Category Archives: Politics

Kavanaugh and the Virgin Defense

1797 Cartoon by Isaac Cruikshank

“I did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter,” Brett Kavanaugh attested, claiming he was a virgin until well after high school in a Monday interview with Fox News’ Martha McCallum.

She followed up by pressing, “So you’re saying that through all these years that are in question, you were a virgin?”

“That’s correct,” Kavanaugh answered.

She pressed further, “Never had sexual intercourse with anyone in high school?” and again Kavanaugh repeated, “Correct.”

Because I want to know what my friends who are conservatives are hearing, I listened to the entire interview.  Though I began listening skeptically, he sounded credible to me, though his answers were clearly rehearsed.  He even seemed to be fighting the urge to cry at the end of the interview when he repeated, for the 17thtime, according to the transcript, that he was simply asking for a “fair process,” where he could defend his integrity.

This defense will sound familiar to any evangelical or Catholic.  Though Kavanaugh predated the Southern Baptists’ True Love Waits campaign of the early 1990s, the concept of waiting until marriage to have sexual intercourse is at least as old as medieval times when women had to produce the sheets from their wedding night beds to prove their chastity.

Therein lies the problem.  I must admit that Kavanaugh is the first man I’ve ever heard use the virginity defense.  But as a former evangelical, I’ve heard many young women proudly proclaim themselves virgins at an age when women in earlier times would have been called spinsters and considered a burden to their families and society.

As I watched Kavanaugh protest his innocence over and over again, I was reminded of how many girls I knew who proclaimed themselves chaste but were virgins in name only.  Indeed, I had one friend who proudly proclaimed to me in private, “I’m the sluttiest virgin I know.”

Though this friend had never “gone all the way,” she confided to me that she had done everything short of male penetration to satisfy herself and her partner.  Now she can tell her children that she was a virgin when she married their father.  Her husband, on the other hand, seems to bear no such burden.

Thus conservative Christians perpetuate the double standard that applies to women and men in regard to sexual activity.  We are steeped in thousands of years where women have borne the burden of drawing a line that cannot be crossed.  When it is crossed, in spite of a woman’s objections, the woman is almost always the one who bears the burden of proof in a culture where we claim equality of women and men is important but where the subtext says exactly the opposite.

Indeed, Kavanaugh may be telling the truth about his virginity.  He may even believe he’s telling the truth about not having committed sexual assault if he was as drunk as many observers have said he often was.

Perhaps senators on the Judiciary Committee should ask him pointed questions to determine whether he’s a virgin in name only—the kind of pointed questions he listed in a 1998 email the National Archives released this week, in which he suggested questions that would force Bill Clinton to confess specific sex acts that fell short of sexual intercourse.  In that email, he highlighted one sentence in bold print after listing Clinton’s transgressions:

He should be forced to account for all of that and to defend his actions.

Why should Kavanaugh not be held to the same standard that he demanded for former President Clinton?  Indeed, the Christ Kavanaugh proclaimed in the interview to follow said this:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

As a judge and as a Christian, Kavanaugh should be well aware of what it means to have equal protection under the law and of what it means to be judged by the same standard that we expect of others.

Should he not bear at least an equal burden in proving his credibility?

Christine Blasey Ford has a therapist’s notes and the results of a polygraph test to add veracity to her claims, and she has not claimed that he raped her.  On the other hand, Kavanaugh’s senior profile in his yearbook lends doubt to his credibility, and he seems to be twisting her accusation by claiming he couldn’t have assaulted her because he was a virgin.

As many have pointed out in recent days, Thursday’s hearing is not a criminal case.  It is a job interview.  But Republican senators have all but assured that Kavanaugh has the advantage in Thursday’s hearing.  If a lawyer trained in asking questions of sexual assault victims asks the questions, Democrats on the committee will have no chance to ask Kavanaugh the kinds of questions he suggested asking Clinton.

Kavanaugh will get the last word.  Ford will have no chance to respond to anything Kavanaugh might say to dispute her account of events.

This is anything but a “fair process.”  It is a process intended to give Brett Kavanaugh the best chance possible of being confirmed.

If Kavanaugh survives this process to be confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice, young women had better hope that the Virgin in Name Only defense works to ward off predators who might sexually assault them. Because if it does not, and they become pregnant, their right to abort their rapist’s offspring may be in peril.

Will we, as a culture steeped in male dominance, condone the continued oppression of women that endangers our daughters’ autonomy, their mental health, and, indeed, their very lives?

Or will we finally break free of forcing women to prove their purity?  If we have a Supreme Court that overturns Roe v. Wade, we had better elect a Congress that passes laws to protect women from predatory men.

Let us not sacrifice women on the altar of Republicans’ sense of fairness.  For the process to be fair, Christine Blasey Ford must not only be heard but must be given the chance to respond to anything Kavanaugh might say, just as he will have the chance to respond to her accusations.

Brett Kavanaugh is asking for a “fair process.”  Let’s give him one.

Are Trump Supporters Deplorables?

Almost two years have passed since Hillary Clinton delivered the gift of her “basket of deplorables” speech to her opponent’s campaign, so why do Democrats continue to make the mistake of tossing all Trump supporters into a single category of despicable people?

Little has changed in the way most Democrats view Trump’s base since Clinton gave that speech at an LGBT for Hillary fundraiser in New York City on September 9, 2016:

You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it. And unfortunately, there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people—now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks—they are irredeemable, but thankfully, they are not America.

There is no question that some people fit into the categories Clinton described in the speech.  But the second basket that Hillary mentioned in that same speech—those who had genuine concerns that that the government had let them down and that Trump would be an agent of change—are the greater problem for Democrats going into the November election.

I have encountered three types of people who do not fit into the Deplorable Basket, yet they still support Trump.

The first is characteristic of many of the adults I grew up with in the hard conditions of the coalfields in Appalachia. For those who made a living underground in coalmines or aboveground in lumberyards, it took a distinct stubbornness to survive.  Men and women alike knew nothing about the ease of the upper middle class, except that they wanted their children to escape the exhausting travail that shaped their daily lives.

Such people, precisely because they had to be dogged and immovable in order to survive and to provide for their families, rarely, if ever, admitted their mistakes.  My father was one such man.  My mother often said he was “pigheaded” or “stubborn as a mule” in the face of all evidence that he was wrong.  As it became clear that he could have made a better decision, he might quietly change course without comment, which my mother counted as a victory.  But more often, he maintained his course, even when the waters became treacherous and threatened to drown him.

These Trump supporters frequently steer any discussion of Trump’s failings to Hillary, Obama, Comey, or any other person who might deflect the conversation and save them from having to give a rational argument for Trump and his policies, which they know have made no difference in their lives.

The second group of Trump defenders are those who get all news from conservative outlets and rarely, if ever, read an article or watch a news piece that might challenge their thinking.  I encounter these people frequently, sometimes in unexpected places, as I did this week in a visit to one of my doctors.  This person is obviously educated and intelligent, a person who reads and thinks. In the twenty years I’ve been a patient, my physician has often quickly found what other doctors have missed.

When I commented that it had taken me months to get an appointment, the doctor stunned me by uncharacteristically blurting that “Bernie Sanders socialists” were to blame for what they had done to the practice of medicine.  Clearly, I don’t have this doctor’s expertise or experience in medical policy, so I asked the doctor to explain.  Thankfully, my blood pressure was taken prior to the debate that ensued, where the doctor quoted every talking point from a source on Fox News and scoffed at several facts I quoted because they came from mainstream media.  When I asked if the doctor was familiar with AllSides, a site that provides multiple perspectives on all stories, it became clear that my physician had no interest in hearing other perspectives.

Democrats make the mistake of overtly stating or, at the very least, implying that such people are stupid, which stops all dialogue with a person who is certain of his own academic intelligence.  This makes otherwise intelligent people even less apt to hear different perspectives.

The third group of Trump voters are perhaps the most dangerous to our democracy—those who quietly support him with their votes and their money because he is good for their bank account. They are people who never admitted openly before the election that they would be voting for Trump and who rarely engage in conversations on politics.

I have a few close friends who fall into this category, or I might otherwise never know they support Trump.  When they can be drawn into a conversation, they admit that Trump lacks character and that they are embarrassed by his tweets and his egregious behavior.  They try to convince me—and I suspect themselves—that Trump has done some good things.  Some of them even believe we should have universal healthcare, and most of them are socially liberal.

These friends have taught me the danger of a two-party system where the base refuses to nominate a centrist candidate.  In the current climate, neither I nor they are ever likely to vote across party lines in a general election.

That fewer and fewer of us have friends whose views differ from our own makes it unlikely that the political climate will change any time soon.  When we continue to view the opposition as “irredeemable” and “not America,” we ensure that nothing will heal the wounds we’ve created, short of a world catastrophe that forces us to work together to survive.

If Democrats fail to win the House or the Senate in November, it will be a result of putting all their eggs into one basket.

And even if they do win, as long as both sides toss the opposition carelessly into a basket of deplorables like so many rotten eggs, our elections and our government will continue to be a stinking mess.

A Rational Abortion Argument?

As an English teacher I became so frustrated with students for being unable to offer a rational abortion argument on either side that I ultimately refused to let them deliver an argumentative speech on any aspect of the issue.

Abortion was the only topic, among a host of complicated issues, which I ever banned when I taught public speaking.  But I didn’t know what else to do.

I told my students when they were choosing topics that they should either avoid topics they couldn’t do justice to in five minutes, or they should narrow the speech to a single aspect of a topic. Most students followed my advice.

One passionate student, however, decided that her view was worth the risk to her grade and decided to tackle the whole of the abortion issue in spite my cautions.  She defied the time limit and argued passionately but irrationally for nearly ten minutes, and at the end of the speech, nearly every student in the class was angry.  Those who disagreed with her arguments were furious.  Those who agreed wanted a class discussion to continue the debate.  And the moderates and rule-followers in class were indignant that I hadn’t stopped the speech at the five-minute mark. Ultimately, that speech convinced no one of anything.

Though I didn’t ban abortion from arguments in writing classes, I did caution my students, as I did about all topics, that when I evaluated arguments, I would read their papers as though I disagreed, whatever their stance, and I promised them I would be as objective as I possibly could in reading their arguments.  This wasn’t always easy, and the top students always wondered how I could give two papers on the same topic an A when they had such divergent views.  I told them that the A arguments were always the ones that showed some recognition of the nuances of the topic.

This wasn’t always easy for me as a teacher, but I felt a responsibility to encourage students to consider all aspects of a topic, using sound sources, and then to allow them the freedom to draw their own conclusions without forcing my own views on them.

But on the abortion issue, I had no good answers for students then, and I have no good answers now for how we can have a civil, intelligent discussion of the nuances that are crucial to this discussion.

Here are two views that I’ve actually heard former students (and adults) at the two extremes say:

  • “Life begins at conception, and all abortion is murder. It should always be illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother.”
  • “As long as a fetus is still attached to a woman’s body, it’s a parasite. And if a woman chooses to abort it, that’s her right and nobody else’s business.”

Most Americans don’t espouse either of these views. In survey after survey, a significant majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade, even though most of us couldn’t tell you exactly what the opinion says.  The complete transcript of the majority opinion isn’t easily available online, and many don’t realize that the decision in 1973 seemed to be based on the doctor’s right to privacy, without mention of the rights of women.  In the decision for the 7-2 majority, Justice Blackmun wrote:

The decision vindicates the right of the physician to administer medical treatment according to his professional judgment up to the points where important state interests provide compelling justifications for intervention. Up to those points, the abortion decision in all its aspects is inherently, and primarily, a medical decision, and basic responsibility for it must rest with the physician.

In the years since, some aspects of the decision have been struck down, including the original guidelines for the trimesters at which abortions can be performed.  Yet we continue to discuss this issue in the public arena as if only the two extremes matter.  (A guide to the key aspects of decisions related to abortion can be found at the Chicago—Kent College of Law’s Body Politic Project.)

We live in a country where the majority is supposed to rule, even though recent presidential elections where the Electoral College and the U.S. Supreme Court have ruled for the minority have called that principle into question.

Surveys of citizens’ attitudes about abortion consistently reveal widespread majority support for Roe v. Wade.  In January of this year, before the current uproar about the Supreme Court vacancy, Pew Research reported that 57% of Americans support legal access to abortion, including a wide variety of religious groups. Even among some evangelical denominations, over half of members felt that the law should allow access to some abortions, even if they personally opposed it.

This week, after the announcement of another Supreme Court vacancy, a number of polls are showing even more widespread support for Roe v. Wade.  A Kaiser Foundation poll showed 67% support for the law, including 43% of Republicans.  A Quinnipiac University poll on a variety of issues showed 63% support of the ruling overall, with virtually no gender gap in the results.

So why are we Americans being held hostage to the wishes of a small minority at the extremes of our culture?

In a more perfect union, where the majority does rule, the rights of the minority should be honored.  But since we don’t live in a utopian state where consensus is always possible, where does that leave us?

I never felt good about banning abortion from class discussions.  But I sometimes want to do the same thing in the discussions that are taking place in the public arena.  Even though the people at the extremes are in a small minority, they seem to have the loudest voices, and because they get their information from the most biased media sites, the cacophony they create takes me back to the day a single student with a loud voice held my class hostage for ten minutes.

Right now Roe v. Wade is the best we have.  I was a junior in high school when that decision was made.  I remember well, in the years before, the stories of girls my age who were mutilated or who died at the hands of abortion providers who took their money and destroyed their bodies.

Here is the single lesson I took away from that time:  Wealthy people will take their daughters out of the state or the country to get a safe and legal abortion.  Poor women or girls who are too ashamed to seek help will find a way to have an abortion, even if it may maim or kill them.

Many of the people who protest in front of abortion facilities weren’t born yet when the Supreme Court issued that decision on Roe v. Wade.  A few of them weren’t even an egg in their mothers’ ovaries or a sperm in their fathers’ testicles yet because even their parents hadn’t been born.

Perhaps only when their sisters and daughters and friends die after an abortion in a dirty and dark room will they realize the folly of not having a sensible abortion law.

Is Jesus Being Flogged in the Public Square?

Jesus is being mocked and flogged in the public square this summer.  His attackers, as they were 2000 years ago, are an angry mob that has been whipped into a frenzy by the leaders of the day with the full support of the nation’s leading evangelicals.

Here are just a few of the instances when Christians have acted in distinctly un-Christlike ways in recent months:

  • Immigration officials, acting at the behest of leaders who rationalize cruel policies by citing the Bible, ripped families apart while the evangelical leaders who advised them remained conspicuously silent.
  • A Walgreen’s pharmacist, citing his Christian beliefs, refusedto provide a drug for a woman who had been prescribed the drug to expel a fetus that had died inside her womb.
  • The leaders of a church in Sterling, Virginia advocated abuse of children and used church members’ tithes to start a “racecar ministry” and purchase a collection of expensive motorcycles and cars. They have also been accused of sexually abusing women and girls in the congregation.
  • Evangelical leader Paige Patterson defended his decision to advise women to endure their husbands’ abuse and to pray for them to come to God.
  • Religious leaders who have spent their careers decrying the state of the family and the moral decline of our nation continue to defend Roy Moore, a candidate for Congress who was repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct, including incidents involving underage girls.

The Christian leaders who have condoned these and other acts or who have remained silent in the face of such abuse, including many abuses of people of color, are no better than those who cried out for Christ to be crucified.

I had this realization when I read today’s Gospel Reading from the Daily Common Lectionary from Matthew 20: 17-28. Jesus tells his disciples that he is about to be “mocked and flogged and crucified.”  Even among his followers—who have watched him serve the poor, the lame, the disenfranchised for three years—the possibility of losing him as a leader causes a scramble for power.

In the scene that follows this news, the writer of Matthew tells us that two of the disciples bring their mother to Jesus and that she kneels before him and asks that they be able to sit on either side of him in his kingdom.  It is not an unreasonable request for a mother to make.  If her sons risk dying for him, don’t they deserve something in return?

The other ten disciples are understandably angry when they hear what the brothers have asked.  After all, all of them have sacrificed everything to follow this man. All are equally deserving of any power that comes to them as a result of his movement.

As he’s done so often in his ministry, Jesus uses this as yet another teachable moment.  He points out that they are not like other leaders who have become tyrants over them.  No.  He reminds them, as he’s told them before, “It will not be so among you; whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.”

Our nation’s founders set up a government that they thought would ensure against tyrants.  But, increasingly, our leaders are acting like tyrants—lying to the people, abusing the disenfranchised, and adding riches to their own coffers.

Where is the Leader who will sacrifice and save us? One would think that Christian leaders who have a public presence would be crying out in the face of injustice. But no.  They, like the chief priests and scribes in this story, have condemned what’s left of Jesus in American Christianity to be mocked and flogged in the public square.

Separating Immigrant Families is un-Christian!

How can anyone look at pictures of their own children and think separating immigrant families is right?

In the wake of news about separating immigrant families at the U.S./Mexico border in recent weeks, the silence from Trump’s evangelical advisory board as children are being ripped from their parents’ arms has been deafening.  Pastors have a Christian duty to hold Jeff Sessions and his boss to account, especially in the wake of Sessions’ claim that Romans 13 supports such abject cruelty.

In fairness, some conservative religious leaders are speaking out.  Franklin Graham, surprisingly, said in an interview last week with the Christian Broadcasting Network, “I think it’s disgraceful; it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit.” However, he rendered his criticism impotent in the next breath by saying he still supports Trump and blaming politicians of the last 20 to 30 years for creating the mess that has led to the current policy. Continue reading Separating Immigrant Families is un-Christian!

Long for Moderate Politicians?

If you’re one of my most liberal friends, you may want to stop reading now because this is one of those posts where even my fellow liberals attack me.  “How can you support moderate politicians?” you ask.  If you read to the end, I can see you in my head, rolling your eyes and opening your mouth to respond before you’ve given yourself even five seconds to think about what I’m saying.  You may even decide not to read any more of my blog posts and wonder how I can continue to call myself a bleeding heart liberal—or even a liberal.

If you’re one of my most conservative friends, you’ll Continue reading Long for Moderate Politicians?

Have you googled “gun control” today?

Washington Post analysis of Google Trends in the wake of mass shootings

Five days have passed since the school shootings in Parkland, Florida—five excruciating days for the families and friends of those killed and injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

As painful has it been for those of us who are touched by the danger only from the safe distance of the news, can you imagine their pain and grief?

According to a Washington Post analysis of Google data, if past attacks by deranged gunmen are any indication, public interest in their grief will have dropped today by about 75% of what it was the day after the tragedy. Politicians know that our memories for mass shootings are short, and they need only weather the first week until we’re no longer focused on gun control.

Of course, not everyone searches the Internet for news, but what we see in our newsfeeds on social media is also an indicator of how long such events stay on the radar screen of most Americans.

I have to admit that I sometimes have to stop watching and thinking about such horrific events, so I click on links less often as the days go on. If I don’t, my dreams are filled with the anxiety of worrying about my own loved ones. Although I retired over a year ago, this weekend I dreamed I tried to hide my students under a table, in a futile modern-day version of duck and cover, as a masked gunman with an assault rifle burst through the door, just as I awoke, my heart racing.

This time, though, watching those courageous young people at MSDHS, I can’t turn away as easily, even for my own peace of mind. In these first few days, their anger has largely silenced politicians who are usually quick to spout the NRA talking points demanded in return for the campaign money they’ve received. There’s something different about this, and we need to seize the day.

Stories speak to us, and I plan to follow those students because they are my hope for the future. I owe it to them to stay engaged.

I owe it to all our young people—to this entire generation of our nation’s children, who are learning a fear that was once limited to children in war-torn nations far away from America’s shores.

Consider this post that appeared in my newsfeed from a friend—a mom who is one of the strongest people I know, a survivor of a cancer that nearly killed her in her twenties before she could even think about having children. She believed in her future, and she worked far harder than most of us do to have a child. In a just world she should never have to worry about this:

So…I just did it. I just asked [my son] if he knew what a lock down drill was. Without much affect, he said, “It’s a drill that we have to hide in the back of the room and stay really quiet. Our teacher has to close all the blinds and lock the doors.” I responded, “Do you know why?” He then said, “Yes, in case a bad guy gets into the building and wants to kill us with a gun. He is more likely to come into our room if he can hear us and so we stay really quiet.” I bit my lip and did my best to not show my own fear. I told him that I’m glad he practices that drill, but I am so sorry that he even has to know that bad people like this exist. He then asked me if I knew if a bad guy was near his school now. I told him that there is no need to worry when there is no fact that anyone like this exists close to our home…but, the main thing is that he practices this drill and is prepared and that everyone in that school loves him and would do anything to protect him—-and that I truly believe.

Or consider this story, not someone I know but one that came to me through the friend of a friend of a friend, as social media posts often do:

My daughter came home from school one day crying that she needed new shoes. I thought that perhaps someone had made fun of her over her shoes, but no. She informed me that she realized during an active shooter drill, that if she’s hiding from the shooter, the lights on her Sketchers will give away her location. My baby is 8 years old and worrying about being shot because of her light up shoes.

Parents all over the country are having conversations they should never have to have—worrying about whether their children will be the next victims sacrificed to the idol of gun rights that demands our nation’s blood sacrifice on a regular basis.

Another friend—also a cancer survivor—had this to say about America’s voracious appetite for guns:

I don’t care about your weapon, and if it brings you joy, then enjoy it at the range or while you shoot animals. What I do care about is getting shot, and about my babies being allowed to live their lives. Military-style weapons should be reserved for the military and law enforcement. Armed societies are not safer societies. If that fact has ever been proven wrong, I’m listening. I’d like to be able to send my kids to school and see a movie with them in a crowded theater without thinking of how I would cover them. Can we start there?

Indeed. Sensible measures have been proposed, but those measures have not been allowed out of committee and have never made it to the floor of Congress for a vote. After the tragedy in Las Vegas, even the NRA came out in support of tightening restrictions on bump stocks, which the shooter used to give his weapon the high capacity of an automatic weapon.

How much have you heard about bump stocks this year?

We live in a world where the survival of a news outlet depends on how many clicks it gets from readers. Even the best news outlets must pay attention to the number of search engine hits they get, the number of times people share links to articles on social media.

In such a world, what can we do? Here are a few ideas:

  • Use the search feature on your favorite credible source at least once a day to find a new article on key words like “gun control,” “gun legislation,” or one of the sites of these tragedies, like “Sandy Hook Elementary” or “Las Vegas shootings.”
  • If you can’t bring yourself to hear another story, remember that you don’t even have to read the article. Clicking on it to open it will make it appear as part of the Google Trends.
  • Subscribe to the digital version of the national newspaper you find most credible, preferably one that has a long track record of being credible.
  • Do your best to encourage high school seniors who are disgusted by the inaction of adults to register to vote before the mid-term elections. Here’s a link to my recent blog post to help you with that.
  • If you’re on Twitter, tweet your encouragement to the young people at MSDHS who are marshaling support for this cause: @davidhogg111, @cameron_kasky, @Emma4Change, and @delaneytarr.
  • Think about attending an event in your city for the March for Our Lives, currently being organized by the survivors in Parkland and other students around the country.

We have two days to break the trend that has happened within a week of every mass shooting in recent years. If you’ve read this far, consider going back and clicking on every link in this blog post.

Remember the victims of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Las Vegas, Sandy Hook Elementary, the Navy Yard, the Pulse nightclub, San Bernardino Inland Regional Center, Sutherlands First Baptist Church, Charleston Emanuel AME Church, and Columbine High School.

With only a few clicks from each of us, we can help ensure America won’t forget these senseless deaths. And perhaps we’ll even be protecting our own children and grandchildren from the next deranged person before he can get his hands on a high capacity gun.

Letter to High School Seniors on Gun Control

Dear High School Seniors:

Census.gov’s report on voting by age from 1980 to 2016

Do you want to see an end to school shootings?

If so, are you eligible to vote? If you are eligible, have you registered to vote?

If you’ve ever felt frightened or sad or angry in the wake of tragedies like the mass shooting yesterday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, please know that you have tremendous power right at your fingertips.

If every high school senior in America who feels as you do goes into a voting booth during the 2018 mid-term elections and pulls the lever for a candidate who advocates for sensible gun control laws, you can fight this insanity. Continue reading Letter to High School Seniors on Gun Control

Protections for Dreamers?

A January 2018 Pew Research survey shows that a majority of Americans support protections for Dreamers.

I’m a liberal Democrat and a progressive Christian. Predictably, I support gay marriage, gun control, government assistance for the poor, and the protection of the promise we made to Dreamers. I enjoy sharing a meal and discussing politics and religion with those who share my views.

I have a few friends and a number of relatives who are conservative Republicans and evangelical Christians. Predictably, they support traditional marriage, gun-owners’ rights, and a work requirement for the poor who receive government assistance. Many of them do, however, support protections for Dreamers. I occasionally share a meal with these friends and relatives, but we studiously avoid discussing politics and religion and focus on what connects us.

We are most comfortable with like-minded people, and that works for most of us in our social lives.

But political purism in the public arena endangers our democracy. Continue reading Protections for Dreamers?

Want Unbiased News?

NAMLE’s parent guide to media literacy offers great questions we should all ask.

Want unbiased news? If so, you’re in good company. According to a Pew Research survey released in January, 78% of Americans believe it is never acceptable for news media to favor a political party in reporting current events.

Why is it, then, that so many of us get our news from biased sites that align with our views?

In the same survey, when asked how much they trust media reports on political issues, only 47% of Americans responded that media’s coverage is fair and balanced. Given the current political climate, this should surprise no one.

What is surprising about this study, though, is this finding:

On the question of whether their news media cover political issues fairly, for example, partisan differences appear in 20 of the 38 countries surveyed. In five countries, the gap is at least 20 percentage points, with the largest by far in the U.S. at 34 percentage points….

The U.S. is also one of only a few countries where governing party supporters are less satisfied with their news media than are nonsupporters.

Interestingly, the survey also revealed that those who are less educated want unbiased news just as much as those who are more educated. [See this chart.] This may come as a surprise to my liberal friends who are quick to label those who support the Trump administration as ignorant and uneducated. But only 21% of Republican Party supporters—no matter their level of education—are satisfied with media coverage. And even among Democratic Party supporters, only slightly more than half are satisfied.

The results of this survey seem to suggest that, in the absence of an easy way to detect bias in our news coverage, we tend to assume that the biases that align with our own are more objective. As the political divide widens, the danger to our democracy if we continue down this path cannot be understated.

For objective journalism outlets to thrive, they must have readers and viewers. The more consumers flock to media outlets that cater to their views and confirm their biases, the greater the danger becomes that the most objective sources of our news will flail and fold. And the more we read only sources that confirm our views, the more insular and less informed we become.

What can we do about this? As I’ve said before in this blog, as teachers we must do a better job of helping our students recognize media bias. Those teachers who foist their own views on students do more harm than good. We must teach our students to question the arguments they like just as vigorously as those they dislike. We must teach them to seek out the original sources of their news rather than relying on sound-bites or click-bait. We must teach them to distinguish fact from opinion.

And what about those of us who have long since finished our educations? We don’t always do these things either. As individuals we must challenge ourselves to go to the most objective sites first, and we must reward those sites with our loyalty and support. Periodically, we should read or view a source that challenges our own thinking.

Digital and media literacy sites for teachers have some excellent suggestions for students that adults might also find valuable. Here are just two that I’ve found helpful:

  • ISTE’s Top 10 sites to help students check their facts. At the top of their list is AllSides, a site that offers views from the left, right, and center in three adjacent columns that allows readers to compare coverage.
  • The National Association for Media Literacy Education offers a guide in three languages for parents to help their children question what they see in media. We adults would do well to ask these questions ourselves.

We can’t afford to procrastinate or to dig in our heels and entrench ourselves any more deeply on opposite sides. I had conversations recently with two friends, one a liberal and one a conservative. Both admitted to me that they had almost no close friends who didn’t share their political views. That is just as dangerous as having no friends of other races. I have other friends who tell me they hate holiday dinners because they can’t have a civil conversation about politics even with family members they love.

We must find ways to bridge this divide, just as we want our lawmakers to do. And if we can’t do it face-to-face, we can at least start by changing our habits in the media we consume.

What can you commit to do?