Mind the Gap

Last one. The student who suggested this was definitely on the side of “The wage gap is only because men work harder and have better jobs!” That is, not because of discrimination, but because men go into STEM fields more often, and are more aggressive in seeking promotion and wage increases. But then the question becomes, “Why do men go into STEM fields more often? Why are men more aggressive in seeking promotion and wage increases?”

Here’s my answer.

 

QUESTION:  Is there a gender wage gap? What explains the gender wage gap, if there is one?

There are simple answers to these questions, but there’s a problem: these questions come at the topic from the wrong side. 

Oh – the simple answers are, respectively: “Yes;” and, “Sexism.” 

But when we focus on questioning the existence of the gap, when we try to examine the truth value of a simple truth, the only way to have the argument is to keep breaking the wage gap down into smaller and smaller pieces, because that response values the position that the truth is not true: there must be a reason why my opponent questions the existence of the wage gap. Let’s consider his argument. Is there maybe a flaw in how we describe the wage gap? How we measure it? Is it only a rumor, or propaganda? 

So then we look for explanations that could cast doubt on the existence and extent of the wage gap: is the wage gap because women work fewer hours than men? Because women are less likely to go into high-paying careers? Because men have more education? Because women leave work to have children? Because women are less assertive in demanding more money or greater pay increases? Because men are smarter than women? 

Other than the last one (which, again, has a simple answer: #NOPE), each of these can be adjusted for when examining the data; if you look only at hourly wages, it removes the difference in hours worked and resulting total salary; if you look side-by-side at only specific careers, it removes the question about men going into more highly paid careers than women, and so on. 

Two things result from this: one, with each adjustment, the wage gap goes down; but two, the wage gap never disappears. Since it goes down, however, someone with a specific bias in this argument could extrapolate from the adjusted data and say there is no real gap, or it doesn’t matter; or someone could intentionally skew the data or make unfounded claims to support a different argument.

Here’s an example, from the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington thinktank which has a left-center bias, but is highly rated for its truthiness, according to mediabiasfactcheck.com (Source: https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/economic-policy-institute/). The EPI did a meta-study of several wage gap studies, and then adjusted for different factors, and reported this:

 

Models that control for a much larger set of variables—such as occupation, industry, or work hours—are sometimes used to isolate the role of discrimination in setting wages for specific jobs and workers. The notion is that if we can control for these factors, the wage gap will shrink, and what is left can be attributed to discrimination. Think of a man and woman with identical education and years of experience working side-by-side in cubicles but who are paid different wages because of discriminatory pay-setting practices. We also run a model with more of these controls, and find that the wage gap shrinks slightly from the unadjusted measure, from 17.9 percent to 13.5 percent.9 Researchers have used more extensive datasets to examine these differences. For instance, Blau and Kahn (2016) find an unadjusted penalty of 20.7 percent, a partially adjusted penalty of 17.9 percent, and a fully adjusted penalty of 8.4 percent.

Source: https://www.epi.org/publication/what-is-the-gender-pay-gap-and-is-it-real/

 

What matters is that second fact. The wage gap doesn’t disappear. It is always there. And just as an overall analysis of all workers will have some extraneous data and some uncontrolled influences and therefore exaggerate the problem (Regionalisms, for instance. Is it likely true that in some areas women are less educated than men because a strong religious influence makes it taboo to teach women, or because the teachers are traditionally men who do a better job of teaching young men than they do teaching young women, and therefore women have fewer high-paying jobs or are paid less because they have less education? Of course it is. So these factors may make the wage gap seem larger than it might be in some other locale, while not reflecting a “true” national wage gap. This is why statisticians have margins of error and confidence indices. But I don’t even understand the sentence I just wrote, so I just use lots of words and examples.), so too will generic adjustments remove some important data (Such as a part-time worker, who was told straight up by a supervisor, “I’m paying you less because you’re a woman, and for no other reason,” but the data vanishes because we only look at full-time workers. And so on.), so the adjusted rates aren’t any more objectively true than the unadjusted rates. All of it is skewed, all of it is complicated.

But what matters is that second fact. The wage gap doesn’t disappear. It would take some genuine statistical skullduggery to actually make it disappear. Which tells us that we shouldn’t be questioning the existence of the wage gap, we should be using it as evidence. The question that matters isn’t: Does the gender wage gap exist? The question that matters is: Is our society still sexist?

And the answer is yes. As proven by countless individual anecdotal experiences, and by a hundred objective facts. Among them: the wage gap. 

There is a thing my students do when I assign them difficult essays; in fact, it is such a common thing that it shows up on rubrics as a possible reason to lower a grade: they “substitute an easier task.” Rather than analyzing the plot, they summarize the plot. Rather than evaluate the characters, they describe first one character, and then another. This is what we have done in our society: we see that sexism still exists, we see that there is a gender wage gap; and rather than deal with sexism, we substitute the easier task, and pass laws that say women can’t be paid less than men for performing the same job. The first one was passed in this country in 1963: President John Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, which attempted to “prohibit discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers.” (Wikipedia.org) 

And that’s when the problem was solved. 

Yeah. Right. Because laws like that are the perfect way to eliminate sexism. 

It’s not that it’s a bad idea to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex; there are those people who openly do it, and they shouldn’t be allowed to. But the real problem is sexism. Because even if the wage gap did disappear, even if we did find the perfect legal remedy for it, our society would still be sexist: and people would suffer in other ways. 

It’s time we dealt with the real problem, instead of substitute an easier task – and then fail to solve that one, too.

This Is Inappropriate

(Okay, the title’s a little clickbait-y. This is entirely appropriate. Promise.) This was a sample I wrote from a student’s suggestion of topic.

 

Why should the school care about what students wear? 

I’ve heard students argue about dress codes for as long as I’ve been a teacher. Honestly, they have terrible arguments: but not because they’re wrong. They have terrible arguments because they’re young and inexperienced with argument, and because their emotions often tend to overwhelm their reason – they get busted for wearing clothes they like, told the clothes they like and feel comfortable in are bad or inappropriate or in poor taste (And all too often, the arguments leveled against them by adults are direct insults – “Why would you wear that? Why would you think it was a good idea to wear that to school?”); of course they get upset, and of course that makes it hard to think clearly of logical reasons why the dress code is bad. That’s without even talking about the deeply troubling message of the dress code, especially when it is enforced against young women: your clothing is incorrect because it shows your body, and your body is inappropriate. Is unacceptable. Is wrong.

Enough is enough. I have been asked to take up this argument, and though I don’t necessarily have personal insight into the dress code – I myself was never busted for a dress code violation in school, even when I wore clothes with offensive messages on them, which I did for years; I have never been told as an adult that my clothing is inappropriate (other than when my friend laughed at me for wearing a white suit, saying I looked like Colonel Sanders. She wasn’t wrong, though.) – I do have logical reasons why the dress code is wrong. The first and most important is: because it upsets the students so much that they can’t think straight. 

Because it does that. That is not to say that students being upset is reason to let them break the rules, which I know is the immediate thought of those who believe in dress codes – probably including the words “snowflake” and “safe space” and maybe some aggressively angry references to people in the past being tougher and stronger and whatnot than kids today, and maybe even a muttered “Avocado toast!” – but it is something that should be considered: because this is a school, and these children are our students. The first (ostensible) reason for a dress code is to ensure that students can focus on their education; but if students are so upset by the dress code and the methods of its enforcement that they can’t, as I’ve said, think logically enough to argue against that dress code, can those students be expected to think clearly enough to learn? And if not, what exactly is the dress code supposed to accomplish? Are those reasons enough to ruin a child’s education, even for one day? Enough to harm that child’s self-image, to teach that child that she herself is inappropriate? 

First, let’s examine the idea that a dress code reduces distraction based on sexuality. That is, when girls wear revealing clothing to school, the boys are incapable of thinking about schoolwork, because all they will be capable of doing is ogling the girls in their revealing clothing. (To a far lesser extent the argument goes both ways: but dress codes are overwhelmingly focused, both in the specific restrictions and the enforcement, on female students post-puberty, because of the distraction of male students post-puberty. LGBTQ students are twice as likely to be the victims of sexual assault or harassment, but I don’t hear that in the arguments for the dress code.) I’ve heard the argument made that revealing clothing invites harassment from teenaged boys, as well, from which girls need to be protected. By disallowing the girls from wearing revealing clothing, thus keeping them safe from boys. (Which is why, currently, 58% of high school girls experience some form of sexual harassment [That number varies by study. A Harvard school of education study found that 87% of teenage girls suffer sexual harassment. Check the link.], and over 10% say they have been forced to have sex: because the dress code is working!)

The obvious answer to this problem – and it is so obvious that it has become a meme, an online trope – is to teach the boys not to harass the girls (Again, this goes both ways, as well, but people rarely focus on sexual harassment of male students. Assume I’m including that issue, as well. I am.), and to redirect the boys to their schoolwork, to train them to overcome their urges and focus on the task at hand. If school can’t even do that, what are we even doing? And if we can’t do that because it can’t be done, if teenaged boys are so inevitably focused on sexual thoughts that no power on this Earth could stop them from staring at girls and fantasizing, why would you ever think that a loose polo shirt and ill-fitting dress pants would do the trick? I’m not going to pretend that this argument is reasonable, because I refuse to accept the underlying claim that males cannot possibly overcome our urges, that we are all rapists at heart, barely held in check by terror of punishment; but the same clichés that give this argument its power contradict the idea of a dress code: if teenaged boys are so horny, thinking about sex every seven seconds, willing to do literally anything for the chance at sexual release, if, as movies describe it, “linoleum” or “a stiff breeze” are sufficient to put teenaged boys in the mood – what clothing choice could possibly stop that?

Is it possible that, instead, we should deal with the actual issue head on? Teach students, especially male students, about consent? About rape? About sexual harassment? Teach our students the truth about their pubescent hormones and their bodies?  Stop pretending that sexual urges are bad, but teach them that unwelcome sexual advances are bad, and are not excused by clothing choices? Is it possible that we should teach young people to control themselves, and to redirect their thoughts when they become problematic? Talk about it all honestly, so that we can address actual concerns, answer their questions, rather than try to shamefully cover up? As awkward as those conversations might be, I would have that conversation a thousand times before I would tell a female student to cover up because I can see her breasts.

Once we get past the question of sex-based distraction, the second most common argument for a dress code is even sillier: not because those who create and enforce dress codes have terrible goals, but entirely because the benefits are not worth the costs. The argument is that the dress code reflects a professional work environment; students will not be allowed to wear tank tops and miniskirts (or sagged jeans and wifebeaters) to work. Which I suppose is true (Except for my former student who wore a bikini to work, because she was Miss Teen California; and let’s not pretend that none of our students become models, or strippers, or dancers, or Hooters waitresses – or simply work at home, a trend that has grown enormously as telecommuting and gig work have become more popular; and working at home means you can wear literally nothing to work, every single day. Even if you have to teleconference, nobody sees if you’re not wearing any pants.) but here’s the thing: students aren’t at work. School is not work. You can tell because we don’t pay them. I am a firm believer in the idea that students work as hard at school as most people do at their jobs, and their compensation is the education and the opportunities they gain; but nonetheless, they are not professionals, and should not be held to professional standards. Simply because any professional can quit: and students cannot. Since we compel them to attend, they should be allowed more freedom than a professional would be – and letting them wear what they want seems a reasonable concession.

In terms of preparing them for their future: how much preparation does this habit actually require? Is it hard to figure out how to dress for a professional office? If it is, then kids are in trouble: because it’s not actually how they are required to dress for school. I’ve never been required to wear a uniform polo shirt – and I work in a high school. One with a uniform code: for students. But on the other hand, I never thought it would be okay to wear booty shorts and a mesh crop-top to work, so practice not wearing booty shorts and a mesh crop-top to school doesn’t seem necessary. If someone is confused about the appropriateness of their attire, then what is required is a conversation: not years and years at a school with a dress code. If we’re going to all this effort, and causing all of this discomfort to our students, in order to spare their future supervisors from having one potentially awkward conversation, we need to straighten out our priorities. Because school staff have years of awkward conversations, which can have serious effects on the students’ self-image, in order to spare one adult conversation. It’s simply not worth it. Thinking that it is, is silly.

We can ratchet the silliness up another notch with this next one: uniforms make the student body look and feel like they belong, like they are part of a unified team. It’s difficult to believe that actually works; I’ve worn the same outfit as another person before and somehow never thought of the close bond that was thus created. I’ve never hugged the other people wearing Doc Martens just because what they have on their feet resembles what I have on my feet. (If that worked, wouldn’t we all be bonding over the simple existence of socks? WOO! SOCKS! HUG IT OUT FOR SOCKS!) Maybe it’s because I never played a lot of sports, and it’s the sports uniform that makes a team come together; but I did play some sports, and I did have a team uniform: it didn’t make me feel like I belonged. Probably because the other kids on the team made fun of me. Even though we were all wearing the same uniform. Because I was bad at sports.

Which brings us to another potential reason for a dress code, or more specifically for a uniform code: if students wear uniforms, then none of them can make fun of other students for what they are wearing. There is, I admit, some truth to that; because students do mock each other for their dress, particularly along socioeconomic class lines. But I cannot imagine that identical uniforms will overcome those class distinctions: the rich kids will still have, and will notice and comment on, their better hair and skin and makeup and accessories; even if every kid had a bag over their head, kids would still know who was rich and who was poor, and there would still be conflict.

This is what is wrong with all of the arguments for a dress code, or for a uniform code: they all treat the symptoms, and not the actual problem. If students are being distracted by sexy thoughts about their peers, the issue is the distraction and the sexy thoughts; not what the peers are wearing. If students mock each other for their clothes, the answer is not to change their clothes; it is to change their attitudes and their behavior. If we want students to feel like they are part of a team, that they are in a place where they belong, then by God let us make them feel like they are a part of the school community: let us treat them as equals, not as underlings. If we want them to feel like they belong, then please, let us treat them as if they have a right to be on the school campus, as if this is a place that they can feel comfortable: let them wear whatever they want to wear. 

Then if one of them shows up in a Speedo, we can have that one awkward conversation. 

I was going to do it anyway…

Here we go: time for teaching argument again. I had my students write a sample essay, so I could see how well they argue already and what they need to learn; while they were writing, I was writing.

This one was my choice of topic.

 

Is there any value in teaching argument?

The cynical part of me says no, because my students either know how to argue or they don’t, and going through my class doesn’t seem a terribly good way to get them to understand what argument is or how to craft a good argument. I’ve taught argument for twenty years now, and still people make the same mistakes and have the same wrong conceptions of what argument is. They still yell at each other; they still try for insults, mockery, and Gotchas as a way to “win” an argument. They still think that everyone has the right to their opinion, no matter how absurd, unfounded, or even dangerous that opinion may be; and they don’t think that a person should have to support their opinion, because they don’t think people should question each others’ opinions. Mainly because they don’t want me or someone like me to question their opinion, because they can’t support their opinions: they can yell about them.

But if I judged what topics should be taught by how well my students absorb them, then honestly, I wouldn’t teach anything; because no matter what I teach, or how I teach it, some of my students don’t get it. I could give the same description, or a similar one, for any topic I present to my class, any skill I try to instill in them. Sometimes they go out knowing only as much as they knew coming in. 

But that’s not entirely true. First because the topics in English class (and probably every class, but this is the one I know) are not discrete and mutually exclusive; reading narratives and writing essays and analyzing setting and character and especially plot are all skills that will serve the students well if they ever decide to participate in a serious argument. Speaking and listening, and writing and reading, are generally useful skills, and they all encourage growth in each other; and while my students may not all master argument, they do all improve in some way in my class, and any area of improvement is at least somewhat valuable in every other area. (This is also why I don’t like standards based grading, but that’s a different argument.)

Secondly, it is impossible to say what effect I have on my students in the long term. I know for a fact, because I have been told this by former students, that my class, for any of a myriad reasons, had a significant impact on them, often in ways they did not expect and I could not predict, often years after they moved on to another teacher or another school. So do my students learn better argument from me even if they don’t show tangible improvement while we are working on the unit? I hope, and think, yes. 

So my answer would be: yes. There is value in teaching argument. The impacts may be invisible, they may be far in the future; they may even be tangential, as argument skills may be improved by some other part of the class, or other skills may be improved by the work on argument. The important factor is this: argument itself is important. People in our world need to know how to argue. They need to know how to clearly define their subject and their claim, they need to know how to find and build support for their opinions, they need to know how to listen to, analyze, question, and address alternative viewpoints. They need to know that opinions are not inherently equal in value, nor sacrosanct, just because an individual (who is equal in value to all other individuals) holds that opinion, and they need to know how to dislodge someone from a dangerous or wrong opinion, both for their own convenience and for the greater good. They need to know how to recognize when an argument is lost and should be given up. They need to know how to deal with being wrong, and having someone else prove it to you.

We need these skills in our society. I don’t know for sure that our country is falling apart, or rather being blasted apart, by partisan intransigence and rancor; but I know, for sure, that our inability to argue rationally is making everything in our democracy worse: less sure, more troubled, more irrational and therefore dangerous. And when democracy fails, then some form of tyranny is the inevitable result. And we don’t want that: not even if the tyrant is on our side.

Don’t believe me? Then let’s argue about it.

 

All Together Now: Split Up!

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World War III might be coming soon. (I mean, probably not, but who can say? Who’s to say what CheetoFace the Kleptocrat will do next?)

But the meme war has already begun.

I had a class ask about the war yesterday, and about the draft, and about everything they worry about or are confused by regarding the whole mess. I helped them as much as I could, which wasn’t enough — because I can’t stop the war. One of my students made a nice point, though: someone said that memes would be turned to propaganda for one side or the other, and another student said, “All propaganda is memes.”

That’s the truth. And the corollary is probably also true: all memes are propaganda.

I have a troubled relationship with memes. I think they’re funny a lot of the time, and I’m impressed by the creativity behind them; but I loathe when they are used as arguments. Memes are inherently reductive, and more often than not, flat out wrong. I used to make it a thing to argue with anyone who used a meme to establish a position, especially a political position, especially on a genuine controversial issue.

Like this bullshit:

Image result for gun control memes

Nothing on this meme is true. The U.S. isn’t third in murder rate; we are 77th. Washington isn’t even in the “top” 30 cities in the US with the highest murder rates, and the other three are not the cities with the highest murder rates; in 2018 the total number of homicides in the U.S. was 16,214, and if we take away the 765 murders in Chicago, the 174 in New Orleans, the 304 in Detroit, and the 160 in Washington D.C., (Admittedly, this is a hell of a lot of murders) the number drops to 14,811. My math gives us a murder rate of 4.49 per 100,000 residents; lower than the U.S. rate of 5.0 murders per 100,000 population, according to the FBI, but according to this chart, that would move us down — exactly nine spaces. To between Niger and Lithuania. I’m not even going to talk about whether those four cities do in fact have the “toughest” gun laws in the United States, though I will note that the states  with the most restrictive gun laws according to this article are Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, California, Illinois, and New York. Soooo…. I guess Chicago might be in there. Right?

And is that woman really the Second Amendment? She seems too young.

Anyway, I’ve argued against a lot of memes over the years. It’s slowed down a bit: I stopped trying to argue with everyone and everything I disagree with, and the memes have increased exponentially in number, and increased (though not exponentially) in amusement.

But now we get to the current meme war.

Currently, the memes are showing up (from what I have seen, though my experience is certainly not comprehensive)  in two main forms: World War III is coming, and that’s fucked up and I’m scared, and therefore I’m going to use black humor to deflect from my fear. That looks like this:

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I don’t have anything to say about those memes other than: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that my generation and the ones before mine sunk this country, and this world, into this nightmare of eternal war, and now the current generations have to pay for it. I’m sorry for all that my country has done to harm other countries. I do recognize that there have been some good outcomes of American military intervention; but those outcomes do not come anywhere close to making up for the damage we have done. Not even close.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about here. I’m a pacifist, I’m anti-war; my position on American wars is not surprising.

No: what I wanted to talk about is the other class of memes. Memes like this:

Image may contain: possible text that says 'Pay attention to who gets upset when a terrorist leader is killed. PAY CLOSE ATTENTION.'

And this:

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And this lil beauty:

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So look. People can be in favor of war with Iran. I don’t agree, but they have the right to believe that it is the right thing; there’s at least some kind of argument in support of that, so it’s not insane to think it. Iran certainly does and has done terrible things, and maybe war would stop that.

But first, we here in this country need to not act as though we have the moral high ground: we do not.

The truth is that Soleimani was not all that different from any of about five dozen current and former American politicians and bureaucrats — if anything, he was considerably more restrained about the use of force. Yes, he was involved in a lot of bloody wars — but so was every American president since 2000, and besides half the wars he fought in were started or fueled by the United States. It’s just another instance of America’s gigantic hypocrisy when it comes to war.

America is guilty of everything we accuse Iran of doing

Second, whether you are for war with Iran (or war in general) or not, your position does not in any way have any implications about your citizenship, your rights, or how you feel about this country. You can love America and hate the war; you can hate America and love the war; and everything else in between — and the one does not at all imply the other.

I’m not sure how to explain or argue for that idea other than just to state it. To state clearly that one of the foundations of this country is freedom of thought and opinion, and the freedom of speech that allows us to express those opinions in a public forum. There is not any requirement to support the government, the war effort, or even the troops; there are reasons not to support all of those institutions, and therefore someone could reasonably have that opinion, and still think the U.S. is a good country and want to be a part of it. And of course, an American can think that the U.S. is a terrible country, and hate every little thing about it — and still be an American citizen. No less of an American citizen than the most flag-kissin’, woo-hootin’, ‘Murrican-chaps-wearin’ yahoo out there. And if you don’t understand that, the problem is you, not the person who disagrees with the rising tensions in the Middle East. Not someone who sympathizes with Soleimani: because you can think a man is a bad man, and still not want him dead, or be sad that he died — and again, even if you think Iran is a fine country and Soleimani was an Iranian patriot hero, you will still be an American citizen. Because citizenship, moral or legal, is not predicated on one’s opinions. Ever. Actions can change one’s legal or moral right to citizenship; if you try to harm America, one can argue that you lose some right to call yourself an American (Though personally I would say you need to actively alter your legal status, intentionally [And thus President Obama’s killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki was murder and not an act of war] ; and to me, morality has nothing whatsoever to do with citizenship: good Americans and bad Americans are Americans alike.), but saying you want to harm America is only words, only an opinion. It would be far more harmful to America to try to strip someone’s citizenship for an opinion or a statement thereof, because that is a violation of that foundational freedom of opinion and of speech.

And refusing to support a war, a war that will most certainly harm America — and thus should be opposed by those who want to do what is right for this country — is in no way something that changes one’s right to be an American. Doesn’t even make you a bad American. Though I guess someone could have the right to flip me off for that opinion, so I shouldn’t put that last meme into my display of objectionable memes. (Though also, isn’t that desecration of the flag? Just sayin’.)

It’s bad enough that we have to deal with jingoist nationalists trying to murder people around the world. Please don’t also make me have to defend my right to inclusion in my own native country. Please understand the country you claim to love, at least as well as it’s understood by those you say don’t love it enough.

Try to understand the war as well as this guy: (The first Tweet makes the point, but go read the whole thread.)

I do love my country. I do. I hate war. And so I refuse to allow those two things to be seen as the same thing. Even by my countrymen: whose right to be wrong I will defend to my last breath. So please do the same for me.

Understand that we can disagree, but when we fight each other over our disagreements, when our different opinions make you consider me inhuman, or undeserving of inclusion in your group, then we become divided in a way that is incredibly difficult to put back together. And that division hurts us. Not the difference in our opinions: if I think stopping the war is best for America, and you think fighting the war is best for America, then we disagree, but we are not divided: we want the same thing. We stand on common ground. We can discuss it, because we can both start our arguments with, “I want what’s best for our country, just like you do, but…”

But if you think I am not deserving of the title “American” because I don’t share your opinion, then we can’t even talk: I say, “I want what’s best for America,” and you say, “No you don’t, you’re not even a real American.” Now we are arguing about me, not about our country and how to help it.

That is what benefits the enemies of this country, and what harms this country: if we cannot see each other as equals, who happen to disagree.

There’s been far too much of that lately. We should stop doing it. All of us. Right now. Especially as we consider going to war, again. Because if we have to fight each other, we can’t also fight our enemies — and please understand that, although I do not want war, and I do not want violence, I do want to fight my country’s enemies. Enemies like ignorance, and bigotry, and dehumanizing hatred. That is what I will fight. That is what I do my utmost to protect my country, and my countrymen, from.

Because I love my country, and I want what’s best for us all. All of us. That’s what matters to me.

Remember what matters most to you.

Remember: united we stand.

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The Year Of Women (Which Should Be Every Year)

I was having an argument on Twitter the other night.

Okay. It was New Year’s Eve. Okay? That’s right. I spent part of my Greatest Party Night of the Year arguing with trollbots on the biggest dumpster fire in all of social media.

Maybe your New Year’s resolution should be to STOP JUDGING ME!

(I’m probably being a little sensitive. It’s fine. Everything’s fine.)

The argument was mainly about how there should be more women in politics; it started with this Tweet:

I went through this thread, started by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand saying that 2020 should see more women elected into office, and I replied to every shmuck I saw who felt the need to say, “Voting for women just because they’re women? That’s sexist! You should support the best candidate whoever it is.”

Like this dude:

And this one:

And, of course, from the Trump Camp:

Each of these replies led to a mini-argument, because both I and my interlocutors are men: we feel the need to always get the last word. (See, that was sexist. Trying to offer helpful illustrations here.) Several of these little tiffs followed the same course. I replied:

Let me be clear about this, so that if anyone reading this blog finds themselves in a similar pit full of vipers, you have something handy to throw at them (Sorry it’s not a brick.). The argument that every single attempt to focus on sex is by definition sexism — like this, which I got several times:

— is a false equivalency. Sexism is not “by definition” any attempt to consider sex as a fact, and as an important fact; sexism is an attempt to oppress or denigrate someone on the basis of sex. When you’re using sex as an important consideration in how you relate to or deal with a person, that is only sexist if your consideration does harm and if your consideration is based on stereotyping or prejudice. If I were considering whether I wanted to date a person, I would consider their sex as an important factor in their dateability as I am a heterosexual male and thus would prefer to date women (A much more important factor is that I am ecstatically and joyfully married to the greatest woman alive, but this is just a f’rinstance); this is not a sexist consideration. If I were an OBGYN, I would certainly consider sex as an important factor in determining which patient I would take on, and how to treat them; this also is not a sexist consideration, even if it means I refuse to treat a man solely on the basis of his sex.

It’s not sexist because it isn’t doing harm: my refusing to date a man doesn’t hurt him (Believe me: he’s better off. I am not a catch. Look at how I spent New Year’s.), and an OBGYN refusing to take on a male patient is a recognition of specialized knowledge on the part of the doctor, and a lack of need of that knowledge on the part of the patient; that would be saving harm, or at least inefficiency as the OBGYN wastes their valuable time trying to help a patient who could just as easily be treated by a general practitioner, thus taking time away from someone who could only be treated by that OBGYN. Now, if it was a medical emergency and the OBGYN was the only doctor available, then it would be more questionable if the doctor refused to treat the man, but it would depend on what the reason was. If it was prejudice or stereotyping– that is, that doctor has already made a determination of the worth or character of this man because he is a man (pre-judging him), or if the doctor refuses because this man is like all other men and all men are scum because of their mannishness (stereotyping) —  and the refusal to treat did harm, then that would be sexist.

Let me also note here that transgendered people negate this example I’m giving here: because there are trans men who do, in fact, need the specialized services of an OBGYN since they are men with uteruses; and of course there are many women who have no particular need for an OBGYN because they are women without uteruses (There are other reasons to see an OBGYN. Forgive my reductionism; I think it necessary.). I do not mean to ignore trans people, who should not be simply considered an addendum, an asterisk, a qualification to the usual or norm or standard; but on the other hand, it is impossible to have a discussion of sexism in this society without talking about men and women, and since I’m advocating for building equity, I can’t talk about moving away from gender entirely, which would also solve this problem. I’m going to write a full post about trans people tomorrow, but I want to finish the point I’m making now, today.

I realize I’m overexplaining; it’s not because I think my readers — who, I have no doubt, are people of taste and discrimination and brilliant erudition — need to be taught the meaning of prejudice or stereotyping, or even sexism; it’s because these words are being misused, usually intentionally, and I think the best way to combat that is with absolute pedantic clarity: i.e., overexplaining. Mansplaining. Which, when you do it to fellow men, is just kinda funny.

Which is what I did with my fellow Twits.

All right, I was also sarcastic there with the “more than one thought at a time” comment. But at this point I was realizing that I was arguing with at least a couple of bots or trolls, and ideally those shouldn’t be engaged with — certainly not in an incendiary way, as that will only piss off the people who agree with the bot’s statements, and I believe quite strongly that, while we should stand up for what is right and argue our points clearly, we also should not try to anger our opponents; good argument leads more often to compromise, but angry diatriabes lead to division and more conflict. So I shouldn’t have said this, but hey, I’m on Twitter too: so I’m either trash or fire. Or both.

The main point is my last sentence there. Seeking equity is not sexist. I typed that half a dozen times in response to half a dozen accusations of sexism. (I would have typed out this entire blog, instead, but there’s a 280 character limit. Sometimes I find Twitter very frustrating. But I consider it my penance: mortification of the verbosity.) That’s the real point I want to make here.

Here’s the deal: when men have created a situation where we inherently, by nature of our sex, have an easier time running for and winning elected office — and we have done that, starting most clearly in this country with a Constitution which did not recognize a woman’s right to vote or hold office but only white men’s — then the best way to combat that is to write laws that specifically include women as equal to men, and eliminate laws that make women unequal to men. In both cases, women will benefit more than men, because in the first case women will gain more than men will, and in the second, men will lose a perquisite they have had up until now. But this is not harming men: it is taking away something we have no right to, unequal privileges, in order to create equity, and justice. It is returning what was stolen. It is balancing the scales.

And while it is entirely true that male elected officials are capable of doing that, and historically some have done so, this is also true:

Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

–Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

That means the best way to address the institutional inequalities and injustices in our society is not to beg those in power to do the right thing; it is to empower those who have something to gain from doing the right thing. That way we all gain justice and equality, and, quite simply, a better society.

And that means electing more women.

Let’s make it happen in 2020.

 

This Morning

This morning I am thinking of a strange question. It is: how right do I have to be?

My thinking of it now comes from an ill-advised dip back into a particular cesspit of an argument from my past. I didn’t win the argument, because I threw up my hands and walked away. I think I did the right thing for my sanity, but I’ve never been happy with failing to win the argument. I want to be entirely right. I am still somewhat haunted by the idea that I may not be right at all, because if I’m not right in an argument that I feel strongly about, but can’t muster the intellectual chops to actually win on the battleground, as it were — what does that mean for my other ideas that seem right, that feel right? Does it mean that nothing I think is right, at least not right enough to win an argument over it?

Does that matter?

Hence my question. How right do I have to be?

Let me give an example, and see if I can illustrate the conundrum here. I have found myself, as a high school teacher of English and therefore of persuasive essays, rhetoric, and argumentation, discussing the legalization of drugs in the U.S. time and time again over the last twenty years. It  is always a topic that comes  up, and now that I’m doing argument with three of my classes, it has come up again.

My opinion on the issue is complex, and not worth hashing out again now; I’ve written about it too many times. (Here’s one. And here’s another. Second one has a better soundtrack.) For this example, all I want to say is this: I waver on whether or not it would be a good idea to legalize all of the drugs. I see arguments for both sides. I don’t know which side has the better points, the truer final argument; I’m not sure which to choose. That’s why my opinion is complex, and why I keep coming back to it, never fully comfortable with my decisions about what policy to support, not sure how to come to a final conclusion.

The question is, should I keep doing this? Should I keep coming back and thinking about it again and again? On some level that is valuable, as it keeps making me revisit my own past opinions and decisions, and I think the changed perspective through time gives good insight. I also think it’s valuable not to get too dogmatic about things — though I confess I enjoy appearing dogmatic, and I often act as if I have not a scintilla of doubt in my mind about various opinions; but mostly that’s for show. There are few things that I’m 100% sure about — mostly it’s that my wife is the best wife in the whole world, education is entirely good  as a concept, if not as an institution, and reading is the greatest thing in the world, except maybe for the satisfaction of basic needs like food and sleep and hugs.

So it may not be bad that I can’t come to a final determination. On the other hand, if there is a 100% right answer and I can know it, then that is the thing I should be working towards and supporting and arguing for, right? Shouldn’t I do the right thing? If I can know the right thing, then I can do the right thing; and that means I should figure out how to know the right thing and go from there. Because  if I’m not doing the right thing, then I’m doing or on some level participating in the wrong thing, and I don’t want that.

How much do I have to know to know the right thing? Beyond a reasonable doubt? 110% entirely completely sure, with evidence and logic to back me up? If it’s the second one, then I have to be very careful about what arguments I take up, as settling them with absolute clarity and certainty would take a crap-ton of time and effort, and I can’t do that with every argument; so I need to be selective.

How do I know which arguments are worth taking up and finding out the definite answer to? Is there a 100% true answer as to which arguments I should be arguing? Is that what I should spend my time on  first, deciding what to know?

If it doesn’t have to be 100% certainty before I can know the right thing, then what else do I use as the basis of my decisions? They feel right? They seem right, based on my upbringing and my culture and my morality? Why would I assume those things are right, especially in the face of obvious arguments to the contrary, things about this culture that strongly imply that this culture is wrong? I am and have been wrong countless times; why would I ever trust my gut on anything of import?

But if I don’t trust my gut, who or what do I trust?

This comes up in my writing, too. I have to decide what the right story is to tell. Writers’ advice tells me to tell the story I feel I have to tell, and satisfy my own inner critic first; but what if I have several stories I feel I have to tell? Which one comes first? And what if my inner critic is an idiot? How can I know?

Do I actually need to trace out the entire epistemology and philosophical basis for all knowledge, so I can be sure of my knowledge,  so I can be sure of my decisions? How long will that take? How many aspects of life will it apply to — and how many will I lose because I’m focusing on this one endeavor, seeking purity of knowledge and purpose? And if  I go out and read all the books that underpin Western reason, how sure can I be that those authors followed the same rigorous standard for confidence in their ideas? What if they went with their guts, rather than establishing a sound logical basis for everything they say?

Does that mean they were wrong?

Does that mean I can’t actually trace perfect knowledge and understanding and thus make a 100% perfect decision?

Yeah, I don’t think I can do that last one, either. So if there can’t be a 100% perfect decision, is there at least a sound basis, a bedrock to build knowledge on? Or is it just turtles all the way down?

Image result for turtles all the way down

Image taken from here. And it’s for sale, and you can vote for it.

So that’s the question, then: how right do I have to be before I make a decision about what side to choose, who to support, how to argue? How right is right enough? How aware is aware enough? And is it even so bad to be wrong, or to change my mind?

I don’t know this answer. I’m genuinely not sure I should know — but regardless, I want to.

I suppose I can only start  by asking the question.

If anyone has an answer, I’d surely like to hear it. And if I have confused you entirely, I apologize; I feel the same way, believe me.

And I don’t know what to do about it.

I said I would still rant a little.

Let’s talk.

I know I just said last night that I was going to reduce the rants and move towards a simple journal about my experience trying to be a published writer. I also said I was terrible at arguing. Both of those things are true.

But also, I think that continuing the conversation is vital to our democracy. People frequently blame our president for his continuous denigration of the media, and you can see the results in how frequently that charge is echoed by his supporters; but the free press alone is not enough to protect our country and our liberties. We all need to think about it, and talk about it. The women’s marches, last year and this, are a wonderful example of citizens participating in the conversation, and the interview I heard this morning on NPR in which a woman criticized the marches for not having a clear message was, I think, missing the point. If you are determined that the answer must be clearly known and entirely solidified before you speak up, before you take action, then you’re assuming that the answer is simple, and therefore so is the problem.

We’re talking about our country. Our democracy. It is not simple. Especially not when you also include women’s rights in our society, women’s issues within our culture, gender politics, and the culture of sexual assault and harassment in the conversation. I recognize that the woman making the comment on the radio was trying to say that we should limit the conversation to a single talking point, but then it becomes easy to discard because that single talking point doesn’t affect everyone. Sometimes a single issue should be the exclusive focus, but sometimes it should be broader. Both types of conversation are necessary: a marriage can’t be considered healthy just because the two people have figured out who does the dishes, but no marriage can go on without figuring out who does the dishes.

So here’s a conversation I came across and that I would like to participate in. Not as an argument, just a conversation. It’s a couple of days old, now, but if Fox News will let me, I will link to this blog in the comments, and see if anyone gives me a response. I welcome responses of any kind.

It’s an op-ed called The Truth About Trump’s First Year, by Allen C. Guelzo, a professor of history at Gettysburg University. The first victory for the president, according to Professor Guelzo, is simply that he is still president:

 

But despite the Russia investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, despite the unrelenting fury of the princes of the op-ed pages, despite President Trump’s hiring of staff he was forced to fire, and despite his much-criticized tweets, the president is still in charge at the White House. And he appears to be wearing down all but his severest critics.

 

The last sentence is the thesis of the essay (though Guelzo goes a bit further than that by the end of the piece), that the President is convincing all and sundry that, actually, he’s doing a better job than we have given him credit for. The slant of the piece is apparent in the list of “despites:” the Mueller investigation is not over, of course, and Professor Guelzo does not list the various elements of the investigation that have already called the president’s actions and associations into question; the “unrelenting fury of the princes of the op-ed pages” is a wonderfully loaded phrase, calling into question both the rationality and impartiality of the pundits, and also implying they are undemocratic, unlike the Man of the People in the White House (I will not point out that Mr. Guelzo is himself declaiming on the opinion page, as I’m doing the same; but I will include this picture of the Man of the People.);

Image result for trump private residence the tweets are “much-criticized” not because we’re all biased against the President, but because the man should not Tweet as he does – and nearly every interview I hear with a supporter of the President says the same. You think there’s broad bipartisan support for DACA? Run a poll on whether or not Twitter should close the President’s account. So I think that Professor Guelzo is already discounting things that should not be discounted, in any assessment of the President’s first year in office.

But let’s see how the President is wearing down his critics. The first issue raised is ISIS: Guelzo refers to a New York Times op-ed that discussed the collapse of the Islamic State this past year; the author, Ross Douthat, who describes himself in the piece as focusing primarily on finding fault with the President’s actions, grudgingly gives the President some of the credit for ISIS’s collapse:

So very provisionally, credit belongs where it’s due — to our soldiers and diplomats, yes, but to our president as well.

But Douthat’s argument isn’t terribly good, either:

I mean the war against the Islamic State, whose expansion was the defining foreign policy calamity of Barack Obama’s second term, whose executions of Americans made the U.S.A. look impotent and whose utopian experiment drew volunteers drunk on world-historical ambitions and metaphysical dreams. Its defeat was begun under Obama, and the hardest fighting has been done by Iraqis — but this was an American war too, and we succeeded without massive infusions of ground troops, without accidentally getting into a war with Russia, and without inspiring a huge wave of terrorism in the West.

Right, so as Douthat himself states, the war effort began under Mr. Obama, and was fought primarily by troops from the countries involved – Iraqis in the struggle to overthrow ISIS in their country, and Kurds and Arab soldiers in Syria; at least 160,000 fighting troops, and about 2,000 U.S. advisers, plus the American personnel carrying out airstrikes and artillery support – and so I immediately have to question how much of an American war this was. Yes, we were involved; but the President changed very little about that, he didn’t send more troops, didn’t appreciably change the strategy or the resources, didn’t bring new allies into the coalition. He gave the U.S. generals more freedom in deciding strategy, but how much influence did that really have? Were our generals behind the actual strategy as carried out by the fighting men? And then the success markers Douthat lists – we DIDN’T send in thousands of American troops, we DIDN’T get into a war with Russia, we DIDN’T inspire new terrorists (Well. Not yet. Right?) – I mean, that’s a low bar. I didn’t do any of those things, either. Can I have credit for the victory? (Snark aside, this article from the Guardian makes a compelling argument that the collapse of the actual Caliphate was inevitable, and that we have not yet seen what will come of ISIS as a stateless terrorist organization, which is what we have made of al Qaeda and the Taliban – both of which we are still fighting. I think this is not much of a victory at all, let alone a victory for the President. I will also say that the collapse of the Islamic State is a good thing, and that U.S. forces do deserve some credit.)

Next in Professor Guelzo’s argument is this:

Douthat’s observation was followed by never-Trumper and fellow columnist Bret Stephens’ insistence that, despite the collapse of ISIS and other achievements, President Trump must remain beyond the pale because he lacks “character.”

What Stephens didn’t say was that the Constitution does not list “character” as a prerequisite for the presidency, nor do voters necessarily reward it – or punish a perceived lack of character.

The issue of “character” certainly did nothing to affect Bill Clinton, or, for that matter, Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy. Stephens’ attack was a pout, and when pundits turn to pouting, it means they have lost faith in their own argument.

This is, unsurprisingly, a poor rendition of Stephens’s argument. Stephens, who calls himself a conservative, discusses how the conservative viewpoint was once the one that touted character as the most important criterion for political office; he describes how the President’s particular personality has had harmful effects on his own administration. He makes a dozen points to support his contention, and to dismiss them all with “Well, character’s not in the Constitution!” is a pretty ridiculous red herring. Guelzo’s other point about character not affecting Clinton or Kennedy or Johnson is obviously false: Clinton was destroyed by the Lewinsky scandal, and Gore was sunk by the same torpedo; whether or not Kennedy would have been affected by character assassination was made moot by the other assassination. Professor’s Guelzo’s argument regarding this President seems to be that if one gets elected, and does not specifically violate the requirements in the Constitution, then that shows that one is satisfactorily performing the office.

I suppose we’re not going to talk about the emoluments clause. Did you know that Trump never even set up the blind trust (which wasn’t going to be that blind since his children are not exactly disconnected from him) for his company? I didn’t know that either.

Guelzo then refers to a third New York Times columnist, David Brooks, who wrote about how people meeting the President are surprised to find that he’s not actually a lunatic in person. I suppose that’s a victory. This is followed with these critiques of the left’s response to the President’s inauguration:

[A]s we turn the page on President Trump’s first year in office, the dirigible of anti-Trumpism is assuming an amusingly deflated look. It actually began deflating in the first few weeks of the Trump presidency, after Antifa thugs gave the “resistance” a self-inflicted black eye and a “Women’s March” made the wearing of funny hats its biggest accomplishment.

All right: so “Antifa thugs” that gave the resistance a black eye is only valid from a specific point of view, one that was looking for a black eye to give the left after the largest single protest movement in the history of humankind – which, apparently, only accomplished the wearing of funny hats. I think the only response to this is to reverse it: the white supremacists in Charlottesville gave the President’s party a black eye, which they tried to cover up with their MAGA hats. No, that’s not all the Republican party and the conservative movement accomplished in the last year, and the very worst elements affiliated with the right should not taint that entire half of the political spectrum. So too with the Women’s March or Antifa, which all by itself should not be tainted by its worst members – none of whom, I will say, drove their car into protestors.

What’s next, Professor Guelzo?

President Trump succeeded in getting Neil Gorsuch confirmed to fill the seat on the Supreme Court vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. In addition to Gorsuch, the Senate has confirmed 22 Trump nominees for federal appeals and district courts, with another 43 awaiting action.

What’s more, as Jonathan Adler of the Case Western Reserve University Law School has said: “The overall intellectual caliber of Trump’s nominees has been as high, if not higher, than any recent predecessor. That’s almost the opposite of what you might have expected.”

Okay, this is certainly an accomplishment; the appointment of Justice Gorsuch was one of the most pivotal issues that swung traditional conservatives to support the rather unconventional candidate picked by the GOP’s base. Turns out that this is actually an impressive number of judicial appointments:

Trump ranks sixth of 19 presidents filling the highest number of judgeships at the Supreme, appellate and District Court levels in their first year in office, while Obama ranked tenth, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis Friday.

The president has appointed 23 judges, including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, a dozen appellate court judges and 10 District Court judges. Obama appointed 13 judges—Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, three appellate court judges and nine District Court judges.

Source

Of course, context is everything. You know that, Professor: you’re a teacher. You teach history, for Pete’s sake. Why would you drain all the context out of this, if not to achieve a slanted partisan talking point?

Context:

Trump’s success comes in part from the fact that the GOP holds a slim majority in the Senate, which confirms Trump’s picks. In addition, Republican senators in Obama’s first five years blocked three dozen judicial nominations, Politifact found. Democrats used a simple majority to pass most judicial confirmation votes, not a super-majority of 60.

“Nominations pretty much came to a halt until the start of the Trump administration when the Senate started quickly confirming his nominees,” University of Georgia law professor Susan Brodie Haire told the LA Times.

Source

 

And as to Professor Guelzo’s comments about the intellectual prowess of Trump’s nominees, this is why he went with the opinion of a single pundit using a single subjective metric:

However, the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary has rated four of Trump’s nominees as “not qualified,” which is close to 14 percent of his picks and a higher percentage than recent presidents.

Of the 23 confirmed judges, only nine have previous judicial experience and most have backgrounds in litigation in either private practice or government. The association bases its ratings not on candidates’ politics, but their “integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament,” its guidelines state.

And while 23 confirmed appointments and 43 awaiting processing is impressive,

There are still more than 140 vacancies in the federal judiciary.

Source

 

Context, Professor.

At this point in the piece, however, Professor Guelzo does take on a more fair and balanced view of the President’s first year in office.

And despite an undeniable string of misfires with Congress (especially on the “repeal and replace” of ObamaCare), there are now more grins than grimaces among Trump loyalists from the increasing number of successes the president has scored over trade deals (withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership), the repair of the crucial diplomatic relationship with Israel, the decline in illegal border crossings, and the economy.

I mean, the withdrawal from TPP may have been a victory, but I have heard nothing but negatives about the renegotiation of NAFTA, the withdrawal from the Paris Accord, the attempted scuttling of the Iran nuclear deal. I suppose we have improved our relationship with Israel, though of course there are two sides in Israel and we have pleased the hardline conservative faction while upsetting the more liberal faction, so it’s more that the President shifted our relationship with Israel than that he repaired it; the President’s decision to move the U.S. embassy has also made our relationships with Arab nations much more difficult, especially Jordan, a nation whose population is 30% naturalized Palestinians, with another 2 million Palestinian refugees living in the country.

So what’s the clear victory here? Must be this:

“It’s the economy, stupid,” was once a Democratic battle cry; it may now become President Trump’s.

The Dow Jones industrial average has soared from 18,259 on the day President Trump was elected to over 26,000, in what one analyst called “the most doubted bull market of all time.” New jobs created topped 200,000 in December, driving the unemployment rate down to 4.1 percent – the lowest in 17 years.

 

I mean, how can I argue with this?

Luckily for me, I don’t have to. Professor Guelzo argued it for me.

 

Anti-Trump diehards will argue that these are not really Trump accomplishments at all, but the last successes of the Obama years. There is probably some truth in that. The reality is, though, that it’s irrelevant.

Every president takes the credit (or assumes the blame) for what occurs on his watch, and harvests the votes afterward.

 

Simply put, I don’t think the truth is irrelevant. I don’t think the ability to “harvest votes” (A strange phrase, when one thinks that every vote is a person) justifies all. He’s right, of course, that every president takes credit for things that aren’t his doing; but that sucks, and we shouldn’t accept it, let alone encourage it.

So let’s tell the truth. President Obama was not the greatest president in history. Nor was President Clinton. The Democratic Party has done some really bad work in the last two decades, including the catastrophe of the 2016 primaries that led to Hillary Clinton’s nomination. (Some specifics: President Obama never dealt with Guantanamo; the continued and in some ways intensified involvement in Middle East nation building – the longest war in our history, presided over by Obama longer than any other president including Bush – has had terrible consequences; Obamacare is a travesty of a gutted compromise when what we should have had was single-payer healthcare, or nothing. President Clinton ravaged the welfare system, took down the Glass-Steagall Act and thereby was the single most important precursor of the 2007 Wall Street collapse, and yeah, really did lack character in important ways, which have continued to resonate to this day. And the 2016 primaries? Superdelegates and collusion among the DNC leadership, anyone?) I also have argued and will continue to argue that the President should not be impeached until and unless he is proven to have committed high crimes and misdemeanors against this nation, just as I argued that President Clinton should not have been impeached just because he cheated on his wife; the idea that he lied about it and therefore perjured himself was too much of the snake eating its own tail. I think the Russia investigation is important to restore some faith and credibility to a democracy that got invaded by Russian hackers; but I doubt that it will bring down the President, and unless Mueller finds evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors committed by the President, evidence that has so far been nonexistent, it should not bring him down.

And on the other hand: it’s the economy, stupid. Our current President deserves little if any credit for the unemployment rate, which has been going down steadily since its height in 2008-2009. The arguments that conservatives have been using to knock that progress, that the official unemployment rate doesn’t include those who gave up looking for work, and that the current rate doesn’t reflect the number of people who are underemployed, are still true. The bull stock market only increases wealth disparity, as it concentrates more wealth in the hands of those who had the money to invest big in the market before it went up, an issue which the tax overhaul only intensified, and no amount of short-term tax cuts for the 99% can counteract. Income inequality is the number one place where our entire government, of millionaires for millionaires, fails to act to protect our country and our citizens; I hope I don’t need to actually argue that the election of a billionaire real estate developer has not brought progress on this issue. The deficit and national debt have been increased, as it always is by the majority party when they are in control, and despite past Republican claims that they would rein in spending, despite the President’s claims that he would drain the swamp and oppose the entrenched Washington interests. Did you see, by the way, that the President has now said that he will campaign for incumbents? Or at least that he’ll avoid primaries?

At the same time, the President has launched an all-out war against immigrants, which has had the effect of scaring millions of people, and therefore both reducing border crossings and increasing tension with other countries; I can’t see it as a good thing in the final summation – though it has not yet run its course, so we’ll have to wait and see before we can judge that. He has agitated our enemies (Iran, North Korea) and insulted our allies (Germany and the EU, the Arab nations, and all of those shitholes). He has, whether Professor Guelzo wants to admit it or not, so soiled the office of the Presidency that even his staunchest allies are forced to turn hypocrite or offer weak criticisms of his Tweeting while ignoring the bullying, the accusations of sexual assault and misconduct, and the clear racism. It’s true that poor character is not the exclusive province of the President; but it’s also true that he does exhibit it to an extent that Americans should decry, regardless of their positions on policy. It’s a tired trope, but I would get fired if I did half the shit that the President does, and I’m only responsible for a hundred or so students. That’s the truth.

Conservatives may be pleased by the reduction of regulations, by the dismantling of the EPA and the Department of Education; they should be pleased by the appointment of conservative judges, particularly Justice Gorsuch. I’m sure corporations are still whooping it up over the tax cuts, and those who are seeing direct benefits, such as the increased wages and the bonuses, should be happy too. The current administration has had victories, both symbolic and practical.

But that’s not the whole story. And the conversation should continue, and continue to be as honest as we can possibly make it.