It Falls Upon Us

That America is in a terrible place right now is without question. At no point in our recent history has there been so much upheaval, uncertainty, and fear. Our world has been turned upside down and inside out after one of the most tumultuous years in our nation’s history.

More Americans have died in the past year than in any year ever. In the past eleven months 400,000 Americans have perished from a pandemic that has burned through our country with the fury and indiscriminate cruelty of an untamed wildfire. Families have had to say goodbye without being able to say goodbye, having been forced to stay apart when wanting nothing more than to be able come together.

The pandemic has not just taken lives, but it has stripped millions of Americans of their livelihoods. Covid has forced states to make tough choices about what to keep open and what to close. It has forced children to stay home, stolen our social lives, and sent more Americans than ever to food banks, seeking sustenance that many had never sought before.

The pandemic, though horrible by any measure, is not without an end in sight however. Vaccines have been developed, are being distributed, and will eventually bring an end to one our nation’s saddest hours. Unfortunately covid is not the only thing that ails our nation, nor is it the most challenging issue we face today.

Our people are not just dying but we are a nation divided as never before. The last four years has strained the ties that bind us together, made us question our commitment to one another, and ushered in an era of discord and distrust as never before seen in the United States.

A contested election has laid bare our very real divisions. Our standing in the world is diminished as the usually peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next has been anything but peaceful. The storming of our Capitol by domestic terrorists seeking to overturn the results of an election has scared our allies, emboldened our enemies, called into doubt the sanctity of our elections, and made us suspicious of our neighbors.

At no other time in recent history has the very future of our nation been in so much doubt, nor the durability of our democracy so openly questioned. The world is watching to see whether after 244 years the expanse of our divisions is greater than our will to bridge them.

It is moments like these where we are all called upon to look deep within ourselves to summon our better angels and reaffirm our commitment to not turn back nor falter in defense of our Union and not fall prey to the weight of what divides us today. In order to do so, we must confront our differences head on, combat ignorance where it exists, and commit to better understanding each other and the world in which we live. The task now falls upon us, as it has generations past, to secure this Union and deliver to future generations those great gifts of democracy, freedom, equality, and justice that were granted to this generation with grace, humility, and hope by our ancestors.

At this time we may not understand each other, but we can affirm that we would like to know one another better. We can choose a new, better, and more united way forward than the divided path already traversed. We do not have to sacrifice the things we believe in to better understand people we do not agree with. We can and always will hold differing opinions, but that does not mean our conversations must always be disagreeable, or that we cannot respect the differing opinions of others.

What has been, does not have to be. We are no more bound by our past than set free by our future. We can, if we open our minds and our hearts, find a part of ourselves in our shared experience as Americans. We can find common interests that bring us together instead of divisive words that tear us apart.

We can choose to reach out to those who have fallen and give them a hand up. We can make those marginalized feel as if they have a place in this country as well. There is plenty room enough for all of us in this country to have a place that we can not just call home, but feel at home in. We can look past what separates us as individuals and find what unites us as Americans.

We must do this in order to remain true to our origins. For our founders, faced with unfathomable odds against their fortunes, drew upon their shared grievances and set aside their differences, found strength in the cause of something larger than themselves, pledged not just their lives, but their sacred honor and fortunes, so that we might enjoy the freedoms we do today. With little more than hope and virtue, they committed themselves to a task that seemed impossible. Yet in their unity they found strength, in their strength they found courage, and in their courage the will to face down tyranny and defeat England.

Today we are faced with a decision of what kind of country we are and what kind of a country we want to be. We are confronted with the uncomfortable reality that we have hard work left to do if we are to pass on to future generations a better country than the one we inherited. We all must be a part of the solution.

It falls upon us to decide if we will be true to our founding principles of liberty, justice, equality, fairness, inclusiveness, and community or will we allow ourselves to be divided further? Will we find the courage to not just look in the mirror and see what is wrong, but also compassion to look at others and see what is right? Can we find the self-control to recoil from our propensity to divide ourselves over things immaterial to who we are and find ground that is common with people who are foreign? Can we live up to the examples set by generation after generation of Americans across the ages who sat aside their differences and came together in the name of making this country as close to the perfect union as they could?

These are the questions we must now answer as we look at ourselves and the country in which we live. A better future is not guaranteed but it is attainable if we apply ourselves to the cause at hand and commit our full measure of devotion to bridging our divides. If we commit ourselves to a world in which we all choose to seek understanding when we do not know, common ground when we are apart, and unity over division then we will succeed in passing forth those great gifts of liberty, equality, and justice that have been given to us.

This we can do.

This we must do.

This we will do.

The America that I Feared

Donald Trump being elected President of the United States in 2016 came as a complete shock to me as it did to many people across America. It was a harsh, cold slap of reality across the face after what I felt were a pretty good eight years. We had emerged from a terrible recession, the economy had been expanding for the longest stretch of time in modern history, and more people were insured than at any other time in this nation’s history – and still a man had just been elected who talked about blowing up the whole thing.

I just didn’t get it.

I had hoped that with a strong enough resistance from elected Democrats and from American citizens across this country that we might be able to minimize the damage of a Trump presidency, that we might be able to resist his worse impulses and protect our democracy. At the time, I believed that it was this hope that carried me, along with that of a million other activated citizens, to Washington, D.C. for the Women’s March in January 2017. In retrospect, if I’m being honest, I’m not entirely sure that it was just hope that carried us there.

I think a lot of us who marched that day had something more of a mixture of yes hope, but also some lingering, almost indescribable fear as well. We had just witnessed an egomaniacal narcissistic man who showed little regard for the norms, traditions, and history of this country, and even less interest in trying to bridge the gaps that divided us, elected to be the most powerful man in the world. A man who showed a blatant disrespect for anyone who he did not agree with and a willingness to win at any cost, even if that cost were truth or decency.

In the four years that followed many of us who marched that day witnessed most of our worst fears realized. I could go through all the outrages: the Muslim ban, the separation and orphaning of children at the border, Charlottesville, Shithole countries, and so forth. Yet my time to do so is limited, and my patience to dedicate anymore outrage at the past four years is minimal. I am quite simply too exhausted to rehash the seemingly endless barrage of outrages we were forced to endure and so I will focus on the one that I believe is the most damaging, hardest to fix, and most enduring legacy of the Trump presidency, which is his assault on truth.

The assault started the day after his inauguration when he made Sean Spicer, his Press Secretary, lie to the American people about the size of his inaugural crowd. It was such a childish thing to care about and something that was indisputably, demonstrably false. Yet it gave us a window into not just his narcissism but also his willingness to bend the truth to fit a narrative he desired. The next day, one his advisors named Kellyanne Conway went on national television to perpetuate the lie and suggested that their judgment of the crowd size was the result of “alternative facts,” which was honestly a laughable expression. Her remarks were rightly called out by the media. Obviously, there is no such thing as alternative facts. Facts are facts, if something is true, it’s true, if it’s not, it’s not. An alternative fact is quite simply a lie.

What I don’t think anyone quite realized at the time however was how willing President Trump, his administration, and his enablers, would be to rely on alternative facts to create an alternate reality for his supporters to believe in. Furthermore, I think the amount of people who realized how dangerous such a loose association to facts and reality could be, or how corrosive it would be to democracy, were even fewer. I think a lot of us just said, “Alternative facts? Okay, whatever”, laughed at how dumb the suggestion was, and moved on with our lives.

Since that day four years ago however, truth has, for the most part, fallen prey to alternative facts, especially for a large segment of Americans who rise and fall on every word Trump speaks or tweets. The absolute barrage of dishonesty, over 30,000 statements by the President alone that were either deemed to be completely or at least partially false by the Washington Post, have been tweeted, spoken, repeated, and disseminated countless times across our society. This assault on facts and truth has been brazen, relentless, and continuously more damaging in its scope and effects.

The lies started small and rather inconsequential, such as that about the inaugural crowd, and continued to grow ever larger and more damaging as time went on. The President seemingly testing the bounds of truth and perpetually stretching it further and further each time his faithful bought into each successive lie. Each lie was a conditioner for the next lie. Each lie building upon the last. Each lie successively bigger, told and repeated even more relentlessly than the last so that if he needed to tell a bigger lie his followers would be ready to believe it.

Trump’s assault on truth was aided by a progressively more splintered media universe in which certain media companies were less committed to the truth than to profits. These companies were willing to dispense with facts in order to cater to the specific tastes of its consumers who sadly showed a startling propensity to desire only information that reinforced what they already believed to be true. Having bought into Trump’s initial small lies, his followers became increasingly indoctrinated to Trump’s version of reality and less susceptible to alternative facts, which were in reality the truth that Donald said was a lie.

This process of indoctrination and eventual radicalization was accelerated exponentially by social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter who created algorithms that almost ensured users would only be exposed to people and pages they already agreed with, while seemingly not taking into account at all how dangerous and damaging misinformation could be.

In this hyper-segregated media and social media environment truth itself became a casualty of the Trump administration for many Trump enthusiasts. Journalists were dismissed as enemies of the people and purveyors of “fake news”. For many, truth became confused with the lie, facts replaced by beliefs, data dispersed for feelings, and reality fell prey to fantasy.

Donald Trump preyed upon our worst fears, exploited our insecurities, exacerbated our differences, and divided this nation in pursuit of his own interests. The gradual but consistently accelerating impact of these accumulating lies created a country that became more and more divided over the last four years. A populace unwilling, and often times, unable to come to agreement on even the most basic and readily apparent of facts drifted further and further apart.

We couldn’t agree on racism. We couldn’t agree on science. We couldn’t agree on wearing masks. We couldn’t agree on social distancing. We couldn’t even agree on how many people were actually dying from the pandemic, a number that will reach 400,000 by Inauguration Day. Generally accepted norms of decency, decorum, and democracy were demolished by a demagogue who weaponized lies willingly for his own perceived benefit.

So it was no surprise that when Trump lost one of the most free, fair, and secure elections in the history of United States he decided to weaponize one last massive lie in order to try to somehow overturn the results, while failing to realize that eventually the democratic guardrails that he pushed and pushed against throughout his presidency would finally push back. He brazenly claimed, against all evidence to the contrary, that the election had been stolen from him. When all of his legal efforts came up short, and it seemed that he had finally run out of options, he told one last lie to his true believers that they could force Congress to overturn the results of the election.

What ensued, the storming of the Capitol and attempted overthrow of Congress by a mass of domestic terrorists that President Trump whipped into a frenzy in front of the White House, is one of the saddest days in our nation’s history. It is a day that will surely live infamy along with Pearl Harbor. While the loss of life that occurred on January 6, 2021 can in no way compare to that lost on December 7, 1941, what was lost is something that the attack on Pearl Harbor gave us: a sense of common purpose. A belief that we were all in this together, that if we had enemies, that they lay beyond our borders and not in our own neighborhoods.

However divisive the past four years had been, I believed however naively, that after some time had passed that we would come back together as Americans and choose to see past our differences and work together to move this country forward. After the events of last week I am not sure of that fact today.

The cumulative impact of Donald Trump’s assault on truth in this country came crashing down upon our most sacred house of democracy in the form of a violent mob who had been lied to and made to believe things that were simply not true. Lies told by a man who cared more about his own interests than the country he was elected to serve. The America I live in today looks a lot less like the one whose capital city I marched in four years ago.

There will be no jubilant crowds at the inauguration this year, nor protestors who would have otherwise been there as well to express their First Amendment rights to peacefully gather and protest. A “peaceful transition of power” will take place on the steps of a Capitol recently besieged by domestic terrorists overlooking streets not filled with citizens celebrating the renewal of their democracy, but by troops standing as the last line of defense between our democracy and further democratic decay.

The light of that City Upon a Hill, the most enduring the world’s democracies, seems to shine a little less bright today than it did even a couple weeks ago. Days seem shorter, the skies grayer, the colors on our flag no longer look as crisp as it swirls in the winds of change as they once did. Countries that we once lectured about democracy are now laughing at us and telling us to get our own house in order.

Our people are dying, our allies are scared, our neighbors suspicious.

This is the true cost of the Trump administration.

This is what happens when a narcissistic demagogue endears himself to people whose interest he only cares for in so much that they serve his own. A man who lies in service of no one except himself.

This is the cost of truth diminished.

I still have hope, however dim its light may be. The insurrectionists failed. Congress completed their Constitutional duties. Donald Trump was impeached, again. Joe Biden will be President of the United States on January 20th. Kamala Harris will become Vice-President that day as well.

Maybe my fears about the seemingly unbridgeable divides that the last four years have created are unfounded. Maybe we’re not as divided as Trump wishes us to be. Maybe this will all be a blip, an anomaly in the long history of our nation. Maybe it will be another time that we look back upon from the future and say “You know what? We were tested and we passed the test.”

Maybe, just maybe everything will be okay.

Maybe that nagging fear I had on that day we marched four years ago, that has only grown in intensity over the past four years is, after all, unfounded.

Maybe the weight of all the lies will come crashing down and truth will prevail and begin to heal this nation.

But then again, maybe your neighbor is a terrorist.

This, is the America that I feared.

I’m Still Pissed

It’s been six days since insurrectionists stormed the Capitol in an attempt to over throw the free will of the American people and I’m still pissed. Every time I feel my anger start to subside about what happened, even just a little, I see or read about another attempt by the President’s enablers to explain away or somehow normalize the actions of these traitorous domestic terrorists, and all of my anger comes rushing back. Even worse, now I’m hearing Republican politicians suggest that it’s time to move on in the name of unity.


After you spent the last 2 months complicit and enabling the President in his grand scheme to overturn an election he lost and dividing the country to a breaking point, even going so far as to NOT vote for certification AFTER the siege in the Capitol?

Fuck that.

Move on?

After our Capitol was overrun by terrorists carrying Confederate flags, spewing hate, threatening to kidnap and kill our elected leaders, and assaulting and killing Capitol Hill police officers?

Fuck that too.

I want answers.

I want accountability.

I want contrition.

I want justice.

I want to know not just how something like this could happen, but who was responsible for the massive security failure that occurred last Wednesday. I also want justice, swift and severe enough that it dissuades anyone considering attempting to do anything of this sort to not do so ever again.

I keep seeing people trying to justify the actions of these terrorists by saying something to effect of – well these people feel like their president was cheated out of an election win and therefore their actions, while despicable, are understandable because they feel like they’re defending our democracy and country.


No they’re not.

They’re not defending shit except their president and his lies.

There is nothing understandable or excusable about what they did.

Here’s the thing: Even if these terrorists felt and somehow believed that their unjustifiable actions were justified, simply feeling something is just does not mean it is just nor does it justify their actions. We are, as humans in a sophisticated society, inherently responsible for the choices we make and, should be, willing to accept that there are rewards and consequences of those choices.

Furthermore, these apologists who have been trying to dismiss the culpability of these terrorists by saying – well they didn’t know any better because they’ve been told repeatedly by the President that the election was stolen – only further delegitimize themselves. Even if these seditionists were lied to it does not excuse them of their ignorance, nor diminish how deplorable their actions were even if they truly believed that the election was stolen.

Here’s why: In the 21st century, with the entire world of information at your fingertips, ignorance is not an excuse for misunderstanding or believing untrue things. Instead, ignorance is a conscious choice and the result of failing to make an effort to find out the truth.

Any of those insurrectionists could have easily done some research and found that their basis for rioting, that the election was stolen, was nothing more than a lie fabricated by a delusional president incapable of accepting the reality that he lost, who then weaponized his derangement to foment those forces that carried those terrorists to the Capitol. Yet their incitement, and very presence in DC that day, is a result of their own ignorance and failure to seek out the truth about the election.

Even if justified in their actions, which they were surely not, their ignorant choice to desecrate the very heart of our American democracy in order to overthrow a free and fair election by violent coup absolves them of any innocence and lays bare the lie that their actions were in defense of the Constitution or democracy or America.

Lastly, any Republicans who suggest that it is already time to move on and say that impeachment will only further divide the country clearly fails to understand the gravity of what happened and should be considered among the most craven and unworthy of serving in public office.


A storm of anarchists attacked the citadel of our democracy.

They attempted to overthrow the results of the election.

They threatened to kidnap and kill our elected officials.

They damaged, defaced, and desecrated our Capitol.

They assaulted countless federal law enforcement officials and even took the life of a Capitol Hill police officer.

They did all of this in the name of, and with the implicit, if not explicit, approval of President Trump who incited their most primal of misgivings, electrified their sense of victimhood, and encouraged them to take back their country.

Yet now we’re told it’s time to move on?

Now we’re told it’s time to unite?

Fuck that.

It is the richest form of hypocrisy that so many of those who are now telling us it’s time to move on are the very same people who should ultimately share the burden of responsibility for the attack on the Capitol due to their willingness to support and perpetuate Trump’s lies. They, who now tell us we need unity, did everything they could to divide this country with their craven actions and unyielding commitment to, not the oath they swore to the country they serve, but to the singular man who has done more to damage American democracy as the President of the United States than any foreign state or adversary could ever hope to.

Move on?

Fuck that.

There is no moving on until there is justice, until the President and each and everyone of his enablers are held accountable, and all of those who committed the most vicious action of insurrection this country has seen in over a century are brought to justice.

Then, and only then, will we be ready to move on.

Until then, I’m just pissed.

There is no Equivalency

Five days have passed since insurrectionists attacked the Capitol of the United States in an effort to stage a coup and reverse the results of one of the most secure, free, and fair elections in the history of this country. The seditionists failed attempt to overthrow our government was inspired by lies and misinformation about the legitimacy of last year’s presidential election and incited by inflammatory words that President Trump spoke at a rally immediately before the siege on the Capitol.

In the days since the attack a concerted effort has emerged from Right-wing media and elected representatives, who were complicit in the lie that inspired many of the rioters to attack the Capitol, to defend and somehow justify the rioters actions. In their attempts at justification, the Right has tried to equate the seditious actions of those rioters who attacked the heart of American democracy with the Black Lives Matter protestors who took to the streets of America demanding racial justice.

Let me be clear: there is no equivalency between the two.

There is simply no way to equate the mob of privileged, primarily white, anarchic agitators incited by the President and driven by some false illusion of victimhood storming the Capitol of the United States by force and the overwhelmingly peaceful protests of a diverse cross-section of Americans who marched in the name of racial justice. The former, fighting to overturn the free will of the American people through the most undemocratic of means in defense of an indefensible man whose bruised ego couldn’t accept the reality that he lost, and the latter, marching and protesting for their LITERAL LIVES.

There is no equivalency.

None whatsoever.

Don’t be gaslighted.

Do not let anyone tell you anything different.

Anyone who attempts to equate the two, who tries to dismiss the actions of those who desecrated our most sacred house of democracy in the most clear act of insurrection and sedition this country has seen in over a century as anything less than the unlawful actions for what they were – are quite simply ignorant, on the wrong side of history, and in denial of reality.

Those who stormed the Capitol Wednesday did so in defense of a singular man, not democracy, not our lives, not our rights, and damn sure not the United State of America. They carried out this insurrection to show their full measure of fealty to a narcissistic man who has never valued them as anything more than pawns in pursuit of his own interests. While they were literally willing to die, as some did, for their chosen leader, he showed no such deference for them, even going so far as to insult them for looking “low class” while carrying out a domestic terrorist attack against the United States of America in his name.

What a sad day it is in America when not only do we see the Capitol overrun by terrorists incited by the President of the United States, but then see people attempt to equate their actions as somehow equivalent to those of Black Lives Matter protestors who were literally marching – and not to mention arrested, beat, gassed, degraded, demonized, and killed – for their lives. True patriots who have every right to feel legitimately aggrieved that were protesting so that this country, that has never shown the same love to those protesting as they have for it, might finally live up to the values upon which it was founded.

What a sad day in America.

I’m still heartbroken and outraged.

Four days later, I am still heartbroken for America, and while my tears of rage have dried I am no less angry with what happened to a place I once knew well.

Thirteen years ago I served as an intern in Senator Carl Levin’s DC offices. It was the honor of my life to spend a summer working, unpaid, for the people of the United States of America at the very heart of American democracy. I answered phones. I responded to constituent mail. I assisted in writing floor statements. I helped do legislative research. I attended hearings. I did whatever Senator Levin’s staff asked me to do, and I did it with great joy, pride in my heart, and the highest amount of reverence for the institution I worked in.

The last thing I was responsible for was giving tours of the Capitol for constituents who were visiting from Michigan. Every tour I gave felt like I was walking in a dream. Every step I took, every word I spoke about the hallowed halls in which I walked, every breath I breathed – all of it – filled me with such pride for having the noble honor to share this sacred house of American democracy with citizens who came to see where our nation’s legislators wrote the laws that bind this nation, a nation of laws – of, by, and for the people.

Needless to say, as I watched anarchists storm the Capitol, climb its edifice, and smash its windows – I was heartbroken.

Anyone that truly loves America, who values our democracy, who believes in the promise and the ideals that America was founded upon – life, liberty, equality, justice – anyone who believes in those things, who wants to pass along these sacred blessings of democracy to your children and to future generations – you should be heartbroken and outraged today as well.

Four days have now passed and the President still has not acknowledged or apologized for the roll he played in this insurrection nor even ordered that the flag that flies above the White House be lowered in honor of the Capitol Hill police officer who died in its defense.

Think about that for a second.

Think about that and tell me how, as an American, you cannot be outraged.

Maybe your pain and anger is not as acute as mine not having had the opportunity to walk those halls as regularly as I once did –  the very same halls that these anarchists degraded with their very presence and destructed with their maniacal actions on Wednesday – but you should be upset and outraged as well because this is your country and that is your Capitol too.

There is a place for protest that is peaceful and protected by our Constitution and debate that is civil and an essential part of democracy, but what happened on a day that will live until eternity in infamy is anything but peaceful or essential.

May god bless the United States of America

Dear America,

Dear America,

I was taught from an age very youthful that the true expression of love is not affection that is blind, nor the expression of admiration if it be dishonest. Life has taught me that if you truly love someone, or something enough, you have the responsibility to not just love them for what they are, but to encourage and empower them to fulfill their potential, and that in those nudges of encouragement we express, in its purest form, the emotion of love.

America, I have loved you for longer than I can remember, but the source of my affection, the reason I am proud to be an American, is not solely rooted in your history, but also your untapped potential. My patriotism stems from the belief, that while you were imperfect from your origins, that we, your citizens, have not just the opportunity, but a responsibility to continuously perfect your union of states, and leave to future generations a country closer to the ideals upon which you were founded.

And so on this morning I am writing to you, America, with love in my heart but dissonance in my mind, to say that I love you, but I do expect better. It is with much concern I write as it seems the luminous flicker of your flame is dimming, the vitality of your dream diminishing by the day. People are beginning to question whether this generation may very well not move us closer to perfecting your union, that we may be moving away from those lights of liberty, justice, equality, and common decency upon which you were founded – lights that once lit the world over.

For over two centuries, people – including my own ancestors – have shoved off from distant origins toward the promise of your shores. They carried with them little else than their hopes and dreams and a firm belief that this country was a place that welcomed all who came in good faith. They were told that these lands were a place that would provide, not a guarantee of good fortune, but instead a fair opportunity to build a life that was decent and an existence dignified, in a land that would not judge them by the tone of their skin or the accent of their tongue – and so they came.

They came from all around the world and they helped build you, and they raised families, and left legacies of hope to fuel the American dreams of future generations of dreamers and risk takers and doers – people who saw not the world as it was, but dared to believe that this nation was capable of helping to create a world as it should be. They came and they continued to come, and each successive generation helped to move this country closer to its founding ideals, ever so slightly bending that moral arc towards its worthy destination.

Yet as I write to you this morning America I am not so sure that the exertions of our ancestors are still hewing that arc towards that righteous destination any longer, nor am I sure that your promise whose shine once captured the imagination of the world has not tarnished and gone dark.

When the sun rises, the voices of visitors from all over the world will rise as well – filling this mall with a unique chorus of accents familiar and languages unfamiliar that the founders of this nation, if they were to sit down next to me, would listen to with delight. Yet, I am unsure whether those people from foreign lands who are now visiting this city, will ever wish to come back. For in cages upon our southern border there are children being kept away from their parents who came, not unlike immigrants of our past, seeking a better life in a land that once promised the opportunity for that and so much more. I am not sure if the immigrants currently working in the parks and shops scattered throughout this beautiful city will write home and encourage their families to come here like previous generations of immigrants did, for never in our history has our president spoken so vociferously against their presence here, nor diminished the vast contributions they make to our country with such capriciousness – and so,

I expect better America.

Through the trees that grace this mall with shelter from the searing sun and sweltering heat of Summer, and across the pond to the east of me and up the hill across the river to the west of me, I see the lights of memorials dedicated to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for you. To memorialize the sacrifices of our fallen is appropriate, justified, and important. However, for those who survived and came home to you – whose lives were forever altered by the horrors they experienced while fighting to protect our lives and right to self-determination, who were denied the proper care and support upon returning home, whose starving bodies lie all across the streets and park benches of this city, and who are left living an existence of desperate destitution right here in the heart of our democracy,

I expect better America.

Beyond the tranquil waters of the Tidal Basin lies a glowing dome set upon massive columns of marble from which the Jefferson Memorial is constructed. A memorial whose walls are inscribed with the words “All men are created equal.” Words written by a man, Thomas Jefferson, who participated in the inherently unequal business of owning slaves himself, who – with our other founding fathers – made a compromise with the devil believing that without such a flawed concession, the experiment of your Union might have perished in its infancy.

I am not so naive to believe that compromise is not sometimes necessary, and am aware that a necessary part of progress is sometimes compromise. Though I would say this compromise in particular has been a curse to our union. The de facto codification of slavery – the original sin of our nation – the suffering it has caused and the perpetual debilitating inequality that is its most enduring legacy, still weighs with dread upon the conscience of our people more than two centuries later. Such an egregious moral compromise should have never been made. The institution of slavery has left an indelible, oft unacknowledged but palpable belief by many, that all upon our lands are in fact, not equal. That hallowed phrase, “All men are created equal”, still rings hollow for not only minorities in this country, but women as well. They have not been treated as equals to their white male counterparts at any point of our history hitherto. They have waited too long, they have compromised long enough, they cannot wait any longer, no more compromises need be made – and so,

I expect better America.

Hidden through the deciduous stands South of where I sit, towers the figure of a black man, a symbol of hope etched out of a mountain of despair, who spoke of his dream upon the very steps that I now sit. Yet half a century after his life was cut short by a bullet, minorities are still not free, discrimination is not dead, inequality continues to grow, and racism still percolates across these blessed lands.

His dream is still far from being fulfilled.

His dream is not fulfilled when minorities are still discriminated against, dehumanized, and systematically prevented from attaining the means to get ahead; not when minorities are still being arrested for simply sitting in a Starbucks; not when immigrants are being deported for doing nothing more than attempting to pursue their own American dreams; not when families are being torn apart under the false pretense of law and order. What is happening may be by order, but it is not lawful.

His dream is not fulfilled when minorities continue to be slain with impunity in our streets by the very people entrusted to protect them; not when our president turns their protests for equality and justice into a rallying cry of divineness and white nationalism and equates those fighting for justice and equality with those spreading hate and perpetrating violence; not when a disproportionate share of those shuttered behind the steel bars of penitentiaries are minorities, whose rights and dignity are stripped when incarcerated, and often not ever returned even when they are freed – and so,

I expect better America.

I look out as a new day dawns and I see your children running around, laughing and enjoying themselves, but I am sad. For I wonder how many more would be here, in your capital, learning about their country’s history if they had not been gunned down while sitting in classrooms and walking through the once peaceful halls of their schools by senseless acts of violence perpetrated by individuals with uncared for mental illnesses using the instruments of war meant for battlefields. I look across and I see your Capitol, a place where 535 elected public servants have done nothing to serve our public by protecting our children, seemingly paralyzed by the NRA who cling to the Second Amendment as an absolute right to own all manners of weaponry. Guns have evolved over the past 240 years, but our views of the Second Amendment apparently have not – and so,

I expect better America.

I look out and see, and know that beyond my sight there lie, many monuments and memorials dedicated to the men of this nation, but I am hard pressed to think of any dedicated to women exclusively, and know there to be none of anywhere near the stature of those I see towering above this mall and upon which I currently sit. Which however sad, does not surprise me, for we live in a country founded by men and still mostly governed, controlled, and dominated by men – a patriarchy long past its efficacy, if such an efficacy ever existed at all. Women are still paid less, work in industries that suppress their wages more often, sit in less seats in boardrooms, occupy less CEO offices, are subjugated to discrimination, harassment, and assault more often, and are still burdened with the responsibilities and costs of child care at a higher rate than their male counterparts. Women, your moment may be here, you may say “Times Up”, and it is long past up, but you are still standing on ground that is far from equal to that upon which I stand, and sadly it is likely to remain that way for a long time to come – and so,

I expect better America.

Beyond my view of the Washington Monument and the Capitol to my East sits our Supreme Court. An imposing building where the scales of justice are supposed to balance the powers of those who have and have not, where just in the past week the justices have not only chosen to help those who wish to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, but also disastrously made a ruling that will allow it to be easier for states to disenfranchise voters and strip them of their most fundamental and basic right as an American. The right for any American, no matter their sexual orientation, to express their love by buying a wedding cake should never be abridged, nor should the right for a person to vote ever be casually dismissed. The ability to vote in this country is a right, not a privilege, the right to be treated as equal is a universal human right – and so,

I expect better America.

To my north and east, beyond my view, sits a house white in color where a man lives who, day after day, proves further that he either does not understand your history, or does not care about it – a dichotomy of which, I am not sure which is worse. His willingness to cozy up to dictators while insulting our allies, his continuous assault on the free press and the First Amendment, his cries of Fake News over reporting that is simply unfavorable to him, his never ending disparagement of our judicial system, FBI, and Department of Justice, his willingness to divide instead of unite the American people on issues of great consequence, his discriminatory statements and derogatory language used to dismiss those people and groups he does not agree with or who are not of the same hue as him, his lack of civility, stability, humility, compassion, empathy, and the outright lies he tells the American people every single day are an absolute embarrassment to the institution that he represents and the house in which he lives, and are the greatest threat to our democracy we have ever seen – and so,

I expect better America.

As I walked around the streets of your capital for the last three days I heard many disparaging comments from Americans about fellow Americans simply because of the toxic political environment we currently find ourselves in and the different sides upon which we stand. Whenever I post something that reflects my political views I am bombarded with hateful vitriol that is – if not a direct result of, at the very least influenced by – the license our president has given to those in our country who are racist, xenophobic, and otherwise biased to express their deplorable opinions. As I sit here on the steps of a memorial dedicated to a man who gave his life so that our Union might endure, I am reminded of words he once spoke,

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

And so, I expect better America.

Yet as I watch the sun rise over the pearly dome of our Capitol due east of me, a building built by slaves, whose descendants have gained more and more rights in the very halls their ancestors were once forced to build against their will, I remain hopeful that the troubles, turbulence, inequities, and injustices we face today shall someday pass and be another part of our imperfect history. The fact that there now stands a building dedicated exclusively to the history and culture of African Americans centered between two of your most iconic buildings that were built by slaves is proof that this country has the ability to continuously move towards that more perfect union our founders envisioned. Even with all of the chaos, discord, and division being sewn by the man whose predecessors almost without exception chose to call upon “our better angels”, I remain hopeful. I am hopeful because I know that however wrong we have gotten things in the past, there is inherently something right about your character America. It is in the unyielding dedication of your citizens to perfecting this union and leaving for future generations a country and world that is more just and kind, that my hopes springs eternal.

I love you America, but I do expect better.



My President is Racist

My president is racist. It honestly pains me to even type that. I hate it. I never imagined having to say such a thing. Before the last year the thought of having to do so was honestly, kind of absurd. It was never that I thought racism was dead. Thankfully I have never been naive to the fact that racism still exists, even if less overtly expressed. I grew up in two multi-racial households, most of my friends in my neighborhood were black. I never had the privilege to just look the other way. When they were hurt by racism, I hurt for them. I saw the damage that racism could still inflict upon the sense of self-worth and dignity of minorities firsthand in a supposedly enlightened society. So I knew racism was alive and well in 21st-century America.

Yet still I hoped that I would never have to acknowledge that my president himself was racist. No one wants to believe that the leader of their country – the person who is supposed to represent the values and interests of ALL their citizens to the world – is racist. I prayed that, when push came to shove, whatever morally bankrupt conscience Donald Trump had would be elevated by the office he was entering. In that sense I was naive. I hoped for something that would simply never come true. The signs had been there all along.

There were the discrimination lawsuits from the 1970s, his advocacy to have five minorities falsely accused of rape in Central Park in the 1980s executed for a crime they did not commit, the comments amount Mexicans being criminals and rapists, the belief that a judge, because of his race, could not fulfill his obligation to be an impartial arbiter of the law, the false birther conspiracy about President Obama not being born in the United States, the Pocahontas comments, the comments that there were good people on both sides in Charlottesville. I could go on further, but you get the point (If you want a complete list click here:The Definitive List of Trump’s Racist History). It was all there. It was all so obvious.

Even with all of that, I still did not want to say that he was a racist. I know part of me just didn’t see value in saying such a divisive thing, even if it were true. I caught myself thinking multiple times, “We’re already divided enough, why state what is already obvious when it will only divide us further?” Maybe part of it was also the false belief that if I did acknowledge such an egregious truth it would diminish my pride in America. In retrospect, I honestly don’t know what was truly the driving force behind the my reticence to call his behavior unequivocally racist. Yet until his comments the other day about “shithole countries” I had not been willing to say it aloud.

On that account, I failed. I failed my fellow citizens. I especially failed the minorities within this country who have been discriminated against and had their subjugation denied for far too long. I failed America. In my hesitance to call out the president for what he truly is, I lied to myself. I made myself believe that for the good of the country it was better to not speak the truth than let the lie go unquestioned. I failed to speak truth to power, and for that I am sorry.

I have come to realize that sometimes you just have to call a square, a square, and be done with it. There is no sense in denying a truth that is abundantly clear. If someone makes an unfortunate comment once, maybe they just made a mistake. If someone has a 40-year history of racist actions, they are what they are. There is no value in denial. We owe no deference to a lie, even if it is hard to accept. I have come to realize, that the truth – no matter how unfortunate it may be, no matter how poorly it may reflect upon you – is always better than the perpetuation of a lie. In the truth there is freedom, in a lie only constraint. You can never heal what you never reveal.

We have an obligation to the truth, and the brutal and honest truth is that Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States, is a racist. It is a fact that I cannot deny, that I refuse to deny any longer, and that I denied for too long. Yet the acknowledgement that Donald Trump is a racist, does not diminish (as I falsely believed) the pride I have in America. He is but one American in a country of over 300 million. While there may be many others across this nation who share his views about minorities, there are even more who do not. The majority of us truly believe that self-evident truth that, “all men are created equal.” We must remain vigilant in its defense, which means being honest with ourselves. It is undeniable that race is still an issue in this country along which rivers of division flow. However, it also undeniably true that it is impossible to build a bridge of understanding across those rivers if we simply deny that the rivers exist at all.

On Empathy

On the morning following the 2016 presidential election I had all sorts of different emotions coursing through me. The electoral result was so shocking that I honestly did not know what to think or how to feel. As I often do, when I cannot quite sort out exactly how I am feeling, I sat down and started to write. The following is what I wrote on that day now fourteen months ago…


I cannot know what the disappointment feels like for the woman who wanted nothing more than to be able to wake up her daughter this morning, turn on the television, point to Hillary and say, “You know what, in this country you can be anything you want, including president.”

I cannot know what the heartbreak must feel like for 99-year old Minerva Turpin who was first in line to vote yesterday morning at Tim Kaine’s precinct. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must feel like for her – a woman who was born before her gender was even afforded the right to vote – to have waited for so many decades to have a chance at last to vote for a woman for president, only to wake up this morning and find out that in her lifetime she would be unlikely to a see a woman sworn-in.

I cannot know the disillusionment minorities of this country must feel today knowing that a man who played to the very worst, and paranoid of our fears – who sowed seeds of division and stoked the fires of difference between races – has been elected their president. I cannot know what the shift of the Earth under their feet must have felt like.

I cannot know the sense of anger every woman who has ever been paid less for doing the same work as her male coworker must have felt this morning when they awoke and found the ceiling was still above their heads; that they would go through the next four years without a true advocate of their cause in the White House.

I cannot know the hurt that every woman who has ever been objectified, insulted, assaulted, or raped must feel knowing that a man who has bragged about such behavior in the past is now their president-elect and is somehow supposed to represent their values to the world.

I cannot know the hopelessness that an immigrant mother of an American child must feel today when she woke up to find out that the person who won, did so in part because he promised to deport her during the campaign. I have no idea how she can even find the strength to look her child in the eyes without breaking down in tears.

I cannot know the fury that any mother of a child with a disability must feel today. Knowing that the man elected to be our next president once publicly mocked a disabled reporter for all the world to see and did not have the decency to acknowledge what he had done was wrong, nor the humility to apologize.

I cannot know the fear that any gay couple must feel today knowing that the next person who will work out of the Oval Office does not share their values but will be able to impact their lives in ways both big and small; there is a very real possibility that the progress for their rights gained over the past eight years could be reversed in short order.

I cannot know the anxiety my own mother must feel knowing that our next president has promised to repeal and take away the very health insurance that saved her life. I cannot imagine the panic she must feel when the thought of no longer being able to afford the medications she must now take everyday to stay alive crosses her mind.

It truly tears at every fiber of my being knowing that I can empathize with every person I just mentioned, but cannot truly know what today feels like for any of them. I cannot feel the disappointment, heartbreak, disillusionment, anger, hurt, hopelessness, fury, fear, anxiety, or sadness they must feel today because by nothing other than fate was I born a white heterosexual man in America. I do not know. I cannot know. I will never know.


…Without the ability to actually experience what any of those people must have felt at the time, I was left with nothing more than empathy – that most human and essential of emotions that allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of another, relate and humble our presumptions. Empathy, more than any other emotion, including love, is what makes us human. It allows us to emotionally connect with people we may not share much in common with in a way that says, I may not be able to experience what you have, but I assuredly care about your struggle and will be here for you nonetheless.

Yet it is that exact emotion – empathy – that I fear our public servants suffer a deficit of today. It is apparent not just in the coarse rhetoric of their debates, but also in the callous votes they cast. A certain ignorant indifference seems to have infected our political discourse that I fear, if left unaddressed, endangers the essential trust between the governing class and the governed.

When I wrote that, “by nothing other than fate was I born a white heterosexual male in America”, I understood that such a fate had endowed me with certain privileges in America that advantaged me and disadvantaged others. I understood that however unfair it might have been, that I had won the one lotto that truly, unfortunately still matters in America.

I understood that by the tone of my skin I would never be stereotyped as violent, or lazy, or uncivilized, or the countless other inaccurate negative stereotypes that minorities are unfairly labeled with that American culture has perpetuated throughout our history, that still persist and permeate through society today. I understood that I would probably never be shot dead for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time or pulled over because my skin was too dark nor would I live with a cloud of suspicion perpetually over my head.

I understood that simply by having a penis I would never be denied employment or paid less for the work I did nor marginalized as inferior to another sex. I understood that I would be harassed less often, rarely objectified, and that if I were assaulted that I would never have my claims doubted or dismissed because I was a man living in a man’s world. I understood that my body was my own and that there would never be a debate driven by the opposite sex as to what I chose to do with it.

I understood that by being heterosexual I would never be dismissed as morally corrupt or perpetually damned without fair assessment as to the merits of such labels. I understood that my ability to choose a partner, to fall in love, to marry, and to be a father would never be dependent upon the whims of politicians. I understood that I would never be made fun of simply for being born the way I was.

When I sat down and wrote those words the day after the election, the last and most important thing that I understood, was that I had a responsibility to never take advantage of the privilege I had been given, but instead a responsibility to use that privilege – of being a white heterosexual man in America – to help lift up those who had been marginalized in a society that advantaged me, and disadvantaged them, on account of nothing other than fate. I understood that I had the responsibility to help tear down the power structure upon which I stood at the top of simply by the chance of my birth in order to help create a more level playing field for future generations.

I understood all of this because I had empathy – I had put myself in someone else’s shoes and chose to look at the world through their eyes. In doing so I realized that we have a responsibility to do everything possible to ensure that future generations are born into a fairer, more just America. An America where the twist of fate to who and where we are born has less of an impact on the outcome of our lives than what we choose to do during the course of them.

So how do we get there?

Empathy, of course.

Empathy is what we need from our leaders more than ever to combat the polarization paralyzing our politics today. For empathy is the only way in which our stewards of public good will ever truly understand and connect with the citizens who elected them and the struggles they face. In empathy our leaders can find the foundation needed to build bridges of understanding upon which to meet and solve issues instead of residing behind the walls of ignorance they currently do.

A pure and virtuous sense of empathy is required for our public servants to craft legislation that benefits all Americans and not just the well-connected few. We need our representatives to understand that they represent all of us – the rich and poor, the gay and straight and transgendered, the white and black and brown, the insured and not insured, the employed and unemployed, able bodied and disabled, the urban and the rural, the old and young, the religious and non-religious – and that we all fall behind when they refuse to see the world through each other’s eyes, compromise, and continue to just talk past each other instead of to one another.

I fear that having been so blessed in their own lives, many of our public servants have forgotten how fickle the difference of being advantaged and disadvantaged in America really is and how stark the divide is between the two. May I remind them that none of us get to choose to who or what circumstances we are born. Whether we are born into wealth or abject poverty is nothing more than chance. Whether we are born a member of the majority or the minority is only a twist of fate in the grand scheme of humanity. We do not get to choose, we are simply given life – beyond that is determined by the world into which we are born, the choices we make, and the opportunities the world presents us with.

It is within the vast array of circumstances that people in America can find themselves that I propose the following questions to our leaders:

If, you had adopted a child and somehow a mistake was made along way and it was found out that they were actually brought into the country illegally, would – when that child grew up – you not want to ensure their ability to stay here with you and the only friends and family they ever knew, in the only country they ever called home?

If, one day your own child came to you and told you that they were gay or transgendered, would you not want the only consideration as to their Constitutionally protected rights to be if they were an American or not?

If, every time you fell ill, you had to draw out of a hat that determined whether you had insurance or not, would you not support universal health care that ensures no one is left with the choice between being cared for or going into debt simply because they got sick?

If, after you cast a vote on taxes, you were forced to enter a drawing that reassigned you to a different level of income, would you not vote for a tax code that does not bias the wealthy at the expense of the poor, that does not give the most to who need it least and the least to who need it most?

If, when considering a bill concerning voting rights, you were forced to trade places with someone who might be disenfranchised on account of your vote, would you ever vote for a bill that could potentially disenfranchise you?

Lastly, if every twenty-five years you rotated races and sexes, would you ever pass a law that advantaged some races or one sex over another?

I would assume, given the pervasive self-interest evident among our public servants today, that the answer to each of these questions asked would be the most egalitarian of choices. With that being said, I ask that our leaders ask of themselves one and only one question before each vote they cast:

If I were born today, unable to choose where or to whom I would be born, would this bill create a fairer, more just and kind world for me to be born into?

We cannot choose the world into which we are born, but we can choose to ensure that future generations are born into a better one than we were. That is not just our greatest opportunity, but also our greatest responsibility – and it requires nothing else than for us to embrace and acknowledge that most human of emotions, empathy.

The Power of the People is Stronger Than the People in Power

If I am being completely honest I had no idea what to expect when 2017 dawned. Being only seven weeks removed from an absolutely baffling election, I still had not wrapped my head around what happened or how. I could not understand how Donald Trump had been elected. Some of what I read made sense, other parts made absolutely none. The man seemed like an absolute insult to the office he would soon occupy and an even bigger middle finger to the party that had just elected him. As an American, I remember being legitimately fearful for our country, especially the vulnerable portions whom he seemed more than willing to demonize and cast blame upon. I just seemed to be enveloped in an overarching feeling of despair that I could not shake, there was no lens I could look through with enough aperture to brighten my perspective at the time. It was just darkness, nothing more, nothing less.

Yet as I write and look back across a year in time, those feelings seem so unfamiliar and distant. There is no longer a pervasive sense of dread nor an impenetrable darkness surrounding me. The feelings of hopelessness have subsided, the apathy atrophied. Today I write not with sorrow for America, but instead with hope inspired by my fellow Americans. It is not a hope born of an unsuspecting change in our leader, but instead of a movement his actions have inspired. Let me be clear, the man has been as bad, if not worse, than pretty much anyone expected him to be.

In a lot of ways Donald Trump has amplified and exemplified the worst impulses of a leader. He has proven time and again to be an insecure man, seemingly incapable of ever stepping out of the spotlight, consistently creating intellectually confounding controversy with ever escalating egregious statements and actions for no apparent reason. He has replaced diplomacy with reckless tweets, nuclear saber rattled with unstable leaders, made verbal love with brutal dictators, withdrawn from centuries old allies and alliances and abdicated America’s leadership role in the world that generations of Americans have fought, and some died, to protect. Furthermore, he has cozied up with a man and country who sought to undermine our democracy while wholeheartedly dismissing the assessments of our very own intelligence experts. Through his reckless actions America’s international standing has diminished, our soft power – the ability to influence without the use of force – has been destroyed, and our moral leadership bankrupted. For whatever his outwardly facing failures have been, his actions within America and towards fellow Americans have been even more damning.

Mr. Trump has revealed himself to be more comfortable with dividing people along lines of gender, class, race, ethnicity, creed, and color than uniting them. His instinctual affinity to dangerously stoke the flames of xenophobia and racism to his benefit has been consistent throughout his first year in office, often times instigating societal clashes and creating points of conflict at moments when we needed unity the most. He has used moments of tragedy for political gain, exposing a level of callousness and narcissism never before witnessed in the Oval Office. At every turn, the person most entrusted with the responsibility of uniting us and being a steward of good will and moral leadership has targeted our darker, baser instincts, choosing to rely on the most divisive elements of tribalism for personal gain instead of calling upon our better angels for the betterment of society.

Donald Trump is a man who consistently shuns common decency and respect in favor of disgraceful innuendo and the belittlement of political opponents, or really, anyone who chooses to disagree with him. He has provoked disunity and discord, diminished the rule of law capriciously, and attacked the very foundations of democracy in an all out effort to erode the ability for anyone to diminish his power. The President of the United States has attacked free speech, disrespected the rights of protesters and attempted to cast doubt on the legitimacy of their grievances, while engaging in the active diminution of the free press.

In vilifying the press he has sown seeds of doubt among his followers in one of the most important institutions of free society and democracy. He claims that anything he disagrees with or perceives as a slight against him is “fake news.” His infatuation with the term has emboldened like-minded despots throughout the world to dismiss the legitimate issues afflicting their countries, and in turn, further undermined our leadership role abroad. Yet, fault is not his alone.

At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue we can find disappointment as well. The complicity with which Congress has watched the evisceration of political norms and common decency, the onslaught on our democratic institutions, and the equivocation on our commitments to the world, our allies, and the environment has been outrageous. The lack of moral fortitude by our elected leaders has been disheartening. The double speak of self-serving politicians has been unsurprising but still disappointing. The withering of self-respecting Republicans, falling into line behind a man who has denigrated almost every value the Republican party has claimed to stand for, has been embarrassingly sad to watch for the party of Lincoln. After eleven months of controlling Congress and the White House Republicans finally passed a significant piece of legislation, but at what cost to the soul of the Republican Party and the Americans they represent? The final bill ended up being nothing more than a fiscally reckless giant give away to the rich funded by the poor, the net result being a giant transfer of wealth from those who need it most to those who deserve it least.

Yet even with the absolute incessant onslaught of absurdity emanating from the Oval Office, and the muted response and disheartening lack of courage to check the President by Congress, 2017 has also brought out the very best in America, given me hope, and reaffirmed by faith in this nation. In the face of everything Donald Trump has done to tear us apart, Americans have come together, reaffirmed our pledge to our nation and each other, and refused to allow this country we love to be destroyed by a man whose only allegiance is to himself.

Hate has been met with love, bigotry with tolerance, discrimination with inclusion, callousness with compassion, ignorance with understanding, lies with truth, and cynicism with hope. Starting on the very first day of his presidency, with the Women’s March, and almost every single day since – in protests big and small, in acts of defiance personal and public – President Trump has met a resistance that has refused to be sidelined or diminished, or go silently into history. Average citizens from every corner of this country have linked arms with perfect strangers, become politically active in ways they never have before, and confronted a man whose excessive bravado is only matched by his lack of conviction and decency – and they have done so not with hate for the man but instead with love for America and their fellow citizens.

As much as we dislike the man, we love our country even more.

For eight years we were blessed with a man who shared that love for the United States and an administration who gave us hope, who inspired us, who asked of us our trust that he would do the right thing, and maybe in retrospect that wasn’t the best thing after all. Maybe we were spoiled. Maybe we got complacent. Maybe we forgot what we were fighting for. Maybe we let our guard down. Maybe some of us didn’t vote because we just figured it would be okay. Maybe we found hope in the wrong place and trusted too much.

Today I still write with trust in America and hope for our future, but it’s no longer inspired by one man or dependent upon our other elected leaders. Today my trust and hope rises from the masses of resistance, from the millions of individuals across this country who have bound together, refused to back down, and said enough is enough. My hope springs from a reservoir of good will filled by those who have stood up for equality and kneeled down for justice, who have rejected hate and bigotry and have been killed by the hatred they protested against, who spoke up for the voiceless and defended the vulnerable, who have combatted false claims of fake news with the veracity of content that cannot be arbitrarily dismissed, resisted attacks upon our democracy and nevertheless persisted with dignity and grace and an unyielding commitment to that self-evident timeless proposition written into our founding documents that, “All (wo)men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

A lot of us may have started this year with despair, a seemingly all-encompassing dread that we just could not shake, but I assure you that I am ending 2017 with hope. This year we reaffirmed that our power, the power of the people, will always be stronger than the people in power, and in doing so, vindicated the eternal hope I have for America. All of you have proven over the course of this year that the old adage that there is nothing so wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right with Americans still rings true. I believe in America because I believe in all of you. Today I write with hope for America and trust in Americans, for I know that we are no more bound by our past, than we are set free by our future. Onward to 2018!

What Throwing a Baseball at a Wall Taught Me About Democracy

When I was a kid I practiced pitching and fielding a baseball by throwing it against a cinder block wall as precisely as I could. More often than not, I hit or was at least close to my target. For years the thousands of throws I made against that wall did not seem to phase it. The cinder blocks I targeted never showed any noticeable signs of wear and so I just thought whatever effect the ball had on the wall was negligible if any at all. Even after all of the abuse the wall had taken it seemed that it was no worse for the wear, no weaker than it was prior to my first throw, but then something funny happened.

One day I wound up and threw the ball at the wall just as I had countless times before, but this time it did not come screaming back off the wall for me to field. No, this time the ball hit the wall with a softened thud and dropped to the ground below. I thought that it was quite odd and decided to take a closer look as to why the ball did not respond as it always had. When I got close enough to see, there it was: an indention in the wall, a triangular section slightly caved in by the impact of the ball, three cracks emanating out from the center. I looked closer and noticed that the grout used to hold the blocks in place had also loosened around the area I aimed at most often, an apparent gradual weakening from the impact of the baseball over the years.

Though the block finally gave way, I quickly realized that it was not just that one throw that had caused it to crack. In fact, as I looked closer at the blocks in the area I noticed a number of smaller, almost unnoticeable fissures, the type of tiny cracks that likely gave way to the larger, more noticeable one that occurred that day. It was at that moment I realized that sometimes the destructive impact of our actions is not always immediately apparent, that sometimes it takes time for a construct to weaken enough to break.

I realized that no matter how hard I could throw the ball, I would have never been able to break that brick in such a way if it were not already weakened by the thousands of other impacts that ball had made with that wall previous to the fateful one that day. What became evident to me as I looked at the once solid wall was that even the most rigid, seemingly impenetrable of objects can be weakened over time, that the cumulative force of many impacts can be greater and more destabilizing than a singular strike. It made me realize that nothing created by humans can withstand humanity should they choose to destroy it, even if that destruction takes place over a long period of time in which the underlying damage goes unnoticed.

I offer this story not simply as a testament of youthful ignorance and the power of learning through experience, but as a warning to anyone who thinks that America will inevitably survive forever. American democracy, as I have written before, is strong. Two-hundred forty-one years of war and peace, set-backs and progress, serene calm and teeming turmoil will attest to that fact. Over the course of that history our democracy has shown itself to be both, rigid enough to withstand challenges and malleable enough to accommodate change.

Yet, as I think about the political environment in which we currently find ourselves, I cannot help but think back to that wall from my youth. That wall that for years had stood strong, seemingly unfazed until one day it gave way from the cumulative force of my actions. For all of American democracy’s outward strength and historical resilience, it is not much different than than that wall, not so strong that it cannot be broken, and certainly not immune to forces acting against it.

If that wall represents our democracy – then each illegitimate claim of fake news, each degradation of America’s fourth estate, each effort to diminish the public’s trust in the free press – is another weakening blow of the the baseball slamming against it. If the integrity of the wall is American’s trust in government, then each lie spoken by our president produces a new, hardly noticeable but very troublesome, crack in that wall, each untruth further eroding the stability with which it stands. If the daily onslaught of the president and conservative media on the legitimacy of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation represents a day or week or years worth of baseballs impacting the wall, then the cracks in the foundations of our democracy are certainly deepening each day. If, when our democracy is attacked by foreign adversaries, our president refuses to acknowledge the threat, then the subversion of our democracy is not just from outside but from inside as well, and there in lies the greatest threat of all.

For democracies rarely succumb to the weight of external pressures, but instead are far more likely to be destroyed by the corrupt intentions of nefarious leaders whose subversive actions produce inequitable outcomes, exacerbate the gap between the haves and have nots, lays waste to well established norms that once held society together, and who manipulate laws to ensure they are above the law itself. While the individual impact of the threats listed above could never fell America’s democracy on their own, much in the way a single impact of the baseball could not crack the cinder block, the cumulative weight of them if unchecked and perpetuated through time, could eventually coalesce and produce an environment in which a leader could do exactly as many once democratic leaders have done in turning their democracies into dictatorships, slowly eroding democratic norms until eventually they were gone altogether.

However, there’s one very important difference between the wall I used to throw a baseball against and America’s democracy. Where as the wall stood defenseless and static, with nothing but empty space sitting behind it, America does not. In the void which occupied the center of the cinder block stands a nation of millions of Americans who generation after generation have defended this nation with courage and unity of purpose against threats both foreign and domestic. Our history tells us that we can, when alerted to a common threat, unify and come to the common defense of our Union.

What that requires however is an engaged citizenry ready and willing to challenge our leaders and to never be complicit in the undermining of our democracy. It requires that we pay attention, speak up, take action, and hold our leaders accountable. It requires us to say enough is enough, for our leaders to draw redlines in the sand that warn, if crossed, punishment equitable to the egregiousness of the transgression committed will be administered. Furthermore, if our leaders fail to take action and honor their oath to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”, it requires us to honor our responsibility as citizens of the United States that we replace those leaders with ones who will honor their oath and protect our nation.

I have heard many people suggest that any talk of America’s democracy being under attack today as misguided fear mongering. That somehow what we’re witnessing is no different than in years past, that it is simply a bunch of hot air being exhaled from a divided nation, but don’t you dare be fooled. There is nothing normal about what is happening at the top of our government right now. History is ripe with stories of people and countries who thought they were safe, until of course they weren’t. Somewhere there lies a figurative cemetery of democracies whose institutions and protections were taken for granted until they no longer existed at all. In all of the days and years I spent throwing a baseball against that wall I never thought it could actually break the cinder block, until one day of course it did. The question we face today is not whether or not there are forces acting against our democracy, for assuredly they are. No, the question we face today is how long until the cumulative force of those actions produces damage that cannot be reversed, and even more importantly, what are we going to do to prevent that from ever happening?

Our Representatives Are Failing Us

Politicians never learn. They just don’t. They might be, for all intents and purposes, the most highly educated and least intellectually malleable group of human beings that have ever existed. I’m not joking. It doesn’t matter their party affiliation, they are, almost every single one of them, afflicted with the same destructive tendency to constantly make political calculations while seemingly being perpetually married to the inability to put aside their own personal interests and ambitions for the greater good of the people they serve. They consistently choose their political viability over the interests of their citizens, apparently being incapable of learning anything aside from the ability to talk out of both sides of their mouth while keeping a straight face.

It’s disgusting, callow, tone deaf, cynical, selfish, embarrassing, anti-productive, and honestly, disheartening to witness.

On Tuesday, in a true electoral shocker, a Democrat named Doug Jones defeated a Republican in the one of the reddest, most conservative states in the entire country. The voters of Alabama didn’t just reject a terrible Republican candidate in Roy Moore however. In fact, polling data suggests that was only a small part of why Doug Jones won. The bigger, much more important message they sent than the obvious, “we don’t support purported pedophiles”, was the one delivered to Washington and seemingly accepted by the same politicians who would betray that message not even a day later.

With their ballots Alabamians said that they were tired of the smallness of our politics. By rejecting Roy Moore they showed that they were fed up with the debilitating partisan rancor that has poisoned our discourse and devolved our democratic debate. In choosing a candidate who sought to unite rather than divide, who chose inclusivity and civility over repulsion and disrespect, the voters of Alabama said that they were over the cynical politically calculated divineness that has increasingly infected and diminished the effectiveness and dignity of our public servants.

Yet not even 24 hours later, nothing had changed. This fact became crystal clear to me while I was watching Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testify on Capitol Hill regarding the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into 2016 election meddling by the Russians. With each passing word of each statement that Republicans and Democrats made during the hearing it became obvious to me that no lesson had been learned, that no accurate reading of the political tea leaves had been ascertained by the people who needed it most. It was evident to me that however tremendous the electoral earthquake that rocked Alabama the night before was, that its tremors had not reached Washington, D.C.

What I witnessed watching the hearing amounted to nothing short of the purest form of partisan political spectacle that I have seen in quite some time. The sad thing is, the performance wasn’t being performed by political talking heads, but instead by elected officials who were doing their best to play the role of political blowhards. A group of politicians who were more interested in producing sound bites that could be used in their next campaign advertisement than the objective fact finding Congress is tasked to do in their oversight responsibilities of the Executive branch…and let me tell you, they nailed the performance.

But in doing so they failed all of us. Miserably. Completely. Profoundly. They failed us.

With each withering, politically calculated statement they uttered, they diminished the legitimacy of the hearing they over saw and the dignity of the office they occupy. With each partisan attack they launched toward Mr. Rosenstein, they destroyed, word by word, whatever confidence we could have that they were apolitical overseers of an investigation of profound importance to our country. With each interruption of Mr. Rosenstein, they proved that they were not there to listen, but to talk, not to find answers but to assess blame on the basis of incomplete facts. With each sharp retort to an answer they did not agree with, they proved over and over that they were not there to accept fact as it stood, but to bend truth to their opinion. Over the course of the hearing, Democrats and Republicans alike, proved once again that they are incapable of learning anything aside from some ill conceived form of self-preservation.

The most disheartening thing about the entire spectacle is that in their behavior and their dereliction of duty our representatives only helped to diminish our democratic institutions further, which ironically was the intent of Russia whose intervention into our election was the reason the oversight hearing was occurring in the first place. What good is the separation of powers when one branch will not even admit we were attacked by an adversarial Russia and another abandons its oversight duties? By being unable to take off their partisan caps and retreat from their respective corners, both parties failed all of us again and proved how truly tone deaf politicians are and how deafening the echo chamber in Washington really is.

When our elected officials are more interested in scoring political points than securing our democracy, who will save us the next time our democracy is under attack?

America’s democracy is strong, but it is not impenetrable. Just because it can bend and stretch, flex with the passing of time and accommodate change that might destroy another country’s governing institutions, does not mean that it cannot ultimately be destroyed. While it has weathered many storms over the past two centuries, there is no guarantee that it can or will weather whatever storms may come. On Tuesday voters in Alabama stood up and said enough is enough and in doing so reminded all of us that when our institutions and values are threatened, the best defense we have is the over 300 million Americans not serving in our government but who occupy the office of citizen. On Wednesday, with their political grandstanding and refusal to put the interests of the people ahead of their own, a collection of our representatives reminded us that we cannot be disengaged or complacent in our duties as citizens. If those currently holding office will not protect our democracy, then ultimately that duty falls upon all of us to be those, as President Barack Obama said in his farewell address, “anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy”, and elect representatives that will join us in our common defense.

Reflections on New York City

It all looks so small from up here, the buildings that scrape the sky in which I now fly that just earlier towered over my head. It all looks so quiet, the seemingly silenced streets and avenues that just earlier screamed with horns, sirens, and the whispered accents of people from lands foreign to me. It all looks so still, the hustle and bustle, frenetic pace of everyday New Yorkers, seemingly paused from the window I look out from.

New York City is, an enigma. A city of inexplicably disorienting coexistent contrasts of reality. Whatever concept you have of it prior to visiting is quickly and almost systematically broken down by the visited experience. A place seemingly offended at the thought of being categorized as any one thing over another, insistent upon asking those who visit to reevaluate and debate their own preconceived notions of what New York City is and then forcing you to continue doing so over and over.

New York City is both BIG and small, a place where complex towering structures of concrete, glass, and steel almost audibly, incessantly scream, “Look at me!” exist alongside intimate cafés where life seems simple and people speak with hushed tones amidst dim lighting usually reserved for a bedroom. The giant outwardly facing structures betrayed by their tight interior spaces, forcing people into quarters so close that you’re forced to accept a level of immediacy with strangers that would normally be reserved only for the closest of acquaintances. It is a city where sidewalk bounded buildings give way to dirt trails in parks so expansive that they seemingly melt away the concrete jungle that envelops them.

New York City is gritty and refined. A place where high end fashion is balanced by the grit of its inhabitants. Where the nuance and subtlety of fashion and design is negated by the unambiguous attitudes and straightforward demeanor of New Yorkers. A people whose attitude seems to be shaped by the place they live, but unbound by the possibilities it offers and unwilling to be defined by the observations of outsiders. A city whose most critically acclaimed play in recent memory juxtaposes refined choreography and a flawlessly designed set with a cast so diverse that it flips a silent bird to our founders who betrayed their words with their deeds and a script that bombastically proclaims, “I’m not throwing away my shot!”

New York City is rich and poor. A place where the intoxication of wealth on Wall Street is sobered by the abject poverty of a couple living in sleeping bags on a stoop not even a block from the steps of the New York Stock Exchange. It forces upon you a critical examination of the world in which we live and the inequity of outcomes our society produces. It exists as a glaring example of the everyday struggle between those who have and those who have not. The clearest representation of the most imbalanced of today’s struggles between those who control the levers of power, who possess unimaginable amounts of money on 5th Avenue and those who struggle with much smaller, but more primal issues of survival, like keeping food on the table and a leaky roof over a family’s heads in the Marcy projects.

New York City is old and a new. A clash of not just old money and new wealth, but also one of classic architecture and contemporary design. A city where a single photo can capture a church built in the 1700s by the settlers of a repressive empire and a brand new 1776ft tall glass tower whose nickname is Freedom that rose from the ashes of the Twin Towers and whose very existence reaffirms the city’s commitment to liberty and to never back down. A place so diverse in its aesthetic that no matter where you go to you can capture the starkest of contrasts between conflicting styles. An almost incoherent conglomeration of contrasts, a place where cobblestone streets surround glass skyscrapers that somehow, inexplicably, combine and work perfectly together.

New York City is light and dark. It is a city of both, the blinding lights of Times Square and the dimly lit streets of Brooklyn. Move one block east or west off of a main thoroughfare and the shine of the city fades to a dull glow of an intimate restaurant of serene park. Descend an escalator from the lights of Broadway and you enter an underworld of grungy subway walkways whose illumination is swallowed by the tunnels the subway disappears into. Ride the subway and you’ll observe a city composed of every hue and race of humanity, converging from every country, speaking every language around the world forming one mass of energy that seemingly burns without end.

New York City is bold and aggressive, shy and mysterious all at once. Aggressive in the way it beckons you to come hither and mysterious in the way it refuses to be defined. Bold much in the way a woman wears a revealing dress to draw your attention and shy in the way she refuses to reveal herself. She desires your attention, not your understanding, more comfortable with being a fantasy than a reality, a concept of your imagination rather than a defined object. The city thrives on the ambiguity of being undefined, only threatened by the thought of someone discovering its true meaning. It revels in the chase, but refuses to ever actually be caught, preferring to be something different to everyone than the same thing to anyone.

The sheer volume of the anonymity that is the blood which pulses through the veins of New York City could allow me to write endlessly about the different disorienting contrasts the city throws at you simultaneously, but alas I have not that much time. As I look down, out of the window of this rapidly ascending plane, New York City looks small, quiet, and still – yet I know that it is anything but that – and in that betrayal of my perception, New York City’s heart continues to beat, it is alive and content, for it is still, undefined.

Thanks, But No Thanks

Let’s say you’re driving down the road at the posted speed limit of 70 mph, your car is running well, and you are on track to be home right on time. If, aside from a few bumps in road or an unforeseen disaster, you will almost certainly end up where you need to be and when, without changing anything, would you risk driving an extra .5 mph given the probability that you would receive a $10,000 ticket for barely going any faster?

Would such a tiny increase in speed, barely noticeable to even the keenest of observers, be worth the risk?

If your answer is no, and I am going to assume that most of your answers will be (because I am assuming that you all are sane human beings), then you should oppose the tax bill that Republicans are progressing towards signing into law. Here is why: replace the 70mph in the scenario with an economy that is already close to full employment and growing at an annualized rate of 3%. Then replace the .5mph increase in speed, of which its benefit can hardly be felt, with a .8% increase in economic growth. Take the $10,000 ticket and replace it with (a minimum) of $1,000,000,000,000 of additional debt that the new tax bill is expected to produce when adjusted for projected growth. The result (a .8% increase in economic growth at the cost of $1 trillion of additional debt) is the accepted consensus of the Joint Committee on Taxation (a non-partisan tax policy analysis organization) on what effect the new tax bill will have on the United States and our fiscal fortunes.

What Republicans are trying to jam through Congress will almost have no positive effect on the economy at a huge cost to Americans and further endanger our ability to borrow and spend money in the future when such a need might actually exist and be necessary to get the economy moving again (for example 2009). This bill is nothing more than a sheer act of political desperation by a party who has held all of the governmental levers of power since January and has quite simply failed to do anything of importance for the American people. Instead of focusing on things that could actually make a difference in American’s lives, such as figuring out a way to lower health care premiums or more effectively prevent gun violence, Republicans have instead latched themselves onto a bill that makes absolutely no sense in principle and will barely benefit the people who need it most. Their political calculation is that they would rather imperil the fiscal future of American generations than their own political lives.

It’s absurd.

The hypocrisy of these lawmakers is astounding. Here you have party who dragged Democrat’s feet over the coals for 8 years for driving up the deficit (when it was absolutely necessary to do so), willingly and proactively, seeking to pass a bill that will do the exact same thing. The big difference is – today there is absolutely no need to take such fiscally reckless action and no evidence that it will actually have the effect of fueling exceptionally fast economic growth that Republicans are claiming.

If you think back to 2009, when the stimulus bill was signed into law, the economy was in free fall. The banks were on the verge of collapse, the mortgage industry was in ruins, Americans were watching their savings and investments evaporate faster than they could comprehend. The economy was losing 700,000 jobs per month, the unemployment rate was racing towards 10% nationwide, and businesses were shuttering their doors at an alarming rate. It was by all accounts the worst financial situation the United States had found itself in since the Great Depression.

It was clear that something BIG needed to be done and so Democrats signed into law a number of bills that while, yes they drove up the deficit, also helped to stabilize the economy, put people back to work, reigned in the predatory practices of big banks and mortgage companies, and set the country on a path that would produce the longest uninterrupted stretch of employment gains (one that still continues today) in the history of the United States. Not only did the economy recover, but the stimulus paid for itself over the following years in measurable and sustainable economic growth. Yet, given all of that, the only thing most Republicans wanted to talk about was the growing deficit.

Incessantly, for the eight years of the Obama administration, you heard over and over about the fiscally reckless actions that Democrats were taking. How their spending was putting future generations at risk and how we were hurtling towards a fiscal cliff at an alarming rate. Hell, it is the one issue that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan built his reputation on. The deficit is Paul Ryan’s brand, it is his baby, it might be what he prays to at night…or at least I thought it was. He rode that horse from being a young congressman no one had ever heard of to becoming Speaker of the House in what seemed like the blink of an eye.

The thing is, Republican’s arguments were not falling upon deaf ears. I heard what they were saying and I thought it was a reasonable worry to have. I know from being in debt myself, that the further you get in it, the harder it is to get out, and the more money you spend trying to do so. So I understood the urgency with which Republicans were talking about it, especially when you are talking about the fiscal health of an entire nation, something that affects each and every American in one way or another. It was not that I disagreed with them in principle, I just felt it was necessary to spend, and yes add to the deficit, in order for the economy to recover at the time. To this day, given the economic recovery that occurred, I do not think that was a misplaced belief. However, my belief in the sincerity of Republican’s concerns about the deficit apparently was misplaced.

Which is why I think the tax bill about to be passed by Republicans is the most absurd and hypocritical thing I have seen politicians do in a long, long time. When you sit there and fear monger a nation about deficits and debt for eight years and then turn around and have your FIRST major piece of legislation increase the deficit by at least $1 trillion, but potentially as much as $2 trillion, you are, by the letter of the definition, a hypocrite. Instead of taking the opportunity to actually address the deficit at a time when the economy is moving along quite well, which is the prudent thing to do, Republicans have instead decided to enact tax cuts that result in a huge transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top at an unnecessary cost to the American taxpayer, while simultaneously imperiling our ability to address future financial crises.

Even the proclaimed benefits, “the biggest tax cut in history”, are a farce. Well, actually let me restate that. If you are wealthy, or a corporation, you might very well receive the biggest tax cut in history since somewhere between 60-80% of the tax breaks will go to the top 1% of income earning individuals. For everyone else, the claim is a boldface lie. If you are a middle or lower class individual, you will barely receive a tax cut. If you do receive a tax cut, unlike those for corporations, it will expire within the next ten years. What might also effect you is the billions taken from Medicare, or the repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate that will result in 13 million more uninsured individuals and higher premiums. If you are a farmer, some of your subsidies are going away. If you work for Customs and Border Patrol, some of your funding is also going away. If you are a student trying to pay for college, loans will probably be harder to receive.

And for what?

So the wealthy can keep more of their money? So corporations can increase their profits when their profits are already at record heights? So special interests can see to that their priorities take prominence over average Americans, again? So big banks can shelter their money in offshore accounts and not pay taxes? So oil companies can drill in the Alaskan Arctic Refuge? So investments in clean energy, such as wind and solar can be phased out? So you can no longer claim state and local tax deductions? So you can work harder and someone else can benefit more? So we can dig deeper the ditch of the debt we are already sinking in?

These questions are not rhetorical. They are the stark reality and the consequences of this disastrous tax bill about to be passed by Republicans without a single Democratic vote. So please do not be fooled when politicians tell you that this is the single biggest tax break for Americans ever. For some Americans, sure. For most of us, no, not at all. For those of us who have to work hard day in and day out – who do not have the luxury of having a tax lawyer on retainer to lessen our dues, who receiving a decent tax break would make a monumental difference in our ability to meet the needs of ourselves and our families, who play by the rules even if they are skewed against us – this bill really does nothing for us at a huge cost and risk to our future.

So I don’t know what your answer was to the question I posed at the beginning of this post. As far as I’m concerned, I would rather stay in my lane and do 70 all the way there instead of risking my financial future for negligible benefit. The older I get, the more I realize that the most expedient route is not necessarily the best – so give me the scenic one, the one that might not get me there the fastest but will allow me to enjoy the ride all the more.

The Fall of Objectivity

Last week a nightly news anchor, someone whose journalism I typically respect, started his program by listing the sixteen different women who had accused President Trump of varying degrees of sexual harassment and assault. The presentation was spurred on by the President calling out Senator Al Franken for the sexual abuse he inflicted on tv personality Leeann Tweeden. With each successive name and alleged accusation the anchor ticked off the list, he seemed to become more satisfied with himself and the quality of his “reporting.” Yet, as he progressed through the list, I couldn’t help but think, “Is this where “journalism” has gone? Is this how the free press feels they can best serve democracy? Is this not the worst way to begin a discussion about sexual assault if your intention is for all sides to listen?”

Now, please do not misinterpret what I am saying here. I believe that each of the accusations needs to be investigated to the fullest extent possible in order to figure out what exactly happened and bring justice if it is due. However, at a moment when the country is so divided, I do not necessarily think the top of a news hour is the time nor venue for that accounting to occur. I also do not believe it does anything to further the very important conversation this country is having about sexual abuse, harassment, and assault.

If anything, it is more of a distraction and counterproductive than beneficial to anyone in anyway. In fact, I think in a lot of ways, starting a show in such a partisan way diminishes the perceived veracity of the accusations and just pushes the two sides of the divide further apart, causing one side to almost immediately tune out of a conversation that needs to happen. Yet it seems more and more this is what our free press is doing and in a lot of ways journalists are endangering themselves and the profession they call their own.

When journalists, editors, and producers trade-in objective indifference for invested emotion, choose to make news instead of report it, and favor the flash of opinion editorials over evidenced-based reporting, the institution of the free press suffers a crisis of legitimacy and democracy is diminished. Furthermore, when the sensational becomes preferable and the unremarkable but consequential becomes dismissible, hard news, the type of news that is essential to the well being of a democracy, loses its hold on the public’s consciousness and becomes susceptible to being confused with “fake news.” In a period of time when the role of the free press is continuously under assault by the President, and people’s faith in its purveyors is faltering, it seems that journalists are only inflicting more mortal wounds upon themselves by lessening their commitment to objectivity and becoming more opinionated.

This evolution is not one that happened over night, nor with the advent of Donald Trump, the politician. However, it seems that the more the free press is questioned, the further it slips down the slippery slope upon which it rests, and in a lot of ways, more effectively discredits itself than an antagonistic president ever could. The seemingly unstoppable slide that continues today began twenty to thirty years ago during a time in which we witnessed a fragmentation of the media environment like never before.

As cable news came of age, and the internet era began, media outlets multiplied. Consumers were granted the opportunity to choose getting their news from a wider array of sources than ever before. At the same time, newspapers and media outlets had to adjust their business models to remain viable in a vastly different environment than that which existed previously. Given that media outlet’s revenue is generated from advertisers, and that the amount they can charge those wishing to advertise with them is directly related to their readership or viewerships levels, media companies have had to figure out how to attract more subscribers in an evermore competitive market.

In an age of ever increasing political polarization it seems that the formula media outlets and newspapers have settled upon is a move from the center of objectivity to either the right or left, entering a space that on both sides of the aisle has come to be filled with subjective conjecture presented as news. If you are on the liberal side of the spectrum you can tune into MSNBC or CNN, or pick up a New York Times and delight in an editorial slant that suits your views. If you are a conservative, you turn on FOX News or read the Wall Street Journal and have your views reflected back to you.

The problem with this formula, while it may very well pay the bills for those who make a living as members of the free press, is that it not only turns off a lot those who want news from the middle, it also pushes the two sides further apart. When all you hear is how bad the other side is, how could you ever find common ground? When certain media outlets become nothing more than a mouthpiece for a particular point of view, is not their influence diminished?

The sad thing is there are some incredibly talented journalists, both in print and on television, on the left and right, who have fallen prey to the media environment they find themselves in. Maybe editors and producers are pushing them towards being more subjective, or maybe they are just getting swept up in the larger, more bitterly partisan world we seem to be stuck in. Which one it is, I am not sure. What I do know is that this is not what the free press was intended to look like nor how it was supposed to function. I also know that what we are being given is far short of the standards by which journalists use to hold themselves.

When the factual reporting of hard news loses favor to bombastic blowhards spewing partisan hot air and when reasoned debate devolves into tribalistic conjecture, we all lose. Nobody wins in an environment where verifiable facts are dismissed simply for political reasons and fake news is accepted as fact when politically convenient. The troubling thing is, this where we are, and it is not because of Donald Trump. No matter how much he would love to take credit for the diminution of our free press, he is not the cause.

Instead it seems somewhere along the line, the objectivity of the free press was hijacked by an ever increasing pressure to chase profits, and in doing so, the calculus was arrived at that the old journalistic standard of objective fact would have to fall prey to subjective thought. It seems that corporate media managers have forgotten that journalism, at its very best, does not pick winners and losers, does not speak for one team or the other, or inject itself in the debate. Nor does does it replace resourced fact with speculative conjecture and innuendo. The free press is and always should be free to print and broadcast whatever they deem fit for the news. After all, they are the free press. However, they may want to remind themselves that they are a very important part of our democracy, and in remembering that fact, start acting accordingly.

Since before the United States was established, it has long been accepted that a free press is a necessary part of any free society. Often times referred to as the “fourth estate” in the United States, alongside the three branches of the federal government amongst which institutional power was divided by the Constitution, the importance of a free press has rarely been questioned given its protection being so prominently placed within the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Ideally, the free press operates as an illuminative instrument of the people, shining light upon the government and its officials ensuring that they are upholding the commitment entrusted to them, and sworn by them to, “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

While this arrangement has not always been the most comfortable for those holding public office, it has generally been accepted as a necessary evil of democracy by those who wield the instruments and power of the government. As President John F. Kennedy once said,

“There is a terrific disadvantage in not having the abrasive quality of the press applied to you daily. Even though we never like it and even though we wish they didn’t write it, and even though we disapprove, there isn’t any doubt that we could not do the job at all in a free society without a very, very active press.”

Though President Nixon would probably beg to differ, given that his administration was felled by what many consider the height of investigative journalism that exposed the Watergate scandal, the role and the importance of the free press has rarely been questioned by those under whom the spotlight has been turned. Yet as I have argued in this article, the free press has been under assault in recent times, from the outside as well as from within.

The attacks from outside have been transparent enough that their lasting impact will likely be one of little direct importance. After all, when a president lashes out and calls anything he disagrees with “fake news”, his cries can be dismissed just as easily as a boy who “cries” wolf whenever he sees a shadow move in the dark. When the application of such a misleading term is applied only to adversarial sources and stories, its legitimacy is diminished and only further undermines the slight to which the President has perceived to have been dealt. However, I would argue that the way the press has reacted to such claims by the President, and the way in which the free press has devolved over the past few decades – becoming one that is much less objective, more partisan, and ultimately less influential – are much more concerning and dangerous to democracy than a delusional man seated behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.


“So what are you?”, asked a gentleman I had met only a few minutes prior whom I was discussing politics with. The question was ambiguous enough that I was not exactly sure what he was hoping to find out, though innocuous enough that I was not offended.

I replied, “What are you referencing?”

He said, “I’m a libertarian nationalist, what are you?”

His response was immediate enough that I could tell he had clearly thought and arrived at this self-description previous to our interaction. Though his response intrigued me, I hung on to his words for only a moment, before my mind slipped back to something else I have been thinking about a lot lately.



They’re not just for packing anymore. We put ourselves in them. We put others in them. We have shortcuts for everything these days – not just the things we type or the route we take to and from work – but also the world in which we live. The ways in which we define ourselves and to an ever increasing extent each other, is limited, detrimentally I would argue, to mental shortcuts, or boxes, that we use to sort out the world around us. “Liberal”, “conservative”, “snowflake”, “nationalist”, etc. Nuance, reasoned debate, conceptual dexterity – are dead. The diversity of color is out, black and white is in.

Either you are with us or against us. Unity of purpose, community, compromise – are history. In their place, a dependence on zero-sum calculations, detrimental individuality, and an adherence to rigid belief systems that render compromise impossible. There is no middle ground anymore, no intellectual space where principled positions are debated and moderate solutions agreed upon. There is this or that or nothing at all. The place where we used to stand together is now a void, all that remains is the space between. There once was a time when we united and overcame, today it seems all we do is divide and conquer.

I hate it.

Now don’t get me wrong. I will defend my beliefs and the things I stand for as voraciously as anyone. After all, if you don’t stand for something, you in turn stand for nothing. However, the ways in which we stand today – the way we dissect and divide the world, put each other in boxes and burn the bridges that once connected us to one another – I would argue is as corrosive to our democracy as anything outside of maybe the exaggerated influence that special interests and money have on the development of policy by our elected leaders.

It’s not that we disagree, it’s that we are disagreeable when we do so. Let’s be honest, in a country as large and diverse as the United States is, people are going to hold differing views of the world and different beliefs as to what they feel are the best solutions to the problems we face. Each of our experiences in this country are unique and therefore no two viewpoints will ever be exactly the same. Diversity – of people and beliefs – in the United States is as natural as air we breathe and the water we drink.

However, over the past few decades, it seems that we have lost track of the fact that at the end of the day, we are all Americans. Before any other defining characteristic is applied to us, even before our sex is determined by a doctor, we are already American. Everything else comes after. Whether we end up being Democrats, or Republicans, liberal or conservative, all comes after when we become Americans.

Yet increasingly so, it seems we want to divide ourselves by any means possible, and do everything we can to distinguish ourselves from those whom we disagree with. It’s not enough to just disagree with someone, we must now be vehement in our disagreement. It’s not enough to be a Democrat, you must also now be a liberal. Our divisions have become almost tribal in nature. Each time an issue comes up, it seems like an ideological purity test is applied. If you do not happen to run far enough to your side of the aisle, well you might as well be standing on the opposite side of the aisle. You are an enemy of your own.

It’s ridiculous.

It’s not just average citizens either, although we are just as at fault as our leaders. I do not think I will ever forget hearing then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell say that Republican’s number one goal was to ensure that President Obama was a single-term president. Now, call me crazy, but I am pretty certain that there should have been some other more important goals they could have dedicated themselves to at the time. Maybe helping to stop the economy from collapsing, or finding a solution to people’s rising healthcare costs, or containing an evermore dangerous North Korea…the list goes on and on. The fact of the matter is that if Barack Obama was a one-term president the country as a whole would have probably been worse off, and that would have been a far worse outcome than President Obama being in office for another four years.

More recently, I heard an elected official from the state of Alabama say that if he had to choose between voting for a Democrat or a child molester, he would not vote for the Democrat. Now let that sink in for a moment. An elected official literally said that we would rather vote for a child molester before a Democrat. It’s astonishing that something like this could be said, but that’s the nature of the world in which we now live and it’s absurd. Though I am a Democrat I am not making a partisan point here either. I would be just as quick to call out a Democrat if he or she made such a ridiculous statement. My point is, it’s sad that our politics have become so toxic that such statements are made at all.

When you have two governing parties that seem to have forgotten what compromise is, retreated into their respective, but far from respectable, political corners, and are willing to fight to the death before they give so much as an inch, we all lose. When those on the left and those on the right fail to talk to each other and instead yell right past one another, the voice of reason becomes inaudible. When each issue is used as a wedge to drive the divide deeper instead of an opportunity to build a bridge that spans the space between, we all slip a little deeper into the void. When opposition is nothing more than opportunistic, and debate devolves into disagreeable disarray, our democracy is damaged. No one wins when all we do is talk and never even bother to listen. When political leaders find the necessity to draft legislation in the dark, the light will surely fail to shine equally across all of those whose laws are being written in secrecy. Yet, let us not be confused – the full throated opposition of those not included in the process is just as corrosive to our democracy as those operating in secrecy. For how can a party reject, in its entirety, something they are complaining about having not had the chance to even read?

None of it makes sense.

Yet as average citizens we have found a way to make sense of it. We do so by putting ourselves and everyone else into boxes and separating them however we see fit. We make mental notes and use shortcuts, buy into oft repeated stereotypes, pay attention to only the headlines and not the details. We accept unverified claims as fact, fail to dig deeper, and fall prey to fake news and false innuendo. We all too often surround ourselves only with people whose beliefs are congruent with our own, while failing to take into account that just because someone does not agree with you, does not necessarily make them wrong.

The vast majority of us have built a bubble around ourselves, constructed of the company we keep, the media we consume, and the values we espouse to hold dear. The longer we go without venturing outside of our bubbles, the more impenetrable they become to conflicting views and alternate viewpoints. We dig our trenches deeper with each headline we consume that is cognitively harmonious with our constructed belief systems. The space between us and those who we do not agree with only grows wider as days go by.

In this sense, we are just as culpable in the diminution of our democracy and dissolution of reasoned debate and compromise as our leaders. After all, we live in a representative democracy where our leaders are elected by the citizens they represent. If we continue to divide ourselves further, fall prey to fake news, and fail to seek truth and understanding, then the natural result will be elected officials who do the same. We can no more fault them for not listening to each other than we fault ourselves if we fail to listen to one another as well. When we are so quick, and devastatingly comfortable, to put ourselves in boxes such as “libertarian nationalist”, we are just as comfortable to put others in boxes as well. Therefore, we should not be surprised at the current state of affairs.

Donald Trump is not an accident or an aberration. He is the summation.

He is the product of the divided country in which we live. What most of us failed to realize, which he cynically latched on to and rode all the way to the Oval Office, was that maybe for the first time in America’s history, or at least since the Civil War, Americans are more comfortable being defined by what divides us than what unites us. I would even go so far as to say that we can more readily express what we stand against than what we stand for. Donald’s campaign seemed to understand that people are more comfortable with being put into boxes and labeled by others than ever before. In fact, before anyone else puts us in a box, we put ourselves in one first.

The 2016 campaign did not divide us, it just exploited the divisions that already existed, and sorted the boxes accordingly. The faults that opened were not new, nor surprising, their roots can be traced back through generations of Americans. The fact is, the wounds of our past never fully healed and were easily reopened by a campaign whose driving force was division.

In this respect, we should not be surprised by the impact that fake news had on the views of voters. Fake news is only as effective as the divided atmosphere in which it enters, only persuasive to the mind already primed with preexisting beliefs that agree with the media being consumed. In an era when we rarely seek out information that challenges our beliefs, when all we want to consume is what we already believe, then we are exceptionally susceptible to anything that reinfoces our beliefs.

We are not only the creator and guardian of our boxes, but also the prisoner trapped inside.


My answer to my questioner’s inquiry could have been that I am a Democrat, but I had boxes on my mind. The fact is that I have voted for the Democratic nominee for president for four consecutive elections now, but I am not bound to do so for forever. If we were keeping score on my selection for president, my record would be 2-2, but that fact is irrelevant and I am okay with that. In a democracy, you are going to win some elections and lose some as well. Losing an election is not the end of the world, just a new opportunity for debate.

I have always felt that the values of the Democratic Party more closely aligned with my own than those of the Republican Party and therefore I have leaned in that direction since I can remember. That does not mean that I am oblivious or dismissive of all Republicans or the Republican Party as whole though. As I said before, I am just as quick to criticize a Democrat as a Republican. I mean, Anthony Weiner and Rod Blagojevich were an embarrassment to Democrats after all. Being a Democrat also does not mean that I hate all things conservative or love all things liberal. To be honest the extremes of either end of the political spectrum have always been a little uncomfortable for me.

I do not believe in putting people or myself into boxes. I have never liked constriction. So to be narrowly defined, by myself or anyone else, just does not fit with who I am. When we do that – when we put people into these narrowly defined boxes – we eliminate nuance, diminish our ability to find common ground and destroy our ability to relate to one another. Rigid adherence to worn out dogmas limits our ability to empathize, understand, and reach common sense, agreeable solutions to the problems we confront that are acceptable for all parties concerned.

So with that mind, my answer to his question was simply what we all are, long before we ever package ourselves for the world:


and I fucking hate boxes.”


I feel a sense of pride when I look at the American flag, but my pride, my patriotism, does not end or begin with the flag. No, it runs deeper and is more nuanced than pledging allegiance to the fifty stars and thirteen stripes emblazoned upon our flag. You see, I feel that same sense of pride, that same American pride, when I see a football player kneel during the anthem because he is discontent with the state of affairs in America in 2017. I feel pride because I know that more than anything else, he wishes to evoke conversation, and more importantly, enact change that moves America forward, that gets us closer to being a more perfect Union. It is not any different than the sense of pride I feel whenever I read about the patriots who poured tea into a harbor, who fought for and helped to birth this nation, the ones who have lost their lives in service of its defense on foreign shores, or the various minorities and women who have fought for equal rights and progress throughout our history within our own borders. 

Our history, the history of the American people, is rich with patriots of every hue, race, religious denomination, familial origin, sexual orientation, and gender identification. Some of them carried muskets, others carried roses, some fought in wars, while others marched for peace, some marched across bridges, others sat in the front of the bus, some stood up and walked out, while others sat down and refused to leave, some raised a fist up, and yes, some kneeled down.

They are all patriots, none elevated above the other. For all of them were dedicated to this country as much as their individual causes. Though personal their protests may have been, their cause has always been common. They have, above all else, asked nothing more of this country and its citizens, than to live up to and protect the promises laid forth in our founding documents. They are all patriots in the most revered and respectable sense of the word. 

Their allegiance is to a better, kinder, more perfect America. Their hopes are common, for at the end of their lives, they wish that the America they bestow to future generations is one that lives up to its ideals, that does not shrink from its messy history, but instead embraces the lessons learned through the battles waged in its common defense. They hope for an America that is not divisive, but united. One that is not divided along lines of race or creed or color, but instead united and enriched by the beautiful diversity of its citizens and protected by their steadfast dedication to the perpetuation of our union as Americans.

You see patriotism is personal. It is not, nor should it be, some uniform blanket of American warmth we all wrap ourselves in. It is defined not by anyone else, but instead ourselves. It varies from one person to the next. Some wear it on their sleeve, others hold it deep inside. Sometimes we hang a flag from our house, or a yellow ribbon on our tree. Some of us might have a bumper sticker that says we are, “proud to be an American”, others may not. Some of us may never say a critical thing about America and feel that is the best way we can show our patriotism, and for that person, that may be true. While for others, the most patriotic expression may be to protest what they view as injustice or opportunities for America to show a greater commitment to its founding principles. 

Personally I wear it on my wrist, with a tattoo that says, “Liberty.” To some that may be lame, but patriotism is personal. For me, my tattoo is an everyday reminder of the freedom I was granted by being born an American citizen. It reminds me every day that I am entitled to the maximum amount of freedom I wish to embrace so long as the expression of my own liberty does not unduly infringe upon that of any other American. My liberty is written into our founding documents, just as is yours. It is not intended to be dictated or defined by anyone else, than us, the people who are granted the freedom to express it. 

Which is something I feel like is lost upon our president when he criticizes and singles out certain individuals and organizations, when he casts some people as “fine Americans” and others as “sons of bitches” when they partake in the time honored tradition of protesting in America. Patriotism is devalued when he respects the rights of some protesters more than others. It is diminished, when he seeks to divide us along old fault lines with worn out dogmas and disproved stereotypes. It is damaged, when he fails to realize that by the very nature of our birth, as citizens of the United States, we are entitled to the right of free speech, and therefore, protest. We are entitled to express ourselves freely. We are entitled to protest. 

A man who kneels to raise awareness about injustice, a woman who remains seated to fight inequality, a preacher who marches to help ensure that the, “moral arc of the universe…bends towards justice,” is no less an American than one who serves in the military, or a teacher who pledges allegiance to a flag, or a president who resides in the White House. There are no litmus tests for what patriotism should or should not be in America. It is defined by us. Whether you are born an American, or you become naturalized as an American, that means you have the right not just to be patriotic, but to define patriotism however you see fit no matter what the leader of your country says. That’s a beautiful thing, because sometimes the most patriotic thing you can do is stand up and salute the flag, yet at other times, the most patriotic thing you can do, is take a knee. 

We Choose America

The history of the United States has been written in fits and starts, through periods of rapid progress and stubborn stagnation. Yet, the movement, however painstakingly slow at times, has always been forward. Always moving in the direction of a more fair, just, and equal United States. That is not to say that our journey is complete, nor is it likely to ever be, but it is without question, that the directional trajectory of America has always been in the direction of reaffirming and strengthening our commitment to the ideals written into our founding documents and not the contrary.

While it may be difficult to not be cynical in times like these, when the rancor of our debate drowns out the real reasons for our divisions, we should not be. However difficult it might be, we should not for one second be cynical about America’s prospects or doubtful whether the strength of our union can sustain the weight of our dissonance. For the issues we face today are nothing more than remnants of a messy, imperfect but absolutely necessary past; they represent the final vestiges of a painful history that still linger in the inevitable inequities created by our difficult journey.

While the problems that still linger are without question difficult, they pale in comparison to the battles waged, and won, throughout America’s path towards becoming a more perfect union. The battles of today are not on scale with the intractable struggles that litter our past, but instead, are the lingering resentments of the progress made during those times of angst. For the perpetuation of our Union is no longer in doubt, nor are we fighting to have a Union at all. 

We won those battles, with grit and determination, and a steadfast dedication, borne on the backs of generation after generation of patriots, to a concept larger than any one man or one side on a battlefield, continuously reaffirming that we will stand united no matter the disharmony of our days. At every moment of utmost urgency and doubt, when our very union could have perished, America has revealed the better angels of its nature, chosen unity over division, hope over fear, turned inward and pulled its disparate parts together instead of allowing itself to be torn asunder by the weight of current events. This is no accident. 

The perpetuation of our union, however laborious it has been, is no mystery. America survives because we choose for it to survive. For 241 years, generation after generation of Americans have decided that our union is worth choosing, that it is worth defending, and perfecting. During periods of both – war and peace, upheaval and stability, poverty and prosperity – we have, without hesitation or doubt, chosen America over any other option or construct. The indisputable progress of our past and the strength of the binds which tie us together leave us firm in the belief that no matter what storms may come we will assuredly be buoyed through the most turbulent of times and safely delivered to the grace of a more tranquil future. 

Our history gives us hope, our struggles give us strength, and the will of our people gives us the energy to continue forward. And so I will always believe in the ability of America to weather the most severe of challenges and come out a better, more perfect union. We must remember that our union is bigger than any one person or party, stronger than any singular threat against the character of our nation, more malleable than the most rigid of debates, and more enduring than any battle protracted against the heart of its identity. I know that sometimes in the vitriol of our debates, the issue that we are debating in the first place gets lost in the heat of the moment. But what can never get lost, what we must never forget, is that the true reason why we care enough to engage in impassioned debate at all is that we love our country, we love America, and we choose it, just as we have for 241 years, everyday. 

Nation of Immigrants

One of the main problems I have with Donald Trump is that he either does not know what the United States stands for and represents, or he does, and just does not care how that fits in with his own personal ambitions. Either way, the immigration bill he publicly put his support behind yesterday is an absolute embarrassment to America and our values. 

By supporting a bill that reforms our immigration system into a point based system that heavily favors admission for highly skilled and English speaking workers, while also cutting in half the amount of legal immigrants admitted over 10 years, he is directly contradicting American values and disregarding our history. I do not care what kind of system Canada or Australia have, as some have noted, they are not the United States and they do not share our history. That is not to say their system is wrong, or worse, but it is fundamentally different and defined by their own histories which are distinct from our own.

Look at the history of the American people and you will find that we are and always have been a nation of immigrants. More than any other nation we are defined and enriched by the diversity of our people, not diminished or divided because of it. Outside of Native Americans, every United States citizen today, including Donald, can trace their heritage back to someone who immigrated to this country at some point in time from some place other than these United States. 

Our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. The sum of our disparate origins is far greater than any singular identity we carry. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

Those who came before did not set out for our shores with anything more than hope for a better life and the belief that if they did the right things, were willing to work hard and make sacrifices, that they would be granted the opportunity to obtain that life they sought. They arrived not seeking a hand out, but instead a hand up, not to be given everything they desired but the fair share they were willing to work for. 

They looked across the ocean, or over the border, and saw a shining light upon a hill, a beacon of liberty and justice, equality and self-determination, evaluated what lives they led, and decided to pursue their own American dreams. Never before have the dreams immigrants opted to chase here in America required them to be highly educated, nor did those dreams cause them to be discriminated against if their English was broken, or even non-existant. 

Their pursuit required nothing more than good will, an honest desire to contribute to a nation and dream much larger than their individual origins and interests. Their entrance to the United States did not require that they be the perfect citizen upon arrival, but that they always strive for something more, something better, that they contribute in their own small, but not insignificant, way to perfecting this union. It did not predicate the likelihood of the admission upon their country of origin or on their religious beliefs, nor upon their linguistic or intellectual capabilities.

We must not forget that disparaging stereotypes such as dangerous or criminal, lazy or unqualified, that are so commonly unfairly bestowed upon Muslims and Hispanics today were once used to describe Italians and Irishman, Jews and Poles, and other immigrants of all different origins. We must be reminded that our history has not always been perfect, for if we fail to forget the missteps of our past we are sure to repeat them in the future. 

We are weakened when fail to read our history, when we turn our backs on the facts of our past, when we refuse to study the roots of our origins, and fail to acknowledge the errors of our ancestors. In the wake of Donald’s statements yesterday and his support for this bill, it is important that we recall that on our Statue of Liberty there reads a poem that says,

 “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

For nowhere in those words, nor in our history, does it say someone must be well-educated or speak English, to pursue their own American dreams, nor should it ever in our future be a requirement either.

May We Build Bridges: Inaugural Edition

Each time we assemble to inaugurate a new president of the United States of America we affirm a commitment to both, continuity and change. For if we meet our obligations as citizens the existence of our union shall be perpetual, but the ways in which we seek to perfect it must endlessly evolve.

As we gather today the debris left in the wake of the storms that raged when President Obama took office still lays across our landscape, complicating our foreign policy, poisoning our political discourse, diminishing the bonds between fellow citizens, and leaving us to ask, “how in a nation of such wealth can unprecedented levels of inequality persist?”

This leaves us at a defining moment. As humbled stewards of this nation, we are entrusted with the responsibility to ensure that our course be righteous, that America be true to its founding principles, and that the country we leave our children be one that is more just, equal, and free than that which we inherited.

As we lift our gaze beyond our shores we find a world in turmoil. Climate change continues to wreak havoc on weather patterns, causing life-threatening natural disasters with startling regularity. Starvation plagues large swaths of the world’s poor and civil wars ravage the lives of innocent citizens across the globe. Terrorism continues its assault on democracy, peace, and human decency. Opportunistic leaders of deteriorating nations are attempting to exploit the upheaval to their advantage by creating spheres of influence where their relative power increases and human rights diminish. Meanwhile the pressures of globalization have proven that progress is not without cost.

At home a tumultuous election with foreign interference has laid bare divisions that cut in every direction across our citizenry, calling into question much of the progress we have made. A vitriolic campaign exposed deep divisions and a lack of empathy between disparate groups of Americans leaving wounds still unhealed. Our political discourse is as dysfunctional as ever. The disconnect between the outcomes of those who vote and those who are voted for has never been larger, producing widespread apathy and disillusionment amongst the American electorate whose trust in government our democracy depends.

The American dream feels more out of reach than ever as the rungs of the economic ladder spread further apart each year. Policies perpetuating the precipitous decline of the middle class and poor are producing levels of inequality previously unimaginable in a wealthy country. Healthcare, while covering the largest percentage of Americans ever, remains too expensive, with access to quality care too limited. Our schools continue to fail too many and higher education continues to cost too much.

The forces enveloping the world are pushing us in directions unexpected while gales of change and intolerance threaten to blow apart decades of progress and stability. Calls not that dissimilar to those echoing across Europe are imploring us to close our borders, turn our backs on the world, lose faith in our alliances, and abandon our values. Taken together the tide of current events is threatening to wash away the very foundations of our democracy.

Though strong may be the current, our resolve shall not weaken, and we, the American people, will not be swept asunder the torrents of current events. I have confidence in that affirmation for I know our history, believe in our values and have faith that America remains the world’s last best hope.

So fear not my fellow citizens, for we have endured much worse storms and proven that there exist no challenge unbendable to the undying will and unbreakable spirit of the American people. Today let us proclaim that we do not fear any challenge. For we are, by origin of our birth, a hopeful and optimistic people whose hope springs from a reservoir of progressive history so deep that we cannot help but believe that success and progress are our destiny. That no matter how divisive the issue or grand the challenge, that we will, with grit and determination, hard work and unity of purpose, prevail.

However, the turmoil of today has called into question the wisdom of our foreign policy and the globalist agenda our leaders have pursued. Cynics question whether the effects of globalization have benefitted our lives and whether we should insulate ourselves from the negative outcomes it has produced.

It is beyond debate, that as the world grows more open, people have become evermore insecure with their place in it. Trips that used to take months, now take hours. A message written in Detroit arrives in Dubai within the blink of an eye. This is the reality of the world today and there is no turning back the clock on progress or technology. Building a wall or a bomb no longer provides security when the click of a mouse in Moscow can wreak havoc on our financial institutions or diminish the sanctity of our elections.

The benefits of globalization have forced upon us the responsibilities as well. We cannot consciously drop bombs in the Middle East and not accept displaced refugees in the Midwest. Nor can we claim to be pro-life protesting outside of clinics while simultaneously allowing Syrian children to be murdered in Aleppo. A foreign child’s life is worth as much as the potential that an unborn American child holds.

We are confronted with the dichotomy that while open borders can allow terrorists to cross them, they also allow for the free flow of culture and commerce that enriches our lives and enhances our cultural awareness. There is no question that America, truly a nation of immigrants, has benefitted from immigration nor that immigration has had unintended consequences. From disruptions of our labor force to 9/11, it is clear that there are drawbacks to the interconnected world in which we live just as there are benefits. Nowhere is this fact more apparent than on the internet.

While the internet has brought the world to our fingertips, it has also provided a platform for radicals to spread their warped views. Though enemies of peace pervert the sacred scriptures of peaceful faiths to radicalize their followers on Facebook, they find themselves standing on a diminishing base of ignorance as knowledge expands. They are relics of a world that no longer exists, clinging to a perverse worldview whose outlook grows dimmer as our world becomes more connected. Their draw diminished more each day as the light of our common humanity shines and the darkness of our differences erodes.

Throughout our history visionary leaders of these United States have reached across the globe and forged alliances with nations who share our values to ensure the endurance of our union. We have helped build international organizations and crafted trade deals providing for all parties increased measures of prosperity, peace, stability, and security while agreeing to combat climate change, prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, isolate rogue nations and diminish their ability to destabilize the world.

From the free flow of ideas, commerce, people, and capital to the relatively peaceful relations between the great powers of the world since the end of WWII, the benefits of globalization cannot be easily dismissed. Firm in the belief that engaging the world is in our best interest, the United States has built as many bridges to the world as possible.

We have provided life saving medications to people who are ill, books to children who wish to read, funded disaster relief when the grounds quaked and the floodwaters rose, supplied peacekeeping troops, opened our homes to refugees of conflicts when those peacekeeping missions have fallen short, and donated food to those who are starving.

We know that it is not only right to do these things but far less expensive than influence by the use of force. The price of a book or a meal pales in comparison to the price of a fighter jet, but its impact is no less profound to the curious mind or empty stomach of a starving child.

My fellow Americans, our power does not emanate from the size of our military alone, but also from size of our heart. We are a decent people who value compassion and empathy, hope and integrity, fairness and equality. Our willingness to open our home to a refugee, to forgive old foes and form new alliances, to pick up those who have fallen and give a handout to those in need, is what shines light into the deepest and darkest, most hope-ridden and scary corners of this world. It’s what makes Americans special. It’s what makes America exceptional.

Therefore we must continue to build bridges and not walls. For not only our security, but also our influence, our ability to shape an unpredictable world, relies upon being engaged with that world. We will expand upon agreements that enhance our security, increase our prosperity, and slow the warming of our planet. Let us resolve to make friends and not enemies, to seek understanding in the absence of awareness, and to always be committed to being a part of something much larger than ourselves.

While remaining engaged with the world, we must also remain true to our values at home. Let us affirm once and for all, that diversity and immigration are the bedrock of our nation’s foundation and not a threat to our national identity nor our security. To law abiding immigrants and dreamers, you may or may not have chosen to come here, but you will be afforded the opportunity to stay here and pursue your own American dreams.

It is that quintessential American belief that each generation of Americans will fare better than the last that continues to draw immigrants to our shores. Yet as we gather today, the luster of the American dream is fading, not just for immigrants but also for native born Americans. With each passing year it becomes more apparent that misplaced priorities and ineffective policies are increasing inequality.

Too often we debate about what trickle down tax policies can help build, and not what they destroy, for in their propensity to exacerbate inequality they destroy the footings upon which the American dream is built. If we are to ever make the American dream a reality again, we must craft tax and trade policies with workers in mind and not the corporations whose labor they supply. We are a nation of people, not business entities. We must remember that the government’s interest is in ensuring prosperity for people not profits for corporations.

Today I say to those who get rich while impoverishing their workers, who exploit lax labor laws, bust unions, cut wages, ship jobs over seas, and do not share in the bounty which such self-centered actions produce, your days of getting ahead on the backs of the middle class and working poor are numbered. We will no longer stand for policies that favor the few over the many, that give the most to who need it least and the least to who need it most.

The middle class and working poor of this nation are proud people who take pride in the work they do. They do not want to be arbitrarily handed money, but instead to keep more of the money they earn. They do not want to take advantage of the system, but they also do not want to be exploited by it either.

May we reject as false the belief that the gains of some must come at the expense of others. We rise and fall as one nation, as one people. If someone is poor or middle class, those designations know not their skin color, but only their income. The loss of a job for a middle class black family from Chicago inflicts the same economic hardships and tough choices on those of a white family from Appalachia similarly afflicted.

Every American adult no matter their race, nor their gender, sexual orientation or religion, has a right to work at a job that does not discriminate against them for who they are, but rewards them for what they can do. The diversity of our god given talents, and hard earned skills, deserves a minimum wage that is livable and dignified, an opportunity that is unbiased, healthcare that is neither too expensive nor too hard to find, child care that does not bankrupt, and a safety net that is not threatened by partisan politics.

Every American child should grow up in a world where the only limit to their dreams is their willingness to work hard to achieve them. Too often our destination is determined by the limitations of our origins and not the size of our dreams. We must ensure that the biggest influences on a child’s chances for success are the quality of their education and the support of their parents give and not the city block or dirt road upon which they are raised. For only when all of our children from the most disparate of origins have the same chances to reach the same destinations can we ever hope to end inequality in this country.

We know that reversing the trend toward inequality will not be easy. That it will not come without setbacks and frustrations, differences of opinion and diverse policy proposals, but the course must be traveled. For the trust of the people depends upon their government’s ability to deliver equality and opportunity, and when that trust is eroded, when the bonds between citizens and their leaders weakens, then, and only then is our democracy existentially endangered.

I know the debate in the years ahead will be vigorous, as well it should be. But I ask those lawmakers seated behind me today to keep a promise to the American people. I ask that everyday when you walk through the doors of the Capitol, that you think about the men and women in your districts and not those in your respective caucuses. That if you make a statement, that it be with the voice of your constituents. That if you take a stand that it be for the American people and not your party, donors, or special interests. That when we debate, that it be civil. That when we disagree, that it be done respectfully, and that we come together and not forget that we are a government, of, by, and most importantly, for the people.

To all of the Americans across this magnificent mall and beyond. I know elections, by nature, are divisive. They can leave you cynical, lacking faith in your leaders, angry at your neighbor, and mistrusting of those who do not look like you. I know that sometimes in the vitriol of our debates, the purpose of why we’re debating in the first place gets lost in the heat of the moment.

I ask of you today to pause and reflect about all that his great nation has given to you, the potential that America holds, and what dreams you have for yourself and future generations. I ask that you realize that in the absence of unity none of it will ever come to fruition.

So at this time we may not understand each other, but we can affirm that we would like to know one another better. We can choose a new, better, and more united way forward than the divided path upon which we have traveled. We do not have to sacrifice the things we believe in to better understand people we do not agree with. We can and always will hold differing opinions, but that does not mean our conversations must always be disagreeable, or that we cannot respect the differing opinions of others.

What has been, does not have to be. We are no more bound by our past than set free by our future. We can, if we open our minds and our hearts, find a part of ourselves in our shared experience as Americans. We can make those marginalized feel as if they have a place in this country as well.

We must do this in order to remain true to our origins. Our founders, faced with unfathomable odds, drew upon their shared grievances and set aside their differences, found strength in the cause of something larger than themselves, pledged not just their lives, but their sacred honor and fortunes, so that the spirit of the revolution might endure. With little more than hope they committed themselves to a seemingly impossible task. Yet in their unity they found strength, in their strength they found courage, and in their courage the will to face down tyranny and defeat England.

Though the scale of our challenges be great, we are not faced with such daunting odds as our founders. However, we are faced with a decision of what kind of country we are and what kind of a country we want to be. We are confronted with the uncomfortable truth that we have hard work left to do if we are to pass on to future generations a better country than the one we inherited.

Will we summon the courage to not just look in the mirror and see what is wrong, but also the wisdom to look at others and see what is right? Can we find the self-control to recoil from our propensity to divide ourselves over things immaterial to who we are and find ground that is common with people who are foreign?

A better future is not guaranteed but is attainable if we apply ourselves to the cause at hand and commit ourselves to confronting the challenges we face united. If we choose to seek understanding when we do not know, common ground when we are apart, and unity over division, then we will succeed in passing forth to future generations those sacred gifts our founders fought and died for. Of no higher calling can I reason, so may we commit nothing less than our full measure of devotion, to building bridges and not walls.

Thank you, and may god bless the United States of America.

May we build bridges and not walls…

As I grow older I find myself thinking about politics, policy, and elections less in terms of what it means to me and more in terms of what it means to the country that I live in and love. That is not to say that when I vote I do not vote in what I feel is my best interest, but instead that my interests have been shaped more by the world in which I live and the people that I love than the things I believed when I was younger. I do not think that I am alone in this evolution.

The opinions we hold are shaped by the lives we live and the interactions we have with the people and environment that surround us. It is therefore natural that as our lives progress our views and opinions will change. Everyone lives a different experience and therefore has a different view of the world that is unique unto themselves. I can no more understand the world through a wealthy person’s eyes than she can through my own. Our perception of the world is fundamentally different because our experiences are unique. However, that does not mean we cannot choose to understand.

Just because our experience is unique does not mean we are condemned to be perpetually ignorant to the experience of others. We are not bound to ignorance unless we choose to be. Ignorance is not an excuse for misunderstanding, it is a symptom of failing to make an effort to understand. In the 21st century, with all of the technology and information we have available to us, a failure to understand has no excuse and is a conscious choice that someone makes. Yet many have chosen ignorance nonetheless.

I think after this election it’s clear that too many people have simply chosen to not understand. Too many have chosen to not build bridges but instead walls, to fall victim to divisive rhetoric instead of calls for unity. We as a people have chosen to find what makes us different more than what makes us the same, to separate ourselves into distinct groups with disparate interests instead of communities with common values. Far too many have chosen to take comfort in their ignorance than to force upon themselves the discomfort of trying to understand.

Make no mistake about it, choosing to seek out an enlightened perspective over ignorant assumptions is not comfortable. Challenging long held, very personal beliefs and assumptions about the world is not easy. It can and will make you uncomfortable when confronted with a reality that proves previously believed unfounded facts to be surprisingly false. It is not natural for us to step beyond our comfort zone, to listen instead of talk, to admit error in our reason and not confidence in our opinion. Though it may be difficult and uncomfortable to find understanding and the ability to empathize with people we may not know or understand, I believe it is absolutely essential at this point to do so as Americans if we are ever going to reach our full potential as a nation.

The fact that Americans suffer from an epidemic lack of empathy is undeniable. We just went through one of the most divisive and bruising elections and the result exposed our divisions and lack of understanding like no election before. What we witnessed was a general lack of understanding, respect, and open-mindedness that produced one of the most polarized, yet apathetic electorates ever. Our lack of empathy and unwillingness to see ourselves in others has so poisoned our political discourse and our cultural interactions that we value soundbites more than nuanced debate, easy to accept lies more than hard to accept truths, comfortable misperceptions over unbearable veracities.

This lack of empathy is evident on both the Left and Right of the political spectrum. Ignorance is not exclusive to either Democrats or Republics, Liberals or Conservatives, rich or poor, black or white or brown, Christians, Jews or Muslims, straight or gay people. Ignorance comes in many forms and holds a place in each of us in some way or another. No one person or group is exempt from this ignorance. We all own some amount of ignorance. We all exhibit a blindness to the experience of one group or another at some point and therefore a misunderstanding of them.

Each individual’s ignorance is different based on their own experiences in the world. These blindspots yield the misunderstandings that feed into the bitterness of elections such as the one between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. We are bitter because we do not understand. We do not understand because we fail to seek truth. We fail to seek truth because the truth is often times harder to accept than the lie.

We end up finding identity in our differences instead of in our commonalities. We embrace those parts of ourselves that separate “us” from others instead of those that which bind us all together as Americans. We often find it easier to find a sense of self in what we are not than in what we are, for we can look at others and say they are this or that and I am not. Yet that analysis is false because in a lack of true understanding and minimal exposure our conclusions are based on unfounded beliefs. Unfortunately this is the reality of the America we live in, but it does not have to be, and it cannot be if we are to meet our true potential as a country.

In the wake of elections such as the one that has just passed there is an opportunity to confront our ignorance and in doing so better understand each other and the world in which we live. The vitriol with which the campaign was waged has laid bare the divisions which separate us from each other. Be the divisions economic, racial, sexual, social, or political, we have an opportunity to discuss our differences at this time more than any other. It’s a lot easier to find a remedy when we know the disease.

We know our divisions now better than ever, so why not find within ourselves the strength to bridge those gaps? Why not set aside our own biases and listen to the grievances of each other? Why not try to understand the perspective of people we do not understand so that we can better empathize with their plight? The vast majority of Americans hold common hopes and dreams, the only difference is we seek them out in different ways because our own experience in America is unique.

At this time we may not understand each other, but we can affirm that we would like to know one another better. We can choose a new, better, and more united way forward than the divided path upon which we have already traveled. We do not have to sacrifice the things we believe in to better understand people we do not agree with. We can and always will hold differing opinions, but that does not mean our conversations must always be disagreeable, or that we cannot respect the differing opinions of others. There is a better way forward than the track we are currently on.

What has been, does not have to be. We are no more bound by our past than set free by our future. We can, if we open our minds and our hearts, find a part of ourselves in our shared experience as Americans. We can find common interests that bring us together instead of divisive words that tear us apart. We can choose to reach out to those who have fallen and give them a hand up. We can make those marginalized feel as if they have a place in this country as well. There is plenty room enough for all of us in this country to have a place that we can not just call home, but feel at home in. We can look past what separates us as individuals and find what unites us as Americans. All of this we can do, all of this we must do.

We must do this in order to remain true to our origins. For our founders, faced with unfathomable odds against their fortunes, drew upon their shared grievances and set aside their differences, found strength in the cause of something larger than themselves, pledged not just their lives, but their sacred honor and fortunes, so that we might enjoy the freedoms we do today. With little more than hope and virtue, they committed themselves to a task that seemed impossible. Yet in their unity they found strength, in their strength they found courage, and in their courage the will to face down tyranny and defeat England.

Today we are not faced with such daunting odds nor is the future of our country in such doubt. However, we are faced with a decision of what kind of country we are and what kind of a country we want to be. We are confronted with the uncomfortable reality that we have hard work left to do if we are to pass on to future generations a better country than the one we inherited.

It is now up to this generation of American’s to decide if we will be true to our founding principles of liberty, justice, equality, fairness, inclusiveness, and community or will we allow ourselves to be divided further? Will we find the courage to not just look in the mirror and see what is wrong, but also compassion to look at others and see what is right? Can we find the self-control to recoil from our propensity to divide ourselves over things immaterial to who we are and find ground that is common with people who are foreign? Can we live up to the examples set by generation after generation of Americans across the past 240 years who sat aside their differences and came together in the name of making this country as close to the perfect union as they could?

These are the questions we must now answer as we look at ourselves and the country in which we live. A better future is not guaranteed but it is attainable if we apply ourselves to the cause at hand and commit ourselves to confronting our ignorance. If we commit ourselves to a world in which we all choose to seek understanding when we do not know, common ground when we are apart, and unity over division then we will succeed in passing forth those great gifts of liberty, equality, and justice that have been given to us. It is time for us to start building bridges instead of walls.

Every. Vote. Matters.

I’ll be honest I came into the 2016 presidential election campaign during the summer of 2015 not entirely enthused. I was not overly excited about the choices being presented. Bernie Sanders seemed a little too far off to the Left, probably unelectable by a larger electorate, Joe Biden decided not to run, and Hillary Clinton just did not excite me in the same way that President Obama had four and eight years ago. I calculated that given the fact that most Republicans were outright loathsome of Hillary, it might be difficult for her to actually win the general election.

Yet over the course of the campaign, the more I found out about Hillary Clinton the more I liked. Conversely, the more I found out about Donald Trump the less I liked. From his very first press conference when he called Mexicans rapists, there really was not any chance I was going to vote for him. Throughout the entirety of the campaign he fundamentally disqualified himself fromthe presidency in my eyes, and ultimately, as it would happen made the choice of Hillary Clinton that much easier and legitimately exciting for me.

You see I take politics very personal. I have a degree in political science and I love American history. Over the course of my life I have come to realize that true progressive change can only come from the citizens of this nation and that change is more often than not pushed by the ballot and those we choose to represent us. Throughout the history of the United States, every fourth year citizens have gone to the polls on the first Tuesday of November and carried out their civic duty in choosing the next president.

Our ballots have been cast in times of peace and prosperity as well as war and poverty. Sometimes the ballots we have cast have taken us in the right direction, and other times not as much. Yet if you look at the long history of the United States, it is pretty clear that as Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” Through two hundred and forty years, the United States during Republican and Democratic administrations alike, has made progress on almost every moral, ethical, and civil question we have faced, and that progress has universally been in the direction of a more free, just, equal, fair, and safe America.

Progress has not always been easy nor quick, but it has been made nonetheless. There are instances and events in our history that we would rather forget, yet they are an essential part of who we are. Without that part of our history we would lack the perspective gained that has led towards being a more perfect union. There is a certain pain in our past that is essential to the joys we now enjoy. We are better for the mistakes we have made for they have taught us timeless lessons for generations to come.

With this context in mind, and as the campaign progressed, I started to think more and more about the stark choice we were being presented with in this election. With each passing week it seemed that Donald Trump was on a personal kamikaze mission that would end in the dismantling of all of the progress this country has made. He consistently played to the fears of the disaffected, instilled fear in his followers, sowed doubt about the very systems that hold our country together, insulted our leaders and democracy, belittled entire ethnicities, races, and religions of people, behaved like a bully and lied, and showed himself to be temperamentally unfit for the presidency.

In the abstract those things are bad enough, but when you think about them and how they apply to you and your life, they’re so much worse, and so I decided that I wanted something different. I decided that if my choice was Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton there was really no choice to be made. I would vote for Hillary Clinton. I chose the progress that our country has made over the last 240 years over the apparent desire of Donald Trump to set us back generations in almost every way possible.

I’m voting for Hillary Clinton because I believe that our leaders should be decent people. I believe they should be an example of what we aspire for and not what we are embarrassed of. I believe they should be held to the highest of moral standards, and if they fall short, that they are unqualified for the presidency. I don’t need the purity of a priest in a president, but I do need someone who I can be sure won’t say something our children should never hear.

When I cast my vote tomorrow I’ll be thinking about my nieces Sarah and Abbey, two of the most precious and amazing little girls I know. When I think about them and I think about the two different America’s they could live in depending on the outcome tomorrow, the choice becomes that much more consequential in my mind. I want them to grow up in an America where they are not judged by how pretty or skinny they are, but instead by the vibrancy of their personality and their god given talents. I want them to know that being a woman is no longer a disqualifying trait for the highest levels of service in this country. I want them to believe, and have evidence to support their beliefs, that the only limitations on their lives are the scope of their dreams, and that if they are willing to work hard and persevere all things are attainable. I want them to come of age in a world that is not driven by insults, but instead compliments. A world in which we listen to those who we disagree with, choose to embrace our differences instead of exploit them, and choose a path forward that is united and not divided. I want them to grow up in a world where the objectification of women is not only unacceptable but illegal.

When I cast my vote tomorrow I’ll be thinking of my sister Rachel and the amazing woman she is. I’ll be thinking of her and about how she is the hardest working woman I know. A woman who finds no sacrifice too large when it comes to her family. A woman who has worked her heart out year after year to ensure that the her children are taken care of. I’ll be thinking about how much further ahead her and her family might be if it weren’t for the gender pay gap that exists in this country. How much better off would she be if she made 25% more for every dollar she earned?

When I cast my vote tomorrow I’ll be thinking about my step-mother who works in an office where she has had to fight tooth and nail to be paid fairly for the work she does. How she sits there and endures the endless talk of men who show little regard for the people they employ or respect for the women who actual handle the money they make. I’ll be thinking about not just her but also her late mother Lise.

I’ll think about Lise and about the fact that she came to this country unable to speak the language. How she was a German immigrant shortly after WWII and if one of this year’s presidential candidates had been president back then that she might not have even been allowed to enter this country. I’ll think about the fact that over the course of her life she learned the language, worked hard, made a living for herself, and provided for the common good. I’ll be thinking about how she was so proud to be a naturalized United States citizen. That she enriched our country with the culture she brought with her from her homeland. I’ll think about the fact that her story is a microcosm of the story of America, and that her story is unlikely in any country not named the United States.

I’ll think about my own grandmother when I cast my ballot tomorrow. A woman who was born just after the 19th amendment had been approved but who was never afforded the opportunity to actually vote for a woman for president. I’ll think about her being a housewife during WWII and about how her, and the rest of the women of her generation, helped to hold this country together while their husbands were off fighting to protect our way of life. I’ll think about the fact that she had a fierce independent streak, took no lip from anyone, and was the embodiment of a strong woman. I’ll think about the fact that no matter what life threw her way, she overcame, and found herself to be stronger because of the struggle.

I’ll think about my own mother tomorrow when I cast my ballot and be thankful that she’s still alive. I’ll think about what could happen if Hillary Clinton is not elected and the possibility that she could lose her health insurance. I’ll wonder how she’ll continue to pay for the eight prescriptions she has to take everyday if Obamacare is repealed. I’ll think about the fact that distant debates can come to your doorstep in a moments notice, and that we should never take any of the progress this nation makes lightly. I’ll think about all that she has sacrificed throughout her life for myself and my sister.

Tomorrow when I cast my ballot I’ll be thinking about every woman who has ever been made to feel not good enough because of the way she looks, or how she dresses, because her boobs are too small, or her waist too thick. I’ll be thinking about every woman who has ever been catcalled, groped, or propositioned without invite, and what impact that has had on their lives from that day forward. Tomorrow I’ll be thinking about every woman who aspired for more but was denied simply because she was a woman. Tomorrow I’ll be thinking of every paycheck where a woman made less than a man for doing the same job.

Tomorrow when I cast my ballot I’ll be thinking about why I believe in the sanctity of life but feel I have no right to tell a woman what to do with her own body. I’ll be thinking about every man or woman who had been previously denied the opportunity to officially love who they wished to love but can now do so without fear of that right be stripped from them. I’ll be thinking about those who could serve if they were gay but couldn’t talk about it, who can now come out and say I’m proud to serve this country’s military and I’m proud to be gay.

Tomorrow when I cast my ballot I’ll be thinking about the Iraqi American soldier who I happened to get into an accident with in a parking lot 6 years ago on a cold snowy day in Michigan. How after we got out of our cars and started talking, I found out that he had just returned from overseas, and that his dad had just given him the car whose bumper I had smashed. I’ll be thinking about the fact that he was not mad, but understanding. I’ll be thinking about how he told me he was a translator for the United States Army in Iraq and had a target on his head because he was highly valuable to the American cause. I’ll be thinking about the fact that he had been shot multiple times while serving but continued to sign up for another tour because he was proud to be an American and could think of no better way to show that pride than to serve in the military. I’ll be thinking about the fact that I don’t know if he’s even still alive today, but that this country is better off because his parents were allowed to immigrate from Iraq 20 years earlier and that he was born an American citizen and served our country.

Tomorrow when I cast my ballot I’ll be thinking about Mohan and Justin, Chinese foreign exchange students who my sister cared for for two school years whose parents sent them to the United States because this country is still viewed as that shining city upon a hill. I’ll be thinking about the fact that Justin was accepted to the University of Michigan last year and that he is now studying there. I’ll be thinking about how much better off my sister and her family are for having the opportunity to host them. How much living with people of a different culture helped them to understand that although people may come from distant lands, they hold common values and hopes. I’ll be thinking about the fact that if Hillary Clinton is not elected, students like Justin and Mohan may no longer be afforded the same opportunities as in the past.

Tomorrow when I cast my ballot I’ll be thinking about the Hispanic immigrants from more countries than I can list who shop at my store everyday and have made it the most successful new store in the country this year. I’ll be thinking about the fact that they always refer to me as “my friend”, that they see no value in highlighting our differences, but instead coming together to bridge the gaps between our languages and cultures.

Tomorrow I will cast my ballot for Hillary Clinton in hopes of shattering that one highest remaining glass ceiling in this country. Yet in doing so, if she is elected, we must remain aware that there are plenty of other glass ceilings that remain within our society that we must continually work toward breaking as we move forward. Much in the same way the election of Barack Obama did not solve every race relation issue in this country, or immediately lift the station of every African-American, the election of Hillary Clinton will not automatically remove every barrier standing in the way of women in this country. However, we should not diminish the historic reality that we could very well elect a woman as President of the United States for the very first time tomorrow. As Joe Biden might say, it’s a big f*cking deal.

Lastly, I am voting for Hillary Clinton because I believe that there is no one more capable or qualified person to help this country reach its full potential at this particular time in history. Though we have come a long way, we still have further to go, and the road to perfecting this union still has miles to be traveled upon it. Therefore our work remains unfinished, but we have every opportunity to make progress in this election. However, that progress will only happen if we elect Hillary Clinton.

In this election, in this year, at this moment in our history, let us once and for all proclaim that there is not a single job that a man can do that a woman cannot. Let us declare that if a woman has been blessed with the same abilities, the same motivation, and possesses the necessary knowledge to do a job then she should be paid the same for doing that job and be afforded the same opportunities as any similarly qualified man. Let us show the world that when our founders wrote within our founding documents that, “All men are created equal,” that it was truly not exclusionary of women. Let us prove that our country is finally, at long last, after 240 years of struggle, willing to live up to that creed, and let the world know that by nothing more than the origin of our birth all of us are truly equal.

Let us say to the world that while our past may be imperfect it does not mean that perfection cannot be obtained, or is not worth striving for. Let us prove that we have learned from our mistakes, that we have made progress, and that only through struggle and perseverance positive change can and has happened, and that we will always strive to be a more perfect union.

May we affirm that we will never lose hope in our ability to reach our full potential as a nation and live up to the very highest of our ideals. This has always been the driving force of our nation, hope. From our founding days, through the almost two and a half centuries of our existence as a nation, we have held on to hope and fought time and again in the name of perfecting this union and living up to the noblest of standards set by our founders. So it has been and so it must be in this election and into the future.

We must once and for all reject the politics of fear and hate. We must not let ourselves be divided along lines of sex, race, religion, class, color, creed, sexual orientation, or otherwise. We must stand up and proclaim that we truly are better for our diversity and that only if we are united can we continue the work of making this country and the world a better place than the one we inherited. Our history has taught us that we truly are stronger together, that no challenge be too large, nor no obstacle immovable if we come together with common focus and desire to overcome whatever the odds may be.

We cannot forget our history or how far we have come. It is important to remember that under the 13 stripes and 50 stars that grace our flag countless battles have been fought in the name of the United States of America. Battles waged in the name of freedom, equality, justice, and fairness have been carried out on battlefields from Gettysburg to Iwo Jima, in convention halls from Philadelphia to Seneca Falls, in the streets of Detroit and on a bridge in Selma. Fearless and visionary leaders with the names of Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, King, Lewis, Anthony, Stanton, and Milk have carried forth the values of this nation, fighting in successive generations to perfect our union.

So in this election it is incumbent of us to not forget that history. It is absolutely essential that we not be distracted by inflammatory rhetoric. Let us not fall victim to the vitriol that consumes our politics or lose hope in the process that has delivered to us the nation we love today. We cannot fall prey to cynics who wish for nothing more than to depress our hopes and our turnout. We cannot be scared into not exercising our most basic but important of rights. We should not be distracted by false innuendo, irrelevant recriminations of past issues, or bound by dogmas that have long since been proven irrelevant. We cannot be disheartened by the tone of our political discourse. There is simply too much at stake in this election and absolutely no time for apathy.

We have come too far, sacrificed too many, and accomplished too much as Americans to turn back now. Let it be said, that on this election day we chose hope and had faith in our values, that we chose unity of purpose over discord and dysfunction, and that we reaffirmed that we are one nation indivisible by even the most turbulent of times and acidic of debates. On this election day, we cannot be told to stay home, that our votes are invalid, illegitimate, or that they do not matter. Every vote matters. It all matters. Go Vote!

Out of many, one…

There has been so much talk throughout the 2016 presidential election about immigration that I thought it would be important to set a few things straight and to help people better understand the reality of immigration in the United States in 2016. Between Donald Trump’s rhetoric about building foreign-funded walls, banning Muslims from entering the country, to his musings about over-weight beauty queens and Mexicans being rapists and stealing our jobs, I can understand why people are so concerned with this issue in 2016. Yet, again, like the other issues I have already discussed, the reality does not match up with the rhetoric.

In 2009, when President Obama was sworn in, there were an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living within the United States. As of this year, the estimated number of illegal immigrants living in America has dropped to 11 million. This means that in the 8 years President Obama has been in office, the estimated number of immigrants living illegally within our borders has decreased by a million.

Directly related to this drop in illegal immigrants living within the U.S. is President Obama’s policy to target and remove as many law-breaking illegal immigrants as possible. In fact, more illegal immigrants have been deported during President Obama’s presidency than during any other president’s tenure in the history of the United States. During the first 7 years of President Obama’s presidency 556,000 more illegal immigrants have been deported than during the entire 8 years of President Bush’s own presidency. It should also be noted that the illegal immigrant population within the United States actually increased from an estimated 9.4 million to 12.2 million during President Bush’s 8 years in office.

So, again, when you compare the reality of the situation with the rhetoric of Donald Trump, in this case regarding illegal immigration, his words simply do not match up with reality. If you listened to Trump alone you would think America was being completely overrun by illegal immigrants, that they were flowing over our border at a faster rate than the Rio Grande, but it’s simply not true. Illegal immigration has actually reached a net negative under President Obama and there are less illegal, and even less criminal, immigrants living here than when he took office in 2008.

It’s imperative that we remember in this election who we are as a people and where we come from. We should remember that this nation has and always will be a nation of immigrants. All of us, unless purely Native American, can trace our roots to far off distant shores. Be them in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, or elsewhere, we all came from somewhere else.

Our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. For in our differences we find culture, and in culture, understanding, and in understanding, community, and in community, family, and in family, a sense of who we are as individuals. We do not discriminate on account of someone’s land of origin, or race, intellectual capacity, or religion. We do not ban people because of what god they do or do not pray to nor what land they call home.

We must always remember those core values that make us uniquely American. E pluribus unum, out of many, one. It’s written in our founding documents and printed on our currency. Though it may be politically expedient to play to the nativist fears of those who lack an understanding of other people and their cultures, we should never fall prey to their calls. We are better than that as Americans.

We don’t need a wall to keep people out, we need common sense policies that keep people who enrich our nation and our country in. We need leaders who find value in diversity, who embrace difference as a strength, and who are open to extending a hand in friendship and not a fist in fury. Barack Obama understood this, Hillary Clinton understands it, and I hope you do as well.

Hillary Clinton is the only choice in this election…

On Tuesday millions of voters will head to the polls to choose who will lead our country for the next four years and the choice could not be more stark. In the long history of our nation, there might not be an election in which there was a clearer distinction between the two candidates or more divergent paths down which the country could travel. Make no mistake about it, in this election, our votes will matter as much, if not more, than ever before in determining what kind of country we will be moving forward.

On the Right you have Donald Trump who has shown us exactly who he is and how he sees the world from the first day of his campaign. It was at his very first campaign event when he proclaimed that, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with them. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Since then Mr. Trump has done nothing to suggest that he is someone other than the man who spoke that day.

He has consistently stereotyped entire groups of people based on the actions of a few, even going so far as to suggest banning Muslims in the name of security. When challenged on the value of these views, he doubled down and decided to insult the grieving Muslim parents of a Muslim American soldier who died fighting to protect the very American values he has shown such little regard for during the campaign and throughout his life.

Once his views became politically inconvenient, he suggested that we instead ban foreigners from entering the United States from certain countries with a history of terrorism. While suggesting this he failed to take into account that many of our allies, such as France, are now countries with histories of terrorism. He also apparently fails to understand that the vast majority of terrorist attacks in this country have been carried out by natural born citizens or those who entered the country legally.

Furthermore he has referred to African-Americans as, “the blacks”, suggested that they all live in hell in inner cities with rampant crime, no hope, and lacking basic human values. He consistently fails to see the diversity of this nation as a positive, instead choosing to divide and exploit us along lines of race, class, and religion. He has failed to outright disavow the endorsements of racist people such as former KKK leader David Duke and done this while playing to the nativist fears of poorly educated white Americans who fear their station in American life is threatened by an nation becoming increasingly cosmopolitan.

Mr. Trump has sought to sow seeds of division among the American populace at every opportunity and exploited the real fears people have about their futures. He has played with the politics of fear instead of hope, depending upon the very worst of our instincts instead of the very best of our character. He has shown little regard for the damage he has done in his pursuit of the presidency and has consistently put his own interests ahead of that of everyone else, addicted to self-promotion and oblivious to his own faults he is entirely devoid of self-introspection.

He has played fast and loose with the norms of American campaigns, told more lies on the stump than truths, and even gone so far as to attempt to undermine the legitimacy of our elections. In doing so, he has failed to understand that one of the very cornerstones of a representative democracy is fair, honest, and open elections in which the results are trusted to be legitimate and that we respectfully concede to the winner when apparent we have lost. He has also suggested that freedom of the press is flexible and susceptible to the whims and musings of the president. Therefore promising to endanger the important and essential freedom that our press enjoys from the influence of government.

His disregard for reality is epic in scale, and only matched by his own ego. With skin so thin he can be baited by a tweet, and a temperament that borders on psychotic and deranged, he is someone that should never hold American lives in his hands. A man who is averse to any opinion that might conflict with his own views, who fails to accept blame for any mistake he has made or slight he has spewed, is not someone we can trust to thoughtfully consider the risks and rewards of the monumental decisions he would be asked to make as president. Instead of practicing the essential introspection needed by a president, he consistently lashes out at anyone critical of him. He has even failed to apologize to John McCain for saying he wasn’t actually a hero because he was captured. He doesn’t care how many bridges he burns or how many people he offends so long as he gets closer to his goal.

Mr. Trump has shown on multiple occasions that he feels the objectification of women is acceptable. He has bragged about sexually assaulting women, agreed that his own daughter was a piece of ass, has called women fat, pigs, slobs, bitches, and worse. He has denied the accusations of sexual assault accusers on account of their looks and not facts to prove otherwise. In the world of Donald Trump, women are a weak, judgmental subservient class of people who should be discarded once their looks fade, are susceptible to the power of wealth, and can only be “10s” if they have big boobs and a beautiful face.

However, though horrible enough, his disregard for decency doesn’t just stop with women. Throughout the campaign he has insulted just about every group of people possible. From mocking a disabled reporter, to coming up with childish and immature names such as “Lyin’ Ted”, “Little Marco”, and “Crooked Hillary” for political opponents, to implying that all Mexicans are rapists and all Muslims terrorists, there really is not a group he has failed to offend. On multiple occasions he has used Twitter as a battering ram to insult his opponents, racking up in excess of 200 instances in which he has bullied someone about something on Twitter alone.

Just as troubling as his lack of decency are his views on the world in which we live. He has, while not realizing the impact of his words, suggested that we reevaluate the very alliances that have kept the world for the most part stable since WWII, suggested that torture is a legitimate interrogation method without realizing what implications that would have for our own citizens if captured by our enemies, and suggested that killing the families of terrorists is fair game. Mr. Trump has showed an unusual affinity for dictatorial strongmen such as Vladimir Putin, denied their obvious attempts to influence our elections, and been woefully oblivious to himself playing right into their hands. In addition to this, he has thrown around the use and availability of nuclear weapons without realizing the terrifying and destabilizing impact an increase in nuclear weapons could have on the balance of power in the world.

Back home he has shown absolutely no respect for the hard working people who have helped build and keep his various business interests running. He has stiffed contractors consistently throughout his life, showing little regard to the impact that such a slight can make on a small business. He has played the tax codes to his advantage, paying little if any taxes since the mid-1990s. While the average American has footed the tax bill, paid to fund our schools, build our bridges, and support our military, Donald Trump has paid nothing while taking advantage of those same average Americans for his own profits. He is unfit for the presidency because he is exactly what is wrong with corporate America.

In short Donald Trump is a bigot and demagogue, whose sexist, misogynistic views and chauvinistic tendencies make him uniquely and exceptionally unqualified to be president. His lack of experience, patriotism, disregard for facts, false sense of reality, and aversion to criticism of any sort would assuredly cause him to make poorly informed decisions and critical mistakes in the most consequential of positions if he were elected. His affinity to bully opponents, lie, and cheat until the false reality seems real would be all the more harmful to our country when working in an office that yields some level of immediate legitimacy. I find it to be quite ironic that in a year that we have someone as uniquely unqualified as Donald Trump, that we also have someone so uniquely qualified as Hillary Clinton running for president as well.

Hillary Clinton has spent her entire adult life in service to the American people. Starting immediately after law school, she went to work helping to ensure that the civil rights of minority students were respected. Her work helped usher in much needed public school reform while First Lady of Arkansas. As First Lady of the United States, she was a vocal proponent of healthcare reform. Though reform failed at the time, it helped lay the groundwork for the Affordable Care Act that would be successfully passed in 2011. She was however successful in helping to create the State Children’s Health Insurance Program that remains in place today, providing health insurance to millions of children who would otherwise lack coverage.

After Hillary and Bill left the White House, she returned to public service as a Senator in the United States Senate. While serving as senator she took a leading role in investigating the 9/11 attacks and securing much needed funding for first responders dealing with a litany of health issues caused by their exposure to harmful materials on 9/11. After her unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination in 2008, she swallowed her pride and went back to work for the American people as Secretary of State.

During her time as Secretary of State she was a vocal proponent of human rights around the world, influenced other nations to expand the rights of women, and helped to repair the image of America abroad. She played an essential role in the development of sanctions and isolation that would eventually force Iran to the negotiating table and yield the deal in which they gave up their nuclear arms program. Though the agreement finally came to fruition after she had left her post as Secretary, there is no doubt that she played an integral role in the eventual accord that was agreed to.

In addition to her formal work within the federal government, Hillary, Bill, and Chelsea Clinton have also spread positive influence around the world through the Clinton Foundation. Through the humanitarian work of the foundation, they have helped to deliver life-saving HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other drugs to impoverished nations around the world. The work of the foundation has had an immeasurable impact on the quality of life for countless individuals who would have otherwise gone without.

While her opponent has spent his entire life promoting himself and ensuring his own wealth, Hillary Clinton has dedicated her life and work to helping others without regard for how it would benefit herself. She has shown herself to have a steadfast work ethic, dedication to making positive change, and strength in the face of adversity. She is someone who would enter office with immediate legitimacy and respect from leaders the world round.

Her ascendancy to the presidency would immediately change the heights to which girls could dream and help to shatter the highest glass ceiling in this country. Born just a generation beyond women gaining suffrage, she would be the embodiment of American progress and reaffirm that this country always has the opportunity to improve upon itself.

Hillary Clinton is someone who has the right temperament, judgment, and level of self-restraint required of a president. She is someone who is thoughtful of the consequences of her actions, aware that she has made mistakes, and committed to not making the same ones again. Her penchant for privacy is at times a fault, but as president may well yield itself to positive outcomes. She is not someone who is afraid of seeking out advice in fear that it may conflict with her own opinions, is able to put herself in the shoes of others, and find common ground with those across the aisle.

When you talk about strength, I’m not sure if you can find another woman who has endured what she has publicly and still had the stamina to wake up everyday and keep moving forward. Her life has been litigated in public and private for more than 30 years, and yet after 30 years of intense scrutiny, no one has actually found evidence that she has done anything to break the law.

The failings of her husband have embarrassingly played out in front of the world and yet she has stood steadfast by his side and only become stronger from the scrutiny, never apologizing for her choice to remain with the man she loves, and unwilling to abandon him in the name of political expedience. She has been accused of being complicit in his missteps without any evidence to prove being so. She has endured years of personal and political attacks and has not been diminished in the least by them.

Hillary Clinton is someone who is not afraid of a challenge. A woman who embraces hard work with the knowledge that with enough elbow grease all things are possible. Though she could have easily lived in the shadows of her husband, she struck out for herself and has created an enduring legacy of her own. A personal legacy that has at every step been about someone other than herself. From the children of Arkansas, to the first responders of New York, to the villagers of Africa, there are people across this world who owe a debt of gratitude to Hillary Clinton. Yet she is humble and gracious enough to not expect such platitudes. Content in the knowledge that her life has made a positive difference in the world, she has but no other interests than to continue her work.

At the end of the day, Hillary Clinton should be elected President of the United States on Tuesday for everything she is, and also, for everything she is not. Though she has faults and carries the baggage of 30 years in public life, she is immeasurably more qualified, prepared, and able than her opponent to lead this nation at this time. Her experience at home and abroad has provided her with the perspective needed to lead in an ever evolving world. The difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump could not be any more profound, and so Tuesday’s vote matters more than most. May we elect someone who our children can look up to, that the leaders of the world respect, and who will work tirelessly to preserve the progress we have made over the last eight years.

Patient and with hope we waited…

I remember election day 2008 as clear as the blue sky holding the bright sun on that warm November Day. I wore a light blue Obama shirt that read “Obama ’08” across the chest and had a white silhouette of the man whose ballot I had cast earlier that morning. I had gone home for the weekend so that I could vote in person. I didn’t want my ballot to get lost in the mail. It mattered that much to me.

That morning I waited with other people in a line that stretched around the building and down the block. Many of the people with whom I waited could already feel their grasp on their own American dream slipping away. A sapping of the public’s confidence in the government’s ability to avoid the impending economic catastrophe was written upon their faces. Many of the people I waited with were losing their homes, falling behind on their credit card payments, lacking healthcare, recently out of work and concerned with the quality of their children’s education and what that would mean to their ability to compete with an evermore interconnected world in which we lived.

Many of our fellow Americans knew they would likely lose it all in the weeks and months to come, yet on that day they held on to the hope that their vote mattered. That regardless of the dark days ahead, that their vote would elect their choice to guide us through the dark and back into the light. Some voted for John McCain, a majority voted for Barack Obama. The thing is, depressions are indiscriminate in who they affect. Everyone in that line suffered or knew someone who would suffer from the economic collapse in some way or another. Republicans, Democrats, Independents…we were all suffering, we had all lost jobs, and with those jobs, confidence in our societal standing and direction as to where we were going.

The one thing we could all hold on to that day was our ability to choose what direction we saw fit for the future of our country. The one common thread that tied us all together as Democrats, Independents, and Republicans was that we were all hoping for better days. So on that day we waited, patient and with hope, that our right to take part in that most basic, yet fundamental and necessary part of our democracy would bring better days. We waited because we knew that our vote would matter.

The reality, regardless of what hopes we held, was that things would get a lot worse before they even had the slightest semblance of improving. The economy was collapsing and would continue to do so for what seemed like an eternity. The future I had envisioned after college when I arrived 4 years earlier seemed to grow bleaker by the hour. Just 3 months prior to election day I had returned from doing an internship in the United States Senate that I thought would assuredly set me upon a path in public service the second I graduated from college. Yet I failed to read the writing on the wall or grasp the gravity of the depression that was coming.

Not I nor anyone else could have guessed during that shining summer what we would be facing in the course of a few short months. The economy lost over 8 million jobs between February 2008 and December 2009. It started relatively slow, with 86,000 lost in February, another 79,000 in March. By the time the November jobs report came out, the pace had picked up dramatically, with 769,000 jobs lost the month we cast our ballots.

Even with such despair falling upon a crestfallen nation I was still hopeful. I had hope that even though the challenges the country was facing seemed insurmountable, that we had chosen the right man for the job. I hoped that Obama’s mix of hopeful, unifying rhetoric grounded by his real world experiences and influenced by a realistic world view would give him the right mixture of leadership and temperament for a much sought after but highly undesirable job at the time he took office.

I appreciated the hopeful rhetoric about what could be a bright future, mixed with a blunt realism about the state of where the country was. There was no sugar coating the depths to which America had fallen, and Obama didn’t try to sweeten the truth. He spoke honestly about the scale of the challenges we faced, set realistic expectations for America’s recovery, promised nothing less than his best effort, and set forth with a remembrance of how far America had come. He reminded us in his inaugural address where we had been, asked more of us as citizens, and painted a brighter future than the turbulent times in which he spoke.

Eight years later, on the eve of another presidential election of great consequence, I would say that his words on the evening of the 2008 New Hampshire primary in which he lost have been affirmed, that, “In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.” The route between then and now has not always been linear. America has taken its lumps, progressed and regressed in fits and starts, but we are, by most measures, much better off than we were eight years ago.

By no means am I suggesting that things are better for everyone, we know that they are not. Everyone knows someone who is worse off today and can point to that one person or few people and say, you know what, things really have not gotten better. While that may be one person’s experience or the experience of someone that is close to them, their contention is anecdotal.

Much in the same way I cannot sit here and contend that everyone is better off now than in 2008 just because I am. I am one person in a country of over 300 million individuals, each with their own experiences and perspectives. One person, or even a small sampling of people, is not necessarily indicative of the health of an entire country. We cannot judge the success of someone responsible for the well-being of hundreds of millions of people on the stories of a few. Our country, and the outcomes of individual Americans, cannot be painted with a monolithic brush. However, that does not mean that we cannot gauge the performance of President Obama empirically.

So how can we properly judge the state of our nation and determine if we are better off now than we were eight years ago? What can we look at to say that, yes we are better off, or no, we’re not better off now than in 2008? I would say that the only true way is to look at the data in black and white. The following posts will lay out how much better off the country is as a whole today than in 2008  and the last post will explain why your vote matters so much on November 8, 2016.

On Tuesday, maybe more than ever in our lives, we have the starkest of choices between our two presidential candidates. There is no question that the fault between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is about as large of a span you can get between two candidates. Even in 2008 the gap between the divergent policies and paths that John McCain and Barack Obama presented to the American people was much closer together than those being presented in 2016.

I will take an entire post at the end of these to lay out as clearly as possible the choice we have to make on Tuesday, but as for right now, let’s take a look at the things we can quantify to know that the last eight years have been a success without question. If you ever questioned whether your vote matters, whether who we elect makes a difference in our lives, I hope these numbers make you realize that it does matter, that it all matters. That the reason we waited, patient and with hope, is that there is no such thing as false hope in the America we live.

Energy like never before…

When President Obama became president he promised a green energy revolution that would cut our dependence on foreign oil and make the production of our goods healthier for the environment. In his inaugural address he stated, “We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.” Over the past 8 years American has done just that and there are a number of figures that affirm he met his promise on this account.

Since President Obama took office in 2009, U.S. coal production has fallen by 36%. With the drop in coal production has come a drop in carbon dioxide emissions of 12%. Foreign petroleum imports have decreased by 58% and continue to fall further each year. Gas prices have fallen from their peaks of over $4/gallon in the summer of 2008 to an average of $2.25/gallon last month. That drop has meant real savings for the average American at the pump.

For the average driver who drives 12,000 miles a year and gets an average of 31 mpg, they will have spent about $700 less per year this year compared to what they spent in 2008. However, that figure is actually higher because the average fuel efficiency of passenger vehicles has improved from 31 mpg in 2008 to over 36 mpg in 2016, an increase of over 20%.

In the past eight years our energy revolution has moved into other fields beyond mines and gas pumps as well. Wind and solar power production has increased by 342% between 2008 and 2016. As a whole, renewable energy production has more than double during President Obama’s years in office. This remarkable increase has helped to make the United States the second largest producer of renewable energy in the world.

The past 8 years can truly be referred to as an energy revolution in the United States. This revolution has strengthened our energy position in the world. In doing so, we have weakened our dependence on foreign oil and improved our leverage over our adversaries whom we used to be dependent on. It means that the air we breath is cleaner, the lights we use to illuminate our homes more efficient, and the cars we drive go further on less fuel. Of possibly even more importance, our energy revolution has allowed us to take a leadership role on slowing the very serious threat that climate change poses to the world in the coming years.

Healthcare hit home this year…

When I think back to the debate that surrounded healthcare reform in 2011 it’s hard to believe that it ever got passed. There was so much misinformation and flat out lies being peddled by its opponents that even for someone who was paying close attention to the debate, like myself, it was hard to determine what was legitimate and what was not in the discussion.

Five years later, and with plenty of data to analyze, it is pretty clear that the majority of the fear mongering claims never came to fruition. It is also clear that the ACA has had a huge impact on the lives of those it has covered and that our country is better off because of President Obama’s tireless and dogged worth ethic in getting it passed.

The final vote came the year before an election and yet President Obama and a majority of members in Congress took the political risk needed to advance and pass an essential piece of legislation that immediately improved the quality of life for millions of Americans. Due to the vitriolic debate that surrounded the law, its passing was highly unpopular with the American populace and would ultimately cause many brave members of Congress who voted for the bill to be voted out of office just a year later.

Yet the reasons why the bill was unpopular, and why those members lost their seats in Congress, have almost universally not played out in the years since it passed. Opponents said it would: kill jobs (wrong); force employers to cut wages and decrease the number of full time workers they employed (wrong); make healthcare costs skyrocket (wrong); enact federal death panels enacted to decide who lived and didn’t (ridiculous and wrong). Here’s what has actually happened…

Though the negative impressions of the bill persist today, the benefits have been overwhelmingly positive. In 2011 when President Obama signed into law the for Affordable Care Act (ACA, Obamacare), his signature piece of healthcare reform legislation, the percentage of Americans who lacked health insurance was 17.4%. This number has been more than halved, reaching a low of 8.6% in the first quarter of 2016. That number marks the lowest percentage of uninsured Americans in more than 50 years. In real numbers, as of January 2016, 16.5 million more people had health insurance than when President Obama took office.

In the five years before Obamacare went into effect, the average cost of healthcare increased by 3.6% per year. In the five years since Obamacare went into effect, the average cost of healthcare has increased at only 2.9% per year. This means that since the law went into effect, the average increase per year has actually decreased by .7%.

This fact stands in stark contrast to the picture that opponents of the law and Donald Trump present to the American public. Even with the larger premium increases expected next year, the average cost of a healthcare plan will be lower than it was forecast to be when Obamacare went into law. Not to mention, a large amount of those increases for those covered by Obamacare plans will be offset by corresponding subsidies that will keep the actual effect of the increases muted for most American families.

That’s not to say that Obamacare is without issues. Namely a lack of enough healthy individuals buying plans to help offset the costs of the higher risk insured has caused those who are paying to carry a larger, more expensive share than what analysts had figured. There’s also the issue of a profit-motivated insurance industry that has chased number crunching insurers to leave the markets in fears of decreased profits and too high of costs.

Though these are real and legitimate issues, there are a number of ways that the ACA can and will be improved in the months and years to come should Hillary Clinton be elected. Solutions may be up for debate, but no one can question the substantial impact it has had on the number of people insured. What can also not be questioned is the improved quality of the lives of the people it has covered.

Having the ability to seek out and receive healthcare should be a fundamental right in a country as prosperous as our own. Obamacare has moved us a lot closer to having universal healthcare coverage for our citizens than ever before. So for someone to say it has been an abject failure, or that it should be repealed without having some sort of legitimate and working solution to replace it, is unreasonable. No one should even so much as suggest that any of those 16.5 million newly insured could be at risk of losing their health insurance because of some politicians playing politics.

I am sure that all of the 16.5 million people who are now covered by the expansions in health insurance afforded by Obamacare have a story to tell about what life was like before they had insurance. However, I would like to end this section on a very personal note and discuss just one of those 16.5 million newly insured, that person being my mother.

The debate over Obamacare was always of much interest to me, and I was always for the passing of the law, but I never knew how close to home its impact would hit until earlier this year when my own mother fell ill. In fact, my mother might not be alive if it were not for the passing of the Affordable Care Act.

Dating back to late last year my mother had not been feeling too well in general. Feeling weak and out of breath on a number of occasions she had no idea what was going on. However, at the time she did not have health insurance and therefore resisted going to the doctor in fear that the cost would be crippling and that she would not be able to afford it. Eventually the struggles with her health got bad enough that she finally went and was told that she had pneumonia.

A couple weeks went by and she wasn’t feeling better, so she went back. After further testing it was found that she was suffering from congestive heart failure. Doctors said that her heart was only functioning at 19% of its capacity and declining. They told her that without open-heart surgery to repair her aortic valve and stem she would either live a much diminished life or die in a short amount of time. The damage to her aortic valve was actually caused by rheumatic fever that afflicted her as a child and over time had caused her valve to weaken and deteriorate. It was nothing she had done in her own life that caused the life and death situation she was now in.

If this had happened just five years earlier before the ACA was passed she may very well have died due to a lack of health insurance. I don’t say that to be dramatic at all. Prior to the passing of the Affordable Care Act she would have in all likelihood been denied healthcare coverage on account of her illness being caused by a pre-existing condition (rheumatic fever). Thankfully one of the provisions of the ACA denied insurers the ability to deny people healthcare coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

The law also expanded Medicaid to cover millions who were previously uninsured, which included my mother. Between the full month she spent in the hospital and the open heart surgery, her medical bills would have measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If it were not for the insurance she received through the expansions in Medicaid there is absolutely no way she could have ever afforded those bills and she very well may not be here today.

I’m glad to say that today my mother survived the surgery and is well along the path to recovery and I cannot help but be thankful to President Obama and all of those members of Congress who risked their seats for the greater good. While the votes they cast may not have been popular at the time, I am certain someday they will be looked on by the general public as a step in the right direction. Progress is not always easy, it is not always fast, but it does yield change that lasts and a better way forward than the past. Every vote matters, and none more to me than those that passed the Affordable Care Act in 2011.

Putting America back to work…

Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign Donald Trump and his surrogates have painted a bleak picture of the state of America’s economy. They’ve claimed that the recovery has been too slow, incomplete, and unstable. They’ve suggested that we’re heading straight into another recession, or worse, and claimed that only Donald could fix it. We’ve heard that illegal immigrants are stealing our jobs, trade deals are shuttering our factories, and that high taxes are inhibiting the ability for small business owners to grow and be successful.

Yet the reality of the situation is much different than what you hear from Republicans on the campaign trail. In fact, America’s recovery has been more robust, widespread, and durable than the recoveries of most of our allies, and has shown itself to be longer lasting and more prosperous as well. So while many nations of Europe and Asia are slipping backwards and struggling to find solutions for the economic woes plaguing them, the United States remains on a more prosperous road. The following figures suggests that, contrary to what Donald Trump would like you to believe, the U.S. economy is vastly improved from the one President Obama inherited in 2009.

As of November 4th, the unemployment rate across the entire US. stood at 4.9%, which is close to what economists would refer to as full employment for the United States economy. If we go back to the depths of the recession the unemployment rate was more than twice that, reaching a high of 10% in October 2009. To put that into real world numbers, the economy has added 14,571,000 jobs since September 2010, which is the last month the U.S. economy had a net job loss. That marks 73 consecutive months of private sector jobs growth, which makes it the longest period of sustained jobs growth in the history of the United States.

Some critics suggest the unemployment numbers are not accurate because they only include those seeking jobs and not those who have given up on finding work. However, the “real unemployment rate”, which includes those marginally attached to the workforce and the majority of those excluded by the actual employment rate, has also experienced a precipitous drop since the highs it reached in 2009. Since 2009, when the real unemployment rate reached over 16%, it has since fallen closer to 9%. Which means that those who suggest the real unemployment rate is what should be looked at have even less ground to stand on. The real unemployment rate has experienced a 2% larger drop than the actual unemployment rate. This means that people who were out of the labor force have actually rejoined it and found jobs during President Obama’s time in office.

Even more impressive is the recovery that has occurred in Michigan. In June 2009, the unemployment rate reached an astounding 14.9%, one of the highest levels of unemployment across the entire country. Today, the unemployment rate stands at 4.6%, meaning that the unemployment rate has literally been cut by two-thirds.

It would be negligent to not mention that had President Obama not decided to bailout the auto industry the unemployment rate in 2009 would have likely been much higher in Michigan than it peaked and that today it would still be elevated from where it currently stands. Not only did the bailout not end up costing United States taxpayers a dime after the loans were repaid, it has helped usher in a new and recording breaking era of American made car sales. In 2015, U.S. car sales set a record with 17.47 million cars sold.

Yet even with all of this evidence to the contrary you’ll hear Donald Trump talking about the economy being terrible and on the verge of collapse, that we’re shipping our jobs overseas, and forgetting about our jobs here in United States. However, the numbers prove this claim to be fundamentally false. Even in the manufacturing sector, which by the way includes the auto industry, where Donald Trump claims we have been hurt the most by trade policies that favor other countries over our own, there has been a recovery in jobs.

In fact, since 2010, close to a million jobs have been added in the manufacturing sector alone, which accounts for the fastest growth in that sector since the 1990s. While it is true that the recovery in the manufacturing sector has been slower than in other sectors, it has recovered, which is in stark contrast to the picture that Trump paints on the campaign trail. He also fails to take into account the significant impact of large scale advances that have taken place in automation over the past 10 years, which has allowed manufacturers to produce more goods with less hands. Some of those jobs are simply never coming back because of technological advances.

In addition to actual job gains in the market, there has also been a recovery in household income levels as well. In fact, last year households within the United States experienced an average income increase of 5.2%, which marked the largest year over year income increase since at least 1967, when statistics started being kept on household incomes. This means that a household making $60,000 in 2014, had an extra $3,120 in their pockets in 2015, which is no small amount when we’re talking about feeding and caring for our families.

Lastly, it should be noted that small businesses have not suffered nor been hindered by the policies of President Obama. In fact, they have been the very engine that has driven the economic recovery over the past eight years. Of the over 14 millions jobs created since 2009, 74% of those jobs have been created by small businesses employing less than 500 people. So while Republicans and Donald Trump like to claim that President Obama’s policies have failed small businesses, they have actually done the exact opposite. The policies and incentives offered over the past 8 years to small businesses have helped to power the longest lasting stretch of job creation, and more specifically, small business job creation, in the history of the United States.

Therefore it should be pretty clear that the rhetoric does not meet reality. The American economy is not a disaster, or on the verge of collapse, nor is it in need of a dramatic shift in direction. While it can be argued that until last year wage growth moved too slow, it has at least moved in the right direction. Are there things that can be improved and adjustments that can be made to help continue and accelerate the job growth and economic recovery that President Obama has presided over? Yes, absolutely, but we’re talking about adjustments under Hillary Clinton, not blowing up the entire system under Trump and returning to the failed economic policies of years past.

The fact is, the policies and initiatives President Obama enacted worked. Targeted tax breaks helped put money in the pockets of the average American who could then help generate economic activity and growth through their own increased purchasing power. Tax breaks afforded small businesses the ability to recover, hire new employees, and grow at a faster rate than the previous eight years. The auto bailout helped save the auto industry, forced companies to cut waste, streamline production, and produce better products to compete and win the market back over. Tax increases on the wealthy forced them to pay a fairer share on their fortunes, yielding increased tax revenues that were reinvested in the economy in the form of public works projects, grants and job creating loans. The policies worked, and with Hillary Clinton promising to continue and improve upon them, you better believe that I’m with her.

Call me an idealist, but I still believe in America.

I got in my car this morning and headed to work in a reflective mood after reading the speech Donald Trump gave last night. My reflection ensued when I realized that the country he described did not at all correlate with the country that I know. I read about a country in retreat, a downward economic trajectory, terrorists at the door, immigrants overrunning our streets and stealing our jobs, wide spread lawlessness, a lack of respect between the police and the citizens they serve. I read about what divides us, what makes us different, about why we’re vulnerable, weak, and susceptible to the weakest of outside forces. Quite simply, I read about an America that doesn’t exist.

I read about this country whose economy was struggling terribly and could not see that struggle. I thought about the fact that I was heading into work for a company who gave me a chance to make some money at one of our nation’s darkest economic hours in 2009. The month I graduated from college the economy lost 563,000 jobs. It was a time when people with college degrees had to settle for part-time shifts at $8.25 an hour, or worse, unemployment with bleak prospects of finding any work. I’m not generalizing-I literally had a college degree, $35,000 of fresh student loan debt, was working 30 hours a week making $8.25 an hour, and the saddest part is that I was lucky. It took me 5 months, countless cover letters, numerous resume renditions, and no call backs to realize the depths to which our country had descended.

A lot of people with degrees didn’t even have a job. The prospects were even dimmer for finding a job with benefits and a wage that could support the debt we had just accrued while trying to further our education and better ourselves. Forget about trying to start a family, we were all just trying to survive. People offered uneasy assurances of better days ahead but we all knew there was not a sugarcoating sweet enough to make us feel better. Those times were the darkest I can remember. Light at the end of the tunnel seemed to be so far off it might as well have been a distant star in the night sky.

Fast forward 7 years and I don’t recognize the economy that was described or much else Mr. Trump discussed on the last night of the Republican National Convention. My drive this morning took me to a gas station where a Muslim man of Middle Eastern descent attended to me with a smile. I had previously heard Mr. Trump speak about the necessity of banning all Muslims from entering the country. Somehow in his mind the perversion of Islam by a tiny portion of its followers meant that all Muslims were dangerous, not worthy of being trusted, or given an opportunity to pursue their own American dreams.

However, the man at the gas station showed me nothing but gratitude for my purchases. I saw within his smile not even the slightest hint of resentment toward me for he knew my beliefs did not suggest I agreed or condoned with the verbal attacks on his religion and followers of his faith from Mr. Trump. I could tell he had the intellectual nuance to separate one man’s words from the beliefs of others, that he understood you cannot judge an entire people on the actions of a small few or the words of one. I was thankful he saw within me a man who did not judge him for the infinitesimally small group of people who perverted his faith in the name of hate.

As the sun began to rise against a clear blue sky my drive continued down the road, passing by the red and blue lights of a cop car driven by a white officer who had stopped to help a black woman try to figure out why her car had stopped running at a light. They looked under the hood, side by side, not thinking about whose lives mattered most or more or not at all, or about conventions, or elections, or division. They looked at a problem, a broken down car, together, and sought to find a solution. A man doing his service as a police officer. A woman relying on a man entrusted to protect and serve the community in which she lives. Nothing more, nothing less.

There was no battle between the officer and the woman as it was made to sound by Mr. Trump to be a certainty whenever those interactions take place. The fact of the matter is, there rarely is a battle. We talk about the bad interactions because they are flash points, but the vast majority of the time, nothing more than a simple traffic stop occurs.

From there I pulled into the parking lot of my store, a brand new store, only 3 months old. The store I work in wasn’t even a thought or possibility 7 years ago when I started with this company at the depths of our nation’s recession. I looked down a strip mall filled with stores that were vacant just a few years ago when the grip on the American dream had surely slipped from most small business owner’s grasp. In just an hour or two these stores would be filled with shop owners and employees doing their small part to make our community grow. Each employee earning wages they will take and care for their families needs with, wages that simply were not there to be earned just a half decade ago. Each individual accounting for one of the over 14 million jobs gained since 2009, a tiny portion of an unemployment rate that has fallen from 10.2% in 2009 to 4.9% this month. In each of those workers I could not see an economy on the verge of collapse or in ruin as Mr. Trump suggested our economy was.

I opened the doors of my store and the first 9 customers I serviced were Hispanic. Some of them able to speak English fluently, others still struggling to express their needs, but all thankful that I was there, patient, ready to help them with all of their needs. Thankful that there was no wall they had to climb to try and pursue their own American dreams; thankful that this was and always will be, a nation of immigrants. A sense of gratitude emanating from them that while certain people of my skin tone might bluster about building walls, separating families, sending the rapists and murderers back across the border, that this man standing on the other side of the counter possessed no such thoughts or ill conceived feelings.

They were happy to know that I was just as thankful for them as they were for me. For the business they bring into my store everyday allows for myself and my coworkers to earn the wages we do, to support the families we have, and pursue the dreams that we all share for ourselves and future generations. I am also thankful that they do not judge me or buy in to the fearful rhetoric, bigotry, divisiveness, and anger that Donald Trump spews during his campaign speeches. Another group of individuals with the intellectual capacity that Mr. Trump lacks to understand that groups of people are not monolithic, each unique in their own way, and not able to be casted under one judgmental umbrella.

As I sit here and type this I look at my morning and I do not see the America that was presented at the RNC this week. I do not fear the man working at the gas station, for I have no reason to. He is not a terrorist by association, he is an immigrant pursuing a better and more secure future for his family. I do not harbor anger at the black woman whose car broke down nor at the police officer who was trying to help her, because they have done no wrong as I am aware. I do not fault them for the divisions between police and citizens within our society because I know that the vast majority of officers do our communities proud and that the overwhelming majority of our citizens would never even so much as wish harm on those entrusted to protect us. I do not think that the Hispanic customers I serviced today would have been better had they been white, or that their jobs have come at the expense of native born citizens. I do not fault any of these people for going about their own lives and doing the best they can to pursue their own dreams.

When I look down at the stores that fill the strip mall where my store is located I know that they are filled with people not unlike myself, and not unlike most of you who will read this. They are hard working people that struggled like hell just to make ends meet when the economy collapsed and who are simply thankful to have the opportunity to make a respectable wage and enjoy a decent living again. People who are hopeful about our future and what prospects it may bring.

The America I see is one of recovery, of rising wages, and improved outlooks. I look on Facebook and I see it filled with posts of babies and small children who we all hope will enjoy a better life and grow up in a better America than we did. Hopes that they might not have to struggle with the same divisions and partisan fault lines that fracture our society today. I find comfort in the faith I have in the belief that their parents, that being those of you reading this, decided at this moment in history to look past those things which divide us and decide we are better together than apart.

I know deep down that the bonds which bind us together are stronger than the forces which work to tear us apart. I know that we wish to build bridges that span the gaps of misunderstanding in our communities instead of building walls to keep each other out. To attempt to retreat and insulate ourselves from the world today is to ignore the simple facts of life as we know it: that we are entirely too interdependent on each other and other nations to ever go back to the isolationism that slowed progress and sowed seeds of division and misunderstanding in the past.

I know that we are all enriched by the diversity of this great country and the varying backgrounds from which we grew. I know that when people tell us to fear what we don’t know, that we can look at our past, filled with uncertainty and ripe with opportunities for failure and division at numerous junctures, and find not fear in that history but hope in our triumphs and the fact that we have come so far and made so much progress. Is America perfect? No, not by a long shot, but we can always work towards that lofty ideal.

I know that when I got in my car this morning, and went about starting my day-when the sun rose and I drove to the store where I now earn substantially more than the $8.25 an hour I earned 7 years ago, when the doors opened and the customers came, when the police officer stopped to help that lady, when the gas station owner thanked me for my business- that I was not afraid or cynical, that I did not harbor doubt about the future or anger about the past, that the only thing I felt was hope and optimism for the only thing that’s brighter than that morning sun is America’s future. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that we are better off than we were 8, 50, 100, and 200 years ago. Progress is never linear, there are always setbacks, rough patches, and times when almost everything comes in to question, but I still believe, and my belief will be eternal, in the promise and limitless possibilities of the United States of America and I hope you do too.

I’m sorry Mr. Trump, but you’re no John McCain…

In early October of 2008 when it started to become clear that Senator John McCain was not going to win the presidential election against then Senator Barack Obama things started to turn ugly at his campaign events. His supporters started getting angry. They were frustrated at the state of the race, confused how their candidate could be falling so far behind, and exasperated at the reality that was becoming clearer with each passing day.

On October 10, 2008 this frustration reached a fever pitch at one of Senator McCain’s events in Minnesota where his supporters called Obama a liar, terrorist, and an Arab. Being where he was in the polls, lacking a spark, and quickly running out of time to make up ground, Senator McCain could have taken the expedient route. He could have played off of the fears of his supporters and used their words as fuel for a campaign running on fumes. He could have channeled their hatred, disrespect, and dishonesty into one last push to round up his base and make one final concerted run at the nomination. However, that is not what Senator McCain did.

He stood up, grabbed the microphone and said, “I have to tell you. Sen. Obama is a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States…He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is all about. He’s not an Arab.” The crowd booed him loudly, implored him to embrace their views, and use them to the benefit of the campaign. Senator McCain never budged. He never let the urgency of the moment supersede his integrity. If he was going to win, it would be on his merits and not on misinformation and hatred.

I am a Democrat. I did not vote for Senator McCain, but I do respect him. He did not cave under the pressure of a room full of supporters to score political points. He did not cower in the face of such vitriol. He did not do what was easy, he did what was right. He did not trade in the currency of fear, but instead rejected its value outright. He understood that at the end of the day, we are better together than apart.

Senator McCain embraced what President Lincoln said during his first inaugural address, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” He understood that while we may disagree, we do not have to be disagreeable. He knew that our country is not strengthened by its divisions, but diminished by them. The United States of America: It’s not just a name, it’s what we are. United is what we should always aspire to be.

Does being united mean we cannot have divergent interests we feel passionate and may disagree about? Absolutely not, it is normal and healthy for our union when we have civil disagreements and differing viewpoints. Is it okay to voice our differences and let it be known that they are real and important to us? Definitely so, that is one of our most fundamental rights. The ability to speak freely about the things we believe is essential to being an American. It is a primary reason why our country has survived for as long as it has. It is why I can sit here and write my feelings about the current state of affairs without fear of being reprimanded for doing so.

However, being able to speak freely and passionately about what we believe in does not grant us permission to disrespect the views of others. Such actions are counterproductive to progress and unity. We get no further by deepening the divisions that divide us. It is a lot easier to cross a bridge than to traverse an unspanned valley. Therefore, we cannot continue to burn bridges before we have the opportunity to cross them. There is value in unclenching your fist and opening your mind.

Unclenching your fist may not be the easy thing to do, but violence and discord only beget more of the same. Sometimes turning your cheek is the strongest message you can send. Letting someone know that you will not be dragged down in the dirt, but instead are willing to lift them up is a very strong statement. John McCain understood this. From his days as a prisoner of war, he understands this better than most people. Senator McCain definitely understands it more than someone who says, “He’s (John McCain) not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

The above quote was spoken by none other than Donald Trump. He simply doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand what being a leader is about. For someone who loves to hear himself talk, he doesn’t understand the force with which words carry. The United States is a country borne not on lines of race, ethnicity, religion, tribe, class or color. Instead it is a country built on ideals, principles, and the unifying words written on our founding documents. We are Americans by no other definition than those written into the Constitution. Words may not matter in a lot of countries, but they definitely matter here. We are created, bound, and freed by our founder’s words, not divided by them. We are a country not of divisions but instead unities, we always have been, we always will be.

If you’re in a position to influence people, to change their minds about the way they see the world, to inspire them to take action, let that inspiration be to unify and not divide. Let your words encourage people to reach out and shake someone’s hand instead of punch them in the face. Let your actions inspire people to engage in discourse that is respectful and productive and not derogatory and inflammatory. Be the voice that speaks to the good in people and not the fear. Let your leadership work to bridge the lines of division that divide us and find a common ground in the middle where we both can stand.

In a country as diverse and disparate as the United States it is a leader’s responsibility to do all of that. To inspire the good and not the bad, the hope and not the fear, the understanding and not the anger, the acceptance and not the rejection. It is furthermore an essential function of a leader to stand up for what is right, to correct people when they are wrong, to condemn actions that run contrary to unity and common purpose.

As citizens of the United States we have such varied interests that it is inevitable that we are going to have disagreements, misunderstanding, and arguments. However, if we disagree, let’s try to find common ground. If we have misunderstandings, let’s try to better understand where each other comes from and why the other believes what they do so that we can at least respect how they feel. If we argue, let us at least keep some semblance of civility and reason.

Leaders should set a positive example and never seek to divide us. They should offer realistic solutions to our problems and not insults to our people. A leader should not publicly, or privately for that matter, call people pussies or say that women are disgusting because they breastfeed or are overweight. A leader should not diminish the service of our military men and women for being captured when they never even served themselves. Nor should they instill fear in their followers or inspire hatred in their opponents. A leader should not accept the endorsements of groups that condone hatred either. They should not offer to represent followers who assault protesters or encourage them to fight back physically. Leaders do not threaten violence or riots if they are denied their aspirations. A true leader accepts blame when it is due and does not blame others for the fury they incite themselves. Leaders do not talk about how well they are endowed on public television. A leader should not stereotype entire groups of people in monolithic terms. To that point, a leader should not say that we should ban all Muslim’s from entering the country, at least not in this country, a country founded by and enriched through immigration. Lastly, they should not berate illegal immigrants and still have used their labor.

What they should do is hold themselves to a higher standard and ask that others do as well. Leaders, especially presidential candidates, are not applying for just any job. They are applying to sit in one of the most important seats in the world and therefore they should hold themselves and their followers to the highest of standards. Their words and actions speak to more people, and can do more harm or good than almost anyone, and therefore they should not speak so carelessly in public. Their words should be measured, well said, and informed. They should not speak misinformation or promote unverifiable facts. They should be someone you can sit your child down to watch and not have to worry about what will come out of their mouth. They should be the example that we strive for and not the one we shudder from. It’s great to be honest and up front with people, but there are ways to express your opinion respectfully and without diminishing or disparaging the thoughts and opinions of others.

Senator John McCain understood all of this while he was running for the nomination and he was an exemplary model of what a leader and presidential candidate should behave like during his campaign. When the fire started burning too hot, he immediately doused the flames. He stood up for reason and defended his own opponent. He set the record straight with his followers and let them know that while he may have had fundamental disagreements with Obama, he still respected him. He insisted to win or lose on his merits. He was not going to win by pandering to the insecurities of his followers or by insulting his opponents without any respect for the truth. If only every presidential candidate held themselves to the same standards we might be a lot further ahead today than we are.

I am admittedly, as I stated earlier, a Democrat. I am and have been since I can remember for a number of reasons. However, I am by no means a raging partisan. I actually find value in some Republican policy stances and respectfully disagree with others. I understand that there are fundamental differences between how Republicans and Democrats view the world, but I have never thought the gap to be so substantial that common ground cannot be found on the most pressing of issues.

However, Donald Trump is simply someone I cannot tolerate as a presidential candidate. I am steadfastly unwilling to accept that someone as distasteful and ignorant as him could ever become president of this great country…yes, don’t let his campaign slogan fool you, America never stopped being great. If I was a Republican I would literally be offended that Trump will likely be the standard bearer of the Grand Old Party come November. The Republican Party is the party of Lincoln, Grant, Eisenhower, and Reagan. Presidents who understood what it meant to be a leader, who respected the office they occupied, who valued the power and importance of words and used them with force and tact. Donald Trump falls so incomprehensibly short of the standard those men set it is laughable and scary at once to think he is as close to the office they once held as he is. He is a disgrace to this country, an embarrassment to Republicans, and a mistake to every voter who’s casted a ballot with his name on it so far. He is the very embodiment of everything that is wrong with this country and Washington: a singular representation of the divisiveness, immaturity, narcissism, dishonesty, and ignorance that plagues this country and our politics.


Every morning I awaken to the sound of my alarm. I reach down, slide my finger across the glossy surface of my iPhone, and listen as the sound fades away. As it does, I bring my phone towards my weary eyes and I observe two things: first, the bright light emanating from its screen, and second, the word “Liberty.”


Two-hundred thirty-nine years ago fifty-six brave and revolutionary men put ink to parchment and pledged, “To each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor,” as they signed their names on the Declaration of Independence proclaiming for all of time that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Historians and critics alike have accurately noted that a number of the signatories were hypocritical for signing a document making such a proclamation while simultaneously owning slaves and relegating women to a lesser station within society. However, it can also be said that their pledge was far from hollow. For as soon as they declared independence and started down the path towards what would become the United States of America, they risked losing the exact things they had pledged.

While there were those who escaped rather lightly having lost hardly anything or only material possessions, others fared much worse. Some were captured, tortured, or beaten severely. Although terrifying to imagine, their fates were still an insignificant cost to pay compared to that which other cosigners paid. Many would come to pay the ultimate price for their pledge, that being their lives. Though the cost may have been their lives, they died knowing that the cause for which they lost their lives was just. They knew that future generations would enjoy the liberties they had proclaimed as natural human rights because of the courageous sacrifices they made.

It is a testament to those fifty-six men, to their courage, to their fortitude, and to their foresight, that to this day the parchment on which they signed their most sacred of pledges still exists. It can be viewed by all of those who wish within the capitol city of the country whose independence they declared. Should one travel to Washington, D.C. and ascend the 39 steps of the National Archives, proceed through the doors and across the Rotunda, nothing more than a pane of glass will separate them from the now scarcely visible words inscribed on the Declaration of Independence. It is, much to the disdain of all of those who stand in the way of liberty and progress, the greatest irony of all, that a document whose words can barely be read today still shines through the ages as a guiding light in the name of liberty for all. While the elements of time have taken their toll on the boldness with which our founders wrote, there is absolutely nothing capable of diminishing the boldness of the declaration that they made.

The struggles of the past two centuries in the name of progress and the unyielding pursuit of the purest and most universal form of America’s most important founding principle is the brand that has forever seared liberty into the soul of this country. It is the bedrock from which everything that defines the American way of life emanates. Liberty has been fought for and defended by generation after generation, borne upon the backs of citizens and soldiers alike, on far off inhospitable lands and upon our own tranquil plains.

It is in the name of liberty, that of our own and of our allies, that over a million American soldiers have perished in battle. Americans have sacrificed their lives on battlefields stretching from the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg to the banks of the Marne River, from the beaches of Normandy to the cliffs of Nam Dong, and most recently in the streets of Baghdad and the mountains of Kabul. It is because of those brave souls that we continue to live the lives we do and enjoy the liberties we all too often take for granted.

While military battles in defense of American liberty have raged on battlefields for over two hundred years, there has been a different struggle, of distinctly different means but no less importance, raging within the confines of our own borders in the pursuit of liberty for all. It is a battle that has ushered in wave after wave of generational change and progress. A continuos tide moving towards the inclusion of all of those who the promise of liberty was shallow when that declaration was signed.

When faced with seemingly insurmountable forces of the status quo and obstruction, leaders of this movement have stayed steadfast on their path, unyielding to the hindrance of the moment. They have taken comfort in the knowledge that the path on which they walk has been paved by the progress of those who walked there before. Inspired by the sobering sacrifices their predecessors made, they have carried on undiminished in their resolve.

Liberty was the driving force of abolitionists who risked persecution and death in order to assist slaves on their journey towards freedom along the Underground Railroad. Liberty for all was the rally cry of such Americans as Lincoln, Douglass, Garrison, Tubman, and Stowe, who’s literary works implored America that the time had come for everyone to enjoy the same freedoms. They spoke for those who could not speak for themselves, giving voice to the injustice, abuse, and dehumanization slaves had endured. They were the leading voices of their generation. A group of leaders who joined moral argument with social and political activism in the pursuit of liberty for the disadvantaged.

These were the people who provided inspiration to leaders who carried forth the cause into the next century. The continuous pursuit of liberty for all would eventually culminate in the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century. The fight for the liberty of slaves would eventually evolve into a wider societal struggle. One that was waged for all groups whose diminished liberty was a stain on the fabric of America’s core values. The wider struggle would expand and encompass groups ranging from homosexuals, to women, and to workers as well.

It was within the ever expanding fight for liberty and civil rights that straight men would someday fight so that openly gay men could freely serve. For the liberty of women Seneca convened and Susan, Elizabeth, and Lucy refused to be silenced. For the liberty of worker’s unions formed and Cesar starved. For the liberty of African-Americans Martin dreamed, preached, and eventually died, Rosa refused to give up her seat and was arrested, citizens boycotted buses, students sat when they were told to stand, and for liberty Selma marched to Montgomery.

After nearly two centuries, the painful, unacceptably slow, and arduous progress of liberty as promised by the Declaration of Independence and affirmed by the U.S. Constitution would finally accelerate. The country could wait no longer. For the toll of refusing to change had costed too many lives, broken too many dreams, and severely damaged America’s image as the land of the free. It was only through exhaustive effort, sheer determination, personal sacrifice, and unimaginable courage that a century and a half of leaders finally delivered liberty for most disenfranchised and disaffected groups within America. In the face of the status quo, police brutality, murder, raging dogs, fire hoses, intimidation, discrimination, segregation, disenfranchisement and false recrimination, expanded liberty would ultimately prevail.

In 1919 women were finally given the liberty to vote. Forty-five years later the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed and provided new protections for the liberties of numerous groups of citizens. On January 23, 2015, Alabama became the 37th state to end restrictions on same-sex marriages. In June of this year the Supreme Court may bring a final and definitive end to the debates about whether homosexual individuals shall be granted the legal liberty to marry one another. While the struggle for liberty may never be fully won, America has come so far.

The river of liberty that flows through our states is long, winding, and painstakingly slow at times but it nonetheless continuously flows towards a more free and just destination. It is reality that the struggle for truly universal liberty will continue as long as our society refuses to accept that we are all equal and therefore entitled to the same freedoms, but much progress has been made. We are better for the fights that have been waged in the name of Liberty and will continue to defend it at all costs. Be the threats foreign or domestic, American liberty shall never perish from this Earth. Of this we must ensure for liberty is not guaranteed to endure.

However long the journey ahead may be, we must fight to ensure that at the very minimum the same liberties we have been afforded will be passed on to our children. As Americans that is our most important civic responsibility and we should not take it lightly nor shy away from it. It is essential for us all to realize what liberties we have and what the cost of those liberties has been. We must reflect and analyze what our lives might be like in the absence of liberty.

We are a nation defined by what we can do, not by what we cannot, by liberty and not tyranny. Our destiny is not defined for us, but instead is shaped by us. In this country our votes are cast and counted by us, not for us. We are free to express ourselves through speech, and press, through religion, assembly and yes, petition too. We may bear guns if we choose, refuse troops from entering our homes, and we do not worry about being searched without just cause. We are believed to be innocent until proven otherwise, afforded a lawyer should we not be able to afford one, tried by a jury of our peers if needed, and should we be found guilty we will not be subjected to punishment that is cruel or unusual.

If we fail to cherish these rights and do not continuously reaffirm these liberties we may ultimately fail in convincing future generations to carry on and protect that most precious gift of liberty. If we do fail in doing so, may we be judged as harshly by future generations as those who stood in the way of past progress. For in failure we will have negligently forfeited what our ancestors valiantly fought and died for. We cannot be complacent, we cannot lose sight of what liberty means to America.

Each and every American owes those brave generations who came before an invaluable debt of gratitude for giving us the freedom to live the lives we want to live. It is a debt that can never be fully repaid but is best honored by never forgetting what was sacrificed in the pursuit of liberty and a more perfect union. The only way to truly honor those generations who delivered to us a higher degree of liberty than any generation before is to never take for granted the freedoms we enjoy. Everyday each of us enjoy freedoms that someone paid the ultimate sacrifice for and it is right to give thanks for that.


In those waking moments, when the glare of my phone reaches my gaze, I cast my eyes lower waiting for them to adjust, and it as that moment I see the word “Liberty” tattooed on my wrist. It is a constant reminder to help ensure that I will never forget and never fail to give thanks for all of those who came before and paved the liberated paths on which we now walk.

The liberties we enjoy as Americans are the type of liberties that people from Tiananmen to Damascus would give, and have given, their lives in pursuit of. We cannot ever forget this. On July 4, 2012, two-hundred thirty-six years after those fifty-six brave and revolutionary men put ink to parchment and made that most consecrated of pledges by signing the Declaration of Independence and proclaiming that most fundamental and self-evident truth that all people are born with an unalienable right to liberty, a tattoo artist put ink to my skin so that I would never forget or take for granted that most sacred gift of liberty.




There is an Olde English D on the rear window of my Chevrolet Cruze. To the casual observer it probably represents nothing more than a baseball team. However, it represents so much more than that to me. It is not just there to support the most beloved yet oft-criticized team in town. No, the Tigers are not really why it is on my window at all.

Instead it is there to represent, promote, and enlighten people about the most misunderstood, stereotyped, and disrespected city in America. It is there to tell a story about a city with a checkered past and a vibrant future. A story about decline and decay, but also about revitalization and renaissance. It speaks about race riots and the breaking down of racial barriers. Telling the story of a city falling to pieces, people being knocked to their knees, and somehow finding the courage to look past their differences and give each other a hand up and not hand out. It speaks for those who are choosing to help each other pick up the pieces and put them back together in such a manner that not even the most turbulent of times nor destructive of forces could ever tear them asunder again. It represents Detroit.

There is an Olde English D on the rear window of my Chevrolet Cruze. If you look close enough it bears the destructive burden of the rays from the sun, the decay of an onslaught of salt, the beating of a hard rain, and the tattered edges left by the wind that flows violently over it. It bears scars like the city it represents, the once and forever proud city of Detroit.

Beaten down and diminished from its once pristine condition, it remains unmoved by the currents and elements that envelope it. I could purchase a new decal if I wanted, but why would I? It represents Detroit, not as how we hope to see it, or how it once was, but as it is today: diminished but not destroyed, faded but forever, raw, real, and resilient.

There is an Olde English D on the rear window of my Chevrolet Cruze. It tells the history of my family and that of many other immigrant families that set out from distant shores in hopes of a better future and landed in Detroit. It represents my ancestors who immigrated from Poland generations ago and contributed to the greater good in a city still experiencing growing pains and surviving a great depression.

It tells the story of later generations of immigrants who arrived filled with hopes of raising children in a bustling, vibrant city with a bright future. The same immigrants who ended up dealing with the horrifying specter of another world war that would ultimately claim many of their own children. They carried forth, like Detroit, with their hopes and dreams nonetheless. Deferred but still in sight, a better life for their children in a city who’s only limits at the time were its borders.

It tells the story of my grandfathers who went off to war as boys and returned as heroes and men bearing mental burdens too heartbreaking to discuss. The burdens of the battlefield would always be there for those veterans. Often found in their quiet moments, sometimes represented by a solitary tear that had escaped their steely facades.

It tells the story of the grandmothers of my own generation who worked in Detroit’s wartime factories once filled by their now absent husbands.  How they spent their days producing the instruments of war and how at night they held together families and society while their husbands were off in distant unknown lands sacrificing their lives for the better of humanity. The same women who, when their husbands returned, would once again be marginalized as mothers and home makers and not the heroes they truly were.

It tells the story of my parent’s generation, born when the greatest generation had returned and restarted their lives, carrying forth the dreams of their mothers and fathers in a city built for dreamers and the future. How they would come of age in what had become known as the Motor City. A city that was the leader of early-to-mid-20th century American innovation and leading its own industrial revolution that would forever change the way products were produced for the masses around the world. It speaks to how that generation would go on to build vehicles in their own city that would be driven in every corner of this Earth, on roads near and far, dirt from the start but forever paved after Woodward.

Detroiters were different than the rest of their generation though. Bound together by their shared and varied immigrant origins, they were a collection of hard working, blue collared men and women who shared more in common with their neighboring immigrant families of different origins than they did than with Americans elsewhere raised. The stories of their families were unique but when united they formed one massive patchwork of Detroiters cut from a different cloth than the rest. They were proud of their city, proud of being from Detroit.

There is an Olde English D on the rear window of my Chevrolet Cruze. It represents the decline and decay of that once proud city. A city stripped of its greatness, ravaged by archaic policies, corrupt politicians, social injustice, and the lack of legitimate leadership and problem solvers able to fix the issues. It speaks for a city that because of its openness and past promise attracted more people than it could adequately support. A city that was structured in such a way that it was unable to sufficiently expand to accommodate new residents, thus limiting opportunity for all of those who arrived seeking it.

Archaic policies, written and unwritten, often times further limited the opportunities of those who needed them most. Unwritten laws were even more damaging than those found in ink on paper.  Being de facto instead of de jure, they diminished the ability of the public to elicit change and dampened the hopes of the marginalized. It left citizens barely grasping at the fringes of what they previously saw as vast opportunity and endless upside. Exacerbated by government that was corrupt and unresponsive, the problems devolved into unsolvable puzzles. Such was the case of Detroit in the late 1960s when it exploded into rioting and violence in the summer of 1967.

There is an Olde English D in the rear window of my Chevrolet Cruze. It represents a city that reached a breaking point and could take no more, torn at the seams, collapsing under its own weight, it shattered and cascaded towards disaster. There is a vicious cycle to the bottom. It moves much swifter and more relentlessly than to the top, fed not by gravity but by fear and a loss of hope. Bringing with it an overwhelming feeling that what has been lost cannot be regained and that the best you can do is survive the decline until it hits bottom. Detroit experienced that decline for the next few decades. Politicians came, politicians went, many of whom were good intentioned but unable to induce change.

Others came and seen opportunity for themselves, exploited the city for their own benefit, and left its finances and reputation tattered and in ruins. After the riots, white flight occurred and the majority of Detroit’s white citizens who could leave did, heading for the suburbs and something more promising. White flight in turn produced urban blight. Minorities were left in a forgotten city. The city was stripped of half of the people who had for so long helped hold it together with them. Property values collapsed, tax revenues decreased, school funding in turn collapsed and left a generation of children forgotten and abandoned.

When legitimate opportunity and functioning government does not exist, people find alternate means to get by. Crime increased, communities dissolved, and people turned inward. The pride that once held the city together dissolved into destitution. Detroit was stripped of everything and the opportunity it once promised. A once bustling downtown turned desolate, full city blocks became burnt out houses, abandoned cars, and trash lined streets. Schools were shuttered, public services evaporated, parks closed, and businesses left quicker than unemployment forms could be filled out.

There is an Olde English D on the rear window of my Chevrolet Cruze. From a distance, when the light hits it at just the right angle, it still shines as if nothing ever happened. As if the sun and salt, water and wind, never touched it. It has stood resolute in the face of all the headwinds and currents it has endured. Wavering and worn at points but still capable of shining should the conditions be just right. It remains, representing what it always has: a city that will not be forgotten, that will always carry on, no matter how broken or beaten, no matter how disrespected and disparaged by national media and those who do not really know the city.

There is an Olde English D on the rear window of my Chevrolet Cruze. It represents the life that comes to the faces of the Baby Boomers who grew up in Detroit whenever a story about the revitalization of the city is mentioned. The joy in their voice when they talk about a childhood spent in a city that was so full of hope, opportunity, and freedom that it feels like a distant dream or fantasy to most today. Any talk of such a Detroit until recently would have been met with such cynicism and doubt that even the most ardent supporters of Detroit might have been left feeling defeated.

Things are changing though and today there is a genuine belief in a positive future for Detroit. The type of belief that not just a couple of new stadiums or casinos can ever produce, for they do very little for the actual citizens who live there. It is the kind of hope that a new park in a neighborhood brings. The type of hope that a grant for school improvements provides the citizens of a community. It is the hope that new citizens bring with them. The type of hope that a new grocery store or restaurant incites in the inhabitants of a neighborhood.

It is that exact type of hope that provides energy to a vast and diverse collection of people, some former residents, some folks who are not even U.S. citizens, but all of whom believe in the revitalization of a city once forgotten. A group of people who are tired of the cynicism and doubt, the talk about decline and crime and how it is just too big of a project to tackle. They are the people tackling it and things are changing. There is hope, tangible hope again.  Hope not just for a beautiful downtown but for a new midtown as well and beyond. Communities are being cleaned up, buildings are being torn down or repurposed. Pride is returning to the streets and neighborhoods of Detroit.

It is black, it is white, it is American and foreign, it is big and small. It is the smile of a child growing up in the inner city who feels hope for the first time. It is the life on the faces of former residents, the light in their eyes, the pride in their voices when someone mentions the renaissance occurring in Detroit. It is what no one outside of Detroit wants to acknowledge or believe, but make no mistake, it is happening.

There is an Olde English D on the rear window of my Chevrolet Cruze. It represents everything I love about Detroit and so much of who I am. It is the reason why I became so infuriated after sitting at the airport recently and listening to a conversation between two uninformed individuals about the “epic and irreversible” collapse of Detroit that I spent the majority of that day writing this lengthy and very personal article on my iPhone to let everyone know that I do not just have an Olde English D on the rear window of my Chevrolet Cruze to support my favorite sports team. It is not really even about them, it is about Detroit.

I may not have grown up in Detroit, I cannot technically claim it as my home, but I am beyond tired of hearing about its demise from uninformed people who do not care and are unwilling to contribute to its renaissance. Its the reason why every time someone asks me where I am from I say Metro Detroit. I want them to know that Detroit is a part of who I am. That I love that city, that I will never have more hope for another city to comeback and be successful. I want them to know that I am tired of their cynicism and will no longer allow it to be dismissed as a city of the past.

Outsiders do not know, they simply do not understand, they do not want to make the effort. It is easy to put people, things, and cities in a box. To stereotype them as violent, or desperate, or broken, or flawed, or hopeless. It is a lot more difficult to show people those stereotypes are inaccurate, that what they thought was the truth is actually erroneous.

Detroit is not a perfect city, but then again those do not exist, they never have. Every city has its own issues. Some cities have fallen farther from grace than others. The only thing that means however is that their comeback can be that much more impressive. Detroit and its people are getting back up, they are dusting themselves off, and beginning anew the work of rebuilding a great city. I have an Olde English D on the rear window of my Chevrolet Cruze and now you know why.

Looking back and moving forward.

Seven years ago, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to go to Washington, D.C. and do an internship in the United States Senate. It was the most eye opening, humbling, exciting, and surreal experience I have had in my life. To work in the halls of Congress and brush elbows and ride trams with some of America’s most powerful lawmakers was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I lived five blocks from the White House and State Department, even closer to the the Watergate complex (yes that one) and just down the road from the Naval Observatory where the Vice President lives. I walked more miles around that city than I could ever recall. With every step I absorbed every ounce of history I could. The city energized me and I didn’t want to miss anything.

The buzz inside the Beltway at that time, being six months before the presidential election, was beyond comprehension. Everywhere you went you could feel the energy. Everyone was talking about it, no one could escape it, not even in your room at night could the vibe not be felt. I was there, in the middle of it all, living what felt like a dream. In some ways it was a dream. It was more than I could have ever hoped for.

In retrospect, I was nothing more than a kid who wrote a couple essays that must have been just good enough to be selected, but at the time I felt like I was part of something bigger, something important. Yes, I was just one of hundreds of interns who walk the halls of Congress each year, but for me it meant everything. I didn’t get there through connections (as I found out most of the interns did), I got there through merit and hard work.

One of the other interns (Josh Zimberg who I struck up an effortless friendship with) and I wrote a floor statement that was entered in the Congressional Record. It was in some ways, a validation of all of the hard work I had put into school and myself throughout my life. I felt that I had made it.

My time working in D.C. would come to pass faster than I realized or hoped though. A couple months after arriving it was time to head home. I remember my last day there, driving up Pennsylvania Avenue with the United States Capitol in my rear-view mirror thinking, no not thinking but truly believing, that I would be back sooner than later. What I failed to realize at the time was that the future prospects for almost every single person in my generation were about to get completely decimated.

The economic slowdown that started in early 2008, became a complete collapse by October and the ensuing recession that continued on for years changed all of our paths. It diminished our hopes, caused us to scale back our dreams, or at a minimum delay them until a date later to be determined. The recession hit like a brick. I had never felt such a loss of hope across literally everyone I knew before. Not even when 9/11 occurred did I feel that the future had slipped away. As much as 9/11 emboldened Americans, the financial collapse disheartened everyone even more. Growing up my dad always told me, “There’s always hope boy”. Hope, although never completely lost, became an endangered species.

In the month before I graduated from Grand Valley the United States economy lost over 800,000 jobs. 800,000 jobs in 31 days, that’s not a typo. That’s more people than the entire population of Detroit. You could fill the Big House in Ann Arbor 8 times and you would barely have the amount of people who lost their jobs in March 2009.

The economy would end up losing over 8,700,000 jobs across 2008-2009. If you took all of those who lost their jobs in those two years and put them in one state, it would have been the 11th most populous state in the country at that time. The unemployment rate literally doubled from 5% in January 2008 to 10% in October 2009. Our future disappeared before we even had a chance to start it.

The weather was stormy the day of graduation. Half of those graduating had completely saturated gowns. Looking back, the weather on that day was a perfect metaphor for the years ahead. It was surreal sitting at graduation listening to the speaker tell us that, “Even though times are tough you’ll find your way”. That was about as optimistic as things got in the entire speech. We’ll find our way, great, how up lifting I thought. A lot of us still haven’t found our way. It took me six months just to find a PART-time job, another fourteen months for that part-time job to become full-time. I was lucky, it took others much longer. The only reason why I did find one was because I had previously worked for the company and had a best friend convince his boss that I would be a good fit. Thank God for friends.

I had found work. It was not the work I thought I would have thinking back to that day less than a year before which now seemed like a lifetime ago when I drove away from D.C., but it was work nonetheless. As time went on it became clearer to me that whatever dreams I had of living and working in D.C., of being a public servant, of contributing to the betterment of our society, would have to be put on hold. I simply could not afford it. The financial collapse had suppressed everything, including wages. D.C. is an expensive place as it is and public service does not pay much to start.

When my loan repayments started, it became even clearer that those dreams would be pushed even further down the road. Even with a full-time job it was a struggle just to get by. My whole generation, or at least all of us who did not come from wealth, who were sold on the necessity of college, the availability of easy credit, and the flexibility of student loans are saddled with the same burden today.

I don’t regret going to college at all, not even for a moment, for I benefited in ways both big and small. I am better because I went, and even more so because I finished. However, $393 every month goes to my loans, it’s no small amount. Some of my friends pay even more. My payments would be more if not for financial assistance and Pell Grants. Once again, in a perverse way, I was lucky.

It has been almost six years since I started working with the company I work for. Six years since I officially put my dreams and aspirations on hold in the face of an economic disaster and reality. The lack of opportunities at that time led to a personally sensed loss of possibilities and so I gave in and became an adult as they say.

What I can also say is that I am so incredibly thankful for the time I have spent with my employer for it has given me opportunities and allowed me to grow in ways that I could have never envisioned. I am a better, more balanced, more confident and self-assured man today because someone took a chance on me all those years ago. It is an absolutely phenomenal company to work for that actually cares about its employees. If I spend the rest of my life working for it I’ll be fine with that. However, there’s a part of me that will always want that feeling I had back in 2008. Whether I ever pursue it is the only question.

Over the past seven years, while my hopes and dreams were suppressed, they never left me. What I did lose though was that feeling I had sitting in the basement of the Russell Senate building talking politics with the other interns. Conversations that were sometimes heated but always civil. Informed and at the same time enlightening, those conversations made me feel alive. It felt like what we did mattered. If I could have held on to the energy of those days forever I would have.

Somewhere I lost my passion for the conversations though. I even started to lose the will to express myself. I lost the driving force that took me to D.C. The things that once mattered, faded away. Maybe I became disillusioned with the discourse in our politics, or lethargic because of the state of our economy. I was never able to exactly pinpoint what happened but things started to feel stagnant.
Personally I feel more alive today than at any time since seeing the Capitol in my rear-view mirror. I guess in some ways the woman who spoke at our graduation was right. We did find our way, however meandering the path was, and now we get to decide wherever that path will lead in the future. We have taken our future back, gotten over the morass of the past 7 years, and are moving forward.
Over the past year my creativity and thirst for life and my former passions has returned. I have started to write again and express my opinions once more which has led me here, to my first blog. I know the preceding story has been lengthy, but I wanted you all to know why a blog and why now. To put something in context is essential to understanding what follows. Everything I have written in this post is in some part why this blog exists at all.

I would like to thank Britt (my sister) for suggesting I start this, who said my Facebook posts were inappropriately long and better saved for a blog. So here it is, for better or worse. In the weeks and months ahead I hope to write about topics of all sorts. I have a couple that I have started writing, but are not quite finished yet. They are coming soon I promise.

Some of you may agree with the things I write henceforth, some of you may not. My hope is that if we do not agree we can at least disagree without being disagreeable. I have my opinions, as do all of you, and I hope that in some ways this blog can be a place where we can share, debate, and better understand all points of view. The fabric of this country is woven of a more diverse thread of people with even more disparate beliefs and opinions than any other country in the world, and we are better because of that.

So here’s to rear-view mirrors, undying dreams, eternal hope, and the liberty to freely express ourselves without fear of suppression, intimidation or violence. Welcome to my blog, thank you for reading. God bless you all, and God Bless the United States of America.