Guns ‘n Threats

“They’re comin’ for yer guns, no doubt about it.”

“Just bury your guns for two years, and then you’ll get ‘em back when we flip the statehouse.”

“Guns don’t kill people. People do.”

“We’re gonna get to the point where you can’t even give a gun to a child.”

“We are not going to be sheep led to slaughter.”

“Don’t let liberal elites tell you what to do.”

“More guns, less crime.”

These are a few quotes from the December 8th (2019) townhall meeting held by Virginia 24th District Delegate Ronnie Campbell (*described in this post). The meeting served as regional Republican Party preparation for the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors meeting to decide on a local Second Amendment, or “gun sanctuary” resolution.  The following night, the Board of Supervisors meeting, ostensibly scheduled to vote on the resolution, turned into a Trump rally. Here is a link to the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors site.  As yet, neither the December 9th minutes nor the resolution itself has been posted.

As you might have seen in my previous post about the townhall meeting, Delegate Ronnie Campbell introduced the gun question by first launching three major GOP talking points—voters’ rights (“Why should everybody get to vote?”), abortion (who gets to decide?), and “you can’t trust the left-wing media” (adding, “Citizens are not well informed.” I’ll say!).  As he introduced these three points, Campbell said, “These are not Republican talking points or anything like that” (um, Ronnie, that’s exactly what these are).  He has been well-trained in Trumpism—appeal to the one-issue voters by making sure to bundle their one issue into the whole package, never distinguishing between or among issues, and never providing actual data or facts.  You can get a crowd good and riled up in this way, which is why the United States is in chaos three years into this tyrant’s so-called presidency.

I attended the December 9th Board of Supervisors meeting with about twenty people opposed to the gun sanctuary proposal and 1180 in favor. We twenty knew the fix was in, but we believed it was worthwhile to show up and have resistance heard.  With several hundred students doing evening activities and competitions at the high school and a host of heavily armed deputy sheriffs all over the school, the atmosphere was tense. I was not surprised by the numbers, nor was I surprised by how this board of our rural county ran the meeting like a Trump rally.  They told people from Lexington City that they would not be allowed to speak until everyone from Rockbridge County had spoken.  This would make sense, maybe, if Lexington City residents did not have (and vote for) the same sheriff as the Rockbridge County residents, did not send their children to the only public high school in our area (Rockbridge County High), and did not work and play in Rockbridge County.  But we do do all of these things, and therefore our voices should also matter.

In addition, the Board allowed two featured speakers before they opened the discussion: Virginia House of Delegates Ronnie Campbell and resident of Rockingham County (one hour north of us) Jennifer Brown, who serves as a regional committee chair for the Republican Party.  Campbell did his assigned part by giving a Trump stump speech, ending his remarks with a loud, cheerleader-like “Vote for Trump!”  Even though she is not a resident of Rockbridge County, Brown was able to deliver her comments as she had at the townhall the day before—as GOP talking points and with no data, no statistics, no real information.  The Board of Supervisors set the tone from the get-go, telling us Dems in the front two rows how this would go.  The set-up was a big middle finger to anyone interested in discussing common sense gun reform and to the reality of a state turned blue.

Of the seventy or so people who spoke in favor of Rockbridge County being a gun sanctuary (although, of course, the resolution itself is quite limited), only four were women.  Three of the four women acceded to the public stage by claiming themselves Christians, wives, and mothers.  This declaration seemed to give them permission to speak. The 66 men who spoke in favor of the resolution performed various combinations of the following: citing their military service; talking about their families’ longstanding ties to Virginia; creating an us/them dynamic, especially regarding northerners and migrants; disparaging lawmakers in Richmond; criticizing “liberal elites”; mentioning, sometimes in one fell swoop and always without historical or political nuance, the Holocaust, socialism, and communism; claiming what God owes them. Some of those who spoke promoted their books and websites; others promoted their shooting ranges. Of all those who spoke in favor of the resolution, one single person advocated for a real conversation between the two sides to see if some form of compromise was possible.

Board Chair Jay Lewis (whose actions from the previous weekend are described here) had told the audience that no waving of signs, heckling, or general disruptions would be allowed.  Second Amendment signs were waved throughout the almost-three-hour session.  When some of us 20 in opposition asked for the Board to follow its own established rules, we were shouted down, being called the “b” word and the “c” word and being told to shut up.  Lewis chided us, but not the others, who received a complicit half-smile and nod.  The intention was to establish a threatening atmosphere, and it worked.  These are the moments at which the Second Amendment folks try to use guns and/or the threat of guns to limit First Amendment rights (especially freedom of speech and freedom of assembly). (*See this related Gender Shrapnel post about these dynamics in Charlottesville, 2017.)  Not only did the Board of Supervisors not have our backs, but they actively made our backs a target for Second Amendment backlash.

While I sat in the school auditorium, I received a text from a friend containing a Facebook post from the regional GOP chair.  The regional chair (who at that point was seated five seats away from me) had posted this:

“FB page: Jennifer M Brown
8 hrs ·
Fellow Rockbridge Patriots! There is a woman who is a member of 50 Ways Rockbridge, which is a progressive group of rabid agitators. She has personally threatened a fellow brother of our cause, and I take personal exception to anyone who threatens one of our own. She also is a professor who teaches our youth, which is especially concerning.
She attended last night’s 2A info meeting and made sure to record and take notes what was said. She has reported back to her group and they are planning to be present at tonight’s Board meeting with an agenda.
Please be respectful in your comments and do not engage in any communication with this group. They want us to respond so the media narrative can make our cause look fringe.
We are NOT gun activists. We ARE Constitutional Patriots! #2AStrong”

This spokesperson for the Republican Party said the following that was true: I am a woman. I am a member of 50 Ways Rockbridge. I am a professor. I take notes.  The rest of her statement seems to come from a second-rate Russian bot-farm, but, of course, it is designed only to spread lies and shut people down.  If I wanted, I could establish a case for libel here, especially since this person is impugning my professional reputation. I invite her and anyone to talk to me about my teaching and scholarly accomplishments and about the careful and constructive ways in which 50 Ways Rockbridge has worked in this community.  Bring it. But do not threaten me or silence me.  (*See this NPR report and this Washington Post piece about Virginia delegates receiving death threats.)

It bears mentioning that I reported this libelous post that very night to our newly elected sheriff, telling him that I felt unsafe (1180 to 20; violent name-calling; targeted trolling).  He tried to reassure me by pointing to all the officers with guns.  “Q….E…..D,” I thought.  Armed officers do not make me feel safer. Guns do not make me feel safer.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, my field of expertise is cultural studies.  For cultural studies, you learn as much as you can about the history, demographics, legacies, languages, cultural production, and cultural practices of a specific region and apply that knowledge to an analysis of the audio, visual, and written texts produced by people from the area.  I have lived in Lexington, Virginia, for 23 years and have lived in the state of Virginia for 27—half my life, more years than I lived in my hometown of Philadelphia.  The lilt and twang of the local accent no longer strike my ears as different or odd.  The use of “sucker” for “lollipop” or “buggy” for “shopping cart” sounds completely normal.  I know the range of typical last names in the area, from the Clarks to the Zollmans and the Mutispaughs to the Nicelys.  I have ridden my bicycle through many miles of this large county and have seen the mansions and the no longer mobilized trailers with old sweaters stuffed into windows to keep out the rain.  I have been to many of the churches, despite my atheism. This is home to me, even if others see me as a Yankee, a damned Yankee (the kind that doesn’t leave), or a carpetbagger.  I have watched this community grow and change over these years, and I have tried to do so as both participant and observer, understanding my outsider status but also learning how you become a part of a community over time.

Cultural studies practices tell you to understand your own baggage before analyzing that of others.  In a way, I think this practice is the greatest strength and weakness of the Democratic Party.  The party’s hallmarks should be (and sometimes have been): recognition, celebration, and amplification of a diversity of peoples and voices; sincere and well-versed people advocating for competing ideas and duking them out; adherence to executive, judicial, and legislative norms as laid out in founding documents; examination of depth and nuance.  While the Democratic Party falls far short of these ideals, it at least still seems in dialogue with them. Over these past three years, I have asked repeated times in the Gender Shrapnel Blog: To what extent must we politicize kindness and humanity?  If calm, careful, thoughtful, and generous approaches to problem-solving are now old-fashioned, passé, done, as I fear they are, then how do you advocate for what is right in a measured way without always losing to an entrenched, mendacious, narcissistic, racist, sexist, homophobic—an unjust—other side?  Does civility mean that the powerful control the process and ask others to accept it quietly, with no fuss?

Local friends have often talked about hunting—when the season starts; when it ends; what you can hunt; how you hunt it; when you use a bow or a gun; how you train the kids to hunt; how you prepare the meat you’ve hunted; what it means to be in nature in this way.  I have been curious about these issues, which, of all the cultural elements of our region, are the most distant from my own upbringing.  As someone who for years cycled through the hills, mills, hollows, and valleys of this beautiful county, I have seen hunters and signs for hunting.  I have laughed at the image of the yuppy cyclist commingling with the camouflaged hunter, thinking there has to be some kind of cosmic cultural fusion joining us in nature.

I hope I am a careful thinker, and I definitely am an ardent talker.  Don’t let the impassioned expression of my ideas trick you.  I earn my opinions, and I want others to do the same.  If I thought the Second Amendment extremists (which I would define as those who believe the Second Amendment to be more important than all other amendments) were also careful thinkers and also invited reasoned debate, I would want to engage in real conversation with them.  I want to see Republicans take a cultural studies approach to their discussion of common sense gun reform and educational reform in Virginia.  Guns do kill people.  Virginia’s, and the United States’, continuing legacy of violence must be addressed.

The December 8th townhall meeting allowed me to think through the proposed legislation for the Virginia General Assembly session—specifically Senate Bills 16, 18, 51, and 64. (*See this link for all legislation related to weapons.)  The GOP talking points, distributed by 6th District Republican Committee Chairperson Jennifer Brown, read more like rally propaganda than clear education on the actual legislation proposed.  The document, designed only to whip up a crowd, not to provide information, parse ideas, and ask for reasoned feedback, included no links to actual proposals, no direct text, no grounded reality of the issues.  This is propaganda, not education or democracy, and this is the problem with regional, state, and national politics in the United States.

Why do we want to control people, rather than allow them the information they need to make their own decisions?  Isn’t that real liberty, real freedom?  For example, the Rockingham (VA) GOP Committee states in their talking points: “School shootings are relatively rare despite recent media narrative reporting and Democrat messages that would have you believe otherwise.”  They include no data, no links to reputable sources, no verifiable information. (*See this post and this one for actual statistics on school shootings and gun violence. *Also see the Moms Demand Action site and Everytown for Gun Safety.)  I do not want to mislead people.  Why would I?  I just want to share real data, real statistics, on a real problem that has deeply affected the state of Virginia and the United States.  I want a little bit of book learning to go a long way.

What I am about to say will strike you as naïve, and it is.  After all these years here, and after all the thinking about culture and roots and belonging and not belonging, I somehow did not anticipate the profound ways in which Republican talking points would distill themselves, like so much moonshine on a late summer’s day, into just guns.  Guns as power, guns as a God-given right, guns as a community of men and the supporting cast of women, guns as military pride, guns as sacrifice, guns as “sacred honor,” guns as nation, guns as Christianity. Guns as, like you see on the t-shirt in the photo included here (from the December 9, 2019, Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors meeting), Family-Faith-Friends-Flag-Firearms–“Five Things You Don’t Mess With.”  Guns as an old United States that should be able, through education, to embrace a new United States built on community, care, and justice.

A Democrat Goes to a GOP Gun Meeting

(Left: Virginia House of Delegates, 24th District’s Ronnie Campbell at the Buena Vista American Legion Building on December 8, 2019. Right: Two armed police officers at the event.)

(I wrote this post on Sunday, December 8, after attending Virginia House of Delegates member Ronnie Campbell’s townhall meeting in Buena Vista, Virginia.  The gun sanctuary decision was made the following night, December 9, by the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors, who met at Rockbridge County High School.  I will write a new post soon about the December 9th meeting and decision. The next post should demonstrate that I did listen to people’s concerns about common sense gun reform, learn a lot of gun vocabulary, deepen my awareness of local culture, and come to understand even more poignantly the power of the NRA lobby in the GOP and, by extrapolation, our nation.)

You may know me.  I am one of the tens of thousands of Democrats who, in November of 2016, joined with friends and neighbors to decry the result of the presidential election, feel shame that I had not been more active before that point, and resolve to do something about it.  “It,” meaning all of it: stop-and-frisk police stops and killing of African American individuals; violence against and intimidation of immigrants; attempts to remove basic healthcare from millions of hardworking residents of the United States; and rampant corruption of the newly-elected president, so afraid to have his tax documents shared and so in the back pocket of a foreign government looking to manage the United States through its toady president.  You know me because I teach you, or live next to you, or am related to you, or sat next to you today at a meeting about gun sanctuaries.

My husband teaches at the sole public high school in our county in rural southwestern Virginia.  Four years ago, he almost singlehandedly beat back a gun raffle (it’s exactly what it sounds like) being held at the high school in support of the wrestling team.  When the raffle got cancelled, my husband was threatened by a county Board of Supervisors member inside the school.  After Parkland in 2018, my husband and many of his colleagues at the high school asked the Rockbridge County School Board and Board of Supervisors to consider greater safety measures for the high school.  The measure was never taken up, nor indeed responded to.  200 students bravely participated in a walkout soon thereafter, but the school board and board of supervisors never paid them any mind.

Now, the post blue-wave, mobilized Republican Committee of our area is responding to the Virginia Citizens Defense League by proposing that our county be a “gun sanctuary county.”  The Board of Supervisors meeting is of particular interest tomorrow because the Board will hear a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” resolution, of the type drafted and approved by over thirty Virginia counties (Washington Post 11/29/19 Editorial linked here).  Some residents are advocating that the sheriff and law enforcement defy any state laws passed to implement common-sense gun safety reforms.  We Democrats in the area are concerned about mob rule and lawlessness, as well as general safety in a state that has seen the Virginia Tech massacre, (2007), the Charlottesville violence (2017; Gender Shrapnel post here), and the Virginia Beach shooting (2019).

The Board of Supervisors has chosen to hold the gun sanctuary resolution discussion and decision at our local high school.  Keep in mind the school shootings that have taken place in the United States since Columbine (and note that there have been 45 school shootings in 46 weeks in 2019; related Gender Shrapnel post here).  Tomorrow night, when the meeting takes place, my husband and 150 students, parents, and coaches will be at the high school for a home meet of the academic team.  My daughter will be wrapping up swim practice for the high school. Nice time to hold a gun sanctuary meeting at a public school.  When my husband wrote to the chair of the Board of Supervisors to express concern about the confluence of the gun sanctuary meeting and regular school-type events, he received no reply.  But, at Friday night’s holiday parade, he did feel a large presence grab his right shoulder then his left, hold him place, put his mouth on my husband’s ear, and threaten him verbally.  You know me.  I’m the woman whose family is not allowed to express concern about safety without being physically and verbally threatened.

When I spend a Sunday afternoon at the American Legion in Buena Vista, Virginia, I am sitting with Republican neighbors.  They introduce themselves in a friendly way, a little less friendly when the word spreads through the crowd that I am from the other side.  The American Legion building has framed military uniforms, a framed copy of the American Legion constitution, enough American flags to keep a whole town warm at night, and 170 chairs set up for constituents of the Virginia 24th District, one of which I am.  About sixty of us are to sit back, relax, and hear Virginia House of Delegates member Ronnie Campbell prepare them (us?) for the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors meeting the following evening.  Our delegate frames the gun sanctuary discussion through the lens of voter ID (“everybody thinks they can vote”), abortion (“there’s stuff coming at us”), the news media (“Fox is the only one left out there. Citizens are not properly informed”), and Trump (“one of the best presidents we’ve ever had”).

Guns are metonymy for Republican talking points, and they are real objects that kill real people.  You know me, and I have had enough.

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.)

Cages, Criminal Justice Reform, Census Questions, and the Criminal in the White House

(Let us not forget!)

Over the past three years, the Groping Old President and his Groveling Old Party have sown so much discord, chaos, and danger that we are now reminding each other “to focus on what’s important,” to “not get distracted” by the latest illegal comments and behaviors of the man who stole the White House.  This is both good and misleading advice.  Good, in that political resistance to Trump must rely on documented facts, data, and coordinated resistance efforts focused on the actions placing the greatest number of people in danger.  Misleading, in that every so-called “distraction” also represents an illegal speech-act and/or behavior of the Groping Old President.  As a person who has researched and written copiously on harassment and assault, I hear every utterance and read every tweet of the White House occupant as an accountant tallies debits and credits.  The accumulation of racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic (combined with numerous other –isms and phobias) behaviors amounts to a pattern of harassing behavior by the most visible workplace supervisor in the most iconic workplace of the United States.

We should not be distracted from recognizing our border policies as crimes of the highest order: separation of families; isolation of children; children in cages; rape and molestation of migrants and refugees; deprivation of basic needs; denial of legal services.  The concentration camps created by the White House occupant and supported by the GOP make us a brutal and punishing nation.  These concentration camp gurus complement their crimes at the border with ICE raids.  We must remember that targeted raids, round-ups, and concentration camps were the cornerstone of the Third Reich. At a family party three years ago, I called Trump a fascist, evoking the ire of family members for my too-heightened rhetoric.  Well, here we are, three years later, with a president whose fascism becomes more textbook with each act and utterance.  The United Nations has appropriately weighed in on the human rights abuses enacted in the country that claims to be the strongest democracy in the world.  When Trump says about Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayana Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” he is unwittingly describing his country, the United States of America, as “a broken and crime infested place.”  Yes, that’s one fact he has right after three years of the destruction he has wrought.

We should not be distracted from the fact that Trump lost the battle over the citizenship question on the 2020 Census and wants us to forget that he lost.  Of course, his unconstitutional attempts to add it brought him some success, in that some people had to respond in the test census and many people fear responding at all at this point.

(*Read Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends.  An Essay in Forty Questions.)

We should not be distracted from criminal justice reform, needed more acutely than ever to decolonize, deracialize, and decriminalize, and to restore full humanity and rights to all peoples.  Here is just a small sampling of the challenges and injustices of “living while black,” published by CNN.

(*Watch Ava Duvernay’s Selma and 13th.  Read Jesmyn Ward’s edited collection, The Fire This Time. Read Ta-Nehisi Coates. Read Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.)

Three years ago at this time, we learned of the Access Hollywood tape.  We learned that the GOP candidate articulated rapist desires and revealed a rapist past.  Russia and the GOP elected him anyway, and now we have a criminal in the White House whose rap sheet is as long as were Mueller’s days investigating him.  While we’re at it, let us not forget that Mueller will testify on July 24th.  In Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace, I link sexual and racial harassment to assault, stating that if we don’t address damaging behavior on the harassment end, then we will never address criminal behavior on the rape-assault end of the spectrum.  Trump’s Access Hollywood tape already told us everything we needed to know about how his tenure in the White House would go.  By election time, he had already harassed Miss Universe participants, Rosie O’Donnell, Carly Fiorina, and Hillary Clinton.  This list includes, up to 2017, “every offensive comment in one place.” In this month alone, July of 2019, the criminal has harassed Megan Rapinoe and the United States World Cup Soccer Champion team and Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib.  The harassment is intersectional, based on race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation.  Trump is Trump, and he is also the company he keeps (Roger Ailes, Roger Stone, Jeffrey Epstein, Billy Bush, and the list goes on and on).

We have all the data we need.  For any workplace in the United States, this documentation would be more than sufficient for bringing a Title VII case.  It is time, way past time, to initiate impeachment proceedings.  I have never cared if it is politically expedient to impeach, thinking that impeachment is simply the right thing to do.  At this point, impeachment seems both politically expedient and the right thing to do.  Representative John Lewis tweets: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Do not become bitter or hostile. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way. #goodtrouble.” Impeachment might just be the “good trouble” we need.

Let us not be distracted from any of these profound injustices, explicit crimes, and dangerous words and actions. It is time to act.

Close Reading Bob Goodlatte

 

 

 

 

 

 

(E-mailed response from Congressman Bob Goodlatte to one of my requests that he support the ACA and Planned Parenthood.  The e-mail reply from Goodlatte arrived in my inbox on Tuesday, August 8, 2017.)

Do you remember your high school and/or college teachers and professors requiring close readings of literary texts?  The kind of close reading for which you summarized the plot or movement of the segment, discerned the principal theme, and examined the rhetorical devices that made the piece a work of art that communicated an idea?  Well, it’s hardly possible to do all that with Bob Goodlatte’s form letter genre, but I’m going to complete here a brief analysis of a Goodlatte letter.

This week, I’m taking a page out of my friend and colleague Chris Gavaler’s blog.  Since December 2016, Chris has written Congressman Bob Goodlatte a letter every day, and all the letters are posted in Gavaler’s “Dear Bob” blog.  This is an amazing undertaking, which has allowed Chris to become extremely well-versed on our regional and national political issues, educate others on what he has learned, and take daily action.  The Goodlatte staffers all know who Chris is, and they have met with him on several occasions.  In his blog, Gavaler often signals the absurdity of Goodlatte’s responses to him. The responses sometimes don’t address at all the issue raised by Chris; sometimes they pretend to address Chris’s question but go in a conveniently different direction; the responses usually reassert Goodlatte’s supposed moral superiority over everybody but Donald Trump, who, for Goodlatte, is a paragon of virtue.  Gene Zitver, also from our area, maintains the “Goodlatte Watch” blog.  The Gender Shrapnel Blog has also  looked at Goodlatte’s political and communication shortcomings in several posts (Theatre of the Absurd; Bob Goodlatte Does Nothing Again, Only it’s Worse; Bob Goodlatte Needs a Better Job Description).

Over the phone, by formal petition and e-mail, and in person with Goodlatte staffers, I (along with a good number of people in my area) have protested many actions taken by the congressman and his party members. These actions include, but are certainly not limited to, refusing to execute duties as Chariman of the House Judiciary to investigate ethics violations of the current “president,” Goodlatte staffers’ composing the Muslim travel ban order, supporting any and all repeal and replace efforts proposed by the GOP, running sham “telephone townhalls,” and never appearing in person at the meetings scheduled by his staffers to meet with constituents throughout the 6th District.  I’ve received many replies from Goodlatte staffers, in both paper and e-mail forms.  They are predictable in their bureaucratic rhetoric, verbosity, and tone of patronizing superiority (a kind of “sit next to me and let me explain a few things to you, little girl” tone).  Sometimes they address the issue I raised; sometimes the letters have nothing to do with the concern I articulated.

Here I offer a close reading, paragraph by paragraph, of the most recent response I got from Congressman Bob Goodlatte.

Salutation: “Dear Dr. Mayock” –Good start!  I do have a Ph.D., but I don’t usually ask people to call me “Dr.”  On the Goodlatte web form, choosing a title is required.  I sometimes choose “Mr.,” sometimes, “Reverend,” sometimes “Dr.”  Just depends on the mood of the day.  I always figure I’ll get a quicker response if my chosen title seems to indicate to Goodlatte and his people that I’m a dude.

Paragraph 1: “Thank you…” I appreciate the polite acknowledgement of my contact with Bob.

Paragraph 2: “No matter where we stand on abortion as individuals, we can agree that 1.6 million abortions per year is an American tragedy…”  I have actually never addressed the abortion question or anti-choice legislation in any of my communications with Goodlatte.  I have only stated that the proposed ACHA would defund Planned Parenthood, which plays a fundamental role in healthcare for underserved communities.  Planned Parenthood does not equal abortion services, but I’m sure glad they exist to provide abortion services when so few other resources are available.  Why?  Bob, come sit by my side, and I’ll share the following reports with you!:

Making Abortion Illegal Does Not Reduce Number of Women Having Terminations, Study Concludes (Independent, 2016)

Planned Parenthood Means Fewer Abortions  (New Yorker, 2015)

U.S. Abortion Rate Reaches Record Low Amidst Looming Onslaught Against Reproductive Health and Rights (Guttmacher Study, 2017)

New Study:  Anti-Abortion Laws Don’t Reduce Abortion Rates.  Contraception Does. (Slate, 2016)

Unsafe Abortion: Unnecessary Maternal Mortality  (NCBI/NIH, 2009)

5 Facts About Abortion (Pew Research Center, 2017)

Paragraph 3: “I believe that we would agree that the solution lies in providing better education and more compassion to all involved in this difficult experience.”  Bob, stop assuming you know what I believe.  This rhetoric is bossy and manipulative.  I do not agree with you because abstinence-only education is woefully insufficient and because people don’t want your compassion (again, you’re imposing moral superiority), but rather viable solutions.  The White House has amplified the religious refusal rule, and Congress is working to weaken or completely undo Title X, a major family planning program that includes contraception.  In addition, the global gag rule could soon apply here in the United States as well.  None of this demonstrates one iota of compassion.  These anti-women measures, pushed by all-men bodies, are misguided, shortsighted, and discriminatory.

Paragraph 4: In this paragraph, Goodlatte criticizes the Affordable Care Act, saying, “It’s easy to see why this mess of big-government mandates and red tape has not provided the health care solutions so many families need.”  Actually, Bob, if you had advocated for Medicaid expansion, a fundamental part of the ACA, in Virginia, then there would be far fewer families in need.  You are creating a problem and then blaming it on the ACA and Democrats.  A crafty move, but dishonest at its core, and also absolutely detrimental to hundreds of thousands of Virginians.  Furthermore, hasn’t your party just spent six months and billions of taxpayer dollars to try to pass the shoddy AHCA and its ridiculous offshoots?  That sounds a lot like big government and red tape to me.

Paragraph 5: “For years, the majority of my constituents have told me that Obamacare does not work for them, and I agree.”  Can I please see the data?  I know plenty of constituents who have attempted real contact with you on this issue, who disagree with your assertions, and who are unable to get an audience with you.  You are cherry-picking here, Bob.

Paragraph 6: “I am committed to ensuring that those in Virginia’s 6th district have a choice in selecting insurance that fits their needs and their budget and urge my colleagues in the Senate to come together and put together a reform bill that has patients at its heart.”  Really, Bob, “fits their needs and their budget?”  These do not go together when we are talking about the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries and their powerful lobbying efforts.  Check out this post to see why the AHCA had patients very far from “its heart” and very much in its pocket.

Goodbye:  Standard fare.

This one sample of the many letters I have received from Congressman Goodlatte reveals the machine behind the man, a machine composed of the GOP’s overreach into people’s personal lives, gaslighting rhetoric, and false concern for real people.  Goodlatte is so busy kissing the “president’s” posterior that there is no way he can actually listen to the people of Virginia’s 6th District.  This is not governance, Bob.  It’s a waste of all of our time and money.

Education in the Trumpocracy

(http://www.ushistory.org/us/39a.asp)

Oak Plains School (North Carolina; built in late 19th century for white children)

When the “president” appointed Betsy DeVos to the education secretary post on November 23, 2016, and she was confirmed on February 7, 2017, I groaned out loud, along with many of my friends and colleagues who are teachers.  DeVos seemed uniquely unqualified to serve as U.S. Secretary of Education in that her principal experience with education is having been a high school and college (undergraduate) student.  She has no experience as a teacher, administrator, or educational policy expert. On her own website, DeVos describes herself as “a proven leader, an innovator, a disruptor and an advocate.”  She also uses the word “pioneer” in her self-description. This billionaire and former chairperson of the Michigan Republican Party is co-opting revolutionary language to promote herself and to cement traditional platforms that take us back to the 19th century (or probably before, since positivist, pro-science philosophy thrived in the late 19th century).  If she is a “proven leader,” then the direction in which she is moving her followers is most definitely backwards.  If she is a “disruptor,” then it is due to her utter lack of experience in the educational realm.  This Gender Shrapnel Blog post examines damage wrought by DeVos in the areas of public education, education access and affirmative action (also a Justice Department issue, of course), and Title IX protections for women and transgender individuals.  This is a shrapnel cluster, hitting religion, race, class, and gender.

The Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of The Constitution of the United States (also linked here through the White House site), taken together and interpreted through centuries of jurisprudence, “[build] a wall of separation between Church & State” (Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists).  Garrett Epps’s article in The Atlantic (6-15-2011) uses abundant textual evidence that the founding fathers never intended to build a Christian nation.  For all that the GOP claims to be the party of “constitutional correctness,” the intentional Christianization of our public school system thumbs its nose at the purpose and practice of the First Amendment.  In 2001, DeVos stated, “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom” (cited in this Mother Jones article from March/April 2017).  DeVos & Company must feel a dizzying sense of power as they promote Christian charter schools (see here what DeVos did to public education in Michigan) and funneling public monies into Christian schools.  This 3-20-2017 article from The Atlantic explains the ways in which the Trump-DeVos team might dismantle school integration.

In its Manichean view of the world, does the Trump-DeVos axis realize that the tables could be turned and their own children and grandchildren might have to attend public schools dominated by religions other than Christianity?  As a resident of the United States, I believe in the free practice of religion, which means not having religion of any kind imposed in the public school system.  In our area, the moment of silence built into the public school day, the prayer gatherings on public school buses and at public school flagpoles, and the invitation to Christian “inspirational” or “motivational” speakers already demonstrate the much more dangerous and more slippery slope of the DeVos regime in education.  The ACLU warns the same here.

While Jeff Sessions is at the helm of the Justice Department’s initiative to sue universities over affirmative action (described in this 8-1-2017 piece in The Washington Post), Betsy DeVos is to blame as well.  One of the first hires she made in the new post was that of Candice Jackson as acting head of the Department of Education’s (DOE’s) Office for Civil Rights (OCR).  This NBS News (4-14-2017) piece probes how well Jackson’s disapproval of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and her anti-affirmative action stance meshes with the mission statement of the OCR.  DeVos does not seem as riled up about legacy admissions to colleges and universities, perhaps principally because they still favor white people. (See related pieces in The Washington Post; The New York Times; Business Insider; The Chronicle of Higher Education; and another in The Washington Post.) The DeVos regime, as part of the Trumpocracy, is all about accomplishing the opposite of the office’s mission.  Again, this is DeVos, through Jackson, leading us backwards.

While we’re on the subject of the now-infamous Candice Jackson, let’s not forget that she has followed her boss’s lead in advocating for men’s rights over women’s in campus sexual assault cases.  The New York Times (7-13-2017) says about Jackson: “Investigative processes have not been ‘fairly balanced between the accusing victim and the accused student,’ Ms. Jackson argued, and students have been branded rapists ‘when the facts just don’t back that up.’ In most investigations, she said, there’s ‘not even an accusation that these accused students overrode the will of a young woman.’ ‘Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,’ Ms. Jackson said.”  Jackson does not even use the term “rape” or “sexual assault,” but rather, “students overrode the will of a young woman.”  Although Jackson later attempted to clarify the statement, she has made it clear that she does not believe campus sexual assault happens and, by extrapolation, does not believe rapists exist.

In the meantime, Jackson’s boss, DeVos, was meeting with men’s rights activists.  As Jon Krakauer and Laura L. Dunn say in this op-ed (8-3-2017) from The New York Times, “The Department of Education is taking a hard look at its policies on campus sexual assault.  The result may make colleges safer.  For rapists.”  (*See Mili Mitra’s 7-18-2017 op-ed in The Washington Post for an eloquent rationale of the need for a strong DOE and OCR to follow up Dear Colleague letters issued under the Obama administration; see Katz’s and Alejandro’s 8-3-2017 op-ed in USA Today; see also this 1-2-2017 Gender Shrapnel Blog post.)

DeVos is also crippling Title IX protections in the realm of transgender rights, as detailed here by the ACLU (3-29-2017), although she is reported to have been initially in favor of maintaining Obama-era protections.  Through DeVos, and of his own accord, Trump is using the transgender community to pander to his base in the face of epically low approval ratings.

None of this is about education (DOE; DeVos) or civil rights (OCR; Jackson).  It is about fake-revolutionary rhetoric and continuing to assert power to the benefit of few and the detriment of many.