Sing it, Mr. President.

Every president has their moment.  For John F. Kennedy it came early, on the steps of the Capitol delivering his inaugural address. For George W. Bush it came through tragedy, finding him atop a smoldering pile of twisted steel in New York City with a bullhorn in his hands.

For Barack Obama, that moment found him in an arena in Charleston, South Carolina, surrounded by a solemn black clergy draped in purple robes when he paused, and we heard it:

“A-a-a-ma-a-a-zing-g-g grace-e-e….”

A preacher behind the president stood up so quickly you’d think he had sat on a tack. A voice from off camera shouted “Sing it, my president!” And this young man a thousand miles away felt a heat wave hit his cheeks as condensation slowly released itself from his eyes. 

As he’ll tell you himself, Barack Obama gave far too many national addresses following mass shootings to the point that he admitted he had run out of ways to describe tragedy.  So in that respect, another eulogy was nothing new. We had even seen the president become emotional before, when tears raced down his cheeks while he read the names of slain six year-olds after Newtown.

But there was something different about this day. Here was our nation’s first black president standing among a black congregation, addressing an audience of thousands of black mourners coping with a crime perpetrated by a young white man who told police he committed the act with malice and hate in the muscle where his heart should have been for those born of a different skin color.

This was a moment only Barack Obama could have embraced.

He spoke with a steady, deliberate conviction, reaching deep to bare his soul to the country as a man of god and thus delivering to us a brother, not a president. His freight train like momentum propelled him to reach poignant peaks and touch stoic valleys. His poise, posture, and buttery baritone demonstrated to all that never in a million years would hate triumph of the power of love, faith, and family.

As a white male born in the shadow of the nations capital, I won’t ever be able to understand what President Obama was feeling that morning as looked himself in the mirror while perfecting the dimple in his soft blue tie.  But each time I have watched that speech – a number I won’t reveal – I have felt my eyes well-up, my throat tighten, and my head slowly bob in approval.

President Obama knows the power of his words and how to harness the energy of his audience. When he leaves the teleprompter behind and starts hitting each line with the cadence of a drumline and John Williams-esque crescendo it’s impossible to look away. During the campaign I so often found myself glued to the screen as he giddily chided Donald Trump that my coworkers came to saying I’d “gone to church” when they’d notice a prolonged pause in the clicking from my keyboard.

Like a Marvel character who wakes up to find they have super-strength, Barack Obama has used his powers for good.

Symbols and moments matter.  It is why we fly flags at half-staff or why police wear a badge and not jeans. No flag will ever bring back a national hero, and no uniform will ever catch a robber, but they serve as public markers for respect, law, and order.  Much in this way, President Obama’s forty minute confessional that fateful day in Charleston served as an instrument of healing.  

Just imagine for a second the aftermath of Charleston without President Obama.

Imagine another mass shooting gone unanswered, but this time with the spectre of our nation’s dark racial history looming large.  Imagine another terse eulogy, one that didn’t end in the most powerful man in the nation opening himself up to mockery by singing off key on national television. Imagine another cookie-cutter press release mourning the loss of “fill in the blank” souls, instead of the symbol of freedom discussing the history of the oppressed.

If you think history would have arced the same, tell that to the audience members whose cheeks could have ended a drought that day, or to the preacher who, sitting with his eyes closed, repeated “preach it, my president” like a metronome throughout the address.

Living across a vast and diverse land we often don’t have the ability to meet our fellow citizen, to worship with them, to laugh or cry with them, or to share with them our inner most fears and dreams. Instead it is moments like this, where sitting at home or at the office we can each identify with the feelings of the only man in our country who speaks from behind that great seal.

That day, standing among mourning members of a shaken community, the president reminded us of the type of man he is.  He chose forgiveness and fortitude over vengeance and vitriol. He showed us the power of humility and grace.

He showed us why we’re going to miss him.

Thanks, Obama.

Follow on Twitter @EighteenthandU

Picture credit: AP
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Beware the Red Line

Republican members of Congress love to cite President Obama’s unenforced “red line” over chemical weapons use in Syria as the moment the world went to hell.  They argue that the non-reaction to the discovery of mustard gas led to Bashar Al-Assad committing further atrocities, to Vladimir Putin seizing Crimea and meddling in Eastern European political processes, and to Saudi Arabia and Iran carrying out a proxy war in Yemen.

As with all geo-political messes, its hard to nail down causation, but it certainly isn’t out of the question that the United States’ hesitancy to act after threatening to may have incentivized further international transgressions.  For Republicans, the lesson to be learned is closer to home than they may think.

Just as Vladimir Putin may have viewed US inaction in Syria as an invitation to push further into Ukraine, President-elect Donald Trump has viewed Republican cowardice as a green light continue to bypass norms, rules, and common decency.  He has seen more red line inaction than a Metro rider during rush hour.

Barely a month after declaring his run for president, Trump insulted former POW John McCain and declared that he liked people “who weren’t captured.”  Republican leaders were aghast in incredulity for about 72 hours. Trump continued on.

In December, 2015, Trump called for a blanket ban on Muslim immigration to the United States. Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and others said he was tearing at the moral fabric of the United States and making Betsy Ross roll over in her grave. Trump rolled on.

In July, 2016, Khizr Khan stood before the country on national tv, shared his grief like only a son-less father could with the world, and asked if Donald Trump would have represented his son, a muslim American soldier, as he would any other young man.  Trump responded by insulting Khan’s wife and their faith.  Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell sided with Khan. Trump marched on.

In October, 2016, a video surfaced of a 59 year-old Trump insinuating that he had committed sexual assault. Mike Pence cancelled his upcoming campaign schedule and many Republicans fantasized about a new ticket.  Trump called it locker it room talk and Republicans slinked back. Trump soldiered on.

After each of these events, a small chorus of Republican leaders stuck their necks out and proclaimed Trump’s actions to be wrong. He was called unacceptable, unpresidential, and unfit. But each time, as the news cycle returned to Hillary Clinton’s emails, those Republican leaders crawled back on board the Trump train.

The red line has been drawn and erased, re-drawn and re-erased. It is as durable a sand castle during high tide.

During the campaign the consequences to this cowardice were minimal. The news cycle moved quicker than a strobe light at an Avicii concert and real accountability was on par with a time-out session at an elementary school slumber party.

But now that Trump is about to become president and will have the awesome power of his signature, the consequences could be catastrophic. The daily unintelligent briefing that he shares with us via Twitter shows his willingness to train his ire on the press and political opponents, two groups that are supposed to be protected by our founding documents.

What happens when Trump calls for an investigation of a paper that reports on a scandal of his? Will Republican leaders stand up then?

What happens when Trump asks Attorney General Sessions to investigate Democratic governors or to ignore illegal voting restrictions? Will Republican leaders step forward in defense?

Republicans have made hay out of President Obama’s refusal to enforce an international threat and lamented the chaos that became of it. After nearly 18 months of standing up to Donald Trump, only to sit back down, they would be wise to adopt their own lesson.

Donald’s 12 Days of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, the Donald gave to me, a lie in a three a.m. tweet.

On the second day of Christmas the Donald gave to me, two MAGA hats
And a lie in a three a.m. tweet.

On the third day of Christmas the Donald gave to me, three swing states,
Two MAGA hats, and a lie in a three a.m. tweet.

On the fourth day of Christmas the Donald gave to me,
Four interviews, three swing states, two MAGA hats and a lie in a three a.m. tweet.

On the fifth day of Christmas the Donald gave to me, five Chinese ties,
Four interviews, three swing states, two MAGA hats and a lie in a three a.m. tweet.

On the sixth day of Christmas the Donald gave to me, six Fox News anchors,
Five Chinese ties, four interviews, three swing states, two MAGA hats
And a lie in a three a.m. tweet.

On the seventh day of Christmas the Donald gave to me, seven golden airplanes,
Six Fox News anchors, five Chinese ties, four interviews, three swing states,
Two MAGA hats and a lie in a three a.m. tweet.

On the eighth day of Christmas the Donald gave to me, eight Russians hacking,
Seven golden airplanes, six Fox News anchors, five Chinese ties, four interviews,
Three swing states, two MAGA hats and a lie in a three a.m. tweet.

On the ninth day of Christmas the Donald gave to me, nine Clinton emails,
Eight Russians hacking, seven golden airplanes, six Fox News anchors, five Chinese ties,
Four interviews, three swing states, two MAGA hats and a lie in a three a.m. tweet.

On the tenth day of Christmas the Donald gave to me, ten Ivanka snapchats,
Nine Clinton emails, eight Russians hacking, seven golden airplanes, six Fox News anchors,
Five Chinese ties, four interviews, three swing states, two MAGA hats
And a lie in a three a.m. tweet.

On the eleventh day of Christmas the Donald gave to me, eleven golden toupees,
Ten Ivanka snapchats nine Clinton emails, eight Russians hacking, seven golden airplanes,
Six Fox News anchors, five Chinese ties, four interviews, three swing states,
Two MAGA hats and a lie in a three a.m. tweet.

On the twelfth day of Christmas the Donald gave to me, twelve Cabinet posts,
Eleven golden toupees, ten Ivanka snapchats nine Clinton emails, eight Russians hacking,
Seven golden airplanes, six Fox News anchors, five Chinese ties, four interviews,
Three swing states, two MAGA hats and a lie in a three a.m. tweet.

Donald’s Feckless Flock.

The confirmation this last week that the Russian government used an invisible hand to sway our elections presented a remarkable choice for Republican leaders, one that separated true patriots from political shills.

On one hand there are the true hacks like Kellyanne Conway who called the CIA report “laughable” because her personal short term gain is greater than the national interest.

There are patriots like John McCain and Lindsey Graham who put out a statement with Chuck Schumer calling for a full congressional investigation of who, what, when, why, and how the Russians meddled this past fall.  They recognize the terrifying precedent that it sets if the United States of America is willing to stand idly by and discount our own intelligence agencies while another government plays puppet master with out elecorate.

Then there is a third group: the cowards. This breed of Republican sides with neither the CIA nor Russia (hrmm, who to choose…) but instead choose to distract, distort, and deny.

The epitome of this true profile in courage is none other than Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. He is a political novice, a moral lightweight, and a kitten in the age of lions.

Ryan would rather accept the short term benefit of power than acknowledge the awesome implications that another soverign power had its thumb on the scales of our electoral process.

Russia, the country we had a decades long Cold War against; the country who Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, and others were caught spying for; the country we fought proxy wars against in Afghanistan and now Syria.  That Russia just waged an active campaign to delegitimize the central institution of our representative democracy and some Republicans would rather stay silent to appease a man who doesn’t recognize that coating everything in gold is tacky than stand up for our Constitution.

In response to the Washington Post story detailing the Intelligence Community’s assessment of Russia’s actions, President-Elect Trump attacked not Russia, but the CIA. As Saturday Night Live so perfectly satirized (is it satire if it’s true?) the president-elect is more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Vladimir Putin than our own intelligence officers.

In the face of that, Speaker Ryan–who also receives intelligence briefings–refused to call for an investigation and instead said that the issue “shouldn’t become polarized.” Good thing we have a brave and principled speaker who is willing to stand up to those pesky… Democrats.

What Ryan should not only know, but be saying out loud, is that American intelligence services do not serve a political party. The are unequivocally non-partisan and work solely in the interests of the United States of America. The CIA has an estimated workforce of over 20,000 people, of whom only a small handful are politically appointed. They do not tailor assessments to fit a agenda or confirm a narrative.  Their job is collect facts, analyze, asses, and report. Nothing more, nothing less.

That Trump would not only ignore their conclusion, but say that they are failure of an organization is devastating to their mission.

We all know that Trump does not live in a world based in reality. He lies the way most people breath. In response to this lying we’ve watched “leaders” like Ryan regress into a creature with his tail permanently tucked between his legs.

For example last week when Ryan was asked by Scott Pelley about Trump’s claim that “millions voted illegally” for Hillary Clinton, he simply said he “wasn’t focused on those things” and “didn’t have a way to know” if what Trump said was true. Ryan chose to continue to cast doubt on the solvency our democracy rather than say “Yeah, that was a ludicrous tweet.”

Where does this end?

People often ‘joked’ during the campaign that Trump represented a threat to our democracy – a claim more accurately described as hyperbole than legitimate during the campaign. But now, as Trump has dabbled in conspiracy theories about illegal voting and decided to side with the Kremlin over Langley, it doesn’t feel so hyperbolic.

In the weeks since the election we’ve seen Trump start by calling the President of Taiwan, then criticize China for stealing a drone, and then again criticize China for giving it back. He has remained silent as North Carolina Republicans stripped an incoming Democratic administration of power. He used his bully pulpit to temporarily crush the stock prices of companies who have rubbed him the wrong way.  

Any one of things would be a presidential scandal and Trump is still weeks away from the oath.

Now more than ever we need leaders who have spines made of lead and are able to separate the politically expedient from the democratically disastrous. Every leader will have their sheep and if he continues to silently go along, Paul Ryan is going to be first of many to be sheared.

Follow on Twitter @EighteenthandU

Picture credit: CNN

Why I am forever hopeful.

Last spring, at age 25, I boarded my first plane destined for overseas. With the exception of a couple trips to America’s hat up north, I had never left the country.  My parents believed that I needed to see my own country, and all the natural awesomeness it had to offer, because I went abroad to marvel at man-made castles and paintings.  

So in high school, we packed up the family van and spent 6 weeks over the course of two summers staying in motels, eating roadside PB&J’s and stopping at every national park and baseball park along the way.  I’ve spent hours watching prairie dogs pop up from underground mazes, stained my shirt with BBQ in Memphis after walking through the hotel room where Martin Luther King Jr spent his final hours.  I’ve seen the glory of a sunrise in Yellowstone and the despair of gutted apartments and desolate shopping centers that lined the freeway for miles leaving New Orleans, years after Katrina.

I’ve seen the greatness every corner of this country can offer. I’ve seen hope in a small town waitresses in Fargo who told us about her night classes and the ambition in a hotel manager who works at night to avoid the oppressive heat in Phoenix while making ends meet. I’ve seen the kindness in a mechanic who helped us with a flat tire somewhere between El Paso and nowhere and the humor in bikers in West Virginia who showed my brother that men in with beards and leather jackets aren’t automatically scary.

I also have seen where the worst of our country still survives.  I remember feeling confused and befuddled in neighborhoods littered with Confederate flags only miles from Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas, home of the famous “Little Rock 9.” I remember asking and learning about these communities that were still clinging to a depressed vision of America, left behind by the spread of compassion and tolerance.

And for a long time these communities were just that, relegated to displaying Stars and Bars bumper stickers and putting “Don’t tread on me” signs in the rear window of their Silverados.  Republicans by default, they were forced to vote for Presidential candidates who ran on platforms of “compassionate conservatism” and paid little heed to the the true nationalist wishes of these communities.

And then 2016 descended down an escalator.

Donald Trump gave these people a voice they didn’t have before. He made it okay for Americans to group themselves by caste and align against those who they didn’t share in Bud Lights at the dive bar on Monday night. And worst of all, he allowed a small minority of this country to feel empowered to spread their antiquated way of life.

But I remain forever hopeful.  This vision won’t – and can’t – succeed.  There is too much good in this country, too much pride in our schools, our service members, our states, and our baseball teams.

Trump is a singular figure and without the bully pulpit of a fawning, ratings starved national media the incessant lying and hatred that has permeated our national dialogue will quiet. And without a singular ideology to defend, his echo chamber minions like Rudy Giuliani will no longer be given an outlet to lob grenades into civil discussion.

But it’s more than vanquishing the vitriol that Trump brought with him.  It’s about the remembering what has made America great already.  

Wealth is no longer a barrier to healthcare. Gender is no longer an obstacle to the legal definition of love.  Families will soon be united by by love, rather than divided by borders.  Ambitious students will no longer be burdened by loans, but boosted by learning.  Women and minorities can look at pictorials of our presidents and envision themselves seated in front of the flag.   

Standing in Philadelphia last night, President Obama stated that he still believed in hope because “in my visits to schools and factories, war theaters, national parks, in the letters written to me, in the tears you’ve shed over a lost loved one, I have seen again and again your goodness, and your strength, and your heart.”

I have my whole life to see the Coliseum. It has been there for 2000 years and I assume it’ll be there for 20 more. But in 2016, as our national fabric has been stress-tested repeatedly, I’m glad that I can share in Hillary and President Obama’s experience in having seen the goodness in every corner of our country. From Acadia to the Grand Canyon, there is not a country on earth that can match the awesomeness of the United State of America.

Choose hope.

Follow on Twitter @EighteenthandU

7 Days in November.

So here we are. One more week. Seven more merciful days until we can put this freakshow election behind us. With conflicting polls and the FBI leaking like a $20 yacht in a hurricane, the only sure bet at this point is that there will be a library’s worth of books written on how in the hell Donald Trump managed to almost (knocking on everything wooden in sight) become president.

I’m a political junkie, but his race has just about done it for me.  Every day I see a headline that makes me furrow my brow and shake my head.  I wouldn’t ever fall for the clickbait if it weren’t for the need to stay informed and literate in political discussions at work.

Ever since CNN poured $50 million into political coverage a year ago, facts and rationale have taken a back seat to ratings and drama. But it goes beyond “reality news” stations like CNN and Fox. Just the other day The Hill ran a headline that said “Ex-FBI official calls the Clintons a crime family.”  I mean good God, The Hill is supposed to be a sane policy rag and even they have succumbed to reporting comments that shouldn’t be repeated outside of the parlor.

When people say that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have run the nastiest election in modern memory, they’re wrong.  Donald Trump has run the nastiest election in history.

Trump normalized “loser” as a political adjective. Trump made it so that we’re no longer shocked by headlines that say “A 5th accuser comes forward.”  Trump created a toxic environment where in the land of the free he calls for his opponent to be jailed and openly uses the word “criminal” to describe her.  Remember, this is a contest where the loser goes back to their house, not to the gallows.

Here we are, America, and a week before the election and you have liberals wearing shirts that say “Nasty Woman” and conservatives changing their Twitter handles to “Deplorable Dan.”  The thing is, I think Clinton is right that a good handful of Trump supporters are deplorable people, but the fact that it is a phrase used by a candidate for president about another candidate’s supporters demonstrates what a sad state of affairs this is.

We are all flying the same flag, right?

Remember when everyone freaked out in 2012 because Romney called half of Obama supporters poor?  Is it wrong that I yearn for a time when closed door, off-the-cuff comments about voting patterns based on economic status was the worst gaffe a politician could make?

Trump created this new environment. Opinions used to have to be vetted before they made it to a national audience. Uncouth comments used to get a candidate banished. Now they’re paraded across the screen in promos for The Situation Room.

No matter how many fact-checking chryons CNN employs while they air Trump’s comments, the damage is done just by sharing them.  People see “Clinton is a criminal” in quotes next to a CNN logo and boom, now they’re telling their neighbors that Clinton should be in jail. Sounds too simple? Talk to some of the people in Kansas, Florida, and New York that I have over the past year.

Yes, the media has an obligation to report the day’s events, so of course there is the argument that even if Trump says something crazy, they need to air it.  That is wrong.

If Trump says “my opponent is a criminal who should be jailed” then airing that quote is making that sound like it could be true.  A recent poll showed that 40% of Georgia Republicans think Hillary and Bill were legitimately involved in murders to hide criminal activity.  Trust me, Washington is way more VEEP than House of Cards.

But alas, I digress.  After the dust settles on this mess we can discuss the media’s culpability in this disaster until pigs fly.  We probably won’t even be done by then.

What I really want to understand here, is were these nationalist feelings and hate always present in America and we just never knew it?  How can a process usually dominated by lifelong public servants debating issues devolve into a grade school food fight with one candidate shouting “no you’re the puppet!” over the other during a debate in front of 70 million people.  If I did that in front of 10 people I’d be mortified, much less 20% of the entire country.

How can 40% of my fellow Americans be duped–willingly or blindly–into supporting the single worst candidate for president, ever.

Never have so many conservative papers endorsed a Democrat. Never have so many papers made their first ever endorsement. And never have so many papers dis-endorsed a candidate before.  This isn’t because Hillary is the Messiah, but because Trump is a fear mongering moron with no respect for anything but himself.

This election and its tired coverage has reduced our nation to two even more divided camps than we were before. But, it’s no longer about Democrat vs Republican but rather sane folk vs Trump supporters. How can someone vote for the sober, Mormon Romney and the war hero McCain and then suddenly side with Donald “grab ‘em by the pussy” Trump?  Have our national morals been corrupted that badly?

Back in January before the Iowa caucuses I wrote in my original blog for this site that Trump was running a campaign of fear and had galvanized those who feared “the other.”  I wrote how this was a powerful, terrifying message, but that in the long run, hope always dominated over fear and despair.

With 7 days remaining, and polls that require me to put new sheets on my bed each morning, I can only pray that I’m right.

Follow on Twitter @EighteenthandU

Photo credit: HILL STREET STUDIOS VIA GETTY IMAGES

The Best Jokes You Didn’t Hear At The Al Smith Dinner

The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner is an annual white-tie affair held in New York City to raise money for Catholic Charities. It features the who’s who of the New York elite and since John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon first spoke at the dinner in 1960, it has been a light-hearted rite of passage for presidential candidates heading into the homestretch every four years.

Usually candidates take a self-deprecating approach to their speeches and the roast is more Kiwanis Club than it is Comedy Central. This year, however, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump took quite a few liberties with that theme and traded barbs loosely cloaked in often poor humor. Trump’s performance even elicited boos from the crowd, which was probably a first for the dinner.

Here are the best jokes that you didn’t hear, but perhaps should have.

Trump:

  • “Most of you had to pay to be here tonight. But as a guest of honor my invite was free.  This is good, because I didn’t want to break my streak of not giving money to charities.”
  • “If you can’t hear me in the back, it is because they borrowed this microphone from the first presidential debate.”
  • “My running mate, Mike Pence, wasn’t able to make it. He declined the invitation, saying he would need at least two full days preparing for the Sunday shows to explain what I really meant in this speech.”
  • “You may not know this about me, but the only thing that stopped me from becoming a Cardinal was those hats. I mean, what a sin it would have been to have this covered up my whole life.”
  • “I’ll admit, I was a little confused when the waiter earlier asked if I wanted fish or chicken.  I told him it’s actually pronounced ‘Long John Silvers’ and ‘Popeyes.'”
  • “I was a little nervous when I heard the dress code for tonight was ‘white tie.’  Jake Tapper, if you’re listening, ‘I disavow.'”

Clinton:

  • “You may notice Bill isn’t here with me tonight.  If he were he would’ve sat right there next to me and Donald, but I decided I could wait 3 more months to hear Donald say “Hi, President Clinton.”

    Mic drop. HRC out.

Follow on Twitter @EighteenthandU

Photo Credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS