This Is Authoritarianism

It’s not a Republican National Convention. It’s a Trump National Convention. Our executive branch isn’t flirting with authoritarianism. It is authoritarianism.

Consider this:

  • The speakers are primarily Trump’s family, and White House officials potentially violating the Hatch Act, meant to separate political activities from the somber affairs of state.
  • There is no Republican Party platform this year. This is a novel break with tradition and shows there are no ideas in the party beyond following this mercurial, awful man into hell.
  • The United States Postal Service is being deliberately stripped of resources required to make our elections move in a pandemic. This is an active attempt at make it impossible for people to vote.
  • The president has not said whether he will honor an election result, and has made a number of statements casting doubt on the election.
  • The speakers at the convention supporting the president are using tools of right-wing authoritarianism, including fear, demonization of political opponents, and violent-tinged reactionary rhetoric, including on abortion and immigration.

I’m going to be honest. The first night of the Democratic National Convention, I had to step away from the television because I started tearing up, then all-out crying. Not because of what the Democrats were or were not doing (I thought they did a good job considering the circumstances), but because it became so clear to me how much our country has lost during four years of Donald Trump.

Our children are not going to school. They cannot hug their grandparents. People are dying, of coronavirus, of racism. Our economy is down the tubes. We have lost so much so quickly since November 2016, including democratic freedoms that were never perfect but always something to work from.

This is not a hypothetical warning. Authoritarianism has already become more entrenched than even most Democrats would have believed in November 2016. If we believe in democracy, we are going to have to fight for people to vote, for votes to be counted, and for election results and ultimately our Constitution to be honored. It will not be easy, but the alternative is a country where people face state-sponsored violence for typing things like this blog post. That future is uncomfortably close.

Coronavirus Isn’t The Problem. It’s Leadership Failure.

Kids not going back to school. An inability to travel across state lines and give grandma a hug that won’t kill her (or you). People being laid off from their jobs.

The problem is leadership failure, not coronavirus.

Other countries have identified how to manage coronavirus in a way that doesn’t destroy everyone’s lives. The virus is not somehow different in the United States. What is different about the United States, more than anything, is a lack of leadership at the national level.

It’s low-hanging fruit to attack people going to the bar, and believe me, I have some choice words for those recklessly having drinks at the bar as U.S. infections top five million. But you know what? The real problem is a lack of national leadership that would be courageous enough to acknowledge the severity of the crisis and create measures to deal with it.

If we had a national leader, we would have meaningful, temporary lockdowns to cut transmission so that we can have meaningful, in-person contact. Like schools. Sports. Vacations. An economy that can actually move up rather than cutting, shriveling down.

If we had a national leader, we would have testing available to everyone who needs it with rapid results, and contact tracing that would make real life more workable so that we can do the things that we enjoy, for real, not sort of while assuring ourselves that it’s maybe ‘safe’ because there is hand sanitizer as one enters the nail salon.

If we had a national leader, masks would be mandated, not politicized, the needs of children and the most vulnerable would be prioritized when weighing what services to reopen and when, and school board members and governors would not be on the front lines of making decisions for which there should be national policy, guided by public health professionals.

We don’t have a national leader. We have an authoritarian, racist psychopath who doesn’t care how many Americans die.

Coronavirus isn’t doing this to us. A leadership failure is. And so, I am no longer saying COVID or coronavirus is making life tough. I’m saying leadership failure. When my daughter adds to her never-ending list of things she wants to do “when coronavirus is over,” I gently correct her with, “when the leadership failure has passed.”

Why I Won’t Send My Child Back To School

I’m not sending my daughter back to school for second grade this fall. While this decision comes at considerable cost to her education and my ability to work, it is the right one for us.

My family lives in Arlington County, where the school system has presented a choice of a hybrid model that includes two days in school and three days of distance learning, or an all-virtual model. While I appreciate the impossible situation that is larger than our school board, both of these choices are, frankly, horrible for children my daughter’s age, who really depend upon in-person instruction and socialization in order to succeed. What’s more, these choices are particularly devastating for low-income children, children of color, children for whom English is a second language, and children with learning disabilities.

We should have, as a country, gotten it together when we closed down in the spring. We should have used this time to create plans for social distancing that work, to educate people about how to keep our communities safer, and develop plans for better testing and contract tracing abilities that would allow for greater reopening.

Instead, led with political pressure from a president most concerned about his re-election, states rushed to reopen their economies in the pursuit of short-term political gain. Now we are paying the price with spikes in coronavirus infections that appear to be out of control.

Making this choice was agonizing. My daughter is just beginning to read and write, and she needs to see teachers. She also needs to see other children, which is heightened by the fact that she is an only child. My ability to work has taken a huge hit since we began to shelter in place on March 13, and I wake up at 4 a.m. (or earlier) multiple days a week just so I can “juggle” the expectation that I do my job and serve as my daughter’s teacher and tech support.

But we can do hard things, and I believe, ethically, that we have to do this very hard thing for another year because it’s neither safe nor fair to throw teachers, school support staff, and our community into an epidemiological experiment that has been rushed along under political pressure. We’ve seen the results of rushing to reopen before the virus has been contained before, and it’s why the United States has been forced to use freezer trucks to store the bodies of people, disproportionately Black and brown, whose deaths could have been prevented.

While reducing the number of children in the building during the school day, the model of sending children to school for a few days a week on a staggered schedule creates a patchwork of childcare problems that facilitates community spread. It’s likely that students from multiple schools and districts will mix and mingle in childcare programs because of the odd school schedules happening throughout our region.

My school district has not yet made a decision about the fate of the extended day program our family relied upon in previous years, but I believe the writing is on the wall that, um, there won’t be an opportunity to send our children into the school to all play together in a gym with students from all grades starting at 7 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m. each day. At this time, I don’t see an option to send my daughter back to another form of childcare, either.

I do not begrudge parents who are ‘choosing’ the hybrid model of education in my district, and I hope the model works out. We are all doing the best we can in impossible circumstances, many of us with colleagues who do not have a grasp on what it’s really like to be a teacher and a camp counselor and a parent and an employee at the same time, with crying children struggling with mental and emotional stress, technology platforms that are complex for children and adults to navigate, and without a break since the beginning of March.

Having done the math, I think (hope) it will be less work for me to have my daughter at-home full-time where she can have live, virtual instruction for about three hours, four days each week than it is to have her in school two days and no live time with teachers for three. Still, I am expecting to spend 38 hours per week for the upcoming year serving as her teacher. This time is not counting interruptions I expect as I work because she is a young child and needs help, nor time serving as her playmate because she is an only child and needs someone to play with her. In the continuing absence of leadership from public officials, what we are witnessing in real-time is my generation of moms being pushed out of the workforce or downgraded in our careers – I say moms intentionally because while parenting is gender-neutral, who is being pushed out is not – if we don’t collapse from exhaustion first. Now you know why.

Have you heard the Secretary of Labor say anything about this? The Secretary of Education seems to have discovered in the past week that children are out of school, and all she is doing is shaming the impossible choices that parents have rather than creating pathways to actually support the damn kids who don’t have the option to go to school five days per week.

We’re staying home next year for the reason that our political leaders have completely failed all of us in containing this virus, botching it so bad that we have the worst infection rates in the world, with children unable to go to school and parents and teachers being forced to quit their jobs to deal with the untenable ‘choices’ forced upon us.

We had a choice: Open bars or open schools. Our country made a choice, and my daughter is now staying home from school for the upcoming year.

 

 

Amy Klobuchar, Or The Case Of The Workplace Bully

I believe Amy Klobuchar will be the Democratic nominee for president. I wish I was more excited about this. I don’t know how to get past reporting in The New York Times titled, simply, “How Amy Klobuchar Treats Her Staff.” If you live in the D.C. area and work in progressive circles, as I do, you are likely to know tons of stories that never have and never will be printed, shared first-hand with you by a variety of dedicated professionals who worked for her, people with no desires for notoriety and no axes to grind. The difficulty of working for her is common knowledge in this town.

Why I Want To Like Amy Klobuchar
It’s been time for a woman president since Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016, and I really want to like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). The first woman senator from Minnesota — a dream I started phonebanking for in middle school, when Ann Wynia ran in 1994 — she gave the best campaign announcement of any Democrat running for president this cycle.

She launched her effort to defeat Trump in a literal snowstorm. The image of her smiling behind the podium, snow falling down, is epic to the point of worthy of a tattoo on other people’s shoulders.

She’s funny. She’s smart.

She maintained her dignity when Justice Brett Kavanaugh stepped far over the line with her during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing, asking her if she had blacked out while drinking alcohol rather than answering the same important question she had posed to him, germane to the credible story presented by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her with a friend in the room while they were drinking at a high school party.

She was right when she pointed out that women candidates with Pete Buttigieg’s comparatively low level of political experience would not stand a chance in the Democratic presidential primary, and it was a feminist act to name that.

Why I Think Amy Klobuchar Will Be The Nominee
I believe Amy Klobuchar will be the Democratic nominee for president. I have been saying this privately for months; now you are seeing it here, in the public forum of my personal blog. I believe this will happen because, regardless of my personal beliefs, policy priorities, and favored candidates (I am to the left of Sen. Klobuchar, and unapologetically so), I believe that Democratic primary voters will eventually coalesce around a centrist candidate who they believe is most likely to beat Donald Trump in a general election.

As a centrist from the upper Midwest, Klobuchar checks a lot of boxes.

I believe her ascent is inevitable because former Vice President Joe Biden is a weak frontrunner, which is convenient to blame on the fact that he is 77, but actually stems from the ageless truth that he has run in presidential primaries repeatedly over the decades and has never proved much good at it.

With fundraising prowess, surging poll numbers, and a sharp generational contrast, it may appear that Pete Buttigieg has the easiest path to surpassing Biden in the centrist lane, but as is true for high school and life, it’s critical not to peak too soon. As much as I believe in the leadership of young people and that Buttigieg has a promising future in politics, it seems likely that centrist voters will shift from Biden’s weakness as a candidate to Buttigieg’s lower experience level to eventually land upon Amy Klobuchar and her electability among white Midwestern voters, who Trump can’t win without.

(This is not to say I don’t think Klobuchar, a former prosecutor, doesn’t have real gaps with to fill with Black voters, and especially Black women voters, whom Democrats can’t win without; however they seem less insurmountable than Buttigieg’s failure to thwart police violence in his own community and wild card Michael Bloomberg’s racist stop and frisk policy as mayor of New York City, for which he has recently apologized.)

On Tough Bosses, Women Bosses, Workplace Bullying, And Amy Klobuchar’s Run For President
A tough boss can actually be a great boss. Tough can mean high standards that make staff work hard, grow, and achieve more than they thought possible. Tough can be challenging in the moment and a source of pride later, even when it seemed at the time like the difficulty could never be redeemed and the boss was just the worst. Workplace bullying is different.

I’m defining workplace bullying as repeated aggressive, degrading behavior in the workplace that serves to isolate and ridicule its targets, making life a living hell for them; in order for it to truly be workplace bullying, this behavior must be accompanied by power dynamics that make it impossible for its victims to free themselves from the behavior, short of leaving their jobs.

The stories about Amy Klobuchar seem to fit the pattern of workplace bullying, and that matters for her presidential run because workplace bullying indicates what I believe to be a serious failure of leadership. Leaders articulate a vision, and inspire others to work together to achieve that common purpose. If a political leader can’t inspire their own staff — who share their ideology and in the context of the dysfunctional capitol dome should in most circumstances be the easiest management issues on their plate — without psychologically beating them into submission, how can they be expected to lead the whole country?

Rigorous definitions are important. A colleague who disagrees with you is not necessarily a workplace bully. Nor is a woman in power who isn’t ‘likable.’ There are unfair standards for women leaders, and it’s true that people have all manner of irrational reactions to women in power, even feminists who claim they want to see women in power (you know, those hypothetical women in power who are more attractive leaders than the women actually doing the work now, although a large number of feminists seem to be pretty inspired by Elizabeth Warren, thank you very much).

I remember earlier in my career, a woman I worked with was frustrating to me. Our styles clashed and we often had different points of view. Once during a phone call she spat out, just because I’m disagreeing with you doesn’t mean I’m yelling at you. She was right. I appreciate this lesson, and actually remember her fondly today.

Our Country Needs Leadership — Desperately
Our country needs profound, courageous, principled leadership if we are to bounce back from the deep challenges to our democracy posed by structural inequality, ascendant white nationalism, and an authoritarian administration that has purposefully sown doubt in what is fact, undermined the free press, and used overt racism, support for gun manufacturers, and the magic carpet ride of anti-abortion extremists who will go along with literally anything to overturn Roe v. Wade. We will need to find ways to overcome conservative gerrymandering and social media echo chambers. The crisis of our democracy in 2020 is an urgent cry for leadership.

Cory Booker has a great message about leading with love, and I believe that our country desperately needs inspirational leadership skills and messages like his to draw people back together. While I could get very excited about a Booker candidacy, or a Warren candidacy, and I deeply, painfully miss the Harris and Castro campaigns, maybe the candidate we get will not be very exciting to me or to you.

If our first or second choice is not the nominee, we should choose to be grown-ups. Stopping Trump is indeed the most important thing. Tearing down every Democrat running is counterproductive, and every time I log into Twitter, where I follow mostly Democrats, I feel a little more demoralized to see how much energy is going into total, all-or-nothing shutdowns of Democratic candidates. No one deserves a total shutdown except Putin puppet Tulsi Gabbard (Kamala Harris was right about a number of things, including this!).  Mostly, I’d like to see Democrats organize respectfully for our favorite candidates and chill.

So Amy Klobuchar will not get my vote in the primary. If she is indeed the candidate in the general election, I will lean into what I like about her, dig in for the work required to move her to more progressive positions, and do everything I can to get her elected. I will do this for any Democratic nominee who is not a known Putin puppet. If it is Klobuchar I’m certain I would ugly cry and joyfully scream to see a woman from Minnesota defeating Donald Trump. But I will not pretend now like workplace bullying does not give serious pause. It does. It should.

Thinking Of Running For President As A Democrat? Please, Just Don’t.

There are too many Democrats running for president. The vanity and ridiculousness in the 20+ Democrats running could be hilarious if it weren’t so serious —

We have a classroom’s worth of politicians angling to be captain rather than part of a winning team. This is not how we defeat an authoritarian leader who lies, violates democratic norms, and welcomes misinformation campaigns from foreign adversaries that actively work to sow division among his opponents.

Let’s be honest: The current bloated field is filled with candidates who are replicas of one another. An ever greater number of these candidates don’t have a chance in Jupiter of winning Democratic primaries, much less the general election. Democratic Party leaders have failed to take control of this situation. This has happened likely in part because of fear of a renewed batch of complaints similar to what occurred from the Bernie Sanders campaign and its supporters after the last election, but an intramural and dated fight about a ‘rigged system’ within the Democratic Party shouldn’t be a factor, because it’s both an echo of the complementary waves that brought Trump into power within the Republican Party and also irrelevant to voters in the suburbs and exurbs who need an alternative to Trump.

I am not arguing for a coronation; an ideal number at this stage would be five or so candidates — enough to have a significant exchange of ideas, but also enough to get real and create the conditions where candidates with low poll numbers decide to move on. As it stands, not getting traction or polling into relevance is not enough incentive for our bloated field to winnow itself down now, because most candidates don’t have traction or high polling, creating an effect where no one leaves.

We cannot choose a strong candidate to support when we can’t even fit all of our candidates on one stage. There is a reason why no conference, ever, invites more than 20 panelists to weigh in on a given topic. Please, for the good of the Democratic Party, the United States of America, and the entire free world, if you’re thinking of running for president as a Democrat just now, don’t. And if you’re not getting traction, do the honorable thing and drop out. 

Sometimes the greatest acts of leadership are not when one person’s name blinks in giant lights, but when that person assesses the real landscape in which they operate, recognizes what exists and what is needed, and declines to blow a fuse.

 

 

You See A Trump Administration Official In Public — Now What?

“Hi, I just want to urge you to resign because of what you’re doing to the environment in our country,” Kristin Mink said to former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt in a restaurant while hoisting her baby on her hip. “This is my son. He loves animals. He loves clean air. He loves water … We deserve to have someone at the EPA who actually does protect the environment. Someone who believes in climate change.”

Days later, Scott Pruitt resigned.

Taking direct action is effective. What makes this video so mesmerizing is how casually Kristin Mink strides up and speaks. Perhaps you think you can’t do this. But you can.

Here’s what to do if you see Trump administration officials in public:

1. To paraphrase my friend Susie, remember that they are YOUR government and accountable to YOU.

You have every right to speak to government officials — and expect a response — no matter what they are doing. In line at Target? Fair game. Eating at a restaurant? Go for it. Out at a swanky show on the town? You got it, friend.

2. Don’t worry about civility.

You can be firm and you can be polite, but if to be civil means to let an autocratic government attack a free press, rip families apart, decimate reproductive rights, destroy environmental protections, and embrace bald racism and nativism under our country’s flag — that kind of civility is actually just enabling, and nope, you don’t have to do that.

3. Assess where you are, who you have, and then start filming. 

Is a friend or family member with you? Decide who will record and who will speak. Are you by yourself? Grab your own phone and hold it up to record while you start talking. If you don’t record the interaction, it didn’t happen. You can put the video on Facebook Live if you are familiar with the tool, otherwise don’t worry about the program and record now to share later. Turn on the camera and keep it focused on them.

4. Walk up. Don’t wait. Do it now.

Your opportunity to speak truth to power may not last long. Do not let it slip you by. Your goal is not to be perfect. Your goal is to be a real human, which brings me to the next point:

5. Don’t worry about the finer points of policy or the right talking points or language. Speak from your heart.

Plain language is your friend. If I saw a Trump administration official right now, I’m not sure I’d have all the policy right, but I would feel confident speaking from my heart. “I have a little girl and I’m tired of having to turn down the radio because the president is using racial slurs.” “I’m scared about the direction the country is going in and I’m terrified about what is going to happen at the Supreme Court. You should be ashamed of yourself.” Speaking from your heart is perfect — you don’t need to be a commentator on TV. Be yourself, in the moment now. That is your moral authority.

6. Demand answers from them and go quiet strategically, keeping the camera on their face.

Keep asking your follow-up questions, but remember that the point of interacting is to make them answer TO YOU. If they start running away, move quickly after them, continuing to ask the question.

7. Once it’s over, post it online. 

Post the recording on social media, share it with people you know, and let people know how the interaction made you feel. By doing this work, you are making it more likely that others will feel comfortable confronting this corrupt, deathly administration.

Remember: You got this. Don’t let these opportunities fly by. You don’t need to be perfect. You have incredible power, just as you are, the moment you run into these folks.

 

Justice For Stormy Daniels Is A Feminist Issue

Stormy Daniels’ interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes was something electric. In this conversation, Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, detailed her affair with Donald Trump and the intimidation, harassment, and outright threats she has endured at the hands of the president and his attorneys. Let’s get this clear:

Believing Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue.

Supporting Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue.

Justice for Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue.

Stormy Daniels told Anderson Cooper a convincing story, and she deserves to be believed. The most powerful man in the world has repeatedly tried to silence her. The most chilling part of the interview was the revelation that someone came up to Daniels in a parking lot while she was carrying her infant in 2011, shortly after she had nearly sold her story to a tabloid, and said, “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story. That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.” In addition, Daniels repeatedly referenced being intimidated by the legal machinations of Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen.

There is no question that Trump has done, at the very least, versions of this to other women he slept with. Non-disclosure agreements. Payouts. Intimidation through the legal process.

Further, while not every man is as rich or as disgusting as Trump, Stormy Daniels would not be the first person who has been pressured by a man with more power to stay silent about sex. Further, as a sex worker, Daniels is part of a class of women and people who are repeatedly disbelieved for having agency in their sexual lives. It is for all these reasons — much less that she could potentially be sued Trump and his thugs for millions of dollars for speaking out on television — that believing Stormy Daniels without hesitation is a feminist issue.

Supporting Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue. As a feminist, it was difficult for me to watch her say repeatedly that she did not see herself as a victim. I respect her right to self-definition. But it was also sad and hard to hear her describe her revulsion at the prospect of sleeping with Donald Trump, and the fact that she blamed herself for getting into a hotel room with him, and felt she had to follow through.

To be 100 percent clear: You are never obligated to give a man sex. Ever. Even if you went to his hotel room. Even if you are his girlfriend or his wife. Even if you just went on a date. The choice is always yours, and that is what consent is all about. Still, Daniels’ self-definition is to be respected. Supporting Stormy Daniels means that we can be concerned enough to pipe up that you don’t owe anybody sex just because you are in a hotel room, and also respecting her agency to choose to engage in sex with Donald Trump on one occasion, even though she didn’t really want to. The time to pick Stormy Daniels apart is not now. Stormy Daniels needs and deserves support, and that is a feminist issue.

Finally, justice for Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue. By bravely speaking her truth, Stormy Daniels belongs solidly in a line of women who have resisted the horror and thuggery of Donald Trump and the people who support his work.

In the truest sense, Stormy Daniels is a patriot — and an inability to acknowledge that is, for most people, most likely rooted in the sexism of thinking a woman in the pornography industry is too dirty and/or unserious to have something meaningful to contribute to our country. That’s hogwash. There is nothing wrong with sex, and sex workers are people.

Stormy Daniels deserves justice. The ‘hush money’ legal agreement that Donald Trump failed to sign under his pseudonym shortly before the election should be ruled invalid.  Her safety should be guaranteed. And we in the feminist community should all be standing with her and making these demands.

The woman is brave, she is a patriot, and she deserves respect from every woman who says they care about women. Justice for Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue.

Raising A Girl During #MeToo

The #MeToo reckoning has only started to reveal the routine and gratuitous presence of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault in the lives of women and girls. It’s going to be a long, slow burn of new stories coming to the surface, some of them shocking and others as duh-tastic as possible (you mean that pompous guy who was known for treating his employees like shit and the “pro-life” congressman who obsessed about controlling women’s bodies all day long on the House floor were treating their women employees like their own personal sexual property? NO WAY!). There will be more backlash, and considering who is president of the United States, it is going to be terrible.

Meanwhile, a whole bunch of us still need to raise our daughters.

I’ll be honest, I find this a particularly challenging moment to parent a girl who is getting ready to go to kindergarten. Here is where I’ve landed:

I’m no longer turning off the radio or television as these stories come up on the news. As much as I would like to, I can’t protect her from every sexist thing in the world. If she asks what these stories are about, I’m going to tell her the truth in age-appropriate terms (such as, someone didn’t respect her body, and only you get to decide what to do with your body).

I’ve been thinking a lot about the encouragements we give our children to give someone a hug. This isn’t a new line of thought for me, but it seems to take on new urgency in this moment. Why are other people telling my daughter to go give someone a hug? Why am I? As it pertains to teaching her how we act around family and close friends, there is balance to be found here, but I’m also getting increasingly uncomfortable with suggesting physical contact if she clearly doesn’t want it.

Donald Trump is not a person we talk about in neutral terms. If there is one thing I want my daughter to remember about growing up during the disastrous period of Donald Trump’s presidency, it is that we did not look the other way — we spoke up and we took action. Donald Trump’s disrespect for women and girls is but one of many hate-fueled reasons on his part as to why his presidency should never be normalized before our children. I still remember looking at her the morning after the election and crying. My political work is, in part, a fight for her.

If the Access Hollywood bus won’t pick him up to remove him from the Oval Office where he clearly doesn’t belong — it is up to us.