Zero steps forward, and a bunch of steps back in Missouri

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Ah, Missouri. My home state. For years, the ultimate purple state, previously described as a “bellwether,” before we decided to color code our partisan leanings. Since the Tea Party revolution of 2010, Missouri has increasingly moved into solid red territory. Barack Obama narrowly lost the state in 2008 (by only 4,000 votes!), but lost it clearly in 2012, and Trump won it by double digits in 2016. Republicans have a huge majority in both houses of the legislature, and they just took back the governor’s mansion in the most recent election. Even before, when milquetoast Democrat Jay Nixon ran the state, all he was able to do was veto some of the most reactionary and irrational bills that arrived at his desk. He provided an important check on GOP inanity, but could do little else.

Now even those days are gone, and the Republicans run the state. The metropolitan areas of Kansas City, St Louis, and Columbia make up a near majority of the state population, and are solidly Democratic, but the Republicans enjoy disproportionate power and representation in the state capitol. They are seemingly on a mission to replicate most of their western neighbors’ mismanagement and transmogrify Missouri into East Kansas.

One such effort has been in the area of women’s rights, specifically their reproductive autonomy.

Senate Bill 5 is a bill advancing through the Missouri legislature, officially concerning restrictions and regulations on abortion. The bill had already been approved by the state Senate, and underwent some tweaks in the House.

There are several parts to this bill, but one aspect in particular has been troubling people who don’t hate women. Specifically, language in SB 5 allows employers to fire women who used birth control and who had received abortions. In addition, housing providers would be allowed to refuse housing to women for those same reasons. The language in the bill is designed to override a St. Louis city ordinance that prohibits employers and housing providers from using a woman’s personal body choices as a reason to discriminate against them.

Let me make this clear.

Punishing women for using birth control and for having made the decision to have an abortion is oppression. It’s state-sanctioned misogyny.

This is not hyperbole or partisan bias. A group of (mostly) men regulating what women are allowed to do with their own body is anti-woman, as well as targeted authoritarianism.

The flimsy justification used for this is a common one – “religious liberty.” But instead of the religious liberty guaranteed by the Constitution – where the government cannot make laws favoring one religion over any others – a different kind of religious liberty seems to be in mind. The freedom to use one’s religious beliefs as a justification to oppress or mistreat others is not one protected by the Constitution, but it appears to be what Missouri Republicans are thinking of with this bill. If a “Christian” knows a prospective tenant in their apartment building has an ortho tri-cyclen prescription for… well, any reason (hint, they aren’t always about birth control), then that landlord could turn her away, even if she has a good rental history and plenty of money. All in the name of “religious freedom.” Remember, this is the state that has legal anti-discrimination protections for people who consume alcohol. Legal protection for women is apparently where the line is drawn.

This bill represents the painful intersection of two enormous problems with Republican leadership in the state of Missouri, as well as nationwide.

One of them is the obsession so many (usually older) straight white cisgender conservative men have with the reproductive systems of women. The other is the hypocrisy of “small government conservatives” lauding the advantages of local control taking precedence over state control, except when it comes to red state governments and blue city governments. Then they can’t dictate how the cities are run fast enough.

With that second point, there has already been a surge of Republicans from rural and suburban Missouri finding themselves very concerned with the inner workings of Kansas City and St. Louis in the last few years. Both of those cities are now required to put their local earnings taxes up for votes every five years, and if repealed, would not be allowed to ever reinstate them. Both Kansas City and St. Louis have had attempts at passing higher minimum wages shot down by the state. Same with stricter gun laws. Republicans rail about federal and state overreach only when it affects their personal ideological beliefs. They have no problem sticking it to the citizens of Democratic-leaning cities, regardless of the harm their policies might cause.

These issues are not simply matters of ideological difference. The bodily autonomy of more than half of population should not be a liberal or conservative issue. Birth control is legal for women to use in the United States. Abortion is also legal (and constitutionally-protected). Allowing discrimination against women for exercising their legal rights (and controlling their own bodies), is unconstitutional and un-American. We need to be better than this. Women face enough challenges in American society as it is. Saddling them with more burdens in Missouri is disgusting and hateful.

Meanwhile, Republican hypocrisy toward notions of local control should be embarrassing to them. It won’t be, because making the base happy, and ensuring re-election, is more important than dignity and honesty.

SB 5 has not yet become law. And, if it does, it could very well be shot down by the courts, who have already ruled against similar laws. The federal government has already overridden these sorts of state laws, and can do so again. However, regardless of the final result, the fact that representatives of Missouri citizens believe it’s necessary to override city laws in order to trample of the rights of women is a travesty. Any member of the Missouri legislature who supports this, supports treating women as something less than men.

Please read this, and let your fellow Missourians know what’s happening in Jefferson City,

The actual wording of the bill can be found here:

http://www.senate.mo.gov/17info/BTS_Web/Bill.aspx?SessionType=S2&BillID=69407391

Posted in Civil Rights, Governance, Healthcare, Kansas City, Politics, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Middle Finger to Our Grandchildren

Well, this is what happens when we hire an amateur.

Against the advice of his most reasonable advisors, against the knowledge provided by the world’s best scientists, against the requests by a multitude of corporate leaders, against the pleas of almost every government on Earth… Donald Trump officially pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord.

What does that mean? Why is it a problem?

Well, let me start by providing some background information. The Paris Climate Agreement is pact signed by 195 out of 197 possible countries around the world, agreeing to take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and attempt to limit the effects of global warming. The idea is to try to halt warming at 2 degrees Celsius over current levels.

The agreement specifically allows each country to set their own standards, their own timelines, and their own methods. It doesn’t set up sanctions or punishments. It’s not legally binding. It is a way for nations to help work together on tackling the very real issue of man-made climate change. It allows each nation to set its own goals, and then encourages them to create new goals as each one is (hopefully) met. It is a collaborative agreement designed to make it as easy as possible for every nation to participate in the mitigation of human-caused global warming. Not only does the agreement NOT cause economic harm to the US (or any other country), but it will likely be an economic benefit to everyone, especially as new technologies develop, and new industries grow and flourish. The only businesses that may suffer are those who refuse to adapt to necessary changes in the way we produce energy and the way we consume resources.

With all that said, US President Donald Trump decided to join just two other countries and step away from the Paris Agreement. 195 of 197 countries originally signed the agreement. The two holdouts were Syria, which is understandably a little busy these days, and Nicaragua, which decided the agreement wasn’t strict enough.

His reasons were covered in a speech delivered on June 1. His primary arguments were that other countries would be held to less-harsh standards than the United States, and that the changes necessary to our infrastructure, energy production, and businesses would hurt the American economy and cause people to lose jobs. You can read multiple fact-checks of his speech here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Suffice to say, almost everything Trump said about the Paris Climate Agreement is wrong. I’ve already explained some of what the agreement actually says and does. However, this bears repeating.

He repeatedly claimed the economy would be damaged by the accords. Other than one partisan study specifically commissioned for his argument, no serious economist believes that pursuing green technologies and reducing fossil fuel consumption will be a drain on jobs or the economy. Even now, in the early stages of the Paris accord, the US has far more jobs in solar power than in coal. Technologies change and markets adapt. If anything, developing new technologies will be a boon the economy. New jobs develop when new infrastructure is created.

Trump also continued his strange fixation/mispronunciation of China, and argued that, “China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So, we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement.”

Well, no. That’s not how this works. Actually, his entire speech contained statements that seemed to assume the Agreement was legally binding, with penalties for noncompliance.As I previously explained, the reality is that the agreement is completely voluntary. Each nation creates its own rules and its own goals. The nations have all voluntarily agreed to officially start pushing toward their goals in 2020, and as each goal is met, newer, more ambitious goals would be created. But failure to meet said goals is punishment to the warming planet, not to a nation’s budget or trade policies. Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand the basic concept of the treaty. He positions it as a malevolent foreign other usurping American sovereignty.  I suppose it makes sense that a global warming denier would see things that way, but it’s just another way he’s wrong.

Speaking of Trump being wrong, China isn’t “allowed” to build more coal plants. China is still heavily reliant on coal, but they have actually pushed hard to scale back coal production, and are working harder than most countries in modernizing their energy production. Every statement Trump made referencing China seemed to treat it as though the Agreement gave it the freedom to ignore the treaty, while punishing American interests. This is a complete lie.

But wait, there’s more!

Trump also claimed, “Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree — think of that; this much — Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Tiny, tiny amount.”

This is misleading at best. It’s a prime example not of a lie, but of bullshit. It’s a bullshit statement in that it misleads while providing some grains of truth as a cover. There was a report that stated the reductions in projected temperature increases were relatively light. This is true. However, it assumes every country maintains their initial goals for the next 83 years. But that’s not how the treaty works. The idea is that as each nation reaches their first set of goals, they set a new round of goals, designed to continue improvement.

As an aside, even a 0.2 degree reduction would be a major improvement over what might happen if we do literally nothing. Considering the drastic consequences of even small increases in average global temperature, every number improvement is better than nothing.

Maybe my favorite part of the speech was when Trump (rather haltingly) proclaimed, “I was elected to represent the citizens of… Pittsburgh, not Paris. I promised I would exit or renegotiate any deal which fails to serve America’s interests.”

The Mayor of Pittsburgh responded by issuing several statements proclaiming his support for the Paris treaty, and a full 75% of the people of Pittsburgh themselves voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Pittsburgh is far closer to Paris on this issue than they are to Donald Trump. It’s true that Pittsburgh is surrounded by coal country, but it figures that Trump would manage to screw his rhetorical point up while gunning for easy alliteration.

Anthropogenic climate change is real. No matter how many times Donald Trump has denied it, the fact remains that humans are warming the planet. And there is little doubt that the warming we have already caused is creating problems right now for humanity. And further warming will create yet more problems. I wrote about this before. I encourage people to follow this link, and take a look at the evidence for man-made global warming.

Donald Trump thinks it’s a hoax concocted by foreign interests to harm the American economy. Many of his supporters concur. But 98% of climate experts disagree. 98% of the world’s governments disagree. More than a century of intensive research disagrees with Donald Trump.

Four facts:

The world is warming. Humans are the cause. That warming is a bad thing. And we can do something about it.

The Paris Climate Agreement is as moderate a treaty as one can get. It’s certainly imperfect. But it has almost no economic drawbacks, and sooooo many possible benefits. A good businessman would be in favor of it. Most actually are.

Unfortunately, the Electoral College put a lousy businessman in charge of the United States.

Fortunately, this country is full of intelligent and decent people. Many cities and states have proclaimed their support of the agreement, and will work toward meeting the original goals, in spite of the President. Many businesses will as well. Eventually, a new president will most likely re-enter the Agreement. But until then, we as Americans will have to be smarter than the man picked to be our leader, and carry on with sanity and intelligence despite his massive blunder.

Posted in Economics, environment, foreign policy, Governance, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maybe he really could get away with murder…

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Back in January 2016, while on the campaign trail, Donald Trump boasted that he could shoot somebody without losing voters.

Obviously this was a bit of a morbid hyperbole. Trump, in his usual classy way, was simply bragging about his popularity. Like any number of stereotypical rich high school jocks, he’s asserting his dominance via what matters most to him – public acclaim. Well, that, and intimidation. Trump is to modern politics what William Zabka was to 80’s teen flicks.

Despite sweeping the injured leg of the American political system, Trump does still enjoy nearly universal support from elected officials in his own party. Mild clucking from Lindsey Graham and John McCain has been the strongest opposition Trump has faced from the GOP. It seems like no matter what Trump does, no matter how much corruption he demonstrates, no matter how many lies he tells, or mistakes he makes, Republicans will give him a pass. Not only will they give him a pass, but they will also fight Democratic efforts to hold him accountable.

On issue after issue, Trump has shown he can say and do whatever he wants. The media may correct him, comedians may mock him, and Democrats may scold him. But those in power (the Republican Congress) have done little to push back against his most egregious sins. And I want to talk about some of those now.

First of all, I want to stick with truly serious topics. A dishonest, unprofessional president is a problem, no doubt. In a sane world, Trump’s official campaign launch contained enough dishonesty, bigotry, and ignorance to immediately sink his campaign before it even got rolling. However, the twenty-something months since that moment have proven we do not live in a sane world. So, yes, Trump has been astoundingly bad as a candidate, and now as a president. But when there are issues that may actually be criminal, everything else sort of fades into the background. Well, unless one actually is Trump, and then there is an interest in keeping the lesser stuff on the surface. But let’s focus on some potentially impeachment-worthy topics for now.

Things that we know about Trump:

Tax returns

We know that Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns. His official excuse was comically dishonest, but he stuck with it through the campaign, ignoring the fact checkers, tax experts, economists, and reality. After the election, he admitted he had no intention in sharing them anyway, and claimed that nobody cared.

There are two points to make here. For starters, Donald Trump is not legally obligated to release his tax returns. Yes, every major party nominee since Richard Nixon has made it a point to release at least some prior years of tax filings, and most have done so without much complaint. But neither tradition nor gestures toward open disclosure have been particularly interesting to Trump.

The second point is that his refusal to release his tax returns opens up the possibility of a number of problems. Tax returns won’t reveal every nuance of his financial dealings, but basics like his sources of income, taxes paid, and any sort of loopholes used, would all be visible. If Trump does have income from Russian sources, his tax returns may show that. Also, there has been some speculation that the President has been guilty of underpaying taxes, or even all-out tax evasion. This would be an impeachable offense, and releasing that information would provide the American people with some clarity. However, the Republican Congress has not shown any interest in forcing the President to release his taxes. There are some laws being considered by individual states that may require disclosure of taxes in order for a presidential candidate to appear on the ballot, but that wouldn’t even be an issue until 2020. For now, it would take Congressional action to push Trump toward openness. Until that happens, his taxes, no matter how suspicious they might be, are a dead end.

Russia!

There’s a ton of stuff to discuss here. I plan on covering this issue in greater depth, but suffice to say, we know a handful of things, and everything else is speculation.

We know that the Russian government, using their own resources (as well as assists from WikiLeaks), hacked the Democratic National Committee, and the Hillary Clinton campaign, during the 2016 election. They released stolen emails throughout the year to the American media. Most of the emails were themselves innocuous, but the fact that private memos were being shared with the public cast a shadow on the public perception of Hillary Clinton and her trustworthiness. Despite the lack of tangible evidence of any actual wrongdoing committed by Secretary Clinton, she suffered in popularity because of the Russian cyber attacks.

What we also know is that several advisors and confidantes of Donald Trump had close business ties with Russian companies and the Russian government. Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone, Jeff Sessions, Mike Flynn, and even Trump himself were all in contact with Russian government officials throughout 2016. Many of these contacts have been covered in detail by better journalists than myself.

After the election, but before Trump took office, Flynn was in contact with the Russian ambassador, and promised a lifting of economic sanctions even before he held any sort of government position. The contact, and subsequent lies to the Trump team eventually led to Flynn’s ouster after just three weeks as National Security Advisor.

We know that Donald Trump has pursued business deals with Russia for decades. We know that his sons have claimed much of their development funding has come from Russia.

What we don’t know for certain is the degree that Trump associates aided or approved of Russian sabotage. We don’t know how much money (if any) exchanged hands between Trump and Russia. And we don’t know if Trump himself was aware of – or involved in – potential collusion.

And those unknown quantities are what is currently being investigated by the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the FBI, in ascending order of seriousness. Unfortunately, the House investigation is mired in partisan ostriching. The Republicans who hold a majority on all committees are far more interested in ignoring Trump’s ties to Russia, and instead prefer to discuss the source of White House leaks and… Hillary Clinton’s emails. Because “party over country” is sadly quite real in these polarizing times. The Senate is doing a little more, where there are a handful of Republicans that are at least slightly skeptical of Trump. And finally, that FBI investigation is directly related to the final issue on this list.

Sexual misconduct

In a sane world, this would have killed Trump’s campaign before he would have even made it through the primary. And then, if that didn’t do it, surely the leaked Access Hollywood tape should have dropped Trump’s vote share below thirty percent. Of course, that’s not what happened.

What did happen that we know?

Well, from Trump’s own words, we know that he walked into the changing rooms, uninvited, during both the Miss USA and the Teen USA pageants, in order to be able to see the young women (and girls) in states of undress. Not only have multiple contestants claimed this happened, but Trump himself bragged about walking into the changing rooms, while speaking on Howard Stern’s show.

Trump’s own words also include an admission of committing sexual assault in the now-infamous Access Hollywood recordings. In fact, more than an admission, he outright bragged that he assaults women at will. There was a fairly strong backlash from prominent Republicans immediately following these revelations, but the GOP outcry faded quickly. Within a couple weeks, nearly all of Trump’s lost support had returned to the fold.

Beyond Trump’s personal statements, he has been accused of sexual assault by several women over the years, including an allegation of raping a teenager. Despite a plethora of accusations, Trump’s support from his political base and from the GOP leadership has hardly wavered. As long as no damning evidence is brought to the public, his party will gladly turn a blind eye toward Trump’s sexual transgressions, both admitted and accused.

Conflicts of interest and the emoluments clause

This is another topic that I intend to expound on in greater detail in a future blog post, as there is so much going on here. What we can say is that Donald Trump was and still is the head of a large, privately-owned corporation, primarily invested in real estate, with interests in dozens of countries all over the world.

Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 of the US Constitution reads, “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.

Modern interpretations of this clause (known as the emoluments clause), agree that Trump’s multiple business interests around the world frequently run squarely into this part of the document. Many of his businesses receive funding and tax incentives from foreign governments. As long as Trump continues to remain as owner of his enterprise (and earn profits from the business), his foreign investments are a direct violation of the emoluments clause.

As long as Trump earns money from a foreign government, no matter how indirectly, he is at risk of being influenced by that government. Indeed, foreign leaders have already expressed a desire to use Trump’s DC hotel for diplomatic visits, as a way to help grease the diplomatic wheels. This is blatant corruption, and if the Congress was interested in pursuing this issue, it is certainly an impeachable offense. There is a lawsuit being pushed which may eventually lead to some sort of legal action, but that could take years. In the meantime, the only thing that could force Trump to divest himself from his businesses is political will.

Obstruction of justice

When Donald Trump fired James Comey last week, he most assuredly did so in order to cripple the investigation into his ties with Russia. New leaks dripping out of the White House seem to have confirmed this. In fact, every time somebody in or near his administration has indicated they are looking into his potential misdeeds, Trump fires them. There’s a definite pattern.

This has taken me a few days to write, and when discussing this administration, a few days can amount to a metric crap-ton of new information. Not long after starting this piece, those leaks turned into a waterfall, many from the president himself. During an interview with Lester Holt, Trump admitted that he asked then-Director Comey if he was being investigated, and also stated (a bit more indirectly) that the firing was because of the Russian investigation.

Trump was enraged that Comey was continuing to… well, do his job. Unlike the House and Senate intelligence committees, FBI director Comey took the investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia quite seriously. Indeed, just a few days before being fired, Comey sought additional resources from the Justice Department in order to handle the rapidly growing investigation.

Further revelations from Comey have shown that Trump (allegedly) asked Comey directly to stop investigating Mike Flynn. He is also said to have asked for a pledge of loyalty from Comey, and requested that Comey consider jailing certain reporters. If true, this is all incredibly damning information.

So what does this all mean? Trump fired Comey because of the investigation of Trump ties to Russia? Then that would be obstruction of justice, and it would certainly be impeachable.

Problem is, even blatant obstruction of justice doesn’t seem to matter to GOP leadership. Not when the head of the Justice Department himself had a hand in the firing, despite having recused himself from the investigation over a month ago. Therefore, Attorney General Sessions is also guilty of obstruction of justice.

Even Republican voters still seem largely unconcerned with the Comey affair. It’s going to take crashing approval ratings from Republican voters to convince Republican Congresspersons to jump off the Trump train, much less help derail it. On issue after issue, Republican leaders have refused to take Trump’s transgressions seriously, or they have changed the subject (leaks! emails! wiretaps!), or have occasionally admitted that partisanship prevents action. There have finally now been some rumblings of dissatisfaction, since the Comey memos came to light. A small handful of Republicans have begun acknowledging the need for further action. However, as of now, a majority still appear to stand with the President.

Since the Comey firing, attention toward Trump’s various misdeeds has ramped up. Yesterday, the DOJ took the surprising (and welcome) step in appointing a special counsel to head up the investigation. Robert Mueller, James Comey’s predecessor as head of the FBI, has a solid reputation for being impartial and bipartisan. Naturally, Trump was livid.

It’s possible that the turmoil of the past week, the appointment of the special counsel, and the slight deterioration in Trump’s support may start to mark the beginning of the end for the near-unanimous support he has received. It’s also possible that the same pattern that has followed will continue… there will be some quiet grumbling among Republican leaders, there will be thinkpieces on liberal-leaning blogs breathlessly reporting that the “Republicans are finally turning on Trump!” And then… a new issue develops, the current scandals die down, and the GOP closes ranks around Trump once again.

Either scenario is possible. Time will tell whether or not Republicans ever do actually “turn on Trump.” It should be remembered that in a supposedly less-partisan time, it still took two years for the GOP to turn on Nixon after the Watergate break-in was first reported. There’s little reason to think anything will change quickly now.

For the time being, Donald Trump is the president. And until the Republican Party determines they can no longer support him, he will remain in office. But I would like to address Republicans for a moment. I want to propose a hypothetical scenario…

Take every scandal, every whiff of wrongdoing, incompetence, dishonesty, and corruption that we’ve seen over the last hundred and something days… and make Hillary Clinton the president. Everything else is still the same. The GOP still has control of the House and Senate. But now Hillary is president. She has multiple associates and staffers with deep connections to Russia. She refused to divest from her business interests. She declined to release her tax returns. She’s making money from foreign investments, in clear violation of the Constitution. She fired the head of the FBI explicitly because he was investigating her connections to a hostile foreign power. She asked him personally to stop his investigations before she fired him. She asked him for his personal loyalty, and to imprison journalists.

Look at that scenario, and please consider whether or not the Republicans in the House and Senate would be currently pushing for impeachment, with the above evidence at their disposal. Please consider whether they would have already pushed for the appointment of a special independent counsel.

To any readers of this piece who might be Republicans, or at least sympathetic to Donald Trump, please consider this. Would the allegations, scandals, and misdeeds (both proven and alleged) of Trump be worth defending if they were from Hillary Clinton?

As always, others have said it better. So, in addition to the embedded links above, check out the information in the links below.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2017/03/jared_kushner_has_been_concealing_the_flynn_kislyak_meeting_for_months.html

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2017/02/when_did_donald_trump_know_michael_flynn_lied_to_the_fbi.html

https://www.vox.com/world/2017/2/15/14620560/trump-flynn-russia-campaign

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-must-be-impeached-heres-why/2017/05/13/82ce2ea4-374d-11e7-b4ee-434b6d506b37_story.html?tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.0c605ab0f6f2

https://www.vox.com/2017/5/10/15619098/flynn-subpoena-senate-trump-russia

https://www.vox.com/world/2017/5/12/15632894/trump-clapper-russia-hearing-no-evidence

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_good_fight/2017/05/after_comey_s_firing_it_s_time_for_lawmakers_to_take_a_stand_for_the_rule.html

https://www.vox.com/2017/5/15/15644826/trump-ryan-mcconnell-congress-impeach-end-presidency

https://newrepublic.com/article/142712/trump-can-get-away-this-cant-get-away-with

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/5/16/15648080/congressional-republicans-excuse-trump-scandals

https://www.vox.com/2017/5/16/15649718/nyt-comey-russia-trump

https://www.yahoo.com/news/comey-memo-also-trumps-request-arrest-reporters-journalists-call-crazy-scary-160122212.html

Posted in Governance, Law Enforcement, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Secular Morality

This brief missive came about from indirectly observing the argument of… we’ll say a friend of a friend, on Facebook. This individual was discussing morality, specifically the need for morality to be centered around religious tenets. Between his initial post, and a comment concurring with him, the gist seemed to be that without the structure of religious belief, and in particular, the fear of holy wrath, there was little to stop humanity from dissolving into mindless anarchy.

This is hardly a unique perspective, and it’s particularly prevalent among those with a religious background.

This initial Facebook discussion inspired me to dive down the internet rabbit hole… first of discussions for the need of religion to govern morality. Then I refreshed my memory of the history of secular morality, and typed up a quick response to the Facebook thread. After some consideration, I decided not to dive into the thread, but I thought what I wrote could be a decent primer for those who believe that a higher power is needed for human morality. This was written as a response to a conversation, so forgive the occasional lapses in the second person.

I will also note this is a HUGE topic, and this little rant barely scratches the surface. So if any reader would like more depth, please click on some of the links I added, and feel free to dive down the rabbit hole, too.

Anyway, here goes my response to the argument “religion is necessary for morality:”


Part of the problem is that your mental framework is still built around the concept that morality is a set of absolute rules enforced by a higher power. Without being able to even consider alternatives, you’re limiting yourselves. Instead of starting from a more open and flexible position, you’re opening the discussion with the assumption that the religious point of view is the right one, and you need evidence to change your mind. The thing is, that evidence already exists, and has existed just as long as religious justifications for morality. You just need to do the reading.

There is a massive trove of literature on secular morality, much of it dating to well before Christianity, and even before Judaism. Ancient thinkers and philosophers in the East have pondered morality without any sort of deity for millennia. Even Greek and Roman philosophers have covered this topic. Plato and Socrates both had good stuff to say on the concept of secular morality. Socrates’ (as written by Plato) Euthyphro dilemma takes a stab at inquiring as to what makes commands by god inherently good. Even today, the Euthyphro dilemma vexes religious scholars. Thiruvalluvar, a Tamil philosopher, wrote on ethics at least a century before Christ. His works were entirely secular, and never assumed any sort of deity as the backbone of his ethics. That framework of requiring a boss to lay the ground rules simply wasn’t there. Chinese philosopher Mozi discussed an early form of consequentialism (more on that later) 400 years before Christ – and no gods to speak of were involved.

Secular morality has a long and rich history, as I’ve already shown. One of the more straightforward concepts of secular morality can be explained via consequentialism, which is itself derived from utilitarianism. There are plenty of other schools of thought regarding secular morality, but if one has a handle on consequentialism, then that provides a decent starting point. As Peter Singer has described, consequentialists don’t start with the rules themselves, already handed down by god. Instead, they start with goals. What do we want to be happy, healthy, and productive? What actions will we require to live good lives? And from there, we work backward. Killing each other, robbing, raping, lying, committing fraud – none of these acts make for peaceful or productive communities, much less peaceful or productive individuals. We’ve known this since we’ve had communities. We’ve known this since before we developed writing. There is even some paleontological evidence that our hominid ancestors figured this out, even if they couldn’t articulate it. No gods needed here.

What a consequentialist is concerned with is the outcome. They ask, what behavior produces the best outcomes? Stone tablets and fear of eternal damnation aren’t as important as not wanting to live in anarchy. Eventually, this concept leads to community rules, which leads to ever-evolving ideas of laws and governance. That’s the structure you guys feel you need. Laws created by humans, for humans. Considering there is no evidence for an actual magic sky daddy, it’s reasonable to argue that god-enforced laws are just as man-made as any secular government.

And of course, as noted earlier, consequentialism is just one aspect to secular morality. But that’s partly my point. Morality without god is still vast in scope. Maybe larger than morality with god, since it isn’t constrained by rigid doctrines.

Meanwhile, adherents to religious morality – always in fear of the potential anarchy of secularism – don’t have a great historical track record themselves. Do I really need to go over the enormous number of atrocities committed in the name of enforcing one group’s notions of religious morality? Is Socrates or Jeremy Bentham really more of a killer than Richard the Lionheart or Hernan Cortez?

Indeed, it can be argued that religious morality requires a rather extreme form of coercion to work. Demanding obedience in fear of endless suffering is just as authoritarian as the worst dictatorships. Indeed, many supposedly secular tyrannies have used religion as justification for the misery they beset on their fellow humans. It could be argued that concentrating on the real-world results of one’s actions produces better outcomes in the here and now.

Bernard Williams (despite his criticism of both utilitarianism and consequentialism, his thoughts are still valuable here) discussed the need for a divine framework for morality thusly, “Either one’s motives for following the moral word of God are moral motives, or they are not. If they are, then one is already equipped with moral motivations, and the introduction of God adds nothing extra. But if they are not moral motives, then they will be motives of such a kind that they cannot appropriately motivate morality at all … we reach the conclusion that any appeal to God in this connection either adds to nothing at all, or it adds the wrong sort of thing.”

It frightens me to think there are potentially billions of people who believe the only thing preventing civilization from dissolving into something out of George Miller’s nightmares is a potentially imaginary religious fantasy. Is that really what one needs to keep from murdering and looting? Is that the “solid framework” morality is built on?

The devil is in the details, but your point of view requires the devil to provide those details.

Your position assumes one of two things –

  1. There is definitely a god of some kind, and your particular interpretation of its edicts includes all the necessary values needed to live a good life now.
  2. Or, you don’t really know or care if there is a god, but you believe humanity is too simple and savage to be able to handle moral lessons without fear of divine punishment.

Now, I shouldn’t have to tell you what’s wrong with both assumptions, but because I likely still need to do so;

Number 1 assumes that an inherently unprovable assertion is fact, without the necessary evidence to back it up. Number 2 is cynical and easily disproven, as I have done in the preceding paragraphs. It assumes the world is becoming a more dangerous and chaotic place as it becomes more secular, despite the fact that the contrary is true.

I have some homework for you. So you have a better understanding of what you’re discussing here, please check out some of the works from the following writers:

For overviews of utilitarianism, start with some of those who inspired utilitarian thought. Let’s go back to Epicurus, then jump forward to David Hume and William Godwin. Then for the origins of utilitarianism itself, check out Jeremy Bentham, first and foremost. Then take a look at works by John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, Elizabeth AnscombeR. M. Hare and Peter Singer.

After that, for secular morality of a different order, you can delve into works by the aforementioned Bernard Williams, Julian Baggini, and Greg Epstein. Sam Harris is problematic, but his 2010 work The Moral Landscape, might be one of the best modern arguments for secular morality, and can be largely compartmentalized from some of his major flaws.

And for an idea what is actually happening to the world in regard to human progress over the last few decades and centuries, there are three books I like to recommend:

Atrocitology by Matthew White

The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker

The Progress Paradox by Gregg Easterbrook.

None of these works are philosophical in nature, but instead discuss the recent history of human civilization, and note the (admittedly slow and inconsistent) bias toward progress and higher standards of living for all of humanity.

Please do some research, and make sure you have an idea of the history behind a topic before discussing it with the assumption of authority. I myself am a dilettante in the area of philosophical morality, being self-taught, with no formal education. But it’s important to me to understand how the world works, and how societies function, so I still seek out that education, albeit in informal ways. I really know you guys can do the same, and I encourage you to do so. I can lend you some of the works I listed above, and can give you titles to check out for some of those I don’t have. There’s a lot of good stuff out there.


There’s much more to morality. So much more, what I wrote wouldn’t even amount to a decent introduction to any serious work of philosophy or ethics. Nonetheless, I would like people to consider that religion may not be the best starting point for morality. At least, it’s not the only one.

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A Skewed Perspective

When we look at another person of approximately equal height, we often perceive them to be a bit taller than we are. We’re often looking at their height as peaking at the top of their head, and our eyes will be a few inches shorter than this. So, we’re still looking up at them, especially if we find ourselves comparing them to us. It creates a perception of inequality, even when none exists.

Humans are talented…

…at tricking ourselves. We can convince ourselves of things that aren’t true, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

A similar phenomenon exists with a lot of white people, especially (but not exclusively) straight white cis men.

Imagine a footrace across an American football field. As a straight white cis male, I’m already at the 5 yard line, getting close to the end zone. The end zone can represent… really, anything culturally positive. Financial success, comfort, happiness, political power, influence, you name it. And I’m already pretty close. The only reason I’m not already there was because I wasn’t born into wealth.

I started at the 10 yardline, and thus far, I’ve only moved five yards. I look back and see genuine progress by people who don’t look like me. That black guy made it 40 yards in the same time I ran 5. What the hell? It’s uneven! From my perspective, I’ve barely moved, whereas there are all these programs, all these movements to help out those guys back there. And they’ve moved so much farther than I have!

Of course, with that perspective, I lost sight of the fact that I started at the ten yard line, and he started way back behind midfield. A century ago, his great grandfather wasn’t even allowed to leave the other end zone.

White people, I’m not telling you this to attack you. I’m saying you should be aware of the fact that you started out way ahead. Other people making progress, and wanting to fight for more, isn’t an attack on you. It’s not a way to beat you or to bring you down. It’s simply them trying to reach the same level of opportunity, to get the same shot at that end zone.

There’s a competition fallacy many have, even if they may arrive at it unconsciously. It stems, in part, from primitive tribalism. If another group is succeeding,  we often believe that success is in spite of us, or even directly harming us.

This is a harmful and outmoded viewpoint. We create a better world when we have a vested interest in everyone succeeding. I would much rather stand in the end zone with everyone than get there first and block it off when I arrive. Social imbalance is good for nobody.

When a protest turns violent, far too many people (who look like me) will accuse the people who protested of doing something wrong. We accuse them of wanting too much, or pushing superiority. Without having experienced the time of day-to-day struggle that people of color, LGBT people, and women face, privileged white guys like me end up feeling under attack.

I get it.

It’s easy to feel like its personal.

The thing is, my fellow white guys – it’s almost never personal. I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating. When people who have historically struggled in our society say that something is wrong – don’t dismiss it. Don’t argue, don’t act as though the complaint is about you. Just listen. Don’t try to pick at flaws or errors. Don’t change the subject. Did a window get broken, or someone get arrested? Maybe. But concentrating on that is an easy way to ignore the reason for the altercation in the first place.

The fact that straight white men feel this pressure is both proof that there are societal imbalances biased in our favor, and also proof that people are trying to do something about it. But it’s cool. We can be allies. We can acknowledge that we’re much closer to the end zone, and we were born that way.

That even goes for those of us who are financially depressed. A poor white guy is still less likely to be treated with suspicion by a cop than a rich black person. There are things that I can get away with that a person of color cannot, even if that person is in better financial shape than me.

I address my fellow straight white cis men quite often. Because we are the ones with all the advantages, even now. We run most of the corporations, and control most of the government. And yet, we are the ones who are often the most in denial about our advantages. I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last few years debunking cherry picked crime stats and explaining how the United States, even post-slavery and post-Jim Crow, manages to make life harder for everyone who isn’t a straight white cis man. And when I do, I’m almost always arguing with another white man. It’s always someone who doesn’t know the struggle, and isn’t interesting in trying to learn about it.

The problem lies with us white dudes, and the society we put together 200 plus years ago. We designed it for ourselves. Even centuries later, with greater awareness of our initial inequality, there is still reflexive resistance to getting everyone else pulled up to social, economic, and political parity. Don’t believe me? Look at the White House. Yeah, there have been a million competing thinkpieces arguing for and against the role racism played in Trumps’ election. It certainly wasn’t the only reason. But a reflexive white backlash against the idea of increased diversity under President Obama WAS definitely a contributing factor.

White people, I’ve asked this of you before, and I need to do so again…

Don’t always trust your gut. Don’t look only at the surface and react to it. You see people of color have made progress? You see marriage equality become the law of the land? You see transgender people become more ubiquitous in our popular culture? Yeah, you see all of that. And you assume that means the struggle is over, or at least that it’s wrapping up. Well, that’s because we have a bias to see things from our own perspective, and not think about what the world looks like from the eyes of another tribe. That made sense when we were competing with the other cave for the next woolly mammoth. But we humans now number 7.5 BILLION. We are on every continent, and we are losing resources and room quickly. We have no choice but to drop the tribalism. Our perspective of others is skewed, and we have to start learning how to change that perspective.

Equality isn’t competition. However, equality does require those who have long been in the lead to slow down, and either help make the race even, or stop racing altogether.

Black Lives Matter is a great example of this. I saw a poll recently showing only 14% of white Americans held a favorable view of the BLM movement. That means a huge percentage of white people distrust the idea that black lives matter. Or they believe it to represent something different. Meanwhile, these black lives are literally struggling to prove their value to white Americans. And they shouldn’t have to. Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that White Lives don’t. It means that white people have been ignoring or even actively hurting black lives, and black people are fed up with it. Who could blame them for that?

White people, please just shut up and listen for a change. Understand that by fighting against equality, and being defensive about your privilege, only leads to more struggle, more instability, and more demagogues stoking fear and hatred. We fall for con men, and then when they steal off with our money, wreck our environment, and destabilize our government, we blame everyone else, except ourselves.

I’m not perfect. I have biases and kneejerk reactions, too. But I’m doing my best to remember where I started. And I try to remember that I’m not going to improve my life if I ignore the struggles of others.

Others have said this stuff better. If you get a chance, take a look at this piece by Jason Pargin (writing under the name David Wong). He’s also addressing white people who may not be all-out racists, but have difficulty seeing things from someone else’s perspective. It’s a good article.

And think about my admittedly strained metaphor. We may all be racing to the same end zone, but white people, especially straight white men, have had a much easier run. It’s about time we use our advantages to actually help get everyone else to the end zone.

Posted in Civil Rights, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Not quite like rain on your wedding day…

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I’ve been on a bit of a posting hiatus lately. The day job has been busy, and my attention has been scattered. But I’ve gradually been piecing together drafts for posts, and will likely start posting regularly again soon. Hopefully on the boxing blog, too.

In the meantime, the world is giving me plenty to write about. Donald Trump, the man who keeps trying to break the concept of irony, just launched 59 irony bombs at an airfield in Syria. I want to talk about this, at least enough to figure out how it to pertains to Alanis Morissette.

Okay, first of all, let me first work out a timeline. I’m trying to get this mess straight here, so bear with me a moment…

  • In 2013, President Obama argued that military force was justified in response to chemical weapons being used on civilians in Syria.

  • Then-private citizen Donald Trump repeatedly argued (mostly through Twitter) that this was a bad idea, and demanded that Obama receive authorization from Congress.

  • Obama eventually agreed, and sought that authorization.

  • Congress refused. While there certainly has been US sponsored military action in Syria, the type of strikes Obama was requesting did not occur.

  • Over the next few years, multiple Republicans would use the eventual lack of action to take political jabs at Obama despite their own refusal to authorize action in the first place.

  • 2016 – Donald Trump campaigned (in part) on non-interventionist (and even quasi-isolationist) rhetoric. He lied repeatedly about “always opposing” the Iraq war, and frequently argued the US should avoid military entanglements in the Middle East.

  • He also campaigned on limiting immigration, especially refugees from places like Syria.

  • January 2017 – Trump scraped out a narrow Electoral College win despite losing the popular vote bigly. His administration was far too disjointed to attempt to push meaningful legislation or even effective executive orders. That is, with the exception of a sloppily executed order to ban immigration from 7 Muslim-majority countries. In particular, Syrian refugees were blocked from entering the US. Well, at least he was being consistent. He wouldn’t go into Syria, but he would also keep Syrians from seeking shelter here, in the name of security. Of course, this ignored the fact that refugees are safer to US citizens than bees, dogs, lightning, and even furniture. But I digress. The courts struck down his order, and its lightly-modified sequel.

  • April 2017 – More chemical weapons kill more civilians in Syria. With a disorganized government, collapsing approval ratings, and nonstop political losses at home, Donald Trump orders a missile barrage on a largely empty Syrian military base. His justification – atrocities committed against the civilians that he refused to help in the first place.

Okay… that’s the timeline as I figure it off the top of my head.

Let this sink in. Especially the events from this week. Donald Trump used dishonest and bigoted arguments to justify barring Syrian refugees. He argued they were potentially dangerous, and even invented fictional terror attacks to help prop up his argument.

And then, when everything seemed to be going downhill for Donald Trump, he wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on what amounts to really expensive fireworks in order to “help” Syrian civilians… you know, future refugees.

Finally, in one last bit of depressing hypocrisy, he blames Obama for the current situation in Syria… that is, despite screaming against such an action four years ago. If I wanted to be charitable, I could use a different word. Instead of hypocritical, I could call it ironic. Still depressing, but definitely ironic. As we know, Alanis didn’t use the word quite right. Rain on your wedding day isn’t ironic as much as just being unfortunate. However, the man who railed at President Obama for being too aggressive with Syria just took irony and blew it up with Tomahawk missiles. When he insisted Obama get Congressional approval for military action… but then ignored Congress for his own attack, he kicked irony right in the junk.

He’s not just the amalgamation of an avaricious walrus and your creepy uncle, he’s also the real subject of Jagged Little Pill’s catchiest song.

Okay. Deep breath.

Jokes about irony are how I keep from running screaming into the night. How I really feel is… well, less amused at irony abuse, and more… enraged. Seriously. This is more than just a political issue, or an issue of hypocrisy or irony. This is a moral issue.

If Trump actually cared about Syrian victims of Assad and ISIS, he would open our doors to those victims, not lob Tomahawks and then blame his predecessor for not doing the same. If those “beautiful children” mattered to Trump, he wouldn’t waste time and money burning down Syrian rubble. He’d give those kids food and shelter in a place that can handle them. Like say… here.

There is no moral justification for this. It’s entirely a cynical, political distraction. Trump has had a lousy run lately, and it seems convenient that he jumps on a single (admittedly awful) atrocity to fire weapons of war at an empty airstrip. And the “liberal media” is doing their part, scrambling over themselves to praise Trump. Nothing feels “presidential” like a few volleys of cruise missiles and a pithy speech about noble humanitarianism.

Meanwhile, his own party is doing their damnedest to prevent meaningful investigation into the Trump campaign’s potential collusion with a hostile foreign power (in an attempt to undermine American democracy). But that doesn’t matter now, because chemicals and Syria and whatnot.

So, irony is dead, or at least beaten to a pulp. Hypocrisy is at embarrassing levels. And the United States government is determined to spit in the eye of morality by turning their backs on those in need, and telling us all to look at the shiny explosions instead. And the gas attacks will continue, and refugees will remain stuck in limbo.

Posted in foreign policy, Governance, History, immigration, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

One down, 207 to go…

Donald Trump has been President of the United States for one week now.

Just typing that feels strange. Like a different reality.

I’ve been re-watching episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine lately, and I’ve recently gotten to one of the “Mirror Universe” episodes that peppered the series. Following up on a classic Original Series episode, our heroes find themselves transported to a twisted version of their own timeline, where the political and military balance of power has shifted, and by the DS9 era, humans are all scrappy rebels, and pretty much every mirror version of the main characters are … well, jerks. It’s entertaining enough (although each subsequent foray into that universe diminished in quality), but also clearly meant to be something of a nightmare world.

All this week, a small part of me is hoping I’ll figure out how to reverse the transporter accident that dragged us into this bizarre hellscape, and return to boring reality.

But anyway, enough of my flights of nerdy solipsism. This is real life, unfortunately. And since we can’t fix this problem using phasers or technobabble, I’m forced to use the most powerful weapon at my disposal.

Information.

Facts matter, even while the new leadership is working overtime to pretend otherwise.

Impeachment may or may not be possible. Unless a bombshell hits, proving Trump’s collusion with the Russian government, it will likely be near impossible to get Republicans to join in on impeachment before the midterms. So for now, we need to assume we have 207 more weeks with this guy in the White House.

And while we as citizens may not ever be able to force him to be honest, we can at least observe and record every terrible decision, every sickening lie. We can make sure that we understand what is happening to our country. Maybe it could eventually be used to kick Trump out of office early. Maybe we’ll have to suffer for three years and fifty one more weeks.

Whatever happens, we can make sure we have a record of everything Trump says and does. I probably won’t do this every single week, but expect regular updates of the new President’s actions. It’s important to have documentation.

I have an extensive list of major reasons why he shouldn’t have been elected in the first place, and have devoted plenty of writing to his absurd and dangerous cabinet appointments, his anti-establishment hypocrisy, as well as his constant lies about voter fraud.

I will include this piece in the “Elected yet unelectable” category, though the sheer scope of his flaws and failings will make it different in format from my other “Unelectable” articles. More of a continuing adventure than a one-off piece.

So, with that lengthy (and meandering) preface complete, let’s talk about Trump’s first week:

Right off the bat, within hours of taking the oath of office (somehow avoiding combustion of Abraham Lincoln’s Bible), Trump suspended a recent Obama executive order reducing insurance premiums on FHA loans. The basic upshot is that low income homeowners will end up paying upwards of $900 more per year on home insurance premiums. Straight out of the gate, Trump’s first significant action is to intentionally hurt low-income homeowners.

Wait, let me backtrack just a little and talk about the speech itself. Other than the rain and the low turnout (more on that later), Donald Trump’s inaugural speech was… well, mercifully short and to the point. But what exactly was that point?

Paranoid fear-mongering is an apt description. Lies about the state of the nation, about the state of the world. It was similar to his RNC speech, except edited for brevity. He told America that they lived in an economically depressed, crime-ridden dystopia, beset on all sides by the spectre of immigration run amok, of terrorism at our doors.

I’ve discussed this before, but it bears repeating – none of what Trump says about the state of the nation is true. Quick facts:

  • Trade deals had relatively little to do with the loss of jobs in manufacturing. Automation, technological advancement, and shifting economic priorities take most of the credit/blame there.
  • The American economy, by and large, is doing pretty well. There are definitely sluggish aspects and weak points, but employment is quite strong, wages are finally rising again, and the US came through the global recession stronger than pretty much every other advanced nation.
  • The United States is actually near a historic low point for crime. Despite a marginal recent uptick in a handful of urban areas, we now live in arguably the safest era of American history.
  • Net immigration, especially from Mexico, is essentially zero. Immigrants, both legal and otherwise, commit less crime than native-born citizens, and even undocumented workers actually act as a benefit to the economy, not a burden.
  • Terrorism is a real problem, but ISIS itself is gradually declining, and death by Islamic terror ranks quite low on the list of things that harm Americans. Just remember that deer, bees, furniture, stairs, and armed toddlers are all significantly greater threats to American lives.

Meanwhile, after the inauguration, Trump immediately took offense to comparisons of the size of the crowd at the event itself to Obama’s inauguration 8 years prior. Aerial photos on the moment Trump was sworn in seem to show a significantly smaller crowd than what President Obama enjoyed in 2009. Numbers from local transit authorities bear this out as well.

It really shouldn’t be much of an issue. And yet, the Guinness world record holder for thinnest skin seems to be obsessing about it. He actually pressured the US Park Service to release favorable information about the crowd size. His press secretary and notable gum enthusiast, Sean Spicer, devoted a ridiculous amount of time at an early press conference arguing that the obviously scant crowd was the largest in history.

Days later, Spicer, Trump, and Kellyanne Conway were all still arguing about the size of the crowds at the inauguration, despite the twin blows of reality, and most people having long moved on.

Meanwhile, as Trump attempted to distract the world with frivolous issues, he started off his administration in violation of Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the US Constitution – the Emoluments Clause. Basically, by remaining invested and connected with his businesses after taking office, he is accepting “reward,” meaning profit, from foreign interests, as he has many businesses around the world.

It is not completely clear how effective invoking the Clause will be for Trump opponents, but there is certainly reason to think multiple lawsuits will follow the first one.

While Trump is taking advantage of his new position to further enrich himself, he’s also doing his best to make life more difficult for others, including women around the world. On his third full day in office, Trump signed an executive order banning foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from mentioning abortion when counseling women on reproductive health issues. It’s the “global gag rule” pushed by Ronald Reagan in 1984, but now greatly expanded. Under Reagan, it ordered foreign organizations that receive funding from the U.S. for family planning services can’t discuss abortion. Doing so could result in a loss of funding – as of 2016 was about $600 million. Now, that includes any organization that provides any medical services, including AIDS medications, malaria treatment, or anything else. So now nearly $10 billion worth of funding is affected. Since abortion is mentioned by multiple health organizations as a reasonable procedure in certain scenarios, this could lead to an enormous amount of suffering and death. It will also hurt women disproportionately, and likely lead to an increase in back-alley abortions around the world.

Trump also ordered a hiring freeze on the federal workforce. This is not actually totally abnormal for an incoming president. It can take a bit of time to sort out priorities and directions, and pausing everything can be useful. But he also ordered the hiring of 5000 border patrol agents… which would be the opposite of a hiring freeze. So who knows what he actually wants?

What else? Did he do more? Oh yes…

Trump’s first public address after the inauguration was at the CIA headquarters, where he rambled about inauguration crowd size, suggested stealing oil from other countries, proclaimed his distrust of “the media,” and lied about never having a beef with the intelligence community. It was a disastrous event, to say the least.

Trump’s pick to chair the FCC is an opponent of net neutrality. Prepare for a vastly more restrictive internet over the next few years.

How about the environment? Noted climate change denier surrounded himself with a cabinet full of climate change deniers (and a few lukewarm climate changers who won’t be much help). For starters, Trump put every government body with a scientific mandate under a gag order. The EPA, the National Park Service, NASA, and so on. The NPS decided to to directly defy Trump, but the others are all now being represented by private allies with new Twitter accounts. But in the meantime, Trump appears to be preparing for massive changes in science policy, especially regarding environmental regulations. Trump has also decided that all new environmental policies will be required to undergo Congressional review to ensure they fit the political preferences of the GOP. Protecting clean air and water is out. Providing false information about the cleanliness of coal is in. Working to reduce carbon emissions will be a thing of the past. Withdrawing from the Paris accord seems likely. The potential environmental damage caused by Trump policies may take decades to reverse.

Trump also dealt another blow to both environmental concerns and civil liberties, when he decided to restart the DAPL, and reopen the Keystone XL pipeline.

But while we deal with that, back in Washington, the US Supreme Court will soon get a new conservative justice. Trump has apparently narrowed his choices down to two right-wing extremists of the Scalia ilk, and a third – William Pryor – who is an outright reactionary bigot. My personal cynicism leads me to think Pryor will be the likely choice, as he is by far the worst option, occupying a spot on the ideological spectrum between Robert Bork and Mussolini.

Throughout the week, Trump has also come back to a pre-inauguration claim that he was the victim of widespread voter fraud. In an election he officially won.

Yeah.

Trump has repeatedly (and falsely) asserted that his 2.9 million vote deficit to Hillary Clinton was entirely due to “illegals voting,” on the order of 3 to 5 million. Of course, he has provided no citations, no evidence. He briefly referenced a 2012 Pew survey that said nothing about voter fraud. It merely discussed issues with states taking time to clean up voter rolls. As people move, die, and re-register elsewhere, irregularities occur which forces states to periodically purge and clean their voter rolls. Multiple investigations have occurred over the years which showed that actual cases of fraud were less common than lightning strikes. It’s a topic I’ve discussed previously on this blog. But Trump recklessly stated that the largest case of voter fraud in world history has occurred –  in an election he won – and every single one of “3-5 million” illegal votes were cast for his opponent. If this were real, it would require pretty much a freeze of all government activities, and an investigation on an unheard-of scale. But of course, that’s not happening, because no such fraud occurred. But Trump gets away with such slander with no more consequence than people like me preaching to the choir.

Trump and his team continued to lie throughout the first week. Trump told a massive falsehood about ACA registration, falsely claiming that estimates of insured people didn’t include those who lost insurance during implementation of the plan. He’s wrong. They do. And the ACA has resulted in a net increase of at least 20 million insured people over the last few years.

Trump continued ranting about voter fraud and crowd sizes throughout the week, even several days after the inauguration. By the way, it turns out much of Trump’s family, and many on his staff are registered to vote in two states.

Trump lied about people being killed during President Obama’s farewell address.

His chief of staff, Steve Bannon, lambasted the media for… well, basically just reporting on the new president’s actions. Sean Spicer declared the media as “the opposition party.” Kellyanne Conway mostly just rambles and changes the subject.

Further hypocrisy happened when it was revealed that multiple people within Trump’s staff have been using private email accounts. You know, the one topic that hurt Trump’s election opponent more than anything else. The topic that Trump ranted about at almost every opportunity for months. Yep, he did it too. Trump also turns out to be tweeting from an unsecured Android phone.

Trump pledged to cut all government funding of the arts. The NEA andthe Corporation for Public Broadcasting are on the chopping block. PBS gets 15 percent of its funding from the government, and NPR 2 percent, so while both will be affected, neither should be wrecked.

Supposedly, Trump hung a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office. While not a big deal in the same way as some of the others listed here, it is amusingly (and sadly) appropriate. Jackson was one of the most bloodthirsty presidents in American history (and there have been plenty of those), was fiercely nationalistic, ran on a populist platform, happily owned slaves, fought multiple duels, and badly mismanaged the economy. Really does make sense.

Trump officially authorized construction of his southern border wall, claiming that he would pay for it with tariffs, then drastically underselling the likely cost of the project.

Trump continued to make a case for bringing back torture and reopening black sites, despite condemnation from many in Congress, and even disagreement from his new Secretary of Defense.

While all this nonsense occurred, something bigger happened. Proving irony to be long dead and buried, Donald Trump officially ordered his promised “Muslim ban” on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Seriously.

The actual details of the ban are scaled back slightly from his original campaign rhetoric, but are still extensive. Trump officially ordered a ban on Muslims from 7 countries: Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Sudan. All of which are majority Muslim. And none of which were the birthplaces of anybody who has successfully carried out a terrorist attack on American soil in decades. The countries he didn’t include in the ban? Countries like Pakistan, Saudia Arabia, Afghanistan, Egypt, the UAE, Lebanon, and Russia. All of which contain people who have killed Americans in the name of terror. It should also be noted that most of those countries spared banning contain Trump business interests.

The ban doesn’t just include new immigration. It also includes existing legal visitors and residents with valid green cards. And it includes refugees. Yes, including the millions still stuck in Syria, and somewhere in between here and there, fleeing the worst catastrophe of the last few decades. Trump has happily shut them out, incoherently ranting about the need for “extreme vetting,” not understanding just how lengthy and extensive the current vetting process is for refugees.

Among the refugees that Trump has stated he will accept – the priority will go to Christian refugees, in blatant defiance of the US Constitution.

As a further attack on immigrants, Trump vowed to shame sanctuary cities by compiling and releasing a database of crimes specifically committed by immigrants.

So, to summarize – in just a week, Donald Trump has lied about what would be record-breaking voter fraud, lied about his own popularity, ordered a shutdown on information from science organizations, banned Muslims from seven countries that aren’t threats to the US, stepped all over the establishment clause of the constitution, makes profit on from foreign investment, celebrates Manifest Destiny, pledged to strip 20-30 million Americans of their healthcare, while claiming he was doing the opposite, ordered construction on a massive “bridge to nowhere” style infrastructure project that will fail to prevent illegal immigration, but will likely damage the local environment and economy.

Whew!

Well, at least he’s keeping busy.

In all seriousness, this has been a spectacularly scary start to a new administration that appears to actively want to harm Americans. This is going to be a rough ride, everyone. As long as we remain vigilant, we should endure. But that vigilance is going to be required of pretty much everyone. Don’t get complacent, don’t get comfortable. Because we can’t afford to let Trump get comfortable.

As always, much of what I wrote has been summarized better. Check out some of the links below:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/01/27/fact-check-president-trump-first-week-job/97147802/

https://newrepublic.com/article/140175/just-happened-review-president-trumps-first-week

https://nytimes.com/2017/01/20/opinion/what-president-trump-doesnt-get-about-america.html

http://www.vox.com/2017/1/21/14347812/trump-press-briefing-sean-spicer

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-us-russia-20170123-story.html

http://www.vox.com/2017/1/24/14371256/trump-freeze-epa-grants

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38734450

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/315974-trump-expected-to-take-executive-action-on-immigration-in-the-coming

http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/1/25/14390106/leaked-drafts-trump-immigrants-executive-order

http://www.npr.org/2017/01/25/511469982/hiring-freeze-and-obamacare-repeal-could-clobber-veterans-affairs

http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2017/01/25/trump_issues_gag_orders_on_science_agencies.html

http://m.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/trump-science-epa-review

http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/1/25/14370712/trump-science-gagging-explained

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2017/01/25/today_in_trump_s_america_was_the_worst_day_yet.html

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/01/the-doomsday-clocks-new-and-dire-warning/514544/?utm_source=atlfb

http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/1/26/14392530/trump-executive-orders-leaked-aides-immigration-torture-wall-black-site-deportation

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