•  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?

Really?

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, Morals

A bit of a rant.

I got an email a couple of weeks ago from Madesmith, promoting workwear designed by a woman “on a mission to create clothing for women that balances style and comfort.” On first read, this really excited me…since I work from home, in a profession that makes me somewhat of a creative type (at least I like to think so), I am always looking for a workwear alternative to (let’s be honest here, people) paint-stained sweatshirts and leggings. After all, it’s nice to look good for the dog. And the UPS guy. Oh, and my husband.

I clicked on over, and found that the new line, Nativen, was pitched ostensibly towards women who ‘work on their feet all day performing a number of manual jobs.’ I know a number of people who work thus—from nurses to ceramists—and so I was further intrigued. Plus, the pictures (moodily shot, beautifully styled, one featuring a bulldog) really got me. And I loved the look of the ‘Build Your Adventure bandana’ (which turned out to have been designed by the ever-amazing Lisa Congdon). So I clicked through to purchase.

Brace yourself. The bandana costs…

$88.

That’s eighty-eight dollars, folks. For a 21” square of cotton. Admittedly, ‘100% American grown and made.’ But still.

I have been feeling for some time that the fetishization of the maker has reached its apotheosis, and I think we have perhaps found here the moment where it has jumped the shark. Let me be clear…I have spent the bulk of my professional life advocating for makers in one way or another. Their work is all over my house. And I count them as some of my best friends (yes, I know what that sounds like, but it’s true). But not one I can think of would for one second entertain the idea of spending $88 for a square piece of cotton that would soon become irreparably stained with stock; caked with glaze; burnt by a soldering iron; or chewed up by the dog. What has happened to bring us to the point where the idea of workwear for the maker and doer is more important than the creation of workwear that working women can actually afford?

Understand that I do not mean to denigrate the work of Nativen’s founder, who is undoubtedly a lovely person who believes in her mission. But $88 for a bandana is not reality in my world; nor is it reality in the world of people who work on their feet all day. And in a world where most of the makers I know don’t earn a fraction of what their work is worth and can’t, because of market forces, that $88 is downright insulting. Now, if 50% of the purchase price went toward supporting continuing education for independent makers in America, perhaps I’d feel differently.

How about it, Nativen?

 •  Culture, Morals

Allow natural death.

I spend a fair amount of time reading other writers’ blogs—something that’s always entertaining, sometimes voyeuristic, and occasionally deeply thought-provoking. In the latter vein, I was delighted to learn last week, courtesy of Joanna Goddard, that some very smart people across the country are trying to change how we perceive and react to end of life issues by getting rid of ‘DNR.’

‘DNR’ stands for ‘do not resuscitate.’ For people who have signed a ‘DNR’ order as part of a hospital admission, or who have written it into their advance health directives, it means that they will not be brought back to life if they die. It does not mean that no heroic measures will be taken to keep them alive (that’s a separate set of requests—and, if you don’t enjoy the idea of breathing via a ventilator, a good reason to get going with an advance directive if you don’t already have one). Although the spouse and I have advance directives on file with our doctors, our attorney, our fiscal agent, and our health care agent, and although I am an enthusiastic advocate of pretty much every kind of choice being available to those who don’t have long to live, I have never been a fan of the ‘DNR’ acronym, much less the phrase it denotes. ‘Do not resuscitate’ sounds, to me, ominously close to something you might hear on ER (‘BP’s going nowhere, still 50 over 30.’ ‘Pulse ox 90.’ ‘Well, let’s hope there’s a do not resuscitate.’) or in 2001: A Space Odyssey (‘Open the pod bay door, Hal!’ ‘Sorry, David; I’m putting in a do not resuscitate order for you.’). It’s medical-ese masquerading as caring. Clunky, inelegant, overly clinical, and harsh, it simply doesn’t convey the image you want when you’re a doctor or family member dealing with what is, for many, a difficult and painful transition.

So what’s replacing ‘do not resuscitate?’ ‘Allow natural death,’ a phrase suggested and championed by the late Reverend Chuck Meyer, a hospital chaplain who, if you read between the lines, apparently got tired of having to explain what exactly ‘DNR’ meant to already-grieving families and suggested that something more compassionate replace the tired old acronym. As Meyer wrote, by using the more accurate phrase, ‘physicians and other medical professionals would be acknowledging that the person is dying….’ Not always the easiest thing to do if you’re a doctor and used to playing God, but a good idea, especially when it’s the truth. (Come on, guys—you can’t save everyone.) I don’t know about you, but I like the idea of a doctor admitting that a person will be leaving this earth soon, and of being given a chance, a real chance, to say goodbye when someone I love is dying. I also welcome the concept of allowing someone to complete a natural process—in a sense, empowering the dying person in his final days. And finally, I have always been uncomfortable with the implication that ‘do not resuscitate’ gives of somehow withholding some essential treatment from a dying person (that’s just not true, but doesn’t it sound like it could be?).

Allowing a natural death, as well as giving voice to what I am sure most people dying would want, invites a patient’s family into the process of death, which—as well as painful—can be funny, tender, graceful, enlightening, and beautiful. AND treats the patient and his family as partners in a process, rather than emphasizing the gulf between them and those with medical training. Finally, it achieves the commendable and recently honored goal of enabling a terminal patient to die with at least some dignity rather than with a crash cart standing at the ready, paddles poised for action. I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more grateful I am for this particular trend.

The idea of ‘allowing natural death’ has been gaining adherents across the US for the last few years, starting with hospital chaplains and hospice nurses, who ought to know something about how to die. And the benefits of using the more compassionate terminology don’t just accrue to the patient—according to Rev. Cynthia Brasher, who led the AND effort at Lee Memorial Health System in Fort Myers, Florida, ‘More often than not, the body language of the family will soften’ when the phrase is used. For all the reasons we’ve already talked about, I’m not at all surprised by Brasher’s assertion. And I’ll be arranging to have ‘allow natural death’ written into my advance medical directive soon—because, if I ever need the services of my health care agent, I’ll want to know that she feels as good as she can about the job she’ll have to do to help me die. In the end, allowing a natural death is surely a gift we should all be prepared to give each other.

 •  Culture, Equality, Morals

Let’s all get married.

It’s almost June, and therefore full-on Wedding Season. I am and have always been a huge wedding junkie, and now, thanks to the miracle of the interwebs, I am able—despite not having received a single wedding invitation for this year (they do tend to drop off with age)—to follow the wedding fortunes of people I’ve never even met. Therefore, I’m thrilled to report that a couple of very nice people whom I don’t know (but would like to) are getting married. The estimable Lisa Congdon is a little farther along in the process than Renaissance Man Daniel Kanter, but—happily—they are equally enthusiastic about their nuptials. Both Lisa and Daniel have written recently and touchingly about their journeys toward marriage (journeys that, in the slow realization that they didn’t have to spend their lives alone, mirrored my own). Both have, despite considerable odds both internal and external, found their soul mates and are prepared to throw in their lot with them, now and forever. Both believe in the transformative power of love, and in the coming together of two people to create and nurture something bigger than the sum of their two parts. Oh, and both are gay.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am a somewhat aggressively vocal supporter of gay marriage—of marriage in general, in fact. It seems to me that any two people who are crazy enough to take that kind of a chance on love, in an age when pretty much nothing is certain, deserve all the support we can give them. It has long angered me that, in an era where we have progressed so much in so many ways, we still have to put any sort of qualifier before the word ‘marriage.’ ‘Gay marriage’ shouldn’t have to be. ‘Marriage’ ought to be—ought to be able to be—good enough for everybody.

Why, despite the best efforts of pretty much everyone I know, are so many people still so scared of broadening the reach of this state-sanctioned institution? I guess rather than just ridiculing the arguments, I should address them (call me crazy, but heck, let’s just go for it). Let’s see. First off, there’s ‘gay marriage will corrupt children.’ Funny, none of the children I know who are growing up with two moms or two dads seem to know they’re being corrupted. They do seem to know they’re loved and wanted, though…sometimes more than you’d think. One of my closest friends bravely adopted his partner’s niece a while back (she had been raised up until then by her grandparents, but evolving family circumstances forced a reconsideration), forming for the couple an instant family; someone I know recently began fostering and plans to adopt, with her wife, two siblings deemed hard to place because of their birth mother’s drug addiction; another friend and her wife have two children of their own by the same sperm donor, both lovingly conceived, lovingly (if painfully) birthed, and superbly well-adjusted (which is to say, as nutty as most kids). The story of how these people came to be parents are, for the most part, not typical in the straight community. They are in the gay community. Maybe this is why all the gay people I know with kids are not just good parents, but exceptionally aware and committed parents—they have to work so much harder than most straight people to have kids in the first place and thus are, perhaps, better apprised of what they’re getting themselves into.

How about the ‘gay marriage will corrupt traditional marriage’ argument? Well, I’m on my second marriage, and through both, I’ve had gay friends with life partners (and now, sometimes, spouses). I am here to tell you that I have never once felt that either of my marriages was under siege by my gay partnered or married friends. (One was under siege thanks to extremely bad behavior, but that was an internal struggle best left out of this discussion.) Just how ludicrous is the ‘corruption of marriage’ argument? Well, doesn’t this whole paragraph look really stupid? Yeah. I think so, too.

So, without delving into any of the other objections to ‘gay marriage,’ how do we get to that blissful state of ‘marriage?’ One way is to make ‘gay marriage’ more visible, more ‘normal,’ and, thus, more widely accepted. We have achieved that to a certain extent, thanks to a cadre of smart, strong, committed couples who have braved ridicule, discrimination, and even death threats to perpetuate the institution of marriage all across America. Because of them, our neighborhoods are blossoming with more and more young families…some gay, some not, all of them reflecting the norms of today. And also because of them, and the courageous actions of some of our legislators and opinion-makers, some of our states have even enacted sensible, pro-marriage laws (imagine!). The tide of public opinion on this topic seems, finally, to be turning. I cannot imagine Lisa and Daniel having been able to write any posts about their marriages twenty years ago—at least, not without the hateful, nasty comments outweighing the gushy, pro-love ones. Today, their posts just seem, well…normal.

Another way to get to past ‘gay marriage’ to ‘marriage’ is, of course, with a grand gesture by the Supremes. I favor (if you know me, you know that’s putting it mildly) this approach. I want gay marriage to have its very own Loving v. Virginia. And why not? When it comes to inequality and discrimination, I am not a proponent of the ‘slow and steady wins the race’ approach. No, I want certainty, a gavel, and doors slamming shut in the face of discrimination all over America. I want all the narrow-minded, fearful, religiously misguided, anti-marriage idiots out there to know that, while they might still be able to spew their uninformed hateful crap all over the interwebs, Twitter, and talk radio, their actions are no longer in any way permitted, condoned, or sanctioned by any legal entity or governmental agency of the United States. I want law, people. Equality under the law is unambiguous. And that’s why I lean this way.

When the spouse and I got married, the amazing Ann Kansfield (one of four clergy officiating; long story, but 11 is louder!) began her part of the service by saying she’d been asked to perform the ‘marriage equality’ portion of our wedding. She got a huge laugh, and then proceeded with something she said would be unexpected—and it was, because (let’s face it) nobody expected a lesbian minister to be ‘traditional:’ A simple, heartfelt, and yes, religious (!!!) blessing of our rings. For me, that served as a huge reminder of what marriage equality is all about: The freedom for everyone to engage in the most traditional of ceremonies, if they so choose. Because whether a couple gets married in a barn, in a synagogue, in a museum, or at City Hall, each marriage ceremony is, at bottom, the same. Each is about nothing more, and nothing less, than two people making a mutual promise to cling together in the face of what are, often, enormous odds to build a life, a home, and a family. If that isn’t something to celebrate, something to encourage, and something to fight for, I don’t know what is.

So. Less hatred. More love. More weddings, I hope, soon. In the meantime, I leave you with the words of our friend Doug (another of the four clergy officiating at our wedding): “If we have waited a long time for this day, how long have they waited?” He was right; we did wait a long time. Not as long as some, though. So, to Lisa, Daniel, their fiancée and fiancé, and all the other soon-to-be-married couples out there, congratulations. And to all the other couples out there waiting—including some who have been waiting forty years or more—please don’t give up. I believe in you.