April 2021 Archives

Dear America,

It can be hard to separate what is personal from what matters in the more universal sense.  I was reading a piece by Frank Bruni in the New York Times today and it occurred to me that I didn't know what he was talking about.  I have always been a literalist when it comes to the language in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  The most basic proposition of which we as Americans subscribe to, in my estimation, is that every one of us is entitled to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  That is arguably the creed of the United States of America.  It exceeds in importance the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, statutes and both constitutional law and common law ever since.  But in this piece by Bruni, he expressed his sentiments about a law passed in Arkansas, vetoed by its governor, Asa Hutchinson, and then passed again by the legislature of Arkansas over Hutchinson's veto, that I gather bars attempts to facilitate conversion of gender by youths below 18 years of age trying to become who they know themselves to be.  The problem is that as I read the piece, I could not identify what Bruni was saying was objectionable.  Understand me.  Bruni is a self-professed gay male.  And I am certain that his point was that if a person feels that he or she is trapped in a body of the gender that isn't his or hers, he or she should be free to rectify the quirk of nature that led to that incongruity.  But as I read his recapitulation of the terms of the legislation, I couldn't tell from the terminology what he was objecting to.  Let me be specific.

I have felt from when I was old enough to ideate on the subject that the Declaration of Independence was irrefutable.  We all have the right to pursue happiness as we see fit.  But let me be clear.  That doesn't mean at the expense of others, but it does mean that when we seek happiness, we have the right to do so sans such harm to others.  Thus in my and many other opinions, when we talk about gender conversion, or reassignment as I have heard it termed--and about ancillary therapy as well--it is our right as individuals to pursue such remedies as are available to us to address the related deep-seated incongruities about gender identity that inner awareness impinges on in some of us.  And to be fair, I think that was Bruni's point.  The law being pushed through the legislative process by Alabama Republicans is an abomination.  It serves no purpose other than to thwart the self-actualization of people who aren't hurting anyone.  It is pompous positivism intended by conservative Republicans to affirm beliefs that no one involved shares with them, and more importantly, that affects the lives of no one other than those who will be harmed by the law.  It is anti-American, and more importantly, it is inhumane.  But why do I write to you tonight, America?

My purpose isn't to take Frank Bruni to task.  My purpose isn't to take you to task either.  My purpose is to make the point that there is a sanctimonious sadism to the conservative Republican impetus toward passing this legislation that cannot be countenanced.  It is one thing to promote values that require affirmation in order for the affirmer to live what he or she conceives to be a virtuous life.  But it is an entirely different thing to interpose one's beliefs between another's happiness and the necessary measures he or she can take to secure it.  It goes beyond spite and becomes sadism in the kind of concerted effort that the Arkansas statutes on gender reassignment comprise.  The outright arrogance and tyranny that Arkansas's Republicans have now indulged in is something that they will have to answer to their God for, and I don't say things like that lightly.  My agnosticism prevents me from making such imprecations in general, but in this instance, I cannot resist.  They claim that God is on their side, and they had better hope that they are right.  This measure defies moral justification, and ultimately, they will have to explain, to a higher authority if they are rightly faithful in that higher authority, their role in passing it.

The fact is that this isn't the first conservative, Republican action that makes these reproaches appropriate.  The Trump presidency has manifested opportunity after opportunity for Republicans to evince hypocrisy, and they seem to have seized on every one of them.  The consequence is that, according to recent polls, Democrats outnumber them by 9% points whereas the advantage was only 4% before the Trump era.  And it isn't that the Democrats have gained so much...just a few percentage points.  But those who characterized themselves as independents are now getting close to comprising half of the electorate, which suggests that pedantry and peremptory moralism may be waning in our society...and for the better. 

So, to the point, we have to put aside our tendency to speak in clinical terms about what are essentially social and moral issues.  Transgender people are just trying to make lives for themselves as are all of the rest of us.  And as long as they don't interfere with our efforts, why should we interfere with theirs.  In fact, why can't we just leave each other alone and tend to what's important: economic inequality, poverty among those who work all day every day but remain impoverished, children who don't have enough to eat or places to go where they can learn what they need to know to get along in our society, and on and on.  Seeing all that people in America suffer daily, I can't help but think that we all know what those things are, and in the case of Arkansas, that we have better things to do.

Your friend,

Mike

Dear America,

Like every other American who pays attention to the world around him, I am constantly assessing sources of information in order to ensure that the fact on which I base my opinions are unvarnished.  In that connection, I subscribe to the New York Times Friday through Sunday, Friday and Saturday being the most active news days.  This week, The Times published a synopsis of the Georgia election law changes that the Republican legislature in the state passed recently, which the Republican governor praised as enhancements of voting rights as opposed to the circumscription of them seen by those outside the state.  The Times has been part of the outcry over the changes, and in service of their editorial opinion, they printed the major provisions of the new voting laws along with expositions on them so as to ostensibly make clear the implications of those statutory provisions.  It's all somewhat obscure, but when I read the whole piece, I came away with a disconcerting conclusion: even The Times has to be scrutinized rather than believed without question.

There's no need to go through all of it here; if you're interested you can read the piece on the internet.  But while some of the provisions are absolutely intended to winnow voting rights in the more populous, Democratic, liberal areas of Georgia...in the cities, where most of the minority population lives in other words...some of the new voting law harkens back to when I first got to vote in the late sixties.  I was still a college student and you had only one day to vote back then, at least as far as I can remember.  Thus, all this fuss over extended voting is something of a revelation to me.  Mind you, I'm not against it for several reasons, not the least of which is that most people of voting age have to work or be away from home for one reason or another, thus rendering extended opportunities to vote, including early voting and absentee voting, not just desirable but a virtual necessity.  And as the income gap between those on the top of the economic heap and those on the bottom broadens, the availability of transportation to remote voting places diminishes for those most in need of the right to vote: those who have the least are in many respects the most politically disadvantaged, and thus the most in need of representation in the halls of political power.  That's why reducing the number of ballot boxes in the state and moving them into polling places that are presumably closed for most hours of the day is anti-democratic.  Similarly, prohibiting in a couple of ways the provision of water and food to those forced to stand on long lines for hours because state, county and local governments have provided so few polling places is suppressive, as is requiring the requirement of the provision of driver's license numbers from those requesting and casting absentee ballots.  But on the other hand, reducing the period during which one can vote from months to weeks doesn't seem unreasonable.  And though the use of deprivation of food and water to those on line is flagrantly inequitable, denying those who would do so the right to lobby for votes among those on line, in particular trying to bribe them with food and water is not unacceptable, at least to me.  Of course, prohibiting lobbying isn't synonymous with feeding and quenching thirst, and thus should have been accomplished in another way.

There's more to it, of course, and the law is quite extensive including both benign and malignant provisions, but the Times's adumbration of its provisions seems slanted to me, as has its coverage of some other things lately.  The Times seems eager to pillory Andrew Cuomo, for example, as I wrote recently.  And while I'm no fan of Donald Trump, some of the paper's analyses of what he did seemed, how shall I put it...tendentious.  Don't misunderstand me; I'm not accusing The Times of misreporting or slanting what it prints.  I'm just saying that the paper sometimes seemed to be soliciting a specific sentiment about things on which it reported over the recent past.

I still rely on the New York Times for facts, but I look at what they tell me critically.  I am not averse to fact checking the institution that I used to conceive to be the ultimate fact checker itself, which brings me to my point.  An old Marvin Gays song contains the lyric, "People believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you hear."  Of course that's hyperbole, but it bears heeding in this respect.  In carpentry, the rule is measure twice and cut once.  The same general principle applies to information.  Skepticism never hurt anyone.

Your friend,

Mike  

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from April 2021 listed from newest to oldest.

March 2021 is the previous archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.