Letter to Senator Grassley re: abortion access

Dear Senator Grassley,

I do not think you or your fellow GOP lawmakers have fully considered the ramifications of your “moral” stance against abortion rights.

Let’s start here with a quote that could have been from you; it’s a hilarious one from state rep Jeff Kaufmann in a recent DSM Register article: “The Republican Party of Iowa is committed to defending the unborn and will fight for every person’s right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.” 

Please spare us. Those who support rolling back Roe are demonstrably NOT pro-life (see: non-stances on social programs and do-nothing political platforms and de-funding sex education in public schools). The GOP is pro-birth. That’s it. If they were pro-life, they would run for office on expanding care for low-income folks after they make the “pious” choice to give birth. Did you know that most of the states that are backing abortion bans do not cover maternity leave?

photo credit: Shuran Huang for The New York Times

Rolling back Roe is deeply unpopular (~61% of Americans see the importance of having abortion rights protected). The backing of such unpopular agenda items is Fascism 101.

Ironically, the morality of abortion is raised by folks who have seemingly never thought of “morality.” Is it “moral” to judge someone for what they do in their private lives, much less impose a law that infringes on privacy? Is it “moral” to take away a woman’s right to do what she chooses with her body? (Who are you to dictate, by the extension of Roe ban, when and for what reason a woman has sex?) Most importantly, is it “moral” to force a woman to bring a pregnancy to term when infant and maternal mortality is a real threat? Without some form of universal healthcare, many people who become pregnant cannot afford prenatal check-ups, thus putting them at risk of death. Where is the morality in that? A baby’s life is worth more than the woman carrying it? And bring a child to term to put up for adoption? Are you serious? The foster system is overwhelmed as it is (see statistics: nearly half a million unplaced foster kids). And “moral” folks like yourself want to constantly attack and/or underfund gov’t-funded care (FYI: Planned Parenthood services are 90% non-abortion-related; they mostly provide advice, contraception, and prenatal care). Are you coming after contraception next?

“Christian” folks like yourself want to do away with sex ed and contraception altogether (see above commentary on Planned Parenthood). To me, that seems unethical and, yes, tyrannical. Taking away education AND the right to choose to have sex and/or a baby basically imparts judgement on the act of sex itself. So yes, the laws banning abortion are fascist. And that is now part of your bumbling legacy.

The ethics of an outright ban on abortion are questionable, and certainly morally dubious.

the keyboard warrior meets the empty suit

Well-organized and respectful. And emotionally controlled. These are not the descriptors I have in mind when thinking about town hall meetings. These are not basic rules that are followed when emotions and fears are high. As I have written here before, we have Mitch McConnell and the Tea Party to thank for that. There are also certain factions on the left that are using the same tactics.

Unfortunately, politics is theater. And the theatrics of hysterics plays well in the media age.

But politics is–in an ideal world–about the exchange of ideas for the purpose of meeting in the middle. How is this possible without mutual respect and an open mind? More to the point, how is this possible without true representation in government? I arrived at last night’s meeting knowing that Congressmen Adam Kinzinger had, again, declined to come to the meeting. Apparently, this has happened several times before.

Thankfully, politics is theater. And the discontent of 150 constituents was heard last night.

In the real world of tweets and Facebook posts and “old-fashioned” radio, the organizers with the local Action Steps for America put together some theater. Emotionally but not frantically, articulately but not inaccessibly, the members of the community spoke their grievances to an empty suit on stage. After each question, Kinzinger’s suit was asked to respond. He was speechless.


Will he remain speechless after hearing questions on social and traditional media? I am not a Twitter-head, but I may be soon. I have never closely followed local political leaders with connections to Washington. I want to hear his responses on many important issues that were brought up. The repeal and replace of the ACA was the biggest concern of the night, with several constituents standing up bravely to tell their stories of before the ACA and during the ACA. “What will you do, Representative Kinzinger, to assure a viable fix or replacement?” Police action in the name of immigration “reform” also got air time. The director of the local group that combats violence against women raised concerns about defunding. Concerns about the environment and international relations were aired.

Many of these issues are in areas where Kinzinger has specific influence. He has seats on the House Committee of Energy & Commerce and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

I went to the organizing meeting for Action Steps for America at the local library last Saturday. On the way home, I asked myself why it took me 40 years to get involved. On my way home from the town hall meeting, I asked myself the same question. The idea of becoming more than a keyboard warrior finally has some substance.

I also asked myself why there was not more representation of college students. I asked myself who might be interested in seeing the political theater. My international students? The members of the Black Male Initiative? Or conservatives who also have serious concerns about the way President T is conducting the government?

What kind of quid pro quo would there need to be for a citizen of conservative ideals to come to a lefty-organized town hall for the purposes of representing conscience on the Right?

the shitty shot of dirty bathtub booze

As I have been preparing to write here each of the last four weeks, as I have been thinking about and reading political news and views, I have clicked on articles that I might not normally have clicked on; I have tried to corroborate a claim in one story with another with sources not so blatantly partisan; I have been fascinated by the different ways in which Fox (the right-wing propagandists) and CNN (the left-wing propagandists) cover the T news. In trying to truly understand the Right, I have started to read a little bit from The National Review (incidentally, I discovered a challenging voice in the ongoing critique of race and Hollywood, Armond White).

What has emerged this week is the concept of progress. I touched upon the concept last week when I made mention of the Herbal Tea Partiers. As I have processed this concept of the regressive-left, I find myself hesitant to post this article here, an article that, should I comment about it–if only to say that there are some interesting points of consideration (in spite of my opposition to the manner in which the travel ban was so recklessly implemented)–, may put into question my reputation here as a writer, as I cultivate it, as I question it, as I protect it, as I put it out there for anyone to see.

By simply posting the article here, do I rouse the Lefties in my circle to censure, if not censor, me? And there is much at stake for me–both socially and professionally–, considering I have Muslim friends (actual friends, not just social media “friends”) and students–all of whom reside on different parts of the religio-political spectrum, some of whom have been reading these recent blog posts. I value their perspectives, but do I risk both groups alienating me because I consider some ideas of political opposition? If I alienate anyone who reads this, it certainly would damage my whole objective in writing here.


Photo credit Rick Bowman

I wonder if other people on the Left feel the same, as if exploring different ideas and reasoning them out were some sort of crime. The intolerance that lurks on the Left has some similar characteristics to it that I so often accuse the Tea Party of.

To be clear, my disdain for Mitch McConnell is deep. The face of the Tea Party is, in my opinion, responsible for the current divisiveness in this country. And President T is the toxic monster that results from 6 years of McConnell and the Tea Partiers. But the hallmark obstructionism and unwillingness to listen that characterize the Tea Party have crept deeply into basic reasoning and human decency on both sides, have manifested in the meme-osphere that distills complex, non-binary issues into a shitty shot of dirty bathtub booze.

I have taken those shots. I have laughed. I have felt camaraderie and drunkenness with the like-minded.

Now I’m trying to recover from the hangover of close-mindedness.

breaking binary

Until recently, there has been very little confrontation in personal relationships throughout my life. This is true because I have (usually) adhered to this idea when interacting with family and friends of different ideologies: never talk religion or politics. I learned from the mistakes of people who crossed these no-man’s landmines several times–some, early in their own ideological development–and the mistrust runs as deep as it does did 20 years ago.


picture credit: The Economist

People might be thinking that it was spineless for me not to have stood up for my ideals in the face of organized religion. You could say that I was a chicken shit for keeping quiet about bigotry; I was, after all, being educated in the art of empathy: Comparative Literature. You might be right. Then again, I was young. Then again, I was lucky to get my first email account with dial-up access back in 1997, the middle of my undergrad studies, long before the advent of social media. News didn’t travel or develop as fast back then. And I didn’t have a platform.

I am now out of excuses.

This past political cycle saw me break my own pacifist domestic rule-of-thumb: in September, I had heated skirmishes with my father-in-law, my aunt- and uncle-in-law, whose perspective may align closely with that of the blue-collar worker, whose perspective I regrettably never considered because I was looking at things in the politically binary way in which our system forces us to think. Shortly after the election, I was beginning to look at my ideology through a new lens; I began asking myself if I could be truly progressive without having an open mind. The idea was soon put to the test when an old family friend (a strong mother figure of sorts from my youth whom we’ll call “Fran”) sarcastically wrote in response to a post I had made on Facebook about T’s Twitter usage that she and her husband were “deplorable.” This was an instance in which I could have acted like someone from the Herbal Tea Party. However, I chose diplomacy. After that, the exchange of ideas–as well as can be related on a Facebook post–had a dramatically different look to it than most threads I have read (granted, I don’t have much patience to sift through those long threads for a millimeter of respectful discourse). In my thread, there was an exchange of ideas and a vetting of sources.

I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind via Facebook exchanges. But there seems to be a growing realization that there is importance in vocabulary and tone, not to mention decorum. Among those who voted for T, there seems to be two factions: the ones who stand by their man in the Oval Office no matter what, and the ones who say he was the lesser of two evils, implying that they really don’t stand behind their president on at least a few issues. Knowing “Fran” as I do/did, I would not hesitate to guess that she doesn’t support, for example, all that Steve Bannon stands for.

In no uncertain terms, I defy everything this president stands for and the belligerent, irresponsible way in which he tries to deliver on campaign promises. And I loathe his attacks (Twitter and otherwise) on free press, free assembly, and the judicial branch of government. But I will not be drawn into counter-productive Molotov cocktail-throwing at differently-minded people I know or encounter, for that will lead to further chaos among the populace. I believe chaos is where the president and his cronies intend to make their hay.

Some might say that I am involved in Molotov cocktail-throwing when I make clear my views about T’s unsuitability for the job. I would counter by stating that a leader has to expect criticism, he has to process the criticism, and he has to decide what can be constructively done with that criticism. But, if the president himself–a public figure by choice–would act a little more presidential rather than like a petulant 70-year-old boy who cannot take criticism, he might actually be able to accomplish more, perhaps even get a few of those who voted for the other “lesser of two evils” to believe in his abilities.

As it stands, the actions taken in his first two weeks in office were unprecedented in their volume, form and function. It has led to protests (of varying sizes and purposes, almost all peaceful) that, I might argue, increase our national security: the sheer number of protests show the rest of the world that a majority of people in this country are not represented by the president in, say, his views on refugees and immigration. The first two weeks also led many people to become politically active for the first time in their lives. They have signed petitions, called their representatives, written emails to voice their displeasure. I know there are conservatives out there who may have embarrassment that their president has, for instance, made a mockery of the court system or the advancements in science. I would implore those conservatives who don’t like some aspect of T’s policy to write emails, sign petitions, call their representatives.

a fire hose in an echo chamber

I will, for my purposes here, put aside that two new policies put into effect this week by President T have had a direct effect on my life. I will put aside that freezing government hiring put, if only for a couple days, Nicole’s upcoming internship at the VA in jeopardy. I will try to put aside that the ban on Libyans (and others?) coming to this country–for education–effects my own and my colleagues’ livelihoods, to say nothing of the good will we try to engender: a doctor and a dentist (sons of a favorite former student of mine) may or may not, at the time of this writing, get into the country.


On Inauguration Friday, I wore black and gray and a safety pin. I discussed the significance with a handful of the students, ultimately landing on the most important message: I am your ally; I do not support the President’s jingoism. (Mind you, I’m choosing my battles.) My modest protest made known to a small audience (no dispute there) was important in its relative scale. My middle eastern students–and Japanese and Chinese–needed to know what I thought about the dying of what is good about America. I did my part to unify my local community on that Friday. T’s inaugural speech was not unifying. It anticipated the week to come. My resolve fractured and unified in turns throughout the week.

In spite of my efforts toward solidarity, I felt like shit that Inaugural Friday.

Then there was the Women’s March. I had my questions about what it would accomplish. I asked questions. I got some answers from Laura Fontan, a distant high school friend who linked me to this website. Galvanized by the list, I felt hope by the time I walked into work on Monday.

Then I felt like shit again.

The “presidential” memos and executive orders began to rain down like so much acid rain, their corrosive power on my work ethic (to say nothing of my will for political action) for the next two days was apparent in hours lost to the endless scrolling on news sites from the left, center, and right. It’s media–social and otherwise–, that “fire hose of information supplied by the Internet” –that can isolate my thoughts; it can help me feel less alone, but dumb me down to think someone else will take care of society’s problems.

I did what little I could, digging, for example, past a post (likely cut and pasted from Breitbart) with selective editing of the AP story (published by several agencies, including Fox News) about Obama giving $221 million to the Palestinian Authority; the edited versions omitted that this money had been approved by a Republican Congress. It didn’t take too long to deduce the agenda behind the report as it appeared on Breitbart.

But, I get it. It is tough for people on all sides. Who has the will to dig for more info when drinking from the fire hose?

My workday and my as-yet-latent activism (and a sound night’s sleep) were victim to the propaganda wars: inundate with so much information that I just don’t know where to start. I was not alone in the outrage, the invective, the hopelessness that I felt after a couple days of inundation: people on social media were threatening to go dark at a time when pictures of fancy dinners and videos of funny dogs are exponentially trivial. [Disclaimer: No judgement on trivial things. Dog videos provide me much-needed daily levity. It seems, though, that the use of social media has to evolve, hopefully outside the bonds of our broadband connections.]

I can understand the need to go into a room with the like-minded. But I am doing daily combat with my algorithms. What the hell good, after all, does it do to post articles and “like” what I want, to argue against those I will never meet, to edit my “friends” list until all I have is an echo chamber of ideas? That is why I write here. Those who may be reading are part of a small group that I would like to grow to include a few more conservative voices. I seek respectful dialogue.

In order to survive (and not suffer the mood swings brought on by too much media consumption), I did not engage in anything but work until 4 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday (I’m sure my employer would love to know that). And wouldn’t you know it? I got shit done.

And I didn’t feel like shit.

I don’t want people to “go dark.” I don’t want people to stop reading, discussing, or questioning. I don’t want people to retreat into their echo chambers. I want to explore workable solutions with input from all sides. Executive orders, as it seems, can be undercut by the courts and successors with ease. However, that certain things are executive orders in the first place puts the reputation of America (and it’s people) in jeopardy. Immigration reform? Sure. But a selective ban on Muslim-majority countries where the President doesn’t have business interests? What else is that other than a farce of ethics, to say nothing of morals? An absurd wall that would take money away from several better causes? And it seems to me that the veterans President T said he would help are in danger.

It’s true: I find solace in the like-minded “friends” on social media. And I may have done more harm than good, adding my concerns to the endless list of concerns people have. But, I am glad to report, that I have reached out to the conservative “friends.” One has engaged, treading bravely into my liberal algorithm. I hope the conversation will continue. And expand.

Confessions of an Armchair Activist

After the election of T, I felt shock and disgust.

It didn’t take long for me to turn the shock and disgust on myself.

What did I know–or take the time to find out–about the people who voted for T? In a richly diverse society, I was guilty of believing an binary narrative. And in the face of a binary political system–not to mention the internet algorithms that influence my biases–my views had also become black and white.

What had I done in the previous 8 years of the Obama administration? Contributing to NPR and volunteering once a week at an organization for community meals seemed noble in the face my responsibilities to my grad-student wife. But my actions now seem merely to mask an ignorance of my white, male privilege.

In spite of my training (literature, rhetoric, & education) and influences (a liberal brother, a liberal education, exposure to diversity), the concept of privilege was still a vague notion. Even after traveling through some of the most impoverished regions in southeast and central Asia (insofar as a tourist is allowed to do so) in 2011, I rebuked myself in the years following for complaining about the lack of internet connection with one pithy, if oversimplified, phrase: “First-world problems.”

Since the election, I have been to exactly two events that I believe make a difference in my immediate community. Two.

Granted, life has to proceed. Responsibilities to family take precedence: career, food, shelter.

The trouble is finding balance between my family and my fellow human. I try to seek wide opinions, and try to make the time to read widely. Sam Harris Dave Rubin Gad Saad Matt Taibbi . I even downloaded the Fox News app. What others are there? I seek suggestions.

The trouble is finding a conservative with whom to reason, as the polarizing tone has been perpetuated in the days following the inauguration.

capitol buildingphoto credit

Disunity aside, the real trouble–both for those who did and those who did not vote for T–is seeking one or two workable, pluralistic solutions in the face the daunting problems which face America. Women’s rights. Race. Gender identity. Environment. Education. Immigration. Income inequality. Health care. Veterans Affairs. Homelessness. Public broadcasting. Free association. Free press.

I look to people I know (or knew at one point) for inspiration. I think of people like Zoe Dolan, who has made it her life’s work to stand up for those marginalized by the legal system. I think of my cousin, Alex D’Anna, who contributes money, if not his voice, to organizations like the ACLU and No Dakota Pipeline. I think of my wife and her cohort, who have gone through six years of rigorous training to help those in psychological distress.

And I am inspired to work for harmony.