•  Culture, Equality

The world is different today.

Last night, for the first time, a woman accepted a major party’s nomination for the presidency of the United States. (I know you all know this. I just wanted to say it again, because it qualifies as a genuine, 100% Big Deal. I only wish my mom had been here to see it.)

One of the most powerful moments of the evening came when Hillz and Chelsea embraced after Chelsea had introduced her mother. The glance that passed between them contained not just love—although there was obviously plenty of that (and how nice to see it on a convention stage, for a change)—but all the elements of what I have come to call the Knowing Look. That’s the one that women give each other that says, I understand. I understand what it’s like to be the smartest person in the class, and the least popular. I understand what it’s like to respond to unwanted attention with humor, because girls don’t get angry. I understand what it’s like to be in an abusive relationship and to be afraid to tell anyone. I understand what it’s like to like math, or science, and be told that’s not what girls do. I understand what it’s like to be so tired cleaning houses all day for other people that you fall asleep standing up on the subway. I understand what it’s like to have your PhD advisor, your boss, your mentor demand sexual favors in exchange for a recommendation. I understand what it’s like to work in an office where women’s clothes, hair, makeup, bodies are openly discussed, dissected, disrespected. I understand what it’s like to be left holding the bag, the debt, the children. I understand what it’s like to be barraged by idealized, retouched, Photoshopped images of women on the Internet 24/7/365 and feel like you have to measure up and you never will. I understand what it’s like not to be able to find toys for girls that aren’t pink. I understand what it’s like to be paid less than the men in your company and to have to suck it up because you need that job. I understand what it’s like to be date raped. I understand what it’s like to have three part-time jobs so you can support your two children as a single mother.

I understand how far we’ve come to be standing on this stage, tonight, mother and daughter, two women for once not in the service of men but in the service of the common good.

Earlier in the evening, I heard a caller on Brian Lehrer’s national call-in show say that he didn’t understand “the ballyhoo” over Hillary’s nomination. Behind the bravado in his voice, I heard fear. Fear that a woman might do the job as well as a man. Fear that he might lose the power to cajole, to control, to dominate. Well, to all the men out there who are threatened by Hillary Clinton because she’s brilliant and kind, strong and compassionate, a leader and an organizer of family movie night (obviously, supremely equipped to be the first multi-tasker-in-chief): She is so good at all these things because you made her that way. You made all of us that way. When we had to work our one, two, or three jobs and organize dinner every night, coordinate child care, serve as COO, CFO, CIO and CTO of the household, arrange the doctor’s visits and the birthday presents and the holiday cards and the travel arrangements and the veterinary care and the care for elderly parents (yours and ours), we had no choice but to become good at All The Things and, at the same time, to look inside ourselves and find the strength to carry on despite all the crap you put us through, whether you meant to, or not. We became not just able to function on missed meals, no exercise, little sleep, no sleep, but, in the words of Ernest Hemingway, “stronger at the broken places.” Or, more to the point—in the words of Mrs. Carter—“Smart enough to make these millions/Strong enough to bear the children/Then get back to bidness.”

Hear me, men of America: This nomination is not payback. We are not seeking revenge, or reparations. We are not putting you on trial for your past conduct. We just want someone in the White House who is capable of the Knowing Look and who might be able to get us a glass of wine and a few hours of time off (instead of what we’re told is time off, which is usually taken up with other people’s needs). We, all of us who support Hillary—little girls, young women, and older women like me—want her to be president because she is exactly like us. Showing up every day, doing the best she can, despite everything, all the time. In these United States, that’s something to celebrate. Balloons and all.

Now, back to bidness.

 •  Annoyances, Culture, Equality

There and here.

London has a new mayor, and the phenomenally accomplished Sadiq Khan—with a biography any good socialist would cheerfully give his or her left arm for—has been receiving congratulations from future colleagues worldwide on his victory in the election, which boasted the highest turnout ever for a mayoral contest. The mayor of Paris swoons over his “humanism” and “progressiveness.” Jakarta’s governor calls his victory an “inspiring story of democracy, merit, and tolerance.” A breathless tweet from -H herself extols Khan’s virtues as a “champion of workers’ rights and human rights.” Even the sister of his challenger, Zac Goldsmith, calls his victory “a great example to young Muslims.” This son of a Pakistani bus driver, who grew up on a council estate, avoided a rough crowd at school, developed a passion for education, politics, and equality, and keeps it real by taking out the trash and putting his two daughters to bed, is the darling of those who would unify a splintered electorate everywhere. Except, presumably, that other self-proclaimed great unifier, Donald Trump, who as of this writing remains undecided as to whether Khan would be allowed into the U.S. if he were victorious in the Presidential stakes.

These days in politics, you can either be a lover or a hater. There is no in between. Khan is a lover—a lover who because of his heritage and his looks would likely be targeted for suspicion in any number of cities in the United States of today. He insists, in his first interview with Time as Lord Mayor, that being British, Western and Muslim is not a contradiction; that his election symbolizes the spirit of Londoners who “respect, embrace, celebrate” their diversity; and that “it’s really important” that he “use his experiences to defeat radicalization and extremism.” He’s vocal on the need for good role models for young British Muslims today, so that when presented with the sometimes alluring prospect of fighting for ISIS, they can “just say no.” He’s not shy about his convictions and he’s willing to stand up for his beliefs, even when that puts him in danger—a fatwa was issued against him thanks to his support for gay marriage. Perhaps most importantly, he believes that his election means that “actually there is no clash of civilization between Islam and the West.”

I’ve been trying for a day now to reconcile Khan’s ascendancy to a position that puts him in charge of the daily lives of nearly 15 million people with the irrational hatred of Muslims in the U.S. that forces innocent travelers off planes; earns people death threats because of the color of their skin; and constrains the devout to abandon plans to build places of worship. This isn’t saying that there’s no anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.K.—there’s plenty, much of it in evidence during this election. Zac Goldsmith ran a campaign The Guardian called “soaked in racism”—ironic and sad, given his own not-exactly-mainstream-British heritage. But somehow the innate generosity of spirit and openness of mind that has always characterized the England we like to imagine, the England of Downton Abbey, triumphed—putting Khan and, by association, the entire nation on the right side of history. Would that I were certain the same sterling qualities of character would suddenly emerge over the next few months in our own political discourse.

It seems so, well, unfair that the often tortured relationship Britain has with its former colonies has come to this—to the seemingly inexorable rise to power of the son of an immigrant from one of those colonies—when we in our own country spend our time, when we’re not vilifying or murdering the descendants of people we used to buy and sell, complaining about those nasty immigrants who are taking all of our jobs away, threatening our families, and destroying our society. And indeed, it is a slap in the face to the much-ballyhooed idea of American democracy that a man named Khan now holds one of the highest political offices in the U.K. when here, he would have trouble getting ahead these days unless the middle letters of his last name were reversed. The big-hearted and hopeful America of the 1950s and 1960s, the America that marched steadily and compassionately toward progress of every kind, has disappeared into a vortex of debt, dissension, and disgust—a place where kindness and decency no longer have any real currency, and division is the order of the day. Democracy has room for every kind of attitude, of course, and we have seen glimpses of this America before. But today, thanks to the legacy of a generation’s worth of indiscriminate, profligate greed, we have more division than ever. Which means more hatred, and then more division, on and on, the ouroboros busily eating its own tail until someone cuts off its head. The dirty little secret of America—which, if things go the wrong way this November, will not be so secret any more—is that hatred has become not just the overriding tone of our discourse and the raison d’etre for much of our popular culture, but our guiding national principle. “Haters gonna hate,” in the sunnily styled vocals of our foremost pop diva. And how. Too bad we can’t just shake it off.

 •  Culture, Manners, Morals

God help America.

It’s official: We live in the scariest democracy in the world. Last night, after being pummeled by Donald Trump in Indiana despite his recent #HailCarly pass, Ted Cruz dropped out of the Republican presidential nominating game. And this evening—after frenzied declarations to the contrary earlier today on Twitter—John Kasich threw in the towel, leaving Trump as the presumptive, de facto, or all-but-assured nominee, depending on who you ask.

The mood among the media elite just after the Kasich announcement was leaked expressed itself as a collective tone of voice best described as “if there were any way for me not to be journalistically objective right now, you BET I’d tell you how I’m feeling.” Most news outlets greeted the development with the same sort of weary resignation that has characterized so many of the stories about the campaign in recent days. No one was brave enough to say “I told you so” except John Hockenberry, who managed to express the “this can’t be happening” mood perfectly by awarding Ira Flatow of Science Friday an award for being the only one of his colleagues to have recognized early on that Trump would stay in until the convention—no, to infinity, and beyond!

The coming weeks will presumably bring public fumbling by the Clinton campaign, as it tries to figure out which of Trump’s lobbied insults to answer, and private desperation among the Republican elite, as it quickly convenes back room meetings to find someone, ANYONE, to step up to the plate of what it fervently hopes will become a contested convention. Meanwhile, Trump’s supporters—and there are many, despite what the intellectual elite would have had you believe just a few short months ago—continue to sing his praises, calling him “the only man who can save this country.” This reminds me vividly of Michael Douglas telling Gwyneth Paltrow’s lover in A Perfect Murder, “You steal the crown jewel of a man’s soul and your only excuse is some candy-ass Hallmark card sentiment? Even if that were true, buddy, that’s not good enough!”—the crown jewel, in this case, being any claim to fame America might have had until today to be the world’s standard-bearer for democracy.

It wasn’t always this way, of course. Until recently—very recently, in fact—the United States represented the last best hope of many people around the globe for decency, clear thinking, and goodness in the political arena. Even slips like Nixon’s six years in the White House (yes, he opened China, but let’s not forget that he was still a crook) were forgiven the nation that had given the world so much in the personages and policies of Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter, Clinton, and even Bush 41. It was only during Bush 43’s first term that the murmurs of dissatisfaction with the country that had saved the world less than fifty years earlier began to crescendo. In the past eight years, despite the emphasis in the White House once again squarely on “negotiation first,” the murmurs have grown even louder, thanks largely to the legacy of 43’s many failed wars or “actions.” Today, they are a full-throated roar. And no wonder.

The disgust overseas greeting this latest development in the 2016 presidential stakes is eclipsed only by the incredulity here at home among much of the political elite that this is Actually Happening. But why are we so surprised, when the sotto voce preparations among our allies for the worst over the past months were answered here by a stubborn refusal among almost 100% of the intelligentsia to take the unfolding events seriously? As though if we just continued to ignore reality it would Just. Go. Away? Today, it’s become painfully obvious that the only person who benefited from that strategy was, yes, Donald J. Trump. While the people who could have mounted an all-out campaign against his all-out assault on democracy were fiddling, CNN burned, and ABC, and NBC, and Megyn Kelly on Fox News, and 26 states. And now, the man who HuffPo called the “800 pound orange gorilla” is on his way to a showdown with the most reviled woman in American politics (except, maybe, for #HailCarly). I don’t know about you, but I’m investigating overseas contracts—and in my spare time, maybe I’ll start a movement to change the words of the song that has become the official anthem of the seventh inning stretch.

 •  Annoyances, Culture, Morals

You’re still not worried?

He won five states last night with popular vote tallies far greater than expected, and you’re still not worried?

Nate Silver says it’s “his nomination to lose,” and you’re still not worried?

He’s developing what appears to be a pretty plausible rust belt strategy, and you’re still not worried?

He’s fleshing out his foreign policy agenda—sounding almost as presidential as 43—and you’re still not worried?

Susan Page says we “shouldn’t make assumptions” about how the election’s going to turn out if he’s the nominee, and you’re still not worried?

He delivered a speech today that the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee described as “very good,” and you’re still not worried?

He’s already having a negative effect on the economy, and you’re still not worried?

Megyn Kelly is yielding to his dubious charms, and you’re still not worried?

A major poll has him at 50% support among Republicans and Republican leaners nationally, and you’re still not worried?


Let’s get into that last one for a moment.

There are 146,311,000 Americans registered to vote (actually, probably a few more now—that was as of August 2015—but let’s work with those numbers). 41% of those, or 59,987,510, are Republican or Republican leaning. And half of those, or 29,993,755, support him.

You can look at it this way:

The U.S. population is, at the time of this writing, 323,439,880. So, one in eleven Americans supports Donald Trump.

That doesn’t sound so alarming.

Or you can look at it this way:

Thirty million Americans are in favor of electing as their highest representative a man who’s racist. Misogynist. Anti-immigrant. Whose campaign tactics are right out of the dictator’s playbook. Who opposes marriage equality. Who thinks carrying concealed weapons should be an American birthright. Who thinks choosing a running mate who’s actively anti-LGBT would be a “great idea.” Whose platform is named for a political movement allied with Nazi goals. Who doesn’t believe in climate change. Who wants to deny health care to the people who somehow get through his wall.

Thirty million Americans.

I could go on. But I’d rather just ask you a question.

You’re still not worried?

 •  Annoyances, Culture, Manners

On law and order.

The one and only time I was ever ticketed for any sort of moving violation was on the evening of Valentine’s Day 2007. I was driving south on the West Side Highway and had just turned onto (I think) 50th Street when I was pulled over by a cop because I was talking on my cellphone—while holding it. When he said, “Do you know how long we tailed you with the siren on and the lights flashing? FIVE BLOCKS,” it woke me up. I never drove non-hands-free again.

We have a new-ish law here in Vermont that I thought would really improve manners on our highways. But let me begin with a bit of background. Vermont has fewer than 650,000 residents, but those 650,000 are pretty spread out. It isn’t uncommon for a commute to be 45 minutes, which here means 45 miles. I don’t bat an eyelash at driving to South Burlington twice a week to go to Trader Joe’s, because it’s only twenty minutes (26 miles) away. And so it goes, here on the roads. People spend much of their lives in their cars. And that means they do a plethora of things there. Things that endanger other people.

I used to be amused by my cousin Leslie’s assertion that, having grown up in California, she could smoke, drink a soda, eat lunch, do her makeup, and talk on the ‘phone all at the same time while driving. I’m not so amused by it anymore—not because I wouldn’t trust Leslie behind the wheel with my life, but because since we moved here I have so often almost been sideswiped on the highway, broadsided at an intersection, or hit in a parking lot by someone talking (non-hands-free) or texting. So I rejoiced when, last year, the Vermont Legislature passed a hands-free bill, and Governor Shumlin (after taking some time to opine as to how everyone ought to be counted on to “do the right thing” and we didn’t really need this sort of measure) signed it into law.

And here’s where we run headlong into the Vermont way of doing things. As far as I can tell, the law has made absolutely no difference. I am still avoiding idiotic behavior on the roads as much as I ever was, and as a matter of fact, it seems to have gotten worse. (In two separate instances over the holidays, for example, I was almost run over while walking across a parking lot by a woman who was driving while presumably updating a shopping list, and sustained $400 worth of damage to my rear bumper courtesy of backing into a pillar in another parking lot to avoid a woman talking on a handheld ‘phone and heading right for my front bumper.) And, despite a professed “crackdown” during the fall, when we all saw “PHONES DOWN…HEADS UP” signs along the interstate highways and there were apparently a bunch of people pulled over and ticketed, the police don’t seem to be paying too much attention to the problem. Apparently, everyone is still relying on the good citizens of Vermont to “do the right thing.” Which translates, as far as I can tell, to “doing exactly what you want to do.”

Here’s the thing. There is an unspoken compact among the citizens of New York City that goes like this: if you break the law, and you get caught, it’s a fair cop. You argue with the officer, but in the end, you suck it up and you accept the ticket. And so you mostly don’t break the law, or at least not much, and part of that is because you know you live with 7 million other people who are also entitled to get to the end of every day still breathing. And that, along with a hefty dose of heavily publicized examples of people who break the law in some pretty serious ways and get caught doing so, is how New York City continues to function as a relatively civilized place. But Vermont seems not to have this compact. No expectation of enforcement, no expectation of admission of guilt, no public shaming of those who break the rules, no dire consequences for anyone (well, except for the people who get hurt or killed by the lawbreakers). And so there doesn’t seem to be any reason for people to stop doing exactly what they want. Which—sorry, Governor Shumlin—isn’t always the right thing.

I see this in many arenas here, this unwillingness to admit that problems of societal behavior exist, and that we need laws to manage those problems, and people who are willing to enforce those laws. I’m sure the “it’s all going to be okay if we just ignore it” mentality stems from the time when Vermont was a wilderness tamable only by the sheer will of its inhabitants. At that time, survival was only of the fittest, and “every man for himself” was not just an aphorism, but a necessary skill. But Vermont is a very different place today, and we cannot always count on the same altruism that was so publicly on display in the months and years following the devastation of Irene to bring us all together as a cohesive unit. In Vermont, our homes and cars are our castles—but they are also neighbors to all of the other homes and cars throughout the state. And if we continue to treat those castles as inviolable—if we do not recognize the urgency of dealing in a comprehensive and decisive way with texting while driving, driving non-hands-free, and the myriad other social issues that as Vermont grows need our considered attention—we will through our omissions end up creating a culture that, rather than continuing to respect the individual, lays waste to what should be our common goal: a Vermont that is safe for everyone who chooses to live, work, and travel within our borders. Forgetting the texting while driving accidents for a moment, that would really be a tragedy.