America’s Racism On Full (And Constant) Display.

Even as the world is transfixed by the Derek Chauvin trial in Minnesota (a trial to decide if Chauvin was guilty of murdering George Floyd), we continue to see other examples of police abuse of black and brown people. In the past few days, video evidence of police mistreating a black man in a military uniform has come to light. And, while Americans were still recoiling in horror at seeing police pepper spray and cuff the man at gunpoint over his supposed failure to display a temporary vehicle license, we saw a young black man shot and killed by a white policewoman over expired license tags and an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror.

Unfortunately, such events have become increasingly common.

In Texas, a young black woman named Sandra Bland died in jail over failure to signal a lane change. In Ohio, a young black man named John Crawford III was shot and killed by police in a Walmart for carrying a BB gun he intended to purchase. In California, it took police 10 seconds to shoot and kill a 13-year-old Latino who was carrying a pellet gun. Likewise, it took police just seconds to kill a 12-year-old black boy for playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland park. In Phoenix, a 14-year-old Latino was shot and killed while holding an air soft gun. In Detroit, a 13-year-old black boy named Tamir Rice was killed for playing with an air soft gun.

In Georgia, a black man named Ahmaud Arbery was hunted and killed by a former police officer and his armed friends while jogging. And, in Kentucky, a black woman named Breona Taylor was shot and killed in the middle of the night in her own home while police were executing a no-knock warrant.

To our nation’s great shame, the number of such examples are far too numerous and far too widespread to list. Yet, despite the publicity and efforts to hold police accountable, the number of events has not diminished. Indeed, they seem to be increasing. And far too many Americans look to blame the victims rather than the officers. They dig through the victims’ criminal history, their drug use, their failure to comply with officers’ unreasonable demands.

By contrast, we see white people treated much differently by police.

Just months after a peaceful crowd of Black Lives Matter protestors were confronted with excessive violence by large numbers of police and National Guard while peacefully protesting in Washington, DC, the almost entirely white crowd of violent insurrectionists who invaded the Capitol were able to overwhelm an undermanned and under-equipped police presence. Even after hours of mayhem and destruction, which resulted in 5 deaths and injuries to more than 140 police officers, the combatants were allowed to simply walk away. In fact, some police actually offered a helping hand to insurrectionists so they could descend the steps and bleachers without injury!

The white insurrectionists resorted to violence based on the lie that the election was stolen from their preferred presidential candidate despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Imagine what those same people might do if they believed they were unfairly stopped for minor traffic offenses; if they were subjected to humiliating searches and excessive fines; if they were subjected to excessive force; or if they were killed for a misdemeanor. Imagine if their communities tended to dismiss their complaints and, instead, displayed signs supporting the police. Imagine, if every time they went to court, their entire lives were put under a microscope in search of any past transgression that could be used against them. Imagine if they found it more difficult to find a job than others. Imagine if they were paid less. Imagine, if they were underrepresented in Congress, in state legislatures, on city councils, on police staffs, and it courts. Imagine if draconian laws were put in place to make it more difficult for them to vote. And imagine if that treatment continued for generations.

Then, and only then, would they have an understanding of what it would be like to be part of a minority.

The sad truth is, in the US, equality simply does not exist. Not for black and brown people. Not for Asian and Pacific Islanders. Not for immigrants. Not for Native Americans. Not for women. Not for people of different sexual persuasions. Not for people of different religions.

It is long past time for that to change. It must change if our ongoing experiment with democracy is to survive!

Why Racists Are The Real Losers.

Two recent discoveries turned my thoughts to the enduring consequences of racism. First, to my horror, I discovered that two of my colonial ancestors from Scotland thought it necessary to enrich themselves off the labor and disenfranchisement of others. One was able to accumulate large tracts of land that required a large number of people to work the land. To acquire the desired labor, and to his everlasting shame, he turned to the slave market.

Second, I learned of the mass shooting of Asian-Americans in Georgia.

The knowledge of these two events have made me more determined than ever to do my part to end racism and inequality in the relatively short time I have left on this planet. Moreover, I not only feel sad for the victims and their families. I feel for those who continue to discriminate against others, to deny them their full rights of citizenship, to deny them their right to live in peace, and, in some cases, to deny them their lives.

Although I was raised in the rural Midwest where racial and cultural diversity consisted entirely of Christian descendants of European and Scandinavian settlers, by attending a large university, I discovered exactly how much those of other faiths, colors and cultures enrich us all. That lesson continues to this day.

From my black friends, I not only learned the reality of my white privilege. I learned the true meaning of patience, determination and hope. From my Latino friends, I learned passion, as well as an appreciation for new foods, art, and family. From my Asian friends, I learned compassion and an appreciation for ancient wisdom, Through Asian martial arts, I learned the importance of connecting mind, body, and spirit. From Native Americans, I learned to better appreciate our interconnectedness and the need to care for our Mother Earth. I learned that to unnecessarily harm any other living being is to harm ourselves.

I believe that it is multiculturism that has allowed our nation to succeed beyond our Founders wildest dreams. New immigrants bring new ideas, new wisdom, new foods, new customs, and a determination to work hard to better the lives of their families – always willing to start at the bottom to do the kinds of jobs no other Americans are willing to do. Indeed, it is the most recent immigrants who work in blistering heat to plant and harvest most of our produce, who process most of our meat, who cook and serve us our food, who clean and maintain our office buildings and hotels.

Contrary to what far too many seem to think, people of other cultures, colors, faiths, and gender identities are not a threat, whether they cross our borders legally or illegally or whether their ancestors were brought here in chains. It is the willingness to accept and adapt…to provide opportunity to others…that has made America great. If we lose that, we will lose our future.

Political Party Turned Death Cult.

For many decades, the Republican Party portrayed itself as the right-to-life party in order to gain the support of conservative Christians. Indeed, the party even went so far as to prioritize the life of a fetus over the life of the woman carrying it and the lives of medical personnel willing to abort it.

Yet, as Republicans have continued to fight for the unborn, they have largely turned their backs on the living. They have seemed all too willing to let children go hungry or be consigned to a failing foster system in which children are too often abused and shuttled from home to home. As a result, a significant percentage of those who populate our prison system are products of our foster system.

Further evidence of Republicans’ disdain for the living could be seen as they cheered on the previous administration as it ripped apart families at our borders, caged children, and deported refugees to certain misery and death.

Within the past year, Republicans seem to have taken their distaste for the living to an entirely new level. Many refused to take the necessary steps to control the pandemic by wearing masks. Many attended so-called “super spreader” events against the best advice of scientists. Those actions directly contributed to the deaths of more than 525,000 Americans. They also strained our hospitals to the breaking point.

Now, with an end to the pandemic in sight, Republican governors are prematurely dropping mask mandates and opening up their states’ economies. And a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 28 percent of Republicans will refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19. The poll also found that another 18 percent will “wait and see” before getting a shot.

Wait and see? For what? For their orange messiah to tell them the pandemic is not a hoax? For him to admit, that without quick medical intervention, he might have died? To admit that, on his way out of office, he and his family were vaccinated in secret?

Have these Republicans not seen the videos of Americans dying in such numbers that their bodies are held in refrigerated trucks waiting for burial? Have they not seen interviews with medical personnel suffering from PTSD after caring for so many dead and dying? Have they not lost a friend or family member to Covid-19? Have they not encountered any of the long haulers who are still suffering from the disease months after being first diagnosed?

By refusing to be vaccinated, Republicans are revealing themselves as members of a death cult. A death cult that seems to value fetuses, guns, discrimination, the stock market, and tax cuts for the rich and powerful more than human lives. A death cult that prioritizes corporations over children, profits over people.

If millions of Republicans refuse to be vaccinated as claimed, they could prevent our population from reaching herd immunity potentially resulting in tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, more deaths. Worse, their obstinance could allow the virus to continue to spread and mutate, thus rendering the new vaccines useless and forcing all of us to endure another year or more of deaths and disruption.

Our Broken Criminal Justice System.

Trump’s acquittal for inciting an insurrection and his pardons of some of the most treacherous criminals in our nation’s history only serve to call more attention to the inequalities of our justice system. The contrast is particularly stark in comparison to the treatment of people of color over the past year.

The truth is, the US incarcerates more people than any other nation on Earth (2.1 million as of 2018) and a higher percentage of its citizens than any other nation (639 per 100,000). Moreover, our prison populations are disproportionately people of color. And people of color are disproportionately subjected to police violence.

Why?

As with most things, the answer is: It’s complicated. Certainly, the color of one’s skin does not make one more prone to commit crimes. It does not make one more violent. Similarly, not all white people and white cops are racist. But the answer is rooted in our history of slavery, Jim Crow, and our continuing systemic racism.

For example, numerous studies have found that students of color are disproportionately affected by suspensions and punishments in schools. And the inequity begins early. Though black students represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment, they represent 42 percent of students who are suspended once and 48 percent of those suspended more than once.

The impact of such bias is long-lasting. Suspended students are less likely to graduate on time. They are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school, or become involved in the juvenile justice system. And, once in the system, it is difficult for them to escape. A 2018 study published in the Boston University Law Review found a profound racial disparity in the misdemeanor arrest rate” for drug possession, theft and simple assault. In addition, they are disproportionately subjected to police violence. This disparity was borne out by the Department of Justice investigation into the City of Ferguson, Missouri following the slaying of Michael Brown, an unarmed young black man.

That report revealed a pattern of unlawful conduct within the Ferguson Police Department that violated the 1st, 4th, and 14th Amendments. In short, the investigation found that the city’s administration, its police force, and its municipal court system viewed its largely black population less as residents than as sources of revenue. Residents were arrested for minor crimes and given fines they could not afford to pay. When they failed to pay the fines, the amounts were increased. Ultimately, they were jailed until they could come up with the money to obtain their release.

And Ferguson is not unique. You can find the same pattern in the poorest neighborhoods of almost every US city.

Further, as abundantly demonstrated by the George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, and untold others killed by police, there is significant racism within the police ranks. Young black males are killed by police at a rate 5 times greater than whites. And more than double the rate of Latinos.

Even if the police are not intentionally racist, many have preconceived, subconscious biases. Many assume people of color are guilty of something. They see expressions of free speech as unlawful disobedience. They see innocent movements as threats. And they too often resort to excessive force. Yet, although the number of documented cases of police abuse has grown as a result of the availability of cellphone video, the overwhelming majority of cases still go unreported for fear of retaliation.

There are many contributing factors for the problems: Police leadership – both at the top and within the ranks, flawed hiring practices, and inadequate or over aggressive training. Police are too often expected to deal with situations, such as mental health crises, for which they are unqualified and unprepared. And they are often the victims for poor communication from dispatchers. Police are also victims of our nation’s runaway gun culture. Any American can obtain a gun. And many have more firepower than the responding officers.

Other factors are the militarization of our police forces through the purchase of surplus military equipment. To keep these items, they must prove that they use it. That tends to escalate the violence. And we can’t overlook the police federations that make it difficult for Police Chiefs to enforce meaningful disciplinary actions against abusive officers.

Our court system is equally at fault.

The United Nations Sentencing Project found that US operates two distinct criminal justice systems: One for the wealthy. Another for the poor.

While people like Trump and his friends can afford high-powered attorneys to avoid or delay justice through complicated and expensive motions, the poor, especially people of color are treated very differently. Since the courts and public defenders are overwhelmed with caseloads, prosecutors are often able to intimidate defendants into accepting plea bargains. If they plead to a felony, they are often placed into a prison system focused on revenge rather than rehabilitation and education. Once they’re released, they’re still viewed as dangerous. In many states, they can’t vote. And they find it difficult to get jobs. All too often, that leads them to commit other crimes.

If their crimes involve mental illness, they may be even worse off. The US has all but eliminated mental health facilities. So, the mentally ill are relegated to jail cells. When they act up or become violent, they are placed in solitary confinement, which, in essence, becomes a life sentence.

We can’t make America great again. Because it never was. And it won’t be until we eliminate systemic racism and redesign the criminal justice system from top to bottom.

Welcome To The GQP.

No, that is not a typo. The Republican Party, once led by Abraham Lincoln who held the Union together and emancipated slaves, by Theodore Roosevelt who broke up corporate monopolies and established National Parks, and by Dwight D. Eisenhower who led the defeat of Hitler and helped build America’s middle class, has become the party of bizarre, and delusional, conspiracy theories – the Grand QAnon Party (GQP). Once dedicated to fiscal conservation, the party is now dedicated to conserving white power, institutional racism, and the massive wealth of billionaires.

Instead of constitutionalists, it’s led by radical insurrectionists dedicated only to gaining and retaining power.

The change didn’t happen overnight. It began when the wealthy in the John Birch Society began using their resources to elect compliant officials. It took root with the nurturing of “Christian” evangelicals who selectively used Bible verses to justify discrimination against minorities and to use so-called social issues to gain political power. It grew more radical under the watch of Newt Gingrich who, as Speaker of the House, demanded complete unity and fealty of his caucus on the penalty of being “primaried.” Its members became increasingly dangerous and delusional under the tutelage of the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Jeanine Pirro, and Alex Jones. The Internet and social media allowed the infection to spread unchecked. And the asylum doors were thrown open by Donald J. Trump.

In the 1970s, we saw Richard Nixon divide the nation and undermine our electoral process with the burglary at Watergate. In the 1980s, we saw Ronald Reagan destroy the middle class with his Trickle Down Economics and circumvent the Constitution and Congress with the Iran-Contra affair. In the 2000s, we saw George W. Bush use falsehoods and disinformation to lead us into war. In 2010, we saw members of the Tea Party lie and bully their way into Congress and threaten to shut down our government unless they got their way. In 2014, we saw congressmen and legislators run to the side of Cliven Bundy and his militia who had aimed their weapons at government officials acting on a legal court order. Beginning in 2016, we saw racism and corruption on full display at the highest levels of our government. We saw our president playing footsie with our nation’s enemies at the same time he verbally attacked our military heroes. And, on January 6, we saw the inevitable result of conspiracy theories, hate, racism and a violent sense of privilege run amok.

That shameful event – the worst attack on democracy in our nation’s history – should result in those who inspired the attack being sentenced to prison. It should result in all members of the GQP paying a steep political price. It should end with Marjorie Taylor-Greene, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Lauren Boebert, Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell and others of the Sedition Caucus being removed from office. But it likely won’t.

Instead, we will almost certainly see Donald J. Trump acquitted by GQP members of the Senate. Not because he is innocent of the charges. But because a majority of them still wish to curry favor with their treasonous autocratic leader.

It’s clear that we are now perched on the precipice of a second Civil War. But this time, the division isn’t over slavery. It’s over reason and truth.

Why InfoWars, The NRA, Rightwing Media, And The GOP Should Be Labeled Terrorist Organizations.

Following the insurrection at the Capitol, the FBI classified the Proud Boys as a terrorist group. Even prior to the attack on our democracy, the FBI warned Congress of the threat posed by domestic terrorists. But no one in the Trump administration or in the GOP seemed to listen. Why? Because they had been inspiring domestic terrorists for many years.

Indeed, I believe the violent insurrection of January 6, was the inevitable result of decades of racist, anti-Democrat, anti-government rhetoric.

For example, the GOP reached out to white supremacists as early as the 1960s. The so-called southern strategy was to embrace southern racists who were unhappy with Democrats following passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Racists have been a reliable part of the Republican base ever since.

In 1968, Nixon and Agnew ran as “law and order” candidates as a way of courting white voters. (Ironic isn’t it, given their own crimes?) In 1980, Ronald Reagan served up racist dog whistles to assure southern support. And, by ending the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, he made the rightwing propaganda network possible, opening the airwaves to people like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Mark Levin, Jeanine Pirro, Sean Hannity, and others to spout anti-government, anti-immigrant, and anti-Democrat hate 24/7. As more Americans tuned in to their hateful rants, the GOP lurched further and further to the extreme right. But not even those hatemongers could have envisioned what was to come.

Once Alex Jones entered the arena in 1999, the Republican Party began its descent into the dark sewers of politics. Jones used his InfoWars radio platform to peddle bizarre conspiracy theories and mostly worthless junk. InfoWars made Jones rich. But it also incited the lunatic fringe, which by then had become the base of the Republican Party. He claimed President Obama was a foreign-born Muslim terrorist. He dismissed mass shootings, including the slaughter of children at Sandy Hook Elementary, as “false flag” events staged by Democrats and liberals in order to institute gun control measures. He claimed a US military training exercise in the Southwest was an Obama plot to institute Sharia law. A master of getting attention, he further convinced his followers that Democrats and liberals were the root of all their problems; that they were actively trying to destroy America.

The rhetoric of Jones and the rest of the Republican propaganda network led to a series of angry confrontations between elected officials and armed Tea Partiers at Town Hall Meetings. It likely inspired the armed confrontation between the Oath Keepers and Bureau of Land Management officers at Cliven Bundy’s “ranch.” It almost certainly led to the armed standoff at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

These events seemed to serve as preliminaries for the insurrection to come and ushered in the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

From the time Trump descended his faux gold escalator to announce his candidacy, he pandered to racists by labeling immigrants as rapists, murderers, and thugs. And by calling for an end to political correctness, he was emboldening white supremist groups that were inclined to violence. In cities and towns nationwide, people of color were subjected to verbal and physical abuse as never before. People were berated, told to go back to where they came from, and beaten or killed. Brown babies were ripped from their parents’ arms and thrown in cages. Refugees from predominately black and brown countries were banned from entry. The violence of the racist mob in Charlottesville was dismissed by Trump stating there were “fine people on both sides.” Black Lives Matter protestors were called “very bad people” and “thugs.” And the almost mythical Antifa (short for Antifascists) was called worse.

Throughout, the NRA has continued to provide arms to potential terrorists and insurrectionists under the guise of freedom. Acting as a carnival barker for the gun industry, it pushed for more permissive gun laws and ever more lethal weaponry as a “guard against tyranny.” It made violent militias such as the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Bois, the Oath Keepers, QAnon, and others possible. And it supported the campaigns of increasingly anti-American GOP candidates such as Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs, Debbie Lesko, Jay Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Josh Hawley, Lauren Boebert, and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

All of these people and organizations, as well as the billionaires who fund them, set the stage for the violent attempt to overthrow our democracy in favor of an autocracy to be led by president-for-life Trump.

Trump and his GOP enablers called his electoral defeat the result of fraudulent voting. They incited their violent followers to overturn the election using rightwing media as their megaphone. They told them to fight, to march to the Capitol and take back their country. Alex Jones and others called for a civil war against liberals and Democrats. And those who were inspired to attack the Capitol and Congress, were armed by guns made available by the NRA.

They are terrorists, plain and simple, who have caused more harm to Americans than al-Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban combined. If they were Muslim or a foreign-based terrorist group, we would be readying drone strikes or preparing for all-out war. Instead, Republicans are asking us to move on, to simply forgive and forget. That is not only unrealistic. It’s unthinkable. All of them should and must be held accountable.

The Failure Of Language In The Age Of Trump.

As a professional writer who has a journalism degree and as someone who taught writing at the collegiate level, I believe words matter. Unfortunately, I feel too many journalists, politicians, and elected officials failed us during the administration of Donald J. Trump.

Indeed, I believe their choice of words to describe his outrageous behavior have both encouraged and enabled him.

For example, in the era of Trump, empathy, politeness and humility have been labeled as “political correctness.” Right-wing propagandists are dismissed as “conservatives.” Domestic terrorists are labeled as “extremists.” Violent militias and hate groups are labeled as “radicals.” Seditionists are known as “patriots.” And insurrectionist politicians are part of “the freedom caucus.”

Voter suppression is “enforcing voter ID laws.” Voter disenfranchisement is “updating voter registration.” Civil rights marches and protests are “riots” while threatening gatherings of armed militias are “demonstrations.”

When Trump bombarded us with lies and disinformation, far too many reporters referred to the lies as “factually incorrect” or “untrue.” When he made racist statements and encouraged violence, reporters called them “an attack on political norms.” Even when he called journalists enemies of the people, few reporters were willing to acknowledge his behavior as that of an autocrat.

When Trump ordered children to be ripped from their parents’ arms, too many reported that he had increased “border security,” instead of calling his order what it really was: child torture. When he refused asylum to political and economic refugees, he was “tough on immigration.” But, by sending them back to almost certain death, he was acting as an accomplice to mass murder. And both the Russia investigation and Trump’s first impeachment were labeled by some as “witch hunts.”

Yet, never has the issue become more obvious than in aftermath of Trump’s attempted coup.

Though the assault on Congress was clearly an effort to kidnap and murder those elected representatives who refused to do Trump’s bidding by overturning the election, the language was quickly softened. Instead of calling it a coup, an insurrection, or even domestic terrorism, many described it merely as an “attack,” a “riot,” or a mere “demonstration.” Some of the buffoons on Fox News even said, “America had it coming.”

Let’s be clear. We can never heal this nation until we have a shared truth. That requires precision of language – language that accurately describes what we have collectively seen and experienced. We must do better.

The Origins Of Insurrection.

As I watched our Capitol – the cathedral of democracy – invaded by a collection of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, militias and conspiracy theorists under the banners of Trump, QAnon, and the Confederacy, I was both horrified and transfixed. But it was clear to me that the seeds of insurrection and hate were planted years earlier and nurtured by many…

– By the GOP southern strategy of the seventies that embraced racism for political gain.
– By the criminals Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon and Spiro Agnew who brought corruption to the West Wing and who tried to subvert elections.
– By Ronald Reagan who fomented distrust of the government and whose economic policies hollowed out the middle class and moved many into poverty.
– By Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham, Pat Robertson and other religious leaders who called for discrimination against gays and women who chose abortions over childbirth.
– By Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and the entire GOP propaganda network who used their media platforms to incite their audiences into an anti-government fervor by claiming Democrats and liberals were enemies of democracy.
– By Republicans who, in an attempt to repay Democrats for Nixon’s forced resignation, conducted a seven-year and $70 million hunt for dirt on the Clintons.
– By the racists, including Donald J. Trump, who refused to accept that Barack Obama was born in the US and, therefore, eligible to be president of the United States.
– By the Tea Party, including congressional representatives and senators who promoted false claims that the Great Recession was created by President Obama and that he was acting unconstitutionally.
– By Alex Jones who used his radio and Internet platforms to create and circulate bizarre conspiracy theories aimed at fomenting distrust of government and hate for Democrats.
– By GOP members of Congress who promoted conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and conducted seemingly endless and outrageous investigations into the tragedy at Benghazi.
– By Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media that hosted a toxic brew of hate and anti-government conspiracy theories.
– By the Trump 2016 campaign that began with an appeal to racists and reached out to Russia for support and aid.
– By the mobs that chanted “lock her up” at every Trump rally.
– By the mainstream media that gave hours and hours of airtime to a reality TV “celebrity” and serial sexual assaulter in their insatiable quest for ratings.
– By the GOP that nominated and enabled a candidate who was clearly unfit and unqualified to become president.
– By former Attorney General William Barr who mischaracterized and dismissed the obvious crimes enumerated in the Muller Report.
– By GOP senators who refused to convict and remove Trump from office during his impeachment proceedings.
– By the outgoing occupant of the Oval Office who is clearly guilty of sedition.

Yet those most responsible, by far, are the Trump voters and supporters who put a conman in office, who excused his avarice and his obvious crimes, who supported his racist attacks on refugees and American citizens of color, who verbally and physically attacked journalists for reporting the truth, and who prioritized party and hatred of “the libs” over country.

They are all complicit in this assault on democracy.

Our Greatest Strengths May Also Be Our Greatest Weaknesses.

Since its inception, the US has been celebrated for its guaranteed freedoms: Most notably the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to own a gun, and the freedom to choose our leaders no matter how flawed and unqualified they may be. But those freedoms come with a cost.

Under our Constitution, profiteers and ideologues such as Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and the mysterious Q are free to distribute a torrent of half truths, mistruths, and outrageous lies intended to divide us and to weaken our nation. As a result, there are no shared truths. Not even the need to deal with the horrors of a pandemic has been able to pull us together. Far too many have been willing to take the word of pundits and politicians over that of caregivers and scientists. Even after nearly 350,000 deaths, they continue to believe the pandemic is a hoax. By refusing to wear a mask, they are making a political statement. And they are convinced that vaccines have been created as a way for the government to track them or, worse, poison them.

White supremacists, white nationalists, and other hatemongers hide behind our freedom of religion to discriminate against those of other religions, colors, cultures, and sexual preferences. They even use their religions to deny women the freedom to control their own bodies.

The gun lobby uses the 2nd Amendment and fear tactics to expand gun ownership. Not for hunting. But for “protection.” This is despite the fact that more gun owners are likely to be shot with their own gun than to use it for self-defense. And despite the overwhelming number of gun deaths enabled by easy access to guns. Further, as hate and division have grown, millions of Americans have assembled arsenals with the expectation of using them against their political “enemies” and their own government!

As for our “free” elections, consider the fact that many American citizens are routinely denied the freedom to vote. Especially those Americans of color and those living in poverty. They have not only been victimized by reduced polling places, reduced voting hours, and the purges of voter registrations. Many have been required to take time away from work and drive long distances in order to obtain necessary voter IDs. And one need look no further than the chaos created by Donald J. Trump to see the consequences of electing greedy, unethical, and unqualified government outsiders.

It’s not hyperbole to state that our freedoms may also lead to our nation’s demise.

The question is: How can we address the weaknesses of our system while maintaining our Constitutional freedoms? How can we prevent the liars, the unethical, the profiteers, and our enemies from using our own Constitution against us, especially now that our Supreme Court has been politicized?

We can end division by, once again, demanding that media report the truth. That could be accomplished by a return to some form of the Fairness Doctrine, which required radio and television channels to operate in the public interest by clearly labeling opinions and separating them from the news. The same rules could be applied to all other media.

We could also take the politics out of religion by enforcing current laws that take away tax exemptions for churches that routinely engage in political activities. We should also tax churches that collect millions in donations, permitting their pastors to live in mansions and travel in private jets.

We can address our gun problem by instituting national gun laws, including universal background checks and red flag laws. We should also end the sales of military-style weapons, such as AR-15s, AK-47s, 50 caliber sniper rifles, and large capacity ammunition clips which add to the killing power of mass shooters. And we should conduct buyback programs to recover those already in our citizens’ hands.

Finally, we should reform our electoral system by eliminating the Electoral College, by instituting universal voter registration, and by standardizing elections from state to state. In addition, we should demand that anyone running for national office submit to extensive background checks and release all financial information, including 10 years of tax returns.

Do I think any of this will happen? No. But if we don’t make any changes, it’s pointless to continue to spend trillions on national defense. Before any external enemy can destroy us, we will likely destroy ourselves.

Are Racism And White Nationalism The Inevitable Result of Military Training?

With each military conflict, our soldiers become more lethal. In WWII, it was estimated that only 15-20 percent of our soldiers fired their weapons in combat. After changing our training methods, it was estimated that the percentage had grown to 55 percent in Korea and 90-95 percent in Vietnam.

Those numbers have likely continued to increase in recent conflicts against people of color and other faiths.

The increases are almost certainly the result of dehumanizing the enemy to make it easier for our soldiers to fire to kill in combat. That makes our military more lethal and efficient than at any time in our history. But it may have a troubling side effect.

In her book, Bring The War Home, Kathleen Belew describes how the environment inside our military has led to a number of veterans joining the White Power movement and applying their military training to make it increasingly violent. And it appears that racism within the military is growing. Indeed, a Military Times study conducted in 2019 found “36 percent of all active-duty service members have personally seen examples of white supremacy and racism within the military.”

The consequences may be as benign as military veterans rejecting dating partners with olive skin and dark hair in favor of blondes. But, too often, racism within the ranks results in deadly consequences for our society. As some members of our military retire, they seek outlets for their racist views. They end up in White Nationalist militias and other militaristic groups, such as the Oathkeepers. Others, seeking to recapture the adrenalin rush from military conflicts join more militant groups such as the Proud Boys, and the Boogaloo Bois.

During the Trump administration, far too many of these veterans contributed to the division and violence on our streets. In blatant attempts to bully political opponents, they showed up at demonstrations in military regalia with combat-style weapons. Some engaged in street fights. And, in clear conflict with their oath to protect the Constitution, others used guerilla military tactics to burn properties and create disorder to inspire a civil war or to blame Black Lives Matter or Antifa.

Worse yet, as police departments across the nation have prioritized the hiring of military veterans, too many racist and violent people have ended up with badges. Perhaps that explains why Police Federations have labeled Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization despite the fact that BLM’s marches and demonstrations have remained almost entirely non-violent. Indeed, most of the violence surrounding their events has been committed by others or instigated by the police themselves.

What can be done to stem racism in the military and to prevent it from having a residual impact on our society?

First, we must demand that our military branches do a better job of rooting out racists. Second, we must create better mental health programs for those combat veterans who are leaving the service. Third, our governments should make it a priority to break up heavily armed militias and hate groups, to confiscate the weapons of those who have instituted or threatened violence, and make it difficult for them to obtain new weapons. Fourth, we must demand that law enforcement do a better job of screening job applicants for racist and violent tendencies.

Only then can we hope to have real peace in our streets.