A Tribute to Junk Food

Published: Sweet Tooth Nothings (September 25, 2016), The Good Men Project (September 27, 2016)

Yes, you read that correctly. This is a sincere tribute to junk food, as written for the blog of a certifiable health nut (looking at you, Ariel).

I offer this without apology and only a modicum of regret. The regret, of course, is for the years of life I have irretrievably lost due to the damage these years of excess have left on my body. If I don’t improve my habits, even more will be lost in the future. This is the dark cloud that hangs over the head of every junk food aficionado.

At the same time, there are genuine pleasures to be had from eating unhealthy foods. This is true for all of the poisons we put in our bodies – the alcohol we drink, the plants we smoke, anything we somehow ingested your carelessness. Yes, our culture ostensibly encourages healthy lifestyles, and as a result we are trained to feel shame when we indulge in vices that harm our bodies…. But does that mean we should necessarily feel compelled to do so?

I’d argue that indulging in an unhealthy junk food habit is a complicated decision, part idealistic and part pragmatic. We enjoy the tastes of our favorite cuisines – I’m personally a salty guy myself, and am fortunate in being less inclined toward sweets – and decide that life would be too bland without their presence. Similarly, we recognize that our bodies have grown accustomed to these unhealthy habits and that breaking them would be more trouble than it’s worth. There is a reason why 95 percent of people who lose a significant amount of weight gain it back within five years. It can absolutely be done, but it’s obviously a struggle, and realistically speaking that will impact its rank amongst one’s priorities.

This is not me urging fat acceptance, so to speak, as it is fat realism. If we’re going to struggle with our weight and with our vices, why not at least enjoy the flavors of our favorite junk foods while we indulge? And while we should always strive to get healthy, why hate ourselves in the now?

If the people who care about us want to help, the best thing they can do is give us advice when we ask them questions. Transitioning into any new lifestyle requires a great deal of learning, so it is always important to have supportive and positive influences as you prepare for this major change.

Twitter goes bananas: From Hillary Clinton’s pantsuit to Donald Trump’s snorting, the social-media hits and misses

Published: Salon (September 27, 2016)

Monday night’s presidential debate between Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was almost certainly a smashing success in terms of TV ratings. If the social-media response is any indication, both candidates had more than their fair share of memorable moments.

Let’s go to the Twitter roundup!

Before the debate:

Ok I’ve decided I’m live tweeting the debates!! I will not know what the fuck I’m looking at but hell its got to be fun!!

did she really just announce no phones during ? how will people tweet?

These two observations were brought to us prior to the debate by comedians Leslie Jones and Franchesca Ramsey. The latter’s quip is particularly well-taken, considering that social media was set afire with debate talk long before the event itself actually started.

Clinton’s controversial fashion choice:

I hope clinton’s outfit is made out of donald trump’s red ties that she ordered from his factories in China

Let’s be honest: The first thing most of us noticed when Clinton and Trump took the stage was Clinton’s red pantsuit. It was a visually arresting choice that you could either love or hate, but was impossible to ignore.

Trump has the sniffles:

When is the first hashtag out of the debates, you know something is going very wrong for the sniffer.

By contrast, no one seemed thrilled with Trump’s sniffling. Indeed, “sniffles” began trending on Twitter shortly after Trump’s first snort. And in light of the ongoing hubbub over Clinton’s health concerns, the timing couldn’t have been worse for the Republican nominee. As one of the above tweeters correctly pointed out, if you’re a presidential candidate, it isn’t a good sign when the first hashtag out of a presidential debate involves one of your physical tics.

Trumped-up trickle-down economics:

“Trumped-up Trickle Down economy…” first catch phrase of the night

“Trumped Up Trickle Down” didn’t work the first time I said, but maybe I’ll try one more time. – Hillary

On the other hand, Clinton’s attempt to make “Trumped-up trickle-down” economics into a catchphrase met with mixed success. Certainly the quip left a strong impression, but the consensus seems to be that it felt forced. Notice how FunnyOrDie tweeted about the comment 20 minutes after the other two tweets; it was still in the ether and still proved to be at best partially effective.

NAFTA, not good:

Trump takes over – your husband signed NAFTA — the worst trade deal maybe signed anywhere.

The economists are shrieking right now, but Trump forcing Hillary to defend NAFTA is a bad look for her and good for him.

Trump scores on “you haven’t done it in 30 years” and NAFTA and TPP. She’s losing right now.

There seemed to be a broad consensus that Trump had Clinton on the ropes when he brought up the North American Free Trade Agreement. Even the normally leftist Cenk Uygur (of “The Young Turks” fame) pointed out that “she’s losing right now” when Trump held her feet to the fire on this issue. If you were a Clinton supporter, this was a wince-inducing moment and Twitter definitely picked up on that.

Trump was against global warming before he was for it (or something):

When Clinton called on social media posters to fact-check her opponent, they rose to the occasion, starting with multiple well-placed sources responding to Trump’s denial that he once claimed global warming was a hoax created by the Chinese.

Oh, and about crime in New York City:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/nypd-low-crime-first-quarter-2016_us_5702b0dae4b0a06d580653e3 

Murder rates in NYC have declined. @Salon

Photo published for New York City Murder Rate Drops To Historic Low

New York City Murder Rate Drops To Historic Low

The city’s overall low crime statistics were recorded during a period of historically few stop-and-frisks.

huffingtonpost.com

Salon’s CEO (full disclosure!) offered this information about Trump’s apocalyptic pronouncements regarding New York crime rates, which have trended broadly downward for 25 years, across the tenures of multiple mayors and various policing strategies.

Lester Holt, not so much:

I’m so old I remember when this debate had a moderator.

If a debate happens, and no one is there to moderate, did it ever happen at all?

Lester Holt’s performance as debate moderator did not receive glowing reviews on social media — to put it mildly! The bulk of the tweets that mentioned Holt seemed disappointed at his hands-off approach, implying that he was barely there at all to maintain order amid the interrupting and shouting. It brings to mind similar criticisms made of Jim Lehrer after he hosted the first Barack Obama-Mitt Romney debate in 2012.

Maybe Trump paid taxes! Who knows?

An audit doesn’t stop you for releasing your tax returns

Under audit for 15 years??? Means you’re not doing something right.

Is getting audited every year something to be proud of?

This was not the first time Trump has cited his current IRS audit as a defense for not releasing his tax returns, and naturally people jumped all over this on Twitter. That said, Trump also gave them something novel on which to focus — namely, his offhand reference to having been under audit for 15 years. Perhaps it wasn’t the smartest thing for him to brag about.

Forget the tax returns! What about your emails?

Tax returns for deleted emails draws reaction. @LesterHoltNBChas to remind crowd not to do that.

hi I’m Hilliary Clinton and I’m going to talk about trump hiding his tax returns when I hid 33,000 emails huhhhhhhhh

“I’ll release my tax returns when you release your 33,000 deleted emails”

Trump’s best moment, at least for his fans, might have come when he called out Clinton for allegedly deleting 33,000 emails, and the seismic response certainly registered on Twitter. One may agree or disagree with the soundness of his analogy, but it certainly underscored the fact that both candidates have serious issues with their trustworthiness. Clinton did not benefit when Trump reminded the American people of this.

So there were bills that didn’t get paid — sue me!

Trump not denying stiffing contractors and paying zero income taxes is going to leave a mark.

Trump offers effectively no response to indictment that he stiffed contractors

Trump: sure I screwed contractors and I pay no taxes but I recently built this nice building.

To paraphrase Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this was the proverbial dog that didn’t bark. For most other presidential candidates (particularly self-proclaimed billionaires), it would be toxic to admit that you refused to pay working-class Americans who served in your employ. Trump, on the other hand, breezed right through the question, a fact that didn’t elude some of Twitter’s more perceptive observers.

Born in the USA, at last:

This is the best Trump could do on a totally predictable birther question? that’s just bad prep. but also, not much to work with

Dear America, Secretary Hillary is the mother of the birtherism. Even her mouth piece MSNBC admits it

Naturally, it’s most fitting to close on the topic that burned through Twitter during the final portion of the debate — namely, Trump’s past role in spreading birther conspiracy theories about Barack Obama (who was born in Honolulu in 1961, just for the record). While the tweeters’ stance on the subject was pretty much predetermined by whether they already supported Trump, they all seemed to agree that it dominated discussion as soon as it came up.

What’s the overall verdict? On a first reading of social media, it seems that more of the focus was on Trump’s bugaboos (notably his long history of wild allegations and looseness with the facts) and his respiratory difficulties than on Clinton’s baggage, although the latter hardly escaped attention. It remains to be seen whether this will work for or against Trump, but once again this debate kept the spotlight shining directly on him rather than his opponent.

The best and worst moments in modern presidential debates

Published: Fusion (September 26, 2016)

As millions of Americans prepare to watch one of the most anticipated presidential debates ever, between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, it’s worthwhile to evaluate previous debates for a sense of what we should look for this year. What have been the best moments? What were the worst? When did our presidents and presidential candidates remind us of the best that our democracy has to offer—and when did their gaffes make us cringe for our country?

The Best:

John Kennedy (1960): Of all the televised presidential debates that have since become the stuff of legend, none are as important as the very first one. Seventy million people tuned in on September 26, 1960, to see Democratic candidate John Kennedy face off against Republican candidate Richard Nixon. The expectations couldn’t have been higher for Kennedy, whose comparative inexperience caused many to doubt whether he was up to the job of being president. Fortunately for Democrats, Kennedy instinctively understood what it took to excel in this format—namely, that you had to talk to the camera rather than your opponent. As journalist and historian Theodore H. White laterexplained, “For Mr. Nixon was debating with Mr. Kennedy as if a board of judges was scoring points; he rebutted and refuted, as he went, the inconsistencies or errors of his opponent. Nixon was addressing himself to Kennedy—but Kennedy was addressing himself to the audience that was the nation.”

Ronald Reagan (1980): While some observers believe the Clinton-Trump debates will break ratings records, at present the distinction for most watched presidential debate belongs to the single contest between incumbent President Jimmy Carter and his Republican challenger Ronald Reagan in 1980. As 80 million people watched throughout the nation, Reagan repeatedly humiliated Carter by reminding viewers of all his least popular qualities. When Carter attacked Reagan’s health care policy in shrill tones, Reagan cranked up his personal charm and quipped, “There you go again!” With the country amid an economic slump and chaos abroad, Reagan used his closing statement to ask voters the iconic question: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” A week later they answered by voting him into office.

Ronald Reagan (1984): Four years later, Reagan found himself in desperate need of a similarly fantastic debate performance. The first debate against Democrat Walter Mondale had been something of a disaster, with Reagan falling seven points in the polls after a performance that was widely regarded as lackluster and rambling (similar to criticisms made of President Barack Obama in his first debate against Mitt Romney in 2012). He needed to bounce back in the second debate—and he did. Asked by journalist Hank Trewhitt if his tired demeanor during his first debate against Mondale was the result of his age—Reagan was 73, making him the oldest presidential candidate in history up to that point—the former actor famously replied, “Not at all, Mr. Trewhitt, and I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” The reply didn’t address the substance of his critics’ concerns, but won over the audience by reminding them that their supposedly aging president could still employ his sharp wit.

Bill Clinton (1992): The town hall debate between Republican candidate President George H. W. Bush, Democratic candidate Bill Clinton, and Independent Ross Perot perfectly illustrates the importance of seizing on the opportunities arising from your opponent’s mistakes. After Bush was caught checking his watch during a question from an audience member, reinforcing the notion that he was out of touch, . Clinton showed off his personal charm At one point, the then Arkansas governor engaged with a voter who opened up about how people she knew had lost their jobs and homes during the ongoing recession. Clinton conveyed a sense of genuine compassion but also deftly transitioned to the themes of his campaign, including job creation, education, and health care reform. The moment encapsulated Clinton’s signature style—policy wonkery wrapped up in empathy—and propelled him to a win.

Lloyd Bentsen (1988) – Honorable mention: Though it is a vice-presidential debate moment, our next selection has nonetheless become one of the most quotable and iconic moments of televised political debates. Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis had selectedLloyd Bentsen as his running mate in large part because of the Texas senator’s extensive experience in Washington. A younger senator, George H.W. Bush’s running mate Dan Quayle, defended his thin resume by saying that he had as much experience as “Jack Kennedy.” Bentsen’s face could hardly conceal his horror, responding with an endlessly quotable put-down: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Quayle replied that the attack “was really uncalled for,” but Bentsen quickly rebuffed that by pointing out that Quayle had made the comparison. ”Frankly,” Bentsen said, “I think you are so far apart in the objectives you choose for your country that I did not think the comparison was well-taken.” Ouch!

The Worst:

Richard Nixon (1960): While Kennedy may have set a positive example for future candidates in the first televised president debate, Nixon wound up serving as a cautionary tale. Although he applied pancake makeup to conceal his facial hair during pre-debate preparations, he still appeared to have a heavy five o’clock shadow throughout the night. Even worse, the powder began to melt off of his face, causing visible beads of sweat to form that made him come across as anxious and uncomfortable. To top everything off, Nixon’s light gray suit only accentuated his pale skin tone, completing a sickly appearance that was made all the more unattractive when compared to Kennedy’s youthful vibrance. As media historian Alan Schroeder later wrote, “You couldn’t wipe away the image people had seared in their brains from the first debate.”

Gerald Ford (1976): Shortly before the 1976 Republican National Convention, President Gerald Ford was presented with a strategy notebook from many of his party’s top political minds (including then-Chief of Staff Dick Cheney). As reporter Jules Witcover later wrote, the notebook emphasized that his campaign had no room for “any substantial error.” Unfortunately for Ford, he committed a terrible error in one of his subsequent debates with the Democratic nominee, Jimmy Carter. Asked if the Helsinki Accords conceded dominance of Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union, President Ford infamously replied, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.” After a follow-up Ford reiterated that “each of those countries is independent, autonomous; it has its own territorial integrity. And the United States does not concede that those countries are under the domination of the Soviet Union.” Whatever Ford intended to say, his poor phrasing made it sound like he was unaware of this basic fact of 1970s geopolitics. For a president trying to fight an image of bumbling incompetence, this was exactly the kind of error he couldn’t afford.

Jimmy Carter (1980): To date, only one third-party candidate—Ross Perot in 1992—has ever appeared with both major party rivals on a nationally televised debate. But a dozen years earlier Independent candidate John B. Anderson, a liberal Republican congressman from Illinois, came close when he was accepted in a debate with both Carter and Reagan. Because Anderson was expected to take more votes away from Carter, though, the president opted not to appear on stage that night; his absence wound up doing tremendous damage to his re-election campaign. Both Reagan and Anderson seized on the opportunity to take the high ground, although Anderson’s observation was the more insightful one: “President Carter was not right a few weeks ago when he said that the American people were confronted with only two choices, with only two men, and with only two parties,” Anderson remarked. “I respect [Reagan] for showing tonight.” As Carter learned the hard way, losing votes to a third-party challenger is nothing compared to the risk of allowing your main opponent to look magnanimous.

George W. Bush (2004): Like Ford in 1976, President George W. Bush needed to shake his image of ineptitude during his re-election campaign in 2004. While he ultimately prevailed over the Democratic candidate, Senator John Kerry, the Republican nominee was nearly derailed by a wardrobe malfunction that confirmed many voters’ suspicions about his intellect—or lack thereof. As television viewers and Internet commenters quickly pointed out, a black bulge was plainly visible on the back of the president’s suit during their first televised debate. Although the White House tried to laugh off the allegations that this proved he was having answers secretly transmitted to him, a NASA photo analyst soon declared, “I am willing to stake my scientific reputation to the statement that Bush was wearing something under his jacket during the debate.” Common sense confirms this assumption, and even though this wasn’t a disaster for President Bush, it remains one of the most obvious and shameful moments of chicanery ever exposed during a televised debate.

Bernard Shaw (1988) – Honorable mention: When the story of the 1988 presidential election is told, much focus is placed on the ineffectual campaign waged by the Democratic candidate, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukaki. Yet while Dukakis did make many mistakes, he was also the target of one of the most tasteless questions ever posed by a debate moderator. Referring to his wife, Kitty, Bernard Shaw asked Dukakis, “Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?” The inappropriate question put Dukakis in the lose-lose position where he would either come across as overly-emotional if he became visibly upset, or insensitive if he stuck to his policy positions. For better or worse, Dukakis opted to do the latter, reiterating his opposition to capital punishment. In retrospect, his composure was admirable, but he still walked away as the perceived loser that night, and unfairly so.

What to watch for tonight: If Clinton and Trump can learn anything from these past contenders’ debate experiences, it is that you win debates by playing to TV as a medium—looking good, producing memorable lines, exuding empathy—and that you lose by being unprepared or behaving in a transparently unethical manner. Sometimes factors beyond one’s control also intervene, be they overactive sweat glands or unfair questions from the moderators. But for the most part, televised debates offer candidates an ideal opportunity to sink or swim based entirely on their own efforts.

Why we need trolls: Even offensive clowns like Milo Yiannopoulos can be good for the left

Published: Salon (September 22, 2016)

Breitbart columnist Milo Yiannopoulos is perhaps the most famous troll in the world right now, in large part because he was banned from Twitter last month and because the head of Breitbart News is now the CEO of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. This, of course, makes it all the more disappointing that Yiannopoulos repeatedly flaked on me when I tried to interview him for this article. (He did, however, participate in a video shoot for Salon and Out magazine featuring my colleague Amanda Marcotte, which produced memorable results you can watch below.)

If we’d had a chance to talk, I would have told Yiannopoulos that I believe 2016 has proved to be the Year of the Troll and asked him how he views his role in this unique moment of American and world history. Indeed, assuming that the term “troll” is defined as someone who deliberately uses inflammatory and offensive language to create controversy (which will be the working definition used for this article), I’d even go so far as to say that trolls are healthy for politics in general and the political left in particular, albeit unintentionally so and often at a real cost to innocent people.

First, though, a primer on the type of political troll we’ve encountered this election season. Although there have been trolls for as long as the Internet itself has existed, 2016 has been something of a heyday for a very specific use of trolling to make political statements. “Trolling has become a byword for everything the left disagrees with, particularly if it’s boisterous, mischievous and provocative,” Yiannopoulosexplained in a column titled “Trolls Will Save the World” in August.

“Even straightforward political disagreement, not intended to provoke,” he wrote, “is sometimes described as ‘trolling’ by leftists who can’t tell the difference between someone who doesn’t believe as they do and an ‘abuser’ or ‘harasser.’ A real troll, of course, does aim to provoke. They do aim to cause mild rage. They aim to prank, to goad, to wind people up. Their opinions are designed to be outrageous.”

If this sounds like an apt description of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, that isn’t a coincidence. Like Trump, online trolls seem to generate attention and support less by having a coherent ideology than by repeatedly flouting the taboos of polite political discourse. In early-21st century America, that quite often means beingbrazenly racist or sexist, whether that entails embracing white supremacist ideology or simply working in concert with the unashamed bigots.

For Trump’s presidential campaign, this has mainly taken the form ofcomments that have been widely regarded as offensive to Mexicans, Muslims and women. For online trolls, it has involved everything from harassing women who work in the video-game industry to targeting the actresses who starred in “Ghostbusters” with explicitly racist and sexist language. Either way, the collectively anti-feminist, anti-PC and anti-antiracist ideals that bind these trolls together (in practice if not in overt philosophy) have been branded with the term “alt-right,” which is relatively useful as far as nomenclature goes.

 ***

Make no mistake about it: Alt-right trolling is a highly toxic trend. As of 2014, nearly three-quarters of internet users had either witnessed or directly experienced online harassment, with women being the most likely to experience it in its most severe forms. I’ve personally been subjected to quite a bit of anti-Semitic trolling whenever I write articles critical of Trump for his alt-right sensibilities.

While many of us who are targeted by these trolls are able to laugh them off or simply ignore them, others find it more difficult to do so. Indeed, when the trolling stops being simply mean and evolves into outright harassment, the targets shouldn’t have to learn to simply let it go.

At the same time, these alt-right trolls perform two valuable services for the left.

First, they force us to examine our own weaknesses when it comes to respecting the basic rights and freedoms of those who disagree with us. Yiannopoulos demonstrated this when he embarked on a speaking tour of college campuses last year, one that led to frequent incidents when he was shouted down, de-platformedand even physically bullied by progressive students who opposed his views.

Because some campus leftists support suppressing opinions they personally dislike, the actions of these protesters perfectly illustrate the point any professional provocateur wants to make: Their enemies’ lack of respect for dissenting opinions is precisely the reason why they need to be exposed to them. Not only can this serve to shake progressives out of the intellectual complacency that comes from hearing only amenable views; it also presents us with an important test regarding our willingness to behave honorably toward those whose opinions offend us. Whenever we try to silence them, we fail that test; whenever we respond by encouraging debate and reasoned argument, we rise to the challenge.

Just as important, trolls reinforce why we have established certain boundaries in the first place. Take the reports that Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric has caused an increase of bigoted bullying among children. While this doesn’t mean that Trump should be censored, it illustrates why the claims that he’s simply “telling it like it is” ring so hollow.

Adults may be able to delude themselves into thinking that accusing Mexico of sending rapists into this country or supporting an outright ban on Muslim immigration aren’t inherently hateful actions. Children see right through that baloney and reflect in a more pure form the prejudices being promoted all around them. While Trump, Yiannopoulos and individuals like them may denounce criticisms of their language as “politically correct,” it’s impossible to touch the raw nerves of racism and sexism without eventually causing real-world harm. It is valuable to have people out there who remind us of that.

Trust me, I’m not writing any of this out of affection or respect for Yiannopoulos. His flakiness about being interviewed — both our scheduled phone calls were arranged days in advance and then cancelled by his representative less than an hour before they were supposed to happen — was at best unprofessional and at worst deliberately insulting. That said, even as the left justifiably opposes the right-wing values he espouses, we ought to acknowledge that the act of trolling for which he has become notorious is not without its social function. In an ideal world there would be no prejudice and bullying at all. Barring that, we’re better off having provocateurs who regularly challenge us to live up to our principles.

Mike Pence, a heartbeat away from the presidency? Now that’s frightening

Published: Salon (September 22, 2016)

Why isn’t Mike Pence a major issue in this campaign?

In any other election, Pence would be to a Republican presidential nominee what Sarah Palin was to John McCain back in 2008 — that is, an extreme right-winger whose presence on the ticket is widely regarded as a liability. Of course, this is the year in which the GOP tapped Donald Trump to be its standard-bearer, and when the main attraction is that prone to controversy, it makes sense that anyone running with him will wind up being more or less ignored by the media.

Considering that Donald Trump is as dangerously close as ever to winning the presidency, though, we need to pay close attention to his running mate, particularly since Pence has said he’d like to model his vice presidency after Dick Cheney, one of the most “consequential” No. 2’s in history. Needless to say, if Trump becomes president, Pence’s opinions will matter … and those views are, upon closer inspection, chilling.

While it’s easy to point to Pence’s extreme positions on a wide range of issues — from climate change and evolution (where he is anti-science) to trade policy (where he’s a staunch free trader, putting him at odds with Trump) — Pence has defined his political career by his hatreds.

Most conspicuous among these is his animus toward the LGBTQ community. This was most recently made evident by his support for and signing of the notoriousIndiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act — a bill that, under the guise of protecting religious liberty, established loopholes that allow businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians. But Pence’s LGBTQ bigotry goes much deeper than that. Back when he was a Hoosier congressman, Pence opposed funding legislation to combat AIDS on the grounds that the money could be better spent trying to “cure” homosexuality. As governor, before the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, Pence signed a law making it a felony for gay couples even to applyfor a marriage license. All this, of course, occurred on top of Pence’s predictable anti-gay positions on matters like hate-crime legislation or repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Pence’s record on race is hardly better. Back when he ran for Congress in 1990, Pence used a fear-mongering campaign ad that criticized American dependence on foreign oil by grotesquely caricaturing Arabs; six years later, he defended Pat Buchanan on his radio show as someone who should not be considered outside the mainstream of the Republican Party. (In case you’ve forgotten, Buchanan sympathizes with fascism so openly that Donald Trump himself once called him out on it.) Pence’s race-baiting was not limited to the ’90s. Check out his suppression of minority voters in Indiana or his recent refusal to denounce neo-Nazi leader David Duke as deplorable. Pence may claim that Martin Luther King Jr. is his personal hero, but his actions would seem to contradict those words.

Finally, there is Pence’s attitude toward women. If his career-long commitment to defunding Planned Parenthood isn’t enough to convince you that he has a problem, how about his 1997 editorialproclamation that working mothers stunt the emotional growth of their children, or his 1999 article denouncing the Disney film “Mulan” as “liberal propaganda”?

There’s also Pence’s (thankfully unsuccessful) effortto allow federal funds for a post-rape abortion only if the rape was “forcible,” or his support of an Indiana law mandating investigations of women to see if they caused their own miscarriages, and requiring women to bury or cremate miscarried fetuses. Perhaps most tellingly, even though Pence used his radio show to express outrage at a female Air Force pilot for cheating on her husband, he didn’t bring up Bill Clinton’s marital infidelities until his listeners prompted him. Even if you believe someone can be anti-abortion without being anti-woman, it’s difficult defend Pence’s stances on issues like these without crossing the threshold into misogyny.

Again, these positions are not mere blips in Pence’s background. They are the foundation of his political career, from the campaign messages he’s used to win votes to the policies he’s supported once in office. As such, they offer a reliable indicator of the attitudes Pence would bring with him if the fates conspire to make him president. As the running mate of a man plagued by scandal who would be the oldest incoming president in our history, it isn’t much of a stretch to imagine impeachment or mortality elevating Pence to the highest office in the land.

That’s why we have a responsibility to draw attention to Pence’s record and his evident prejudices, just as we’ve done with Trump’s long history of sexist and racistremarks. By not holding Trump’s feet to the fire for choosing a running mate with Pence’s extreme positions, we normalize those stances instead of shuffling them to the margins of political discourse where they belong. Even worse, instead of allowing the American people to make an informed choice about such a controversial figure, we have created an environment in which polls suggest that nearly half the publicdoesn’t know enough about the man to form a first impression.

Of course it’s possible that Trump would win this election even if Pence’s views were as widely understood as Sarah Palin’s were in 2008. That said, it’s difficult to believe that Pence’s background wouldn’t at least become a major factor. It’s clear that whenever he’s been entrusted with power, Mike Pence strive to turn back the tide of progress made over the last few decades in terms of social justice for racial minorities, women and the LGBTQ community. He may not be as flamboyant as Trump, but he is just as dangerous, and most mainstream journalists covering this election have simply looked the other way. We have less than seven weeks to correct this.

Back When I Thought the GOP Would Nominate Rand Paul…

Published: The Good Men Project (September 20, 2016)

Roughly one year ago, I participated in the group conference call for one of the publications where I freelance. Both I and the other writers were asked to figure out which Republican presidential candidate we thought would be nominated in 2016, under the presumption that we could then cover that individuals campaign if he or she was indeed tapped to be the nominee.

While this plan didn’t pan out for a number of reasons, I still marvel at who I chose and why: Much to my retroactive chagrin, I believed Senator Rand Paul was going to be the Republican presidential candidate this year.

I made this mistake for two reasons. First, I saw Paul reaching out to groups that have by and large been disaffected from the Republican Party – particularly racial minorities andyoung voters – and believed that, because the GOP will need to be more diverse if it is to remain politically viable in the future, this tactic would work in his favor. In addition, I thought Paul’s libertarianism was a refreshing departure from the neoconservative consensus that has prevailed within the American right for the last half century.

Boy was I wrong.

Looking back at my failed prediction one year later, I realize that I overestimated the Republican Party. Perhaps with great naïveté, I assumed that they would care more about being relevant in the future then pandering to the basest prejudices within their own rank-and-file. While I’m not a Paul supporter and wouldn’t have voted for him this year, I believe his broader appeal and bolder ideology would have made him the ideal foil to Hillary Clinton in this election. The problem, I suspect, isn’t that my reasoning was flawed, but that I assumed reason would prevail within the modern GOP.

The fact that it didn’t really speaks volumes about this election cycle. A party which can nominate a man like Donald Trump over not just Paul, but the many other Republican candidates who aren’t flagrantly bigoted, is a party that has cast its lot with the darkest forces at play in this chapter of our history. If Paul had indeed in the Republican nominee this year, I may have a very well found myself writing an article about the downsides of the impending Democratic defeat. This would have been worse for my party, to be sure… But without question, it also would’ve been better for America.

Hillary’s health and history: She’s not the first candidate to face major medical questions

Published: Salon (September 16, 2016)

After Hillary Clinton nearly collapsed at a 9/11 ceremony earlier this week, allegedly due to pneumonia and overheating, the American public is naturally concerned. On the one hand, people wonder whether Clinton is healthy enough to assume the presidency. On the other, they face the fact that ruling Clinton out for health reasons may lead to the election of a truly dangerous man. What should the voting public do?

In situations like this, recent history can be a useful guide. Although many presidents have struggled with health issues, there are three from the last century or so who did so during the thick of an election campaign: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy.

When Roosevelt sought an unprecedented fourth term in 1944 against Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey — a young and inexperienced New York governor best known as a prosecutor who took down several organized crime syndicates — America was still waging World War II, transitioning toward a postwar economy and girding itself for an impending military rivalry with the Soviet Union. Needless to say, the fate of the world literally hinged on making sure the right leadership was in charge during this time, which observers were quick to note when pointing out that Roosevelt looked gravely ill throughout the year. Rumors of health problems swirled around the beleaguered Democrat, who nevertheless selected an inexperienced Missouri senator named Harry Truman as his running mate. As it turns out, the whispering campaign had merit — Roosevelt had received a doctor’s note that July warning that he likely would not survive four more years in the White House, and he wound up dying of a stroke less than three months into his new term. Whilehistorians generally believe Truman did an adequate job assuming Roosevelt’s responsibilities (deciding whether to use the atomic bomb against Japan being one of the first), that had more to do with good luck than deliberate planning on FDR’s part.

This brings us to the election of 1956. In September 1955, before President Dwight Eisenhower had decided whether or not he would seek re-election, he suffered a serious heart attack and was hospitalized for six weeks. During that time, Vice President Richard Nixon worked closely with Eisenhower’s advisers to keep the government running despite the commander-in-chief’s absence. Because Eisenhower was forthcoming about his medical condition, the voting public was able to engage in open debate over the implications of this unexpected crisis throughout the ensuing election cycle. Eisenhower’s Democratic opponent, for the second consecutive election, was Illinois Sen. Adlai Stevenson, a moderate intellectual widely regarded as mentally and physically fit for higher office. But voters were satisfied enough with Eisenhower’s performance — and, presumably, with Nixon’s interim administration during Eisenhower’s convalescence — that they re-elected him by an even larger margin than he had received four years earlier.

Finally there is Kennedy. When JFK sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960, he was forced to ward off rumors that he suffered from Addison’s Disease, or adrenal insufficiency, due to his adrenal glands being almost completely gone. Not only did Kennedy deny that he had the condition, he frequently mentioned the fact that his chief rival for the nomination, Lyndon Johnson, had had a heart attack five years earlier.

After Kennedy’s death, however, two pathologists confirmed that he had Addison’s, and it was subsequently revealed that he medicated himself by taking adrenal hormone, cortisone and other supplements. Although the disease was treatable, it was still potentially fatal, and the hormone therapy could cause mood swings, stomach inflammation and ulcers. Had the public known about this when Kennedy faced off against Republican candidate Richard Nixon in the extremely close general election of 1960, it’s entirely possible he would have lost.

There are two main lessons to be learned from these historical incidents. First and foremost, every presidential candidate has an ethical responsibility to disclose potential health problems that could compromise his or her ability to serve as president. One has to wonder whether Roosevelt rationalized not revealing his doctor’s concerns because he had spent more than a decade hiding his paraplegia. , Regardless, there is a considerable difference between concealing an irrelevant disability and concealing an ailment that could impair one’s physical or mental fitness. Roosevelt’s myriad health problems and Eisenhower’s heart attack both raised the question of whether they could live out their terms in office, while Kennedy’s hormonal problems raised doubt as to his emotional fitness. For better or worse, the public has the right to know these things so it can make an informed decision about how to vote.

As Eisenhower demonstrated, a presidential candidate can be open about serious medical problems and still win an election. Even electing an ailing president can often be better than choosing someone with serious character or ideological flaws. While there is no way of knowing for sure how Dewey, Stevenson or Nixon would have performed had they won their respective elections, we can safely infer a few things. Dewey would have taken more isolationist positions than Roosevelt, because of where the Republicans stood on foreign policy at that time. Nixon, who was never favorably disposed to racial minorities, would have been much less sympathetic to civil rights than Kennedy was.

That said, the differences between Roosevelt/Truman and Dewey, Eisenhower/Nixon and Stevenson, and Kennedy/Johnson and Nixon are nothing compared to the gulf separating Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine from this year’s Republican nominee. Throughout this campaign, Trump has blatantly pandered to racism, heaped praise on Vladimir Putin and demonstrated a terrifying willingness to start nuclear war, to name only three of the many things that work against him. When a candidate like Trump is one option, both Clinton and Kaine emerge as far superior alternatives, regardless of any potential health issues. While history makes it clear that Clinton should be more forthcoming about her current health problems, it also teaches us that there are consequences to elections which transcend such questions.

If there is any benefit to the sudden focus on Clinton’s health, it’s that this moment offers Americans another opportunity to place current events in historical context. The questions raised by Clinton’s crisis at the 9/11 memorial aren’t black-and-white. It is troubling that the Democratic nominee has been so secretive about her health, given our experiences with past presidents. Clinton’s doctor has now said her medical problems are minor, and that she should be fine once the pneumonia clears up. Yet even if the worst is true regarding Clinton’s health, that doesn’t end the conversation regarding whether she should win this election. Consider the alternative.

Jews must speak out against Islamophobia: Standing with our Muslim brothers and sisters is critical

Published: Salon (September 14, 2016)

When news first broke earlier this week that a mosque in Orlando had been set on fire, presumably because it had been attended by Omar Mateen, the man who in June shot 49 people to death at the nightclub Pulse, I immediately thought of Alaa Basatneh. Three weeks earlier I’d interviewed the Syrian-American journalist and activist and had been struck by her optimism.

“I do have faith that, down the road, just like the Jews faced a lot of negativity in the past in the U.S. — and the Irish, the Italians, the Japanese, you know the entire list— things are going to be the same for Muslims,” she had told me. “It’s going to take a lot of time and effort from the Muslim-American community.”

But the arson at the Orlando mosque served as a reminder to me that the Muslim-American community shouldn’t have to go through this alone. More than ever, Jews and other marginalized groups have a moral responsibility to stand with our nation’s Muslims as they continue to face bigotry and persecution.

The good news is that over the past year many Jews have taken steps to do precisely that. In December Jewish activists held demonstrations on each day of Hanukkah  in 15 U.S. cities to protest anti-Muslim hate speech and public policies. In May, nine Jewish groups joined more than 30 other organizations to support a bill that wouldforbid the government to turn away immigrants based on religion, a clear response to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration. Around the same time, the American Jewish Community called for The Citadel to let Muslim students wear hijabs, while in New Jersey the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists lent their support to Muslims who are trying to build a mosque in the town of Basking Ridge.

And in recent years some Muslims have clearly demonstrated their rejection of anti-Semitism. In 2013 11 prominent imams, sheiks and religious teachers traveled to Auschwitz from nine nations to counter Holocaust denial. Also that year President Barack Obama personally congratulated a young Swedish Muslim activist, Siavosh Derakhti, for having founded Young People Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia to combat prejudice in his country. In November 2015 hundreds of Norwegian Muslimsformed a human shield around a synagogue in Oslo to express solidarity with the Jewish community there after an attack on a synagogue in Denmark. And in the March Democratic primary in Dearborn, Michigan, a city with many Muslims and Arab-Americans, a majority of voters voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders, who happens to be the country’s first major Jewish presidential candidate.

Although both sides have laid the groundwork for building Jewish-Muslim solidarity piece by piece, those efforts must be redoubled whenever one group yet again experiences mistreatment.

With the poisonous influence of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, millions of individuals can be held accountable for the actions of another who happens to share their faith.

As Basatneh said when I asked for her reaction to the Orlando mosque attack, “What’s upsetting is that one person’s actions are taken out [and superimposed over] an entire religion. Had I been at that mosque, I would have been hurt, even though I stand firmly against terrorism.”

I think this holds true not just for other Muslims who have been attacked because of the actions of a violent few but when Jews are collectively blamed for Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians (as happened in 2014  during anti-Semitic riots in Paris).

Whether we like it or not, the spotlight is on both communities because Jews and Palestinians of Muslim and Christian faith as well as others are embroiled in a bloody, decades-long conflict in Israel. As a result, many have grown to expect that Jews and Muslims everywhere will inevitably become foes, and it behooves individuals in both groups to defy those assumptions. When we don’t speak out against hateful words and deeds directed against the other, our silence can (unfairly or otherwise) be read as indifference or even implicit approval.

Perhaps the key to avoiding this can be found in a theory Basatneh shared with me why Muslims supported Sanders. “They understood what he was talking about and what he was preaching in terms of rights for all,” she suggested, recalling when he took the hand of a Muslim student asking a question about Islamophobia at a Virginia town hall and hugged her, noting that his father’s family had died in concentration camps and adding that he will everything he can to rid the country of the ugly stain of racism.

That moment touched many Muslims because he simply showed that he was “a human being that understood the struggle of the Muslim-American,” Basatneh said.

When Jews tell Muslims that we, too, identify with their pain, and when they do likewise, our society is taking small but meaningful strides toward overcoming the hostilities groups express toward one another.

These individual steps may not seem like much, but they add up and ultimately do make a difference.

That’s why I call on my fellow Jews to be at the forefront of the call to condemn the arson attack against the Orlando mosque. Those of us who don’t do the right thing now may, I suspect, regret their silence in later years.