September 14th: Queen of the Hill

I’ve never liked Jemele Hill very much. She likes to talk about basketball and football, while I’m much more of a baseball and hockey fan. She and her co-host, Michael Smith, have taken up the mantel of discussing race as a lens for sports, and it just hasn’t been done as well as I would have hoped. I don’t love the fact that, even though what they have to say is incredibly important, it should be a specialty show, not a sportscenter spot. What I would enjoy as a political or racial conversation on a different platform or in a different format just isn’t what I’m looking for in a sports conversation, and Hill and Smith don’t always know how to balance that as well as I might enjoy.

Jemele Hill tweeted on Monday that Donald Trump is a white-supremacist. She tweeted that he has surrounded himself with other white-supremacists. She accused him of pandering to racists and bigots, and that his leadership is unacceptable. Hill, who has made a reputation for herself as a champion of African American issues and race relations in American sports, did what she does every day and she spoke out, voicing her take on the leadership of this country.

Well, as we might expect, the White House didn’t handle this particularly well. They immediately called for her termination at ESPN, insisting that these claims were unfounded and false. Unfounded may not be the right word, though. It says a lot about a man who is willing to speak with more conviction and passion about a person who said mean things to him than he would about the racists, bigots, and white supremacists to whom he is being accused of pandering.

ESPN put out a statement, essentially stating that Jemele Hill acted alone and does not represent the thoughts and feelings of the company, and Hill posted another tweet stating her thoughts as her own and declaring her respect for her company and colleagues to be unconditional. ESPN accepted the apology, and all is right with the world, right?

Not exactly. You see, freedom of speech is the favorite soundbite for every conservative republican in the country, right up until that person says something that the conservatives don’t like. Hill’s comments are not an unfounded statement of nastiness, but rather a reaction to countless times that the President has failed to lead this country in a positive direction. But regardless of what she said or why she said it, we live in a country that allows anyone to say whatever they want within a certain limit, and Hill is certainly on the right side of that limit.

Heath Evans, a coworker of Hill’s and a former NFL player, took to Twitter himself to be the leader nobody else seems willing to be. In a video filmed in his car, Evans said that while his politics don’t align with Hill on this matter, he supports his peer entirely in her right to say whatever she feels, and that his party needs to be willing to hear things that may make them uncomfortable without demanding the person lose their jobs or be silenced.

Whether or not anyone agrees with Jemele Hill is not the point. The point is that, as a black American, her voice cannot be silenced without confirming all the things she’s expressing, and the White House has, once again, proved their inability to focus on real issues at the expense of ensuring that nobody makes fun of them or says anything they don’t like.

On another level, Hill has finally done what I’ve been hoping for all this time: she has finally found a way that she can talk about the issues that are so important, to speak out against the injustice in the world, in a way that fits her message more specifically. While I may not want my sports to be overly politicized every day, I am delighted to hear her voice amidst the politics that needs to look her right in the eyes and listen to what she has to say.

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September 6th: True American Greatness

We were promised in 2016 that Donald Trump would “Make America Great Again.” At the time, plenty of people wanted to answer a few questions. During which period was the greatness Trump wanted to return to? What is it that makes America less than great right now? How do we do this exactly?

It is difficult to quantify something like greatness. Is America great because of our freedom here? Well, plenty of countries have freedom at varying levels. America is hardly alone in their pursuit of the personal freedoms for all citizens. Is America great because of opportunity for success? Well, not all Americans are particularly successful, and plenty of other countries educate their children better than we do, setting them up for the possibility of a brighter future. Is America great because military force? It seems like our military force might be on the cusp of starting a fight from which nobody will come away victorious. Mutually assured destruction is something that is just as scary now as it was three decades ago, and would cause more damage to American greatness than it brought.

No, what makes America great is our vision for a brighter future. Americans, from the very inception of this nation, have been willing to set forward a dream for what it looks like to create “a more perfect union.” America’s greatness resides in our willingness, as a nation, to not settle for simply going about our business, but our willingness to search out justice across the globe, and our willingness to build a society that demands greatness at every opportunity.

A normal country seeks to take care of its own people. A regular country is expected to be able to feed, educate, and employ its citizens at a rate that keeps society going. A great country is one that is able to do all that and more, to be able to take in those who wish to hope as fiercely as we do. A great country is one that allows its greatness to serve not only as an expectation for our own way of life, but as a model for how others should live. Greatness is in being something greater, something better.

When this country chooses to turn its back on the children who were brought here to create a better life, we lost any claim at being great. When this country claims that we can’t take care of our own citizens, let alone worry about others, we lose our aspirational excellence.

The isolationism that President Trump seeks will not make America great. Choosing to end DACA and close the borders of this country to foreign immigrants does nothing to create further greatness. For 240 years, this country looked upward to a brighter future, a willingness to create something of value for the world. With the deportation of dreamers, we would be telling the world that greatness is no longer American, that America can no longer afford to be great. And we can’t let that happen.

July 13th: It’s Getting Coaled in Here

I don’t understand coal. Sure, I understand it is an energy source and a big provider of jobs for a large section of American workers in certain regions. I get that, as coal’s value on the global market decreases, life gets harder for those whose income is tied to it. I’m even on board with the idea that, as the industry changes, the American government has an obligation to ensuring that the people aren’t left hung out to dry.

What I don’t understand is the desire to preserve and prop up the coal industry that seems to be being left behind by the innovation of other fields. President Trump repeated promised during his campaign the support and stimulus of coal and its workers. It seems to be a common trope for Republicans. That, though, defies the logic of the conservative party’s stance on other, similar issues.

Why is it that a child born on the southside of Chicago doesn’t deserve federal funding for a better school while we’re supposed to help a coal miner keep his job in a dying field? If the answer is because one is contributing to the work force, then we have a very short-sighted view of our economic plan. What about a fast food worker who can’t make ends meet on a minimum wage? Why leave them to struggle in an industry doing fine for itself while an equally educated mine worker gets a helping hand? For the party that promotes capitalism and ignoring the plight of the “little guy” in favor of “fair” competition, this seems nonsensical.

The liberal thing to do in this situation would be to take the time and spend the money to retrain and educate coal workers for new, future proofed trades. Why not take those in an outdated field and push them toward technology and programming jobs, pushing for a more modern future and success for our nation? This is, of course, time consuming and expensive, but has the chance to solve the root of the issue, not just push it back until it can be another administration’s problem.

So the two options appear to be to either help job train for the future or to let them fight for themselves. Why is there so much noise for propping up a fading, environmentally taxing industry? Because coal miners vote, and it’s a great way to score easy points to promise job security and governmental support.

Nobody wants to hear that their work is losing value, especially when families have been in the business for generations. Nobody wants to have to learn a new craft, to start over again. And everyone wants to believe that politicians are personally concerned with their lives and the challenges they face.

Yet, at a certain point, we have to honestly grapple with the issue at hand. How do we, as a country, ensure our greatest success and stability moving forward? We have taken the coal industry and bought an extra large package of band-aids in the hopes of taking care of a case of cancer. Until we are honestly willing to look for legitimate, long-term solutions, we are going to have to continue to embrace the hypocrisy of a plan that doesn’t want to fix a problem, but rather to let it fester until we have a crisis.

June 1st: Losing Our Heads Over Things

Comedy only works when it is funny. This week, Kathy Griffin was not funny when she posted a photo of herself holding a prop that looked like Donald Trump’s severed head. It was over the top, it was crude, and it wasn’t the kind of thing we should be joking about in a country that has an evil streak of violence that we can’t seem to overcome.

She was swiftly fired by CNN, she apologized profusely, and she will, no doubt, go through a period of banishment from the spotlight. She is not the first person to do something stupid and wind up with a scandal, and she most certainly won’t be the last.

Kathy Griffin was wrong. She was thoughtless, she was over the top, and she did something that should have been comedy but instead was uncomfortable and offensive. The response by Donald Trump, though, was what caught my attention.

In a tweet to the public, as he likes to do, Trump said “Kathy Griffin should be ashamed of herself. My children, especially my 11 year old son, Barron, are having a hard time with this. Sick!”

Now, he’s absolutely right. Kathy Griffin should be, and seems to be ashamed. And he’s also right: No child should be made fearful of their father’s safety and well-being in a terrible joke. But here’s where we run into a problem. Donald Trump attempted to spur up compassion for him and his family by claiming to be a victim, a poor soul who hasn’t done anything to deserve this.

Let’s shift that thinking for a moment. How does the President think an 11 year old with a parent with a pre-existing condition feel when Trump ensures that they will not be covered by insurance? How does the President think a transgender 11 year old feels when told that they have no place to use the bathroom in their school? How does the President think an 11 year old feels when the government puts forth legislation that makes it easier for people to get guns to bring to school, rather than harder for people to get guns? How does the President think an 11 year old child of immigrants feels knowing that their president considers them to be the enemy?

The argument that we should do anything with consideration for how this may affect those around Trump is no longer on the table. It is no longer viable to ask for compassion from the general public when it has been made perfectly clear that no compassion will be returned in exchange. If anything, Trump is now getting the chance to experience the kinds of questions and nightmares that parents all across the country have to quell every day. And not all problems are as easy to explain away as a comedian with an ill-considered joke.

Kathy Griffin did something that was disrespectful and inappropriate. She is being punished for it, and things will soon return to normal. But, we need to remind the President that while he absolutely shouldn’t be experiencing these kinds of things as a human being, he cannot cry unfair play simply because he now has to explain away the actions of an ignorant person who made the world seem scary. American parents have been having to do that for months already. Welcome to the Trump America, Mr. President.

May 25th: Balancing Our Mentality With Our Budget

In a satirical column in USA Today, I learned that Kentucky is the state that most depends on Federal assistance to run their operations. I also knew, based on this election and every one that came before it, that Kentucky tends to be one of the most Republican-friendly states on voting day.

This comes as a bit of a shock. How is it that a state that depends so much on the help from the national government can so regularly support the political party that wants a small central power, with the real strength being given to the states? If that was the case, Kentucky would be dooming itself by biting the hand that feeds it, in favor of being left to its own (rather poor) devices.

This kind of political dissonance is baffling to me, and begs to question: what is it that Republican voters like about their Republican candidates that they would be willing to sacrifice themselves in that way? We know there are pet projects that the Republican party supports that are hot-button issues in places like Kentucky: guns, abortion, same-sex marriage, and others. But, on the larger scale, these are small issues when confronted by the fact that, if all goes according to the Republicans’ plan, states like Kentucky will be left out to dry.

It makes very little sense that a state so dependent on the national government for support would be willing to so consistently vote for the party that seeks to make government “small enough to drown in the bathtub.” And it should be for even greater concern when we consider what would happen if the people of Kentucky actually got what they have been asking for.

May 24th: A Pain We Must Endure

I was listening to NPR today, and heard a report discussing the aftermath of the terror attack in Manchester. While comparing the incident to other examples of mass destruction in recent European history, the reporter mentioned that he was noticing less devastating grief, and more resigned sadness, as if the people of England have become desensitized to the terrible things of the world.

In that one instant, my heart broke. In discussing the death of dozens of young people at a concert, we are no longer shocked, horrified, or surprised. These kinds of incidents have become part of what it means to be a citizen of the world, as if terror is something that is natural and normal. Simply put, it isn’t, and we need to be reminded of that.

It is actually an incredibly human thing to desensitize ourselves to the horrors of the world. We wouldn’t be able to live with ourselves if we fell into devastation every time something bad happens in the world. Over time, we come to terms with the kind of things that we know are part of life. It’s why we ask “was he old?” when told of someone’s. Does it matter that he was old? Does that make it hurt less to a loved one? In a way, yes. We have programmed ourselves that the death of the old should be less sad than the death of a young person. It isn’t necessarily true; each individual gets to determine how they feel. But, in our subconscious, we insulate ourselves from losing ourselves in our grief.

Devastation and grief isn’t necessarily preferable. But the important thing we need to remind ourselves is that this isn’t how life is supposed to be. This isn’t normal, it isn’t natural, it isn’t something we need to learn to live with. A human being reached out and tore the life away from dozens of people, cutting their lives off entirely, and devastating the lives of countless others. Hate like that can never be made normal. Violence like that can never be allowed to become expected.

It is a terrible feeling to see the world falling apart and not know what to do about it. To get constant text messages and updates with acts of violence and not know how to help, how to make it better. But we need to live with that desperation, that passionate need for the world to be better than this. Because the other option is that the world continue as it is, and that simply isn’t acceptable. We have to be inspired to find a way to stop this hatred and this terror, and we aren’t going to be able to do that if we numb ourselves to the pain. The only way to make it hurt less is for us to figure out a way to happen less.

May 5th: Low Unemployment, High Expectations

This morning, the Labor Department released statistics regarding job growth and unemployment rates for the month of April. Job growth was up by 211,000 jobs last month, while unemployment dropped to 4.4 percent, the lowest it has been in nearly a decade.

While a low unemployment sounds like great news for the average American, and more jobs means more opportunities, the time is quickly upon us to begin to wonder what the ramifications are going to be for the citizens who used the November election to ensure that their voice was being heard. For many in this country, times have been hard, and a status quo wasn’t going to be acceptable for turning around the fortunes that left too many Americans struggling to make ends meet.

In an NPR report this morning, it was noted that growth in technology fields have helped to show that boost in the economy, while brick-and-mortar retail stores have been struggling to keep up with online sales. This demonstrates an opposite side to the coin, regarding average Americans. While growth is growth, and generally a positive, growth in the technology field tends to help the highly educated generally better-off in society, while retail opportunities generally tend to be the place where those in need of immediate help turn. In that regard, not all growth is considered equal, and results in a multitude of different ramifications, depending on who is being assisted in any given moment.

The public has been asking for the government to take interest in their affairs for a long time. They expect to see quick results, and an immediate impact on their own lives. While statistics like the ones released today spell an initial success for the job market and for the Department of Labor, it remains to be seen whether or not the day-to-day lives of Americans are going to be changed for the better.