Sunday, March 13, 2016

Open Letter to America: To Defeat Trump We Need To Be Better Than He Is



Many young people say they want to carry on Dr. King’s legacy. They want to battle racism, hate, and intolerance to level the societal playing field and unify us. It is for these reasons they want to stop Donald Trump and his supporters, believing they stand for the opposite and try to divide us. Yet, it seems in Chicago the other night they forgot about the “how” that Dr. King used to fight ALL bigotry and hatred.

The protestors who went to the Trump rally were well organized. They came armed with inflammatory t-shirts and signs with the intention of pressing buttons and inciting Trump supporters. They have admitted as much. “They got the job done, Vickie Deanda, 54, an accountant from Chicago, said of the demonstrators. “Someone has to object to this hatred" (Source: New York Times article). They went there not to protest peacefully, which is their right, but to shut it down and prevent it from taking place, infringing on Trump’s right.

When I got on Twitter the evening after the rally was cancelled, many young people, who claimed to have been at the venue and part of the anti-Trump crew were gloating about how they had won; by ‘shutting down’ hate.  They were openly proud of the fact that they had forced Donald Trump to send home his supporters, and cancel a legally organized and permitted event. The irony is that these so-called champions and defenders of free speech did not seem to care that they had just trampled on someone else's right to it.

I am not writing to defend Trump, but in Chicago the actions of the demonstrators made him seem the victim and brought people who despise him, like me, to his defense. This while also emboldening his supporters by proving both that they do not have a voice in this country and that they get shutdown when they try to express it. So I ask you, what was achieved?

Trump has shown that he lacks both the maturity and the temperament to lead. He openly tells lies, bullies people when confronted, and uses reckless, irresponsible rhetoric to prey on genuine fears. That is not leadership; it is cowardice. Anyone can use people’s insecurities, fear and anger to rally them. True leadership aims to help people rise above.

That is the point I want to make to the next generation of America. To beat Trump we need to unite and rise above the anger, fear and frustrations he uses to rally his base. This means we need to first acknowledge the very real fears of many Americans; people who have lost their jobs to foreign countries and immigrants like me. We need to acknowledge their realities and struggles to make ends meet without the proper education, skills or training necessary to compete in a technologically-driven and rapidly changing world. And we need to offer them an alternative narrative to his hate, bigotry and divisiveness. That is how we beat Trump and win, not by resorting to his bullying, bashing and shouting.

Some of the young people on Twitter told me that we are at war; they compared Trump to the rise of Hitler. To them I say first we are not at war, but yes, we need to fight back. However, it is imperative we do so by upholding our values, beliefs and principles, not by compromising them by fighting on Trump's terms. Even during WWII we did not gas every Nazi soldier we captured, though many of us could have justified it, nor did we execute those responsible for setting up and running the concentration camps; we tried and sentenced them. Our actions when fighting and punishing them were not based on an emotional reaction to the heinousness of their crimes, but on our values, humanity, intellect and sense of justice.

One young man on Twitter asked me how we beat Trump. To him and every other young person angered by his hate-filled rhetoric, I say we do it by uniting; that is the only way. This is a time to look beyond party lines; there are no republicans or democrats in this fight. We are all Americans and irrespective of our political differences, we share the same values. 

Only by standing together, united as one nation, can we show Trump that he will not hijack a nation by misleading and playing on the fears and emotions of a small group of angry people. We need to show him that we are better than that. That we can put aside our differences when something greater is at stake and defeat a common enemy.

Trump is appealing to humanity’s basest instincts; we must appeal to the noblest.

Remember, that while we should be willing to die for our cause, we should never be willing to kill for it. This is what differentiates us from the people who are filled with hate. If we are to lose that distinction, we become no different than people we disagree with, even if our cause claims to be the greater one.

Friday, March 11, 2016

How the Grand Old Party came to reside in Donald Trump’s Trousers


“I mean, let’s be honest. Who wants to hang out with guys like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich, when you can be with Rush Limbaugh!”
Mitch McConnell, CPAC Speech, February 2009

That was the minority leader of the United States Senate arguably embracing a conspiracy-theory-brewing, hate-spewing right-wing entertainment radio jockey during a speech he gave at one of the most important gatherings of conservatives. A few months prior to the 2010 midterm election, and barely two years into Obama’s first-term he also declared open war when he told the National Journal’s Major Garrett that “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." (Source: Washington Post article).

There has been much consternation among political pundits, outrage from the so-called establishment and heated discussion on Fox News about how Donald Trump has managed to become the front runner in the Republican presidential primary contest. Nobody seems able to understand or explain why he was able to best the Koch brothers and many other powerful and well-funded candidates backed by the party intelligentsia, brain trust and even billionaire donors; Trump even managed to end the run of a powerful dynastic candidate.

That party says he does not represent true conservative values and that they do not support his blatant xenophobia and unabashedly racist comments. They say the that Republicans are not racist and have unequivocally disavowed the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups that have flocked to their party’s front-runner. Yet, nobody has asked that Trump be ex-communicated from the Republican Party. Sure Mitt Romney made a speech lambasting Trump but suggested they try to get to a brokered convention (rather than oust Trump) , and Lindsey Graham has also been launching into Trump, but nobody in the party has come out and said that he has crossed a line and that the party should disown him and let him run as an independent candidate because something bigger than winning an election is at stake. In fact, at the end of the last debate all the candidates on the stage pledged to support Trump if he became the party nominee.

It is not secret that there has long been a vocal minority within the Republican ranks that believes this country has been on an unimpeded road to liberal hell and damnation; dominated by feckless Democrats and lily-livered RINO’s (Republicans in Name Only). This group is blamed for enacting welfare policies and creating a culture of dependency through handouts, slowly destroying the once strong moral and God-fearing social fabric of America.

In the mind of this group, the attacks on 9/11 presented the perfect opportunity, and George W. Bush the perfect patsy, to implement an ultra-conservative agenda. One driven by a strike first and ask questions later foreign policy, and one that was to be followed by an audacious reversal and re-drawing of society and domestic policy to lead us towards the conservative promised land. However, as we all know this dream of a conservative utopia did not quite pan out, or come close to reversing sixty plus years of American policy in Bush’s two terms.

Reeling from the botched and hugely unpopular Iraq war, Bush started to distance himself from Cheney and the Neocons. He began to soften his rhetoric, seeking diplomacy in both North Korea and Iran, and seeking council from Condoleezza Rice over Dick. By the end of his tenure, the Bush presidency not only looked and felt like an unmitigated foreign policy disaster, but Bush had also presided over an unprecedented growth in the size of government, never before seen deficits (financed by borrowing from China), he had championed immigration reform, that would allow current illegals to stay, provided government handouts, the largest corporate bailout in history and even extended unemployment assistance. And there was no more tough talk or threats of war with Iran or any other axis of evil powers.

This betrayal of almost every dearly held conservative principle by Bush led to further disenchantment within the Republican ranks and gave birth to the Tea Party. The Tea Party called itself a grassroots movement and was founded on the promise of being anti-establishment, which was a good thing. However, it quickly became about grandstanding and portraying themselves as anti-government, anti-spending/bailouts/stimulus, anti-immigration and anti-compromise on every major issue, offering an ideological way or the highway.

Initially, the GOP establishment was happy to bring them on board, as it helped them win back the House. Party elders also likely believed they would be able to strong arm the Tea party into submission if they could not find middle ground with them. But on every issue – from reducing size of government, bringing down deficit spending, simplifying the tax code, to reducing personal and corporate tax rates and repealing Obamacare, the Tea party refused to compromise or discuss a jointly agreed path forward. It was clear that their only agenda was to block any hint of compromise with ‘liberals’ and in doing so also hijack the GOP by yanking them much further to the right.

Politics is about compromise; ideology is not. By holding a gun to the establishment GOP, the Tea party really only succeeded in making it the party of ‘NO’ and providing Obama a free pass; even though he has done little to reach out and seek compromise himself. This growing rebellion within the party also forced every GOP presidential candidate to lean further and further to the right in an attempt to appeal to the evangelical and extreme base of the party. 

We saw how John McCain’s VP pick, intended to placate this vociferous and growingly powerful base, turned out. We also saw a once moderately conservative and imminently electable Massachusetts Governor forced to expend considerable time and energy trying to prove that he was conservative enough to his base. Romney even embraced the ridiculous and racist birther controversy, born in conservative talk show land and pushed by Trump at that time.

The GOP welcomed this ideologically driven group into their fold, expecting to tame it, but should have known they were opening Pandora’s Box. There is a reason why not ONE Republican Senator or Congressman endorsed or lent support to Ted Cruz’s candidacy, prior to Donald Trump leading the primary race. Most members of his own party openly show disdain for Cruz’s views, his histrionics and zero-compromise political tactics.

Certainly, the level of vitriol today cannot be blamed entirely on the GOP. The democrats have done nothing to change the tenor of the conversation or offer olive branches; they too resorted to personally attacking Bush and each other in 2008. The result of all this has been eight years of vitriol, no compromises, government shutdowns, a mainstream embracing of conspiracy theories and open attacks on elected leaders character’s, and not their policies. But right now the Democrats do not have a potentially authoritarian demagogue as their leading candidate.

Night after night on Fox News, I have watched the likes of Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs show open disdain for Obama, the man. This while the network has also been routinely whipping up frenzy about terrorism and Muslims; many times with half-truths and even pure falsehoods - like their reporting that many cities in Europe had become Muslim ‘no go zones’ (Source: Washington Post article).  Bobby Jindal, the Governor of Louisiana, even mentioned the same blatant lie during his brief and ill-fated run in the GOP primary (Source: Guardian article). A report by 2015 PundiFact found that on Fox and Fox News an alarming 60 percent of the claims checked have been rated Mostly False or worse.”(Source: PolitiFact article).

Republicans have long been playing a dangerous game, while the plight of most working class Americans has continued to worsen in this hi-tech digital economy and world. The party has spent much time and energy trying to block everything Obama did, almost always unsuccessfully, while their base has continued to grow angrier about the loss of jobs, stagnating wages and has continued to become more and more disillusioned with their seeming inaction. Consider that during six of Bush’s eight years, the GOP controlled the House and the Senate (also for the last six years of Clinton’s term). They won back the House after Obama’s first two years in office, and have controlled it for three quarters of his presidency; and they won back the Senate in 2014.

It does not matter that GOP leaders have never used Trump’s blunt language or xenophobic vitriol, but the fact that they have never distanced themselves from the extreme voices within the party and media surrogates like Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter and most of the shows on Fox News makes a difference. Even Rubio has consistently and angrily decried that Obama is willfully and consciously destroying the principles and values that America was built on – and this has the same effect of making the man an enemy, not a political opponent.

So, I for one do not understand why the GOP is now behaving like they are surprised and shocked by the rise of Donald Trump and the immense popularity of Ted Cruz (who is right of Trump on a number of issues). Both men are attracting and energizing the anger within the base, one that the party has quietly and dangerously coddled, ignored and nurtured of extremely conservative, evangelical, angry, non-college educated and predominantly white men.

Trump is merely a manifestation of the cancer the GOP created and then failed to treat. Instead of scratching their heads and feigning ignorance or deluding themselves into believing that they can somehow ‘control’ or work with Trump - they need to disavow him. Even if that means breaking up the party (which is more likely to happen if he wins) and losing the election.

This is a moment in history when a party needs to put country before self. This is not just about another election; Trump has made it about the kind of country America wants to be in the future and the belief and values it holds most dear.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Open Letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi: We will not go quietly into the night.


Image credit: www.republicdaystatus.in

Dear Mr. Modi,

I write not to celebrate your government’s demise but to say that I am gravely disappointed in you. There are many who were actively rooting for your failure, based on your RSS and Hindutva roots; to be clear these people are not rooting for India’s failure but for you to show your true saffron colours, so to speak, as you have now done.

Against my better judgement, I decided to give you a chance; not by giving you my trust but by vowing to keep an open mind. I understood that you would need to walk a tight rope, balancing your RSS constituency’s Hindutva demands and striving for double digital growth. But I gave you the benefit of doubt because I hoped you had grown wiser and understood that there can only be economic development in a democracy unhampered by religious and fanatical ideology. That there can be no innovation without inclusion. There can be no invention without free thought.  And there can be no democracy without freedom of speech, unimpeded by limitations imposed by an elected government.

India has never feigned democracy like a China or a Russia. We have always strived to be a genuine beacon of discovery, debate, discussion and dissension. Messy, corrupt, polluted and imperfect as we might be, I have always been proud to be an Indian. But I am also critical, when and where I need to be, of corruption, vote bank politics, the caste system and the fact that we remain a male dominated society even in the twenty-first century.

I once asked my father why he was always hard on me, and seemingly critical of everything I did, even though he would see my friends do much worse, and say nothing to them. He said; “Son, I care deeply about you, and how you turn out. If I am hard on you, it is only because I love you.”

Therein lies the definition of patriotism for me.

It is a relationship of a loving parent and child: always proud but also so deeply caring that it can be overly and passionately critical of all that is wrong. Do not mistake this honesty, sometimes demonstrated through anger and frustration, and even misguided sentiments, for anything more than a bid to shake up the status quo. It is the depth of this patriotic love that pushes many of us to find ways to make India better by first acknowledging our faults and shining a bright light on our government's flaws. 

You would do well to remember that patriotism is NOT blind love and devotion for one’s country or government. That is the definition of dictatorship and has all the trappings of an oppressed society where citizens are too fearful to express themselves.

And no Indian requires a certificate of patriotism from your government or any other. If I choose not to stand during the national anthem in protest, that is my right. If I choose to compare my Prime Minister to Hitler, in a social media cartoon, that is also my right. There are laws and there is freedom of expression; do not muddy the two.

So far I have held my tongue, but your government's actions on the JNU campus are a disgrace to India and to the democratic principles my forebears spilled their blood to earn. The BJP’s use of archaic laws, those once used by our oppressors, to arrest faculty and students is a step too far.

Our nation must recognize this growing abuse of power, this attempt to erode basic freedoms. To that end, I have adapted below words Churchill used when he and Britain also faced great adversity and the greatest threat to their way of life. 

Even though large tracts of India and many old and famous states have fallen or may fall into the grip of the BJP and all the odious apparatus of RSS rule, we shall not flag or fail.
We shall go on to the end; we shall fight in Gujarat,
We shall fight from the Himalayas down to Kanyakumari,
We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in social media, we shall defend our freedom of speech, of thought and our Mathrubhumi whatever the cost may be,
We shall fight on college campuses,
We shall fight on the farm lands,
We shall fight in the judiciary and with the ballot box,
We shall fight in the halls of parliament and use the power of the press;
We shall never surrender to Hindutva…Jai Hind!*

Sincerely,
A patriotic and ‘anti-national’ Indian

*Credit: Indianised version of Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech delivered to the House of Commons, 4 June 1940

Monday, February 1, 2016

2016 Presidential Candidates as Movie Characters

Whether you identify as a conservative, a liberal, a socialist, a libertarian or an independent there is one thing we will all be able to agree on this election season; the fact that we have never before witnessed such a colorful and stodgy, unhinged and funny, frightening and unconventional, inane and insane set of candidates before in US history.

What better way to celebrate this motley crew of candidates than by thinking of which movie character they most remind me of…

Enjoy and happy voting!