Donald Trump’s media empire may actually be happening

Published: Salon (October 17, 2016)

Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner reportedly approached a major media investor about setting up a Trump television network after the presidential election.

Over the past couple of months, Kushner, who is married to Ivanka Trump, has met with Aryeh Bourkoff, the CEO of a boutique investment bank known as LionTree, theFinancial Times reported Monday. Vanity Fair reported in June that Trump’s inner circle heard the Republican nominee mulling the idea of capitalizing on the “audience” that has grown around his campaign. Hiring former Breitbart News head as his campaign CEO Steve Bannon could, in the long run, be a first step in making a media company, especially if you consider that Trump’s other big-name advisor is former Fox CEO Roger Ailes.

The basic concept is that Trump’s media company would cater to the alt-right and other conservatives dissatisfied with more conventional right-wing media. Kushner already owns a pro-Trump newspaper, The New York Observer, in which Kushner haspublicly defended Trump in the past. Kushner has emerged as an influential adviser for the embattled Trump, and was responsible for the campaign’s attempt to seat the women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct in the Trump family box at the last presidential debate.

Kim Davis, Donald Trump, and the Maddening Paradox of Ignoring the Obnoxious

Published: The Good Men Project (January 12, 2016)

The Internet is understandably indignant that Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, has been invited to appear at President Obama’s State of the Union. Insofar as they are outraged at this doffing of a symbolic hat to a walking symbol of homophobia, they are absolutely correct. At the same time, it is highly problematic that – as I write these words right now – Davis is currently trending on both Facebook and Twitter. By virtue of feting her with attention, we empower the very beliefs that we should be striving to delegitimize.

After all, there is a reason that a Christian conservative group like the Family Research Council arranged to have her invited… and it certainly wasn’t because they thought that she, as a person, had something meaningful to contribute to the night’s proceedings. It’s Davis the symbol that they know can be a potent force for them. Even as President Obama glowingly praises the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on same-sex marriage – with the plaintiff in that case, Jim Obergefell, in the audience – there will be Davis, personifying right-wing cultural sanctimony in front of the entire world.

Similarly, one could argue that the success of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is also due more to his potency as a symbol rather than whatever substance he may have as a possible statesman. He may not be the wealthiest man in the world, but he is one of the men most commonly associated with the abstract concept of wealth in our popular culture. He is also a heterosexual, Protestant white male who seems to embody the dreams of intolerant “bro” types everywhere – a man who can denounce racial minorities and women with impunity, who squires supermodels and emasculates his opponents, and who will fire you in a blink if you don’t bend to his will.

When Americans support Trump, they seem to do so because they find this symbol so appealing. He is like a gross caricature of the type of person who ran this country up until very recently in its history… but because we live in an era in which traditional racial, gender, and economic hierarchies are being aggressively challenged, his belligerent assertion of privilege can be seen as an act of iconoclasm or even rebelliousness. In this way, too, Davis manages to seem like a victim even though she is the one (a) who holds direct political power and (b) who uses that power to harm other people. This makes them uniquely invulnerable to being discredited. Not only do they feed off of attention and grow stronger when it is given to them, but by virtue of being proud oppressors, it’s impossible to morally invalidate them among those already inclined to be their supporters.

This brings me to the paradox that faces any writer who wants to effectively combat them. The best way to disempower them is simply to ignore them – but in order to draw attention to the importance of ignoring them, one must talk about them. What to do?

First, we need to understand when it is appropriate to discuss them at all. Whether we like it or not, Davis and Trump are capitalizing on real and widespread hatreds. When Davis becomes an icon by defying a pro-LGBT Supreme Court ruling, or when Trump takes the lead in polls by making racist statements against Mexicans and Muslims, they are speaking to deeper belief systems that are embraced by a large segment of our population. Insofar as their popularity attests to this, their words and deeds warrant attention and analysis.

At the same time, we must recognize that the spotlight makes them stronger if it shines on them for too long. As such, when we discuss them, we should make a point of placing them in the background, with the foreground being devoted to the prejudices they’re trying to exploit. For one thing, this keeps the focus where it ought to be in the first place – on the victims who suffer from discrimination. Just as important, though, it would remove a powerful incentive that helps motivate demagogues like Davis and Trump in the first place. While they play off of preexisting prejudices, they may not be as inclined to assertively spread them if the reward of fame is less likely to accompany those actions.

These are just ideas, of course, and I am more than open to suggestions. What I cannot do, though, is continue writing about how we shouldn’t be discussing David and Trump. The inherent paradox in what I’m forced to do is maddening.

Why the First GOP Debate is So Important

Published: Question of the Day (August 6, 2015)

The upcoming Fox News (Aug. 6) and CNN (Sept. 16) presidential debates symbolize much of what is wrong with the American political process … but these debates are still very much worth watching.For those who haven’t heard, the networks hosting the first two debates (on August 6 and September 16) established a rule dictating that only the 10 candidates with the highest averages in recent nonpartisan polls should be granted spots on the stage. As a result, candidates like Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania (who placed second in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries), Gov. George Pataki of New York (America’s third largest state by population), and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (the only woman currently running in the Republican field) will almost certainly be prohibited from participating.“I think that this is a dumb way to weed out the field,” insisted Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in a Fox News interview earlier this month, pointing out that because it’s so early in the race “a national poll is a lousy way, in my view, to determine who should be on the stage.” Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana echoed these sentiments in a recent op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, adding that “the Republican Party should be looking forward instead of backward — and seeking every opportunity to feature its roster of excellent candidates, rather than trying to find ways to constrict the field.”

Not surprisingly, Graham and Jindal feel this way in part because they have been shut out from participating. Nevertheless, both men make strong arguments: Candidates from Jimmy Carter in 1976 to Santorum himself last year ranked near the bottom of national polls at this time in their respective election cycles, even though the latter eventually emerged as a major player for the Republican nomination and the former was actually elected president. Because history has demonstrated that underdogs can come from behind, it is fundamentally unfair to not open the stage to all comers — and denies Republican primary voters the exposure to every option available to them.

At the same time, this doesn’t mean voters should ignore the opening pair of Republican debates. For one thing, there are some meaningful ideological differences between the various candidates who will be competing. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, for example, is widely regarded as the only foreign policy isolationist on the Republican side, criticizing America’s various military actions worldwide as “an irrational offense” and working to repeal controversial security state programs like the Patriot Act. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has taken flak for supporting various gun control measures, praising President Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy, and appointing a Muslim to the New Jersey Superior Court (yes, really). Even Donald Trump has taken liberal positions on issues like the Iraq War (he was an early critic) and funding for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Point of Views

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There are some meaningful ideological differences between the various candidates who will be competing, difference worth paying attention to.

Get Your Popcorn Ready — Here’s What to Know About the First GOP Debates

Beyond that, there is the simple reality that, regardless of whether the participation rules are fair or unfair, the debates are going to be heavily covered … and, as such, will play an important role in determining the early shape of the contest for the Republican nomination. While it’s easy to simply follow the narrative that the media reports after-the-fact, thoughtful voters should want to observe the conduct of the ten candidates for themselves. By not watching the debates to protest their exclusionary policies, Republican primary voters are only denying themselves the ability to independently draw their own conclusions about what the candidates say and do.This isn’t to say that Americans should simply accept the injustice CNN and Fox News have committed against the other Republican contenders. There will be four more debates (schedule here) after the CNN debate leading up to the Iowa caucus that kicks off the Republican primary elections in early 2016. If grassroots voters in the GOP really want to hear from the half dozen presidential aspirants who were excluded on the first two occasions, they will have plenty of time to express their grievances and demand that this change. On the other hand, if they don’t care enough about having a deep field of candidates in order to protest, then perhaps the pioneering French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville was correct when he wrote the following line in his classic book, Democracy in America:“In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.”

Why the government ignored a terrifying report that predicted the Charleston shooting

Published: Daily Dot (July 2, 2015)

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Morris Gulett, the leader of a white supremacist religious group that vows to fight to “safeguard the existence of our race, the purity of our blood and the sustenance of our children,” recently expressed support for Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old white supremacist who shot nine people at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, declaring that “I, for one, am very glad to see young people like Dylann Roof acting like men instead of the old 60’s era hippies stoned on weed and interracial love.”

After all, the Aryan Nations is one of the country’s most notorious white nationalist groups and Roof’s 2,000-word manifesto clearly indicated that he shares that group’s beliefs about the need for white, Christian men to violently reassert their superiority in an increasingly diverse America.

What should come as a surprise, however, is that American law enforcement hasn’t been taking the threat of extreme right-wing violence seriously, despite having had ample warning that it was likely to happen.

Back in 2009, a report titled “Right-Wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment” was released by the Department of Homeland Security. “The economic downturn and the election of the first African-American president present unique drivers for right-wing radicalization and recruitment,” the authors predicted.

The report further pointed out that the wave of domestic terrorism in the 1990s was motivated by racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, and radical pro-gun/anti-government ideologies. It specifically warned against “the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks” and acknowledged the role of “right-wing extremist chatter on the Internet” in continuing to stir up emotions and eventually incite acts of violence.

American law enforcement hasn’t been taking the threat of extreme right-wing violence seriously, despite having had ample warning that it was likely to happen.

Unfortunately, the report’s findings were quickly leaked, provoking an avalanche of outrage from conservatives. House Minority Leader John Boehner deemed Homeland Security’s conclusions “offensive and unacceptable,” right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin denounced the report as a “hit job” against all conservatives, and Rush Limbaugh characterized it as “an effort to stifle what anybody would consider to be normal political dissent.”

As a result of the backlash, the Obama administration effectively dismantled Homeland Security’s unit tasked with tracking right-wing extremism.

In an interview with the Electronic Intifada, the report’s lead author Daryl Johnson explained that Homeland Security has only three people investigating non-Islamic domestic extremism, whereas up to 100 focus on Islamic radicalism in this country.

“If you look at the government as a whole, there are thousands of counterterrorism analysts looking at al-Qaida and its affiliates versus dozens on domestic non-Islamic extremism,” he observed, noting that most federal law enforcement agencies don’t have full-time analysts monitoring right-wing extremism. “Educating the public on these issues and that these movements are dangerous is vital,” he insisted, particularly because “today’s white supremacist and white nationalist is an Internet junkie.”

Although Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano was pressured into apologizing for commissioning the report, the last six years have born out its conclusions. Hate groups began to explode in popularity within months of Obama’s election in 2008. Stormfront, a white supremacist site that serves as a sort of Reddit for racists, had fewer than 100,000 registered users before Obama’s election but has more than 300,000 today.

Indeed, almost 100 people have been murdered in the last five years by followers of Stormfront who have cited racist ideologies as their motives.

Despite our culture’s continued association of “terrorism” with Islamic zealotry, the fact of the matter is that since September 11, 2001, nearly twice as many Americans were killed in domestic terrorist attacks related to racist or extreme right-wing groups than from Jihadism (48 versus 26).

The first lesson to learn from this is a relatively straightforward one. While the right-wing extremists who have been engaged in acts of violence since Obama’s election have targeted African-Americans, Jews, Latinos, LGBT people, women, abortion doctors, and police officers, their various hatreds are bound by a common thread: a belief in “white minority politics,” or the idea that power over America’s government, economy, and culture is being gradually eroded by the influx of “un-American” influences.

“Right-wing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial, or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly anti-government, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,” the DHS report explained. “It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.”

In short, what binds all of these hate groups is an irrational and dangerous emotion—fear of the “other.” As former white supremacist leader and recruiter Arno Michaelis explained to the Washington Post, “When everything is going wrong in your life, it’s much easier to blame Jews/Muslims/blacks/Mexicans/gays/anyone-but-yourself than it is to face your flaws and begin the hard work to account for them.”

Indeed, almost 100 people have been murdered in the last five years by followers of Stormfront who have cited racist ideologies as their motives.

Another important lesson is to take Internet hate groups more seriously as a viable threat. We already know that the Charleston shooter was inspired by the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), which despite its innocuous name got its start as a white supremacist group opposing integration during the civil rights era. Despite this fact, the CCC was very influential in Republican Party politics until recently, donating $25,000 to various candidates in 2012 and contributing to the presidential campaigns of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul this year (both of whom announced they would return the donations after the Charleston shootings).

However, the CCC is just one example. Many of the perpetrators of right-wing violence during the Obama era either openly discussed their views online or followed hate groups that have used the Internet to recruit believers in the “white minority politics” narrative. Both the Norwegian white supremacist shooting in 2011 (which killed 77 people) and the Wisconsin Sikh Temple shooting in 2012 were committed by individuals who discussed their racist views in online forums like Stormfront.

Finally, we need to recognize that there is a difference between mainstream conservatism and the right-wing extremism that takes lives. When the DHS report was first released, Republican Party leaders and conservative commentators were so worried about imaginary plots from the Obama administration that they inadvertently drew attention away from a very real domestic terrorist threat (for a complete list of domestic right-wing terrorism since the Oklahoma City bombing, see the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list here).

We cannot repeat that mistake: Individuals like Dylann Roof, who engage in white supremacist and other radical right-wing activity online, are not normal participants in our political process. They have as much right to free speech as an Islamic cleric preaching jihad—but we, as a nation, have a practical need to be aware of the menace that they pose.

Too much blood has been spilled already, but it’s not too late to learn from our mistakes. The time to start taking right-wing extremism seriously, however, is now.

The Ethics of Getting Personal

Published: Good Men Project (June 2, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa asks one of the most important ethical questions that any editorial writer must answer: At what point does “personal” become “too personal?”

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Last Saturday I published an editorial called “3 Correctable Behaviors That Destroy Relationships.” Drawing from a particularly ugly falling out that I had recently experienced with an ex-girlfriend, the article’s immediate goal was to critique common social behaviors and mindsets that (I argue) inhibit empathy and cause people to unfairly judge each other.

Although the piece has done very well on this site, it also provoked a fair amount of negative feedback, much of it coming from individuals who I’ve known and respected for years… including one to whom I have looked up as a mentor for almost a decade. Their criticisms fell into two basic categories:

1. That discussing such a personal matter in a published article that was guaranteed to be seen by thousands of readers constituted an act of violation against my ex.

2. That it was generally unbecoming of me to delve into such a personal and vulnerable matter in a public forum.

While I don’t necessarily agree with these criticisms (more on that in a moment), they raise important questions about the ethics of discussing personal matters in published writing, and as such merit thoughtful analysis on a point-by-point basis.

Point One: When is it okay to discuss sensitive personal matters that involve other people?

Ethically speaking, the most important factor to take into consideration is protecting the privacy of those who don’t want to be in the public eye. As a personal policy, I have never named or provided other identifying information about individuals mentioned in my articles unless they have given me express permission to do so. I follow this rule not only when writing articles that could be unflattering to the subject in question, but even with more innocuous pieces. Because formally published articles by their very nature are more prominent and widely read than errant blog posts or message board comments, it behooves the writers of these pieces to make sure that the people who appear in their work are comfortable with the impact it will have on their online reputation. Consequently, although my ex-girlfriend’s words and actions were covered in “3 Correctable Behaviors That Destroys Relationships,” I made a point of omitting both her name and anything else that could identify her to those who weren’t already familiar with our situation (i.e., mutual friends).

As a personal policy, I have never named or provided other identifying information about individuals mentioned in my articles unless they have given me express permission to do so… Because formally published articles by their very nature are more prominent and widely read than errant blog posts or message board comments, it behooves the writers of these pieces to make sure that the people who appear in their work are comfortable with the impact it will have on their online reputation.

While it is wrong to publicly identify someone from your personal life against their will, the same rule does not hold for discussing their words and actions without their consent. Like other creative people, writers draw from their personal experiences not only to find inspiration for their work, but to be able to speak knowledgeably about the topics they’re trying to discuss. Great fictional authors from Charles Dickens to Stephen King were known to mine the ore of their real lives when weaving much of the classic literature that we still read today… and what is true for novelists and short story writers is especially applicable for columnists like those at The Good Men Project, whose work so often touches on sensitive issues ranging from gender identity and dating culture to overcoming disabilities and coping with physical and emotional abuse. While there are plenty of great articles on these subjects by journalists and scholars who lack real-life experience with them – and, indeed, that detachment can be an enormous asset – those writers who do draw on their own lives will, out of necessity, be compelled to mention the men and women whose words and deeds helped shape their experiences. To expect anything else is simply unrealistic.

Point Two: Was it unbecoming of me to discuss something this vulnerable in a public forum?

In theory, no: I’ve written about plenty of deeply personal subjects in the past, from my struggles with Asperger’s Syndrome and depression to nearly being murdered in an anti-Semitic hate crime. While many of those pieces only probed my own vulnerabilities, there have been plenty that included criticisms of others, from a piece about a woman who complained that I had “friend zoned” her to an article last year that was entirely devoted to people who I had lost through various conflicts over the course of my life. Up until the publication of “3 Correctable Behaviors That Destroys Relationships,” no one had even told me that they found these personal discussions to be unbecoming.

While it is wrong to publicly identify someone from your personal life against their will, the same rule does not hold for discussing their words and actions without their consent. Like other creative people, writers draw from their personal experiences not only to find inspiration for their work, but to be able to speak knowledgeably about the topics they’re trying to discuss.

This brings us to the difference between “3 Correctable Behaviors That Destroys Relationships” and its predecessors – and, from there, where my critics have a very strong point. Unlike the previous pieces, which were written months or even years after the events in question, “3 Correctable Behaviors That Destroys Relationships” was composed only a day or so after the incidents took place. At the time, I felt the freshness of the subject in my mind would strengthen the article; in retrospect, it also allowed a tone of anger and bitterness to creep into the subtext. This weakened the article not only by giving it an unpleasant and astringent tone, but by distracting the reader from the larger points that it was trying to make. For an essay offering advice to be effective, the focus must always be on illustrating the fundamental argument through personal experience(s) – not on telling the story of said personal experience(s) and then weaving a message through the narrative along the way. Although I had intended to do the former, my tone resulted in me effectively doing the latter instead… and for that, I have no one to blame but myself.

What’s the moral of the story?

Writing about yourself is an ethically thorny business. There are certain rules which are ironclad and obvious—not plagiarizing, not fabricating sources or lying about one’s own experiences, etc.—but in many ways the task of determining the parameters of propriety falls on each individual writer to determine for him or herself. While I have a personal code that I try my best to follow (although even that has evolved considerably over time), other writers no doubt follow different personal guidelines – or, in some cases, no guidelines at all.

In the end, there is no definite answer as to where the line should be drawn when it comes to how writers should incorporate the people around them into their own work. If nothing else, though, it’s clear that there is considerable debate on the subject—and that, I strongly believe, is very healthy.

The one reason you should be watching Fox News

Published: Daily Dot (May 22, 2015)

For a while, it didn’t seem like anyone who wasn’t a card-carrying member of the GOP had a voice on Fox News, the network that is “fair and balanced,” so long as you agree with Rupert Murdoch. A 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 60 percent of Fox News viewers were self-described conservatives, compared to 23 percent who identified as moderates and 10 percent who claimed to be liberal (the same figures ran 32-30-30 for CNN and 32-23-36 for MSNBC).

This probably explains why, at the beginning of Obama’s presidency, Americans found Fox News to be the “most ideological network.” Indeed, as recently as last year, Pew discovered that while no single news outlet dominates for liberals or moderates, conservatives overwhelmingly prefer Fox News—47 percent name the network as their primary source for information, with the runner up (local radio) clocking in at a measly 11 percent by comparison.

Yet despite the network’s well-established history of politics bias, Fox’s Megyn Kelly has been responsible for what are arguably the three most important political interviews of the past seven weeks.

Her golden streak started on April 9, when she sat down to interview Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a strong contender in the 2016 presidential race. Paul’s reputation for being arrogant with reporters was already well-known, and he had even attracted controversy for his seeming habit of being particularly put off when confronted by female journalists.

Consequently, when Kelly found herself being talked over after asking Paul about his stance on arming Syrian rebels, she insisted that he allow her to finish—and then pivoted to the question of his attitude problem.

Although Paul initially placed the blame on “both sides,” saying that nobody likes “yelling,” Kelly stood firm in holding him accountable, first by pointing out that “those women were not yelling at you.” In reference to his interview with CNBC’s Kelly Evans, she then bluntly asked him, “Do you regret shushing the reporter? Savannah Guthrie’s not exactly known for her aggressive unfairness.”

After Paul replied that his allegedly disrespectful reply to Guthrie happened because her question [on his foreign policy views] was “unfair,” he added that he “would rather not have contentious interviews. I’d rather do 30 minutes with Charlie Rose, laid back in a lazy boy chair.” Kelly’s response to this remarkable assertion was pitch perfect: “The question some people are asking about you is whether you’re ready for prime time because it’s only going to get worse.”

Kelly’s “prime time” treatment of the GOP ruling class continued earlier this month, when she interviewed another presidential aspirant, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.), about his brother’s controversial war in Iraq. “Knowing what we know now,” she asked, “would you have authorized the invasion?”

His evasive reply deserves to be republished in full:

Bush: I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.

Kelly: You don’t think it was a mistake?

Bush: In retrospect the intelligence that everybody saw—that the world saw, not just the United States—was faulty. And in retrospect once we invaded and took out Saddam Hussein, we didn’t focus on security first.

From there, Bush went on to describe why America’s military campaign deteriorated after the invasion, acknowledging that mistakes were made but adding that he and his brother agreed on the subject. What he didn’t do was answer Kelly’s actual question—namely, whether he still would have supported the invasion based on the intelligence we have today, as opposed to the faulty information available in 2003.

Unfortunately for Bush, but fortunately for the rest of America, his stumbling reply became a centerpiece of the news cycle for the following week, culminating in Seth Meyers lampooning Bush’s seeming lack of preparation by joking on his nighttime talk show, “How did you blow that? Jeb, for real, considering your last name, how are you not ready for questions about Iraq? That’s like Rob Kardashian being caught off guard by questions about Kim. ‘I thought we were here to talk about my sock line!'”

Finally, there was Kelly’s deft deflation of Donald Trump on Wednesday. After drawing attention to a recent poll which found that 62 percent of Republicans and independents would “never consider” voting for him if he ran for president, Trump attempted to brush off the question by remarking that his negatives were only high “because they don’t think I’m running.”

As the interview continued, Trump attempted to burnish his qualifications as a potential political leader by comparing himself to General Douglas MacArthur and General George S. Patton, men who “don’t talk. They do.”

When she observed to Trump that “you haven’t been a military leader and you haven’t actually governed a state or been a lawmaker,” and he responded by citing his (in fact highly questionable) business record, Kelly asked if Americans should interpret his hiring of political staffers in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina (the first three GOP primary states in 2016) as a sign that he was “gearing up” to run for president.

After Trump affirmed that this was the case, Kelly openly implied that his lack of experience and popular support made his ambitions rather delusional: “You have to be a little [whistle] to run, don’t you?”

Kelly’s interviews with Paul, Bush, and Trump aren’t simply noteworthy because they involved a Fox News reporter embarrassing high-profile Republicans. They were also cases of a prominent TV personality acting like, dare I say it, a good journalist.

On each occasion, Kelly’s questions forced her subject to move away from his routine talking points and instead address important issues that lie at the center of each of their presidential ambitions: Paul’s troubling condescension toward prominent women, Bush’s relationship with his brother’s own presidential legacy, and Trump’s complete lack of political and military experience.

These weren’t “gotcha” questions or attempts to focus on meaningless hype. For better or worse, the three politicians talking to Kelly are all widely discussed as possible presidential candidates (with varying degrees of credibility, of course).

Consequently, it’s the job of all serious reporters to confront the major issues that voters would have about them, should their names appear on the national ballot next November. By virtue of how quickly Kelly’s interviews with them went viral, it’s clear that she did a good job of forcing them to be accountable for the ongoing concerns that exist about their candidacies.

The fact that Kelly happens to be a Fox News reporter just makes this development all the more remarkable.

Why Rand Paul’s sexist comments to female reporters matters

Published: Daily Dot (April 14, 2015), Salon (April 16, 2015)

There is a strong possibility that the 2016 presidential election will be the first one to offer Americans a woman as a major party candidate. As such, one would hope that its high-profile candidates would prepared for that reality.

Rand Paul has yet to get on board, and the Internet is taking notice.

In a recent interview with Chuck Todd of Meet the Press, Paul was confronted about his pattern of testy interview performances with female reporters. The most recent examples include his one-on-one with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, during which he chided her for “editorializing” and “talking over me.”

He also dodged questions from CNN’s Dana Bash about whether he would factor Hillary Clinton’s gender into how he treated her during a presidential debate. Although Paul was correct in pointing out that it would be “a sexist sort of response, to say, ‘Oh, my goodness, she deserves to be treated as aggressively because she’s only a woman,’” he has ignored the underlying issue of sexism in our media’s treatment of female political candidates.

According to a study published in Political Research Quarterly, articles about female candidates in elections tended to focus more on character traits than comparable pieces about their male counterparts. Similarly, an article published in the Washington Post’s weekly Poli-Sci Perspective column explored how female candidates’ appearances and clothing choices are reported in far more detail than those of men. Whether positive or negatively, covering a female candidate’s appearance tends to negatively impact her chances at being elected.

Whether positive or negatively, covering a female candidate’s appearance tends to negatively impact her chances at being elected.

Women will also be asked about their family lives more often than men, as evidenced by the fact that Clinton has often received questions about being a grandmother even though Mitt Romney wasn’t queried about the political implications of becoming a grandfather when he had two grandchildren born during his 2012 presidential campaign.

Not surprisingly, a poll taken by the Daily Beast shortly after the 2008 presidential election found that American women overwhelmingly believed the two prominent female candidates that year, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, received drastically harsher coverage.

“Though early studies found that male candidates received more total and better coverage than female candidates, recent studies suggest that the amount of coverage has stabilized,” explained PoliticalParity.org, an organization devoted to increasing the number of women in elected office. “Gender bias in coverage, however, continues to plague women’s candidacies.”

Clinton herself perhaps summed it up best in an interview last year with Diane Sawyer. “When you’re in the spotlight as a woman, you know you’re being judged constantly,” Clinton said. “It is just never ending. You get a little worried about, OK, people over on this side are loving what I’m wearing, looking like, saying. People over on this side aren’t. … I’m done with that. I’m just done.”

Women will be asked about their family lives more often than men.

The good news is that there are ways to address the problem of media sexism. The Women’s Media Center has created a booklet outlining gendered terminology that should be avoided when covering female candidates, including words like “feisty,” “complain,” “aggressive,” and “scold.” These suggestions are featured alongside calls for equity in how the appearance, fashion choices, and family lives of different candidates are handled in journalistic accounts.

Of course, the controversy surrounding Rand Paul is somewhat of an inversion of this problem—a male politician accused of being testy when confronted with confrontational female journalists as opposed to journalists refusing to treat a female politician as the equal of her male peers.

That said, Paul’s behavior toward Guthrie displayed much of the condescension that has rankled professional women for years. One might argue that he would have evaded any journalist who confronted him about alleged inconsistencies in his views (no gender bias there), but check out his mansplaining to Guthrie about how she should conduct her interview: “Before we go through a litany of things you say I’ve changed on, why don’t you ask me a question, ‘Have I changed my opinion?’ That would sort of a better way to approach an interview.” It certainly raises red flags.

The point here is not, as Paul implied on Meet the Press, that female candidates should be handled with kid gloves or that male politicians who confront them should walk on eggshells while doing so. Obviously, it would be ideal for a female politician like Clinton to only be attacked based on her record and policy views, but just as it would be ideal for Rand Paul to be criticized appropriately based on his own gender. To wit, Paul can walk out on an interview with the Guardian and still be a viable presidential contender. What would happen if a woman did the same? How would she be treated?

What would happen if a woman did the same? How would she be treated?

The Atlantic‘s Tina Dupuy hypothesized about this in a 2013 essay about Paul’s dicey history when it comes to playing fast and loose with facts. Dupuy argues she would be laughed out of Washington. “People tune in to her media appearances just waiting for her to say something stupid,” Dupuy writes. “It’s like NASCAR—part fandom, part hoping for a crash. It’s self-perpetuating: Because she’s shameless and gaffe-prone, she becomes fascinating at a Real Housewives level. … There’s a collective condescending chuckle at the thought of a girl like her in the Oval Office. Right?”

When it comes to sexism in the political race, the poor treatment of Hillary Clinton in the media helped raise awareness about overt misogyny (see: everyone who has called Clinton a “bitch”). However, indirect sexism still goes unchallenged, such as when men continue to get a head start in the race by virtue of their gender or condescend to their female counterparts in politics or the press.

There is an anecdote from American political history that offers an inverse example of the Paul case, while perfectly illustrating the lesson that needs to be learned here. Back when Anne Royall was making waves as one of America’s first professional female journalists, she found herself repeatedly thwarted in her attempts to obtain an interview with President John Quincy Adams, who refused to answer her questions about his support for the controversial Second Bank of the United States (an early-19th century equivalent to the Federal Reserve).

Finally, Royall caught a lucky break: After learning that the president enjoyed bathing nude in the Potomac River every morning, she snuck down to the river bed, snatched his clothes, and refused to return them until he answered her questions.

One can safely assume that President Adams didn’t enjoy having his sexual insecurities used against him to advance someone else’s career. Of course, he was fortunate in that he only had to endure such treatment on one embarrassing occasion. Half the human population, on the other hand, is expected to deal with this every day.

It’s time for that to stop.

Learning to Live With Dread

Published: Good Men Project (March 12, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa shares his secret for not worrying about the end of world and everything else that makes him anxious.

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Every morning I wake up with a sinking feeling in my gut.

If the day goes well, I sweat jittery bullets at the unshakable fear that the good will somehow be taken away from me and replaced with devastating disappointments and failures.

That sense of ongoing dread evolves throughout the course of the day depending on the events which subsequently transpire: If the day goes well, I sweat jittery bullets at the unshakable fear that the good will somehow be taken away from me and replaced with devastating disappointments and failures; if it is marked by hardships and setbacks, an exhaustion will overwhelm me as the sheer burden of my suffering takes its toll on my muscles and glands as well as my nerves; and if nothing of particular importance occurs, I simply meander through my daily responsibilities before retreating into those outlets for escapism—movies and TV shows, books and music, junk food and sleep—in the hope that these visceral indulgences will muffle my neuroses just enough that I can actually be happy for a little while (if in doing this I accidentally pressed down too hard and smothered that dread, killing it off entirely, I wouldn’t be unhappy in the least).

Needless to say, I don’t sleep well either.

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Since I’m talking about a classic symptom of an anxiety disorder, my suggestion for those who relate to the above description is that they check out this website, which delves into the clinical condition with remarkable detail and offers solutions that may help sufferers lead healthier and happier lives. For a more personal look at the experience of living with anxiety, I would also recommend a piece I wrote for The Good Men Project last October with Liskula Cohen, How We Navigate with Anxiety.

This essay strives to do something a little different from its predecessors. Because the medical community generally agrees that severe anxiety can never be cured but only “treated” (another way of saying that the persistent dread will always linger but can be sufficiently subdued to be rendered manageable), I felt it was time for an article that did two things: (1) Explain severe anxiety in a way that laymen and non-sufferers can easily understand, and (2) Offer a somewhat novel philosophical approach for those who have it, accept that they can never fully purge it from their system, and yet want to live their lives to the fullest—which is to say, they want to subdue their dread and make it work for them instead of against them.

I must stress at this point that all of these ideas are speculative. Although I’ve pulled them from my own experiences, and genuinely believe that they can work for people like myself, I am not a medical professional and cannot be certain that any of this will prove effective. To quote H. L. Mencken:

In the sciences hypothesis always precedes law, which is to say, there is always a lot of tall guessing before a new fact is established. The guessers are often quite as important as the fact-finders; in truth, it would not be difficult to argue that they are more important. New facts are seldom plucked from the clear sky; they have to be approached and smelled out by a process of trial and error, in which bold and shrewd guessing is an integral part.

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Here is my first guess: To understand someone with anxiety, you must first picture that person’s life as an epic novel. With few exceptions, all of us imagine ourselves as the protagonists of these tales, and while some are perfectly happy to let their stories write themselves, people with anxiety are perpetually fixated on seeing to it that the main character (themselves) and the plot (both the sweeping narrative arc of their lives and the smaller adventures that they know make it interesting) are exactly to their liking. Because someone with anxiety is almost certainly going to be a perfectionist, part of the problem is that they will never be fully satisfied with who they are right now, what they have done and/or what has happened to them in the past, and what they foresee for themselves in the future. As a result, anxious people wildly fluctuate between feelings of intense nervousness, depression, despair, and (on those rare, glorious occasions when the stars seem to actually align in their favor) unbridled, ecstatic joy. Many of them are bipolar, to be sure, but I suspect just as many (if not more) are simply reacting with the emotional intensity that seems fitting based on what they are seeing or experiencing in their own lives. Anyone who truly believes that his or her wildest dreams are about to come true will react with jubilation, just as anyone who senses that their deepest fears are about to be realized will respond with a feeling of dread, heartache, and depression.

The anxious cannot buy the Zen notion that we should simply abandon our fates to chance, accepting the good and coming to terms with the bad as we do so. This belief goes against the grain of their neural wiring.

Of course, for those who don’t entirely define themselves by the characters they are and the stories they have led and will continue to lead, these polarized emotional responses (the term “bi-polar” was coined for a reason) are mitigated by long stretches of more neutral feelings, with the positive and negative never becoming so intense as to be insurmountable. When these individuals hear about the plight of the anxious, they generally recommend a laid-back attitude (if they’re more philosophically well-informed, they’ll usually root it in various Eastern tropes). This is usually a mistake; the anxious cannot buy the Zen notion that we should simply abandon our fates to chance, accepting the good and coming to terms with the bad as we do so. This belief goes against the grain of their neural wiring, of how they are programmed to perceive themselves, the rest of the world, and the complex cluster of interactions between the former and the latter. To urge this course upon someone with anxiety is akin to suggesting that a depressed person simply “cheer up and see the bright side of life” or that a PTSD victim merely “get over the past and live in the now.”

In other words: The notion is idiotic at face value and insulting to those it presumably wishes to help.

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So what advice would I give to the anxious of the world? It contains three parts:

1. Figure out, in point-by-point detail, exactly what you want your story to be.

Perhaps the worst aspect of living with anxiety is the constant uncertainty of not knowing who you are, what the events of your past really mean, and how you can reconcile those two into a plan for your future that you find satisfying. Fortunately, your anxiety gives you one tool for dealing with this: Because you have spent so much time obsessing over your past, dreaming about your future (both how it could go right and how it could go wrong), and analyzing your own mind and soul, you have a wealth of information that you can study. The two or three hours required to write everything down on a few sheets of notebook paper are well worth it; even if you get distracted, very often your distractions will take the form of some sort of escapism that can, in turn, shed light on some dimension of how you view yourself, the world, and your ambitions toward it.

The first step is getting all of the information about yourself onto paper. Even though it may seem like there is too much material to put down, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you start repeating yourself. Besides, even if you only jot down half of what is really stewing inside of you, that will still be more than enough to make enormous progress in the future.

2. Organize your notes into two sections: Character Study and Past Events.

Neither of these sections will be easy to write, but the Character Study is by far the toughest. To do this well, you need to avoid two pitfalls: (1) Allowing your delusions to give you an unrealistic sense of your own abilities (think of the humiliated contestants on “American Idol”) and (2) Allowing the cruel words and actions of those who wished to put you down to dictate how you perceive yourself. If you fall into the former trap, you will set yourself up for embarrassment and failure; if you fall into the latter, you’ll sell yourself short. Instead you should base your self-assessment on the positive things that people have said about you when they would have had no ulterior motive for doing so, the negative things that you sense are true not because someone else said but because you can see objective proof in your own life, and your own inner yearnings—i.e., who you want to be, and who you don’t want to be, regardless of what anyone else says or what you may yourself think to be true.

Never assume that if your past partners all had certain bad traits that this reflects on their entire gender; without exception, it is because you subconsciously picked partners with those bad traits.

Once you have done this, the next step is to organize every major event from your past according to some pattern that makes sense to you. While it helps to start by doing this chronologically, eventually you should start identifying major themes: Activities that you enjoy doing which could realistically turn into full-time job options for you; romantic and/or sexual relationships that turned out well or badly (or never happened at all) because of specific things that you did or consistently saw in your partners (never assume that if your past partners all had certain bad traits that this reflects on their entire gender; without exception, it is because you subconsciously picked partners with those bad traits); family relationships and friendships that, likewise, turned out well or badly because of recurring trends in how the people with whom you surrounded yourself behaved, and perhaps more importantly, how you behaved around them; hobbies that may not earn you money but which, if only indulged in limited quantities (e.g., one hour a day for six days of the week, then whole hog on the seventh), could provide you with the escape that you need in a manner that won’t hold you back in other areas of life.

3. Use your Character Study and Past Events notes to write up a plan for your future.

By the time you’ve finished with the Character Study and Past Events lists, you should have a pretty good idea of what kind of future would (a) make you happy and (b) be realistic. No matter what, do not allow even one detail of your future plans to deviate from the goals of making you happy and being realistically attainable. For the former, make sure that the day-to-day life you would lead if your goals were realized is one that you know from personal experience would make you happy; for the latter, make sure to write down every step that you would need to take (without exception) in order to get from where you are in the present to where you wish to be in the future. If even one step is unrealistic, the whole plan will be fatally compromised. Similarly, if you don’t include enough contingent plans and “worst case scenario” alternate possibilities with each step, you run the risk that a single detail going wrong will undermine your entire life’s plan. The steps must be flexible enough that they can accommodate unforeseeable bad news, but at the same time strong enough that they can take you to where you wish to be regardless of possible misfortune. If nothing else, try whenever possible to avoid including steps that depend too largely on variables (other people’s whims or opinions, winning a contest, etc.) that you can’t control. This won’t always be possible, but it should be minimized.

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Instead of riling you up and weighing you down, you can harness your demons as if they were wild stallions and use their energy and focus to drive you forward.

After that, all you have to do is follow your notes. Even though you already knew everything that they contained before you started writing them down—after all, the entire writing process depended entirely on your own memory, so it would have literally been impossible for you to have not already known all of these things—the demon dread that once darted in and out of the shadows is now forced to stand in the clear light of day. What’s more, now that you have recorded and analyzed the demons’ whispers instead of pushing them out of your head, you can use them for your own purposes. Instead of riling you up and weighing you down, you can harness your demons as if they were wild stallions and use their energy and focus to drive you forward. Instead of simply needing to live with them, hoping that their damage to your life can be minimized, you can forge an uneasy alliance. You should never trust them, but you can at least force them to do some good.