Ben’s Diagram

(Poster from the Lex-Rock Women’s Rights Rally on Randolph Street, March, 2017.)

On a hot and dusty Friday afternoon, I head to a VFW about two miles from my home.  It’s not yet 4:30, and the parking lot is full.  I park, enter the low-slung building, hand my registration form to the woman at the door, and receive my yellow sticker, which I am supposed to wear on my clothing.  The yellow sticker serves to distinguish me from my green-sticker neighbors, whom I know well and respect.  Green-sticker attendees live in Rockbridge County, and we yellow-sticker folks are from the City of Lexington.  For this particular townhall meeting, all green sticker questions must be exhausted before a yellow sticker question is permitted.

I walk past a policeman, whose gun peeks out of the holster and who stands throughout the meeting.  As I sit at a table, placing my notebook and pen in front of me, I notice a cameraman and assume he’s from the local news, from WDBJ or WSLS, covering the visit to the Sixth District of our representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ben Cline (*check out Gene Zitver’s ClineWatch site).  The folding chairs placed in rows are mostly full, with a few of us late arrivals scattered at the back tables, plastic affairs likely impervious to late-night spills or multiple moves.

Representative Cline begins his remarks by saying that Washington, D.C., is “the most dysfunctional place on earth.” He insists that his work in Washington is to represent his constituents, “the constituents of the 6th District,” he adds with an air of implied complicity with us all.  At the same time, he makes sure we understand that green-sticker constituents will have priority for questions.  The meeting was to end at 6:00.  I left at 5:55, with a number of green-sticker folks still waiting to ask their questions. While the system is set up to prioritize questions from the people who live in the area where the townhall is held, and that seems perfectly reasonable, it also seems to have a weird marginalizing or isolating effect on attendees and to be strangely unaware of the semiotic weight of telling people to wear yellow stickers.

Representative Cline proceeds to speak for a full 45 minutes.  While he laments giving up his local law firm, he is excited to be a big boy in Washington.  He expresses glee that his new office building is close to a Dunkin’ Donuts (surely, any true man of the people would delight in this, right?).  He talks about the 6th District and how the district requires him to focus on education and labor.  His remarks on education include only higher education concerns; nothing at all is stated about the excellent (in some cases) or utterly failing (in other cases) public schools up and down the Shenandoah Valley.  Our county middle school has recently reported significant data on achievement gaps and alarming statistics on chronic absenteeism. These statistics seem to carry over to our county high school.  Ben doesn’t address any local issues surrounding public education because he prefers to talk about charter schools, about removing students from the environment rather than fixing the environment.

The filibuster continues.  I say “filibuster” because Ben is not surprising us with any new expressions of concern or desires to legislate for the common good.  Instead, he talks about developing relationships with other men in the House.  He reminds us that he begins the day with the pledge and a prayer.  He boasts that he is the only freshman Republican in the House to have a bill signed into law.  We learn that the bill modifies membership provisions for the American Legion so that more veterans can enjoy the social benefits of belonging.  While this is well and good, I’m longing to hear about substantive movement (or at least plans to move) on the big issues of education, health care, environmental protections, and gun reform.  Ben does not mention any of these issues.  He does not discuss them until he is asked directly about them in the Q&A stage.  Instead, Ben talks about human beings as “illegals” and discusses who does and does not “belong” in this country.

When Representative Cline chooses to become more representative and opens up the townhall to Q&A, my green-stickered friends start a series of excellent questions.  They broach healthcare and the high cost of pharmaceuticals, ERA and the need for increased constitutional protections for women, real bipartisanship versus the use of inflammatory rhetoric, Ben’s A+ rating from the NRA and its implications for how he will represent 6th District residents keenly interested in common sense gun reform.  For the issues Ben does not want to address (like healthcare), Ben simply says, “It’s a broken system.”  For the issues on which he disagrees with the direction of the question, Ben takes refuge in his favorite, “We just need to enforce current laws.”  How is this neglect (e.g. healthcare) and/or active, obstinate wrongheadedness (e.g. common sense gun reform) working for Ben’s constituents?  How is it working for the state of Virginia, or indeed for the United States?  Not well, I’d say.  And cherrypicking minor bits of minor legislation is just an insult.  Let’s remember the Newsweek headline from last year that said, “More Children Have Been Killed by Guns Since Sandy Hook than U.S. Soldiers in Combat since 9/11.”  Our pro-life representative seems a bit less pro-life in this context, doesn’t he? Ben preens as he announces that the cameraman in the room is from a Swiss television station interested in the United States and the NRA.  Nice A+ NRA photo op, Ben, at the expense of victim after victim of gun violence in the U.S.

For those who don’t regularly track the politics of the Virginia 6th, in January of this year, Ben Cline replaced Bob Goodlatte (*see this blog post and this one) as the district’s representative to the House.  Many of us in the 6th criticized Goodlatte’s utter absence up and down the western side of Virginia.  Friends and neighbors far more generous than I credit Ben Cline with at least showing up—scheduling town halls and visiting with residents of the 6th.  Of course, showing up is the right thing to do, but staging the town hall in the same way, time after time, locality after locality, without opening up ever to real dialogue to me creates the same absence established by Bob Goodlatte, only worse.  It is an abuse of sincere people who desire to speak up against injustice and ask in the kindest of ways for the most appropriate changes.  It is a violation of the good will of good people, and that is what sickens me about both Cline and the GOP.

I have written many blog posts that express my confusion and sadness at the silence of so many Republican voters before the utter debasement of humankind and the earth we inhabit.  I still feel that way.  Cline represents the rotten core of the GOP.  He seems uninterested in learning new things, unwilling to hear dissent, all too comfortable in his own contradictory stances, cruel in his desire to legislate against others’ humanity, and laughably proud of the tiniest of inconsequential legislative victories.  Does Ben Cline deserve the time and energies of thoughtful citizens, people concerned about escalating costs of lifesaving pharmaceuticals, increased vulnerability to guns gone wild, and the lack of women’s rights in the face of domestic violence and major reproductive challenges?  These thoughtful citizens wonder about the Ben Cline who presents himself as the aw-shucks reasonable guy at a town hall meeting he orchestrates and how he seems so different from the Ben Cline campaign guy who uses inflammatory rhetoric at election events and rallies.  It is all one and the same Ben Cline, the one who wants to get elected only to get elected again.

Let me say something more here.  Even if the political parties were reversed, and I were a Republican watching a Democratic representative yank me around, I’d be pissed.  I do not understand power for power’s sake, public presentation without real conversation, or hyper-staged events that in the end feel like the meaningless parades of the Castro era or the trumped-up falsity of the 2017 United States presidential inauguration.  I just don’t get it. From a humanitarian standpoint, I am relieved that more Republican Congresspeople are choosing not to run for re-election because they don’t see a place for themselves in the party.  As a freshman in the House, Representative Cline runs counter to this impulse, seeking power for power’s sake, constituents be damned.

In his town halls, Ben emphasizes “civility,” but what does this mean in a context where every element is controlled by the powerful guy in the suit? Ben gets to report that he holds townhalls and listens to his constituents, when actually he grandstands, offers banal information, tightly controls who can ask questions (and when and how), and replies with sometimes faulty, often conflicting stances.

Ben is the Groping Old Party, taking advantage of the time and good intentions of sincere constituents who want the best for the most people.

(My yellow sticker from the town hall meeting.  One yellow sticker is good for 90 minutes of being silenced.)

“We Have a Woman Problem”

In Season 4 of the compelling but deeply misogynistic The West Wing, lead characters Jed Bartlet, Leo McGarry, and Josh Lyman lament, “We have a woman problem.” The line strings through several episodes of the season, as the white, liberal-bro men in charge scurry to tack right to placate insistent constituencies without pissing off the women’s groups who are creating strong lobbies and insisting on recasting “women’s issues” as something far broader.  Just as these men underestimate the brain-power of the women in their families (thoracic surgeons; general practitioners; lawyers; school teachers), they undervalue the contributions and strategies of the women who work alongside them in Washington.  Anna Deveare Smith appears occasionally as Dr. Nancy McNally, the brilliant, no-nonsense NSA Director, but, besides this character, women of color are mostly absent from the show.

I would assert that the “woman problem” mapped on the fictional The West Wing is not that the women characters, drawn through the lens of Aaron Sorkin’s fear of the vagina dentata, will take good men down, but rather that powerful men will take for granted the support of women, and, as we know all too clearly from the 2016 presidential election, especially of women of color.  This The West Wing season, shot way back in the early aughts, presages much of what we have seen over the past two years, and specifically over the past week.

In fact, I started writing this post several days ago, before Lindsey Graham asserted that the GOP has to address “the suburban woman problem” (cited here in Politico).  On this NBC News clip, Graham states, “I think the Kavanaugh effect was real.   […] I’ve never seen anything in my life bring the Republican Party together more than the, uh, Kavanaugh hearing.”  Of course, he adds, that the “conservative judicial train will keep running.”  Let’s pause for a moment here.  Although most of us are not surprised, we should take an extra moment to absorb Graham’s statement (so contradictory to his worry about Trump’s appropriateness as a presidential candidate way back in 2016).  How do you translate this statement in plain-speak?:  “We Republicans support rape and rapists so that we can own the Judiciary.  Why, of course we do.  We count on rapists and rape to push our agenda down the throats of those who elected us, and those who didn’t.”  The metaphors represent a frightening reality of GOP control.

(The only levity I can introduce here is the striking resemblance between Lindsey Graham (in the NBC video) and Gumby.  How the hell has Gumby gained so much power?)

(Do you see it?)

What Graham, and his fictional predecessors, ignore at their own peril is that “the woman problem” now reaches far beyond just white women.

“The woman problem” reflects a bigger blue wave than most dudishly interrupting pundits could conceive of this past Tuesday night.  “The woman problem,” encapsulated in the reality of living with a Groping Old President, should now be seen as a woman-Muslim-Latina/o/x-LGBTQIA-Black Lives Matter-Native American-decent men big-ass wave of dissent against the white supremacist who occupies the White House and his fawning, spineless, power-hungry, weak-ass, and selfish lackeys.  We can look at the “me” of #MeToo in a broad, inclusive, representative way.  Just look at all the people who want and need to say, “Me Too.” (*See Michelle Goldberg’s “Women’s Revolt” piece in The New York Times; see also Jill Filopovic’s “Women’s Wave” piece in The New York Times.)

In summary:

You think you’ll support “both sides” in Charlottesville?

You steal votes from any person or demographic who in body alone challenges white male supremacy?

You withdraw from the Paris Accord?

You actually believe scary-ass liar-rapist Brett Kavanaugh?

You dog-whistle violence against Black and Jewish citizens?

You commit the ultimate fascist act of separating families?

You attempt to gaslight a nation?

If so, then get ready for more than “just” a “woman problem.”  The results in the House tell us that we want and need elected officials who understand and represent the many ways in which these United States are changing, the very changes so deeply feared by the white men who chanted on August 11 and 12, 2017, “You…will not…replace us.”

Most news outlets (e.g. NPR; USA Today; CNN) have reported by now that the United States has now elected more than 100 women to seats in the House of Representatives.  This historic group includes Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Latina and the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress, Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, the first Native American women elected to Congress, Ayanna Pressley, the first black woman from Massachusetts to be elected to Congress, and Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia, the first Texas Latinas to be elected to Congress.  This is fantastic news!  In addition, several states have elected women governors for the first time (Iowa, Maine, South Dakota), and we are still waiting to hear what will happen with Stacey Abrams’ outstanding run for Governor of Georgia, against the astonishingly corrupt Brian Kemp.  Fingers crossed for justice to be served in the final recounts in Arizona and Florida senate races.

In my own district in Virginia, the deeply red hues have molted with the amazing candidacy of Jennifer Lewis and her historic run against Ben Cline, the sort-of-but-not-quite bro-dude tapped by the elusive Bob Goodlatte to take over Virginia’s 6th District’s post in the House.  Cline has a clear “woman problem,” and this will become only more evident as he attempts to push Handmaid’s Tale agendas through a now blue House.

Jared Polis’ victory for the governorship of Colorado marks the first time an openly gay man will move into a governor’s mansion.  There is much to celebrate, including the declaration in this The New York Times piece that, “The shift to the left in the House in the 2018 Midterm elections went well beyond the districts Democrats flipped” (see their linked article, “Sizing Up the 2018 Blue Wave,” which examines more closely the 222-196 Democratic victory in the House and states that “the overwhelming trend on Tuesday was a blue shift: 317 districts swung to the left”).

In 2019, even with what the Brookings Institute has dubbed “Another ‘Year of the Woman,’”  women will still represent less than one-fourth of Congress, even though women are over 51% of our nation.  Nevertheless, at the very least, when we think about women and how they/we have worked to undo a fascist regime bent on cruelty and violence, we can think more broadly—not just white and not just cis—as we expand our understanding of humans, collaboration, and representation.

Bring it.  Freaking bring it.

Ben Cline. Sigh.

(Poster from the Lexington-Rockbridge Women’s Rights Rally, March, 2017)

For this week’s post, I am sharing a version of the letter to the editor that I have just written for our local newspaper, The News-Gazette (Lexington, VA), along with some additional comments about Ben Cline’s town hall meeting, held last month in Buena Vista, VA.  For those of you who are reading from outside the Virginia 24th or the Federal 6th District, you might want to re-read this Gender Shrapnel Blog post from last March.  Please note, too, that Ben Cline has declared his intention to run for Congressman Bob Goodlatte’s U.S. House of Representatives seat, which conservative, deaf-to-his-constituents-Goodlatte  has held since…wait for it…1992.

Editor, The News-Gazette:

There was already cause for concern that Ben Cline has been elected to the Virginia House of Delegates for an eighth term, but Lexington and Rockbridge County voters should be even more alarmed now that Cline plans to make a bid for the United States House of Representatives. That’s right, the person who claims on his website to be “cleaning up the political cronyism that grips our system” hopes to be anointed Goodlatte’s successor in November.  Let’s not allow that to happen.

In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) won an historic decision in the case of an Arkansas woman who was shackled to her hospital bed while in labor in 2003. The woman was a non-violent offender but was shackled throughout her labor.  When the ACLU won this case, one of the organization’s representatives rightly stated, “Today’s decision reaffirms that pregnant women in prison do not lose their right to safe and humane treatment.”  The decision reaffirms that women are human beings and, as such, have the right to safe treatment.  At that point, groups from various points along the political spectrum, along with over a dozen non-partisan health organizations, celebrated this decision.

In 2012, Ben Cline, of the Virginia House of Delegates, supported the shackling of pregnant inmates, despite evidence that such barbaric practices caused injury to the babies born in these conditions.  In her Letter to the Editor of The News-Gazette (12-13-2017), Ann Huebner rightly links Cline’s shackling stance to his support of medically unnecessary trans-vaginal ultrasounds, his sponsorship of a personhood bill that “would have the potential to outlaw in-vitro fertilization and certain types of birth control, as well as force rape and incest victims (even young teenagers) to bear children.”  Huebner also correctly recalled Cline’s inhumane “Day of Tears” resolution of 2017.

The scant information offered on Ben Cline’s website tells us that, “Ben Cline’s values were shaped growing up right here in the Shenandoah Valley” (italics his), and that Ben never fails “to champion common sense, conservative legislation that challenge[d] the liberal orthodoxy of several sitting Democratic Governors.”  As voters in this area, we cannot possibly link Cline’s support of torturous shackling to “common sense, conservative legislation.”  Shackling pregnant women and women in labor should go against anyone’s values, especially those who impose their “family values” on their constituents.

ELLEN MAYOCK

Lexington

(*Visit this link to Ann Huebner’s guest blog post (2012) about Ben Cline’s support of shackling pregnant women and his double-speak about that support.)

The 350-word limit on letters to the editor means that I didn’t address in the above missive Ben Cline’s town hall meeting, held on December 19, 2017. In January of 2017, Cline held a town hall meeting in now perennially blue Lexington, Virginia.  Many of us here praised Cline for being accessible to all his constituents and for being willing to meet “across the aisle.” His move less than one year later to perennially red Buena Vista, Virginia, just six miles down the road, signals more Goodlatte-like tactics: disappearance from view from any constituents who might dissent; movement to more conservative meeting places; limiting full conversation and expression of a range of views.  By November, 2018, we will have had 26 years of Goodlatte’s fat-cat, me-first, damn-the-rest strategies in the Sixth District.  Ben Cline seems to be following in Goodlatte’s selfish and morally bankrupt footsteps.

We should look carefully at Ben Cline’s website, which expresses this kind of pride: “Ben’s efforts have earned him the American Conservative Union’s (ACU)  “Conservative Excellence Award” as well as top ratings from leading conservative groups like the VA Tea Party Patriot Federation, the Virginia Family Foundation and an A+ rating from the NRA.”  The “A+ rating from the NRA” seems problematic for an area that witnessed a decade ago the deadliest campus shooting in the history of the United States (Virginia Tech, April 16, 2007).

Approximately 65 people attended Ben Cline’s Buena Vista town hall meeting, held in an office of Buena Vista Public Schools.  The public school’s hall included a room to meet and seemed to boast also an extremely large weight room—for whom and for what purposes, I don’t know.  There was a group of boy scouts at the town hall.  They were attentive, and some were even taking notes.  There were concerned citizens from the Buena Vista, Lexington, and Rockbridge areas.  Issues raised included gerrymandering, education and, especially, teacher pay, healthcare and Medicaid, law enforcement, and job and business development.  Cline insisted that he is strong on deregulation, that he wants to remove governmental control from private citizens’ business.  When I asked him if this hands-off approach applied as well to reproductive rights, Cline sighed, and said, “I am pro-life.”

This individualistic, church-IN-government, theocratic, and controlling stance says it all.  Cline is pro-life but is uniquely interested in shackling pregnant women and women in labor and causing harm to newborns.  He is pro-life but is keenly proud of being sponsored by the National Rifle Association, a lobbying organization that boasted of its surge in membership following the Sandy Hook massacre in December of 2012. (*See statistics on gun violence in the United States through the BBC [2015]; NPR [2017]; CNN [2017]; The New York Times [2017]).  He is pro-life but willing to sacrifice necessary healthcare for the people he represents.  He is pro-life but believes that poorly-paid public school teachers should just keep doing their work “for the passion of it.”  He is pro-life but anti-real people.

Many people like Ben because he seems to be a pleasant, God-fearing, middle-aged white man.  This misguided affinity should lead us to read Cline’s website, which codes him as Goodlatte- and Trump-like, communicates very little real policy information to his information-hungry constituents, and makes the assumption that former Goodlatte staffers like himself will simply accede to the next rung of the ladder, the next bit of power, the next opportunity to ignore the wants and needs of the people he represents.

I can’t think of a moment in which we more urgently need to discard shackles and embrace a variety of views, values, wants, and needs.

(I like feline fat cats, but not human ones.)

Stag-Nation

Here is just a smattering of recent battering headlines:

“The Rise, Then Shame, of Baylor Nation” (The New York Times, 3-9-17)

“Sexual harassment:  Records show how University of California faculty target students” (The Guardian, 3-8-17)

“Inquiry Opens into How a Network of Marines Shared Illicit Images of Female Peers” (The New York Times, 3-6-17)

“Why So Few Women in State Politics?” (The New York Times, 2-25-17)

“Donald Trump remains silent as white men continue to terrorize America” (New York Daily News, 2-17-17)

“How a Fractious Women’s Movement Came to Lead the Left” (The New York Times, 2-7-17)

“Report that Trump Wants Female Staff to “dress like women” Sparks Movement on Social Media” (The New York Times Live, 2-3-17; reported by MSN here)

“The Trump Administration’s Dark View of Immigrants” (The New Yorker, 2-2-17)

These are national headlines that clearly speak to the white supremacist heteropatriarchy in charge of our nation.  I usually soft-pedal my language a little more, avoiding such charged terms as “white supremacist heteropatriarchy,” but let’s call things as we see them.  The photo above, from Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal,” speaks more than a thousand words.  The “president” has effectively created a boys’ club (almost all white) of men between the ages of 55 and 80.  He has sent the message that all people who aren’t part of this group are unworthy.  We know, though, that this group only survives through its attempt to appear strong by making others weak.  Groups like these are doomed to fail.

In the meantime, I wish I could say that the United States were just stagnating.  The unfortunate fact, however, is that we are moving rapidly backwards.  The world can see it, we know it, and only the little Trump pumpkins continue to prop up our stupid dictator.  *Check out Mexican surrealist painter Antonio Ruiz’s painting “El líder/orador” to understand this reference to the people I would like to officially dub the “trumpkins.”  Take note, too, that Ruiz painted “El orador” in 1939, a significant year in dictator history.

(http://www.artnet.com/artists/antonio-ruiz/past-auction-results)

There is no room to breathe now as we play defense on behalf of the First Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX, and the Affordable Care Act.  At the same time, we are reasserting what we thought were core values, such as welcoming individuals and groups from other nations, understanding that often it is better to keep families together, rather than wrench them apart, body autonomy, and loving our neighbors.  As the stags run (and ruin) our nation, they eliminate from their path anyone and everyone who is unlike them.  Those who are unlike them is a large and ever-growing subset of people.

Nevertheless, high-level business people know that well-run organizations encourage expression of divergent opinions and the cultivation of healthy debate.  These elements keep the organizations on their proverbial toes—innovative, collaborative, comprehensive.  (See Section III of Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace for data and practical solutions on this issue.)  Isn’t democracy at its very core the idea that the people—in all of our differences and commonalities—will learn about the issues, educate others to be part of a well-informed citizenry, debate wholeheartedly, and then make decisions together about the best courses of action for all?

The national examples of stag-nation that I’ve provided here are replicated at the state and local levels.  In my state, Bob Goodlatte for decades has honed a dictatorial machine fed by national, white, male supremacist machinations.  (See previous posts in the Gender Shrapnel blog for examples of Goodlatte’s scary-ass brand of government.  Also check out Chris Gavaler’s Dear Bob Blog and Gene Zitver’s Goodlatte Watch.)  At the regional level, Ben Cline has consistently supported policies that are dangerous to all women.  (See last week’s blog post for more information.)

At the University of Virginia, where women comprise 56% of the student population, less than 30% of the presidential search committee is comprised of women, with two of those women being students.  In daily life, I watch my children perform in concert after concert whose playlist includes only male composers (some of whom, at least, are of color).  They participate on an official school academic team, for whose competitions they are asked questions primarily about Western civilization up to the year 1800 (i.e. not many women included, unless they are mythological figures or real-life muses).  They play on sports teams for which the girls teams are still playing in the smaller gyms or swimming in the shallower lanes.  They learn at school that transgender people will be forced into a bathroom not of their choosing.  In other words, we as a culture are not even moving forward on the smallest of everyday issues that affect us all (or many of us, at least).  We are seeing and experiencing how draconian governmental restrictions are severely limiting self- and group-definition and freedoms at the national, regional, and local levels.  This will affect our culture for decades to come.

What are Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Bob Goodlatte, and Ben Cline so afraid of? Why must we who live in this country cater to their bizarre fears?  If they’re afraid of nothing and simply want unquestioned power, then why are we letting them have it?  We need fewer trumpkins and more resistance.  After “Willly Wonka”’s Veruca Salt, we need more resistance, and we need it NOW.