shift in how you frame and react to a situation, you can transform conflict into an opportunity to learn.

So engage, but don’t combat. Respond, but don’t rebuke. Instead of saying, “No, that’s wrong; this is right,” ask, “Did you mean X? If so, what are your thoughts on Y?” Question compassionately and earnestly, not to entrap them, but to clarify meaning. Don’t word your questions with aggressive assumption. Rephrase their statements to ensure you got their meaning. Question their logic, but don’t deride it. Evolve the conversation into an exchange. And ask them to do the same. It’s much easier to be reasonable when the person asking is also making the effort.

If you stop trying to win, stop believing in the invincibility of your rightness, you’re afforded the chance to listen, and, by application of your attention to something other than your inner monologue, the chance understand another person. That’s a chance at connection. You may only walk away with no more than your beliefs strengthened. You may realize that you were totally wrong and too beholden to soundbite factoids (and by not arguing, be spared the resentment and humiliation that typically come with that epiphany). Or you may just stroll off with more to think about. But if you approach a discussion with an open mind, detached from your often excessive conviction, you’ll rarely walk away drained and angry.

Politics don’t need to be negative. They don’t need to ruin days, friendships, families, or that dinner you finally managed to schedule and were totally looking forward to before that snide comment about the latest poll numbers. We can be better than that. If we remove competition and reclaim curiosity and civility, we won’t just survive the circus that is the US 2016–No seriously, you’re voting for who? You know they can’t win rig–Ahem. We won’t just survive the US 2016 presidential race to the top of the teetering Jenga tower we call a country, we’ll thrive as a more informed, accepting, and unified populous. So next time you hear that inner voice screech, “BUT THAT’S WRONG,” take a breath, step back and try adding pieces rather than pulling them out. We’re all stuck on the same wobbly tower. Why make a mess playing a tired old game when you could build something beautiful together?