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Sun11182018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The presidency of Donald Trump has made many Americans angry, frustrated, sad and fearful for the future. But in my case, the presidency of Donald Trump helped turn me from a staunch atheist into a Christian.

Let me explain.

I was raised by my grandparents. My grandfather was an Episcopalian, and my grandmother was a Catholic. My first exposure to religion came from my grandfather taking me to Episcopalian services in my hometown of Mentor, Ohio, whenever he was up early enough on Sundays. I remember those experiences fondly: I got to know the other kids in Sunday school, and enjoyed the fun arts and crafts that reflected the values of the Episcopalian Church.

Then came a sleepover at a friend’s house when I was 9. The next morning, we all went to my friend’s Baptist church, where rather than being nice, the teachers told us fire-and-brimstone stories that frightened me. After a few interruptions by other kids, the pastor came into the classroom, yelling at us—and praying for Jesus to save us from evil.

I never wanted to go to church again. When my grandfather would go to the Episcopal parish, I’d ask to stay home.

Later in life, I practiced Buddhism for about a decade; I even had a refuge ceremony performed by a Theravada monk on my 21st birthday. However, I never really found my place in Buddhism; the Asian cultural elements didn’t mesh with my life in the United States, and I didn’t get the answers to questions I needed from my teachers and fellow Buddhists. After that, I abandoned religion, and came to embrace atheism.

Earlier this year, I found myself in a deep depression. I was spiritually drained as I tried to make sense of my life in these uncertain times. I turned to books written by Ram Dass, who I had always admired; they helped. Then, of all things, the royal wedding uplifted me: The sermon by Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, at the ceremony for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was nothing short of remarkable. I began to think about the things my grandfather believed in and tried to instill in me as a child—values inspired by his Episcopal faith.

Ram Dass once said, “Faith is what is left after all your beliefs have been blown to hell.” I had essentially reached that point: I was questioning all that I believed in, and ironically, the only thing I felt faith in was that there had to be something greater than myself.

I’ve been shaken to my core several times during my life. I dealt with an alcoholic mother who died at the age of 40; my father abandoned me before I was born; even my grandfather was not as accessible to me as I would have liked during my childhood. Despite the despair I’ve felt at times, I’ve always survived—through the grace of God, I now believe. There were many times when things could have turned out much worse. An open mind and a new perspective have led to my newfound faith in God.

What does the current president have to do with all of this? The climate he created helped blow all of my beliefs to hell. The despair he’s fomenting is inescapable on television and on social media—from Milo Yiannopoulos bullying people over the internet in the name of “free speech,” to white supremacists hitting activists with cars, to the general dark cloud that seems to be hovering over our country. Political discourse has turned ugly, and people are becoming more and more vindictive over political matters.

A fairly recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute showed that, incredibly, 75 percent of white evangelicals still support Trump. Famous religious figures such as Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell Jr. have turned faith into a partisan game. Trump and his cabinet have been using religion as a means to promote an agenda that opposes diplomacy abroad, and both human rights and civility at home and beyond. 

Given my life experiences—including those as a gay man—I’d come to see religion as part of the problem rather than the solution. In many ways, I still feel that way. I also couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of a vengeful God, and I was disgusted by the “loving intolerance” expressed by many so-called Christians regarding people who believe differently than they do, and people with lifestyles different than theirs.

When I told friends I was starting to think back to the values instilled in me by my grandfather and the Episcopal Church, and that I was thinking of going back to church, most were supportive. Others were—and are—deeply concerned about me. I am often asked how the person who once fervently denounced religion is now a regular churchgoer.

I’ve long known the Episcopal Church is LGBT-affirming, stands for social justice, and allows clergy—both male and female—to marry. Still, I was wary when I first found myself at the Church of St. Paul in the Desert in Palm Springs. The rector, the Rev. Andrew Green, encouraged me to explore my new interest and told me I was welcome to attend services at the church whenever I was ready.

I began attending services on Saturday afternoons. At first, I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect, but I soon felt welcomed and comfortable.

One particular service “sold” me: The Rev. Green was talking about what makes someone a good Episcopalian. He pulled out three simple rules that were on a sheet of paper: “Love God; love others; and love yourself.”

Those three simple rules, combined with my experiences in reading both The Book of Common Prayer and the Bible with my newfound open-mindedness, have given me a perspective on life that not even the horrors of the Trump presidency can diminish. The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi has also become important to me, and I have recited it to myself many times: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

In this confusing and dark time, Donald Trump has not only led me to reaffirm my beliefs in the values of human rights for all, equality for all, and social justice; it has also led me to a place where I have found solitude, comfort and a belief in civility—even at times when civility is seemingly nowhere to be found.

Brian Blueskye is the assistant editor of the Coachella Valley Independent.

Published in Community Voices

I got drunk recently and read all (as of then) 2,735 tweets that Donald Trump has written since the election, in the hopes that Trump’s Twitter feed—collected and searchable on trumptwitterarchive.com—might be a good way to get a sense of the horrors we’ve endured.

Looking at the tweets was like reliving all of the unbelievable moments since the 2016 election in fast motion. It’s important not to forget that we used to not have to deal with the dread of waking up each morning to realize that Donald Trump is president, and scramble madly to check Twitter to make sure we’re not at war. A year ago, all of this was new to us.

So here are 10 of Trump’s tweets, in chronological order, that capture something about the authoritarian nature of this presidency, or the insanity of our social media moment. I left off some obvious favorites (covfefe!) and tended to favor some earlier ones that prefigured later themes. They’re presented here verbatim, with no editing.

1. Nov 10, 2016 09:19:44 PM: Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair

Even though it is from the period between the election and Inauguration Day, this tweet is in many ways the most representative tweet of the Trump presidency. It is only Trump’s fourth post-election tweet, but it captures the spirit of his feed: validate Trump + attack enemies + attack media = complain about affront to Trump.

2. Nov 19, 2016 08:56:30 AM: The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!

This tweet is about the VP-elect’s attendance of the hit play Hamilton, whose cast ended the performance with a short speech expressing the concern we all felt in those uncertain days while hoping “this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”

But Trump took this as an opportunity to remind us of the depths of his cynicism when he demanded a safe space for a powerful white man. Brandon Victor Dixon, who gave the speech, is black, and Trump has made a habit of demanding apologies from black people.

This tweet barely made the list, just edging out Trump’s claim, also in November, that “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” Both introduce autocratic themes we’ve seen develop over the year.

3. Feb 2, 2017 06:13:13 AM: If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?

Here, the president threatens the funds of a major university in order to support Milo Yiannopoulos, the right-wing troll who had white supremacists line-edit his ghostwritten Breitbart stories, when his speech at Berkeley was being protested. Milo worked for Steve Bannon, who worked for Trump.

4. Feb 17, 2017 04:32:29 PM: The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @CNN, @NBCNews and many more) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people. SICK!

This is at the top of the list of authoritarian tweets. It’s got it all.

5. Apr 11, 2017 07:03:43 AM: North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.

Foreign policy by tweet. This led to all of the little Rocketman stuff that almost started a nuclear war and ruined a perfectly good Elton John song.

6. Apr 23, 2017 10:44:59 AM: Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall.

Walking back an impossible promise while making it look like you’re delivering—this is exactly how Trump ran (runs?) his businesses.

7. June 16, 2017 08:07:55 AM: I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt

This reminds me of a line from an Oedipus play. Read it again with that in mind. Tragic.

8. Sep 30, 2017 06:26:16 AM: ...Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They……

Sep 30, 2017 06:29:47 AM: want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.

OK, this is two tweets. But he’s attacking the mayor of a devastated city and using racist stereotypes all in one. (He seemingly practiced for this after the London terrorist attack.)

9. Nov 29, 2017 07:16:21 AM: Wow, Matt Lauer was just fired from NBC for “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.” But when will the top executives at NBC & Comcast be fired for putting out so much Fake News. Check out Andy Lack’s past!

The complete cynicism of the entire administration becomes painfully clear here. Remember how tough Lauer was on Clinton as he bro-ed it up with Trump during the election? And remember the 16 allegations of sexual harassment against Trump? Yeah. He still went there.

10. Dec 2, 2017 12:14:13 PM: I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!*

This one has an asterisk beside it because when it seemed like it could be an admission that Trump obstructed justice in the investigation of Flynn, Trump lawyer John Dowd claimed that he actually wrote the tweet.

Bonus retweet: I couldn’t not include this, because it’s Trump retweeting Laura Ingraham responding to a story I wrote:

The New York Times opinion page tweeted: Nov 20, 2017 9:38 PM: Charles Manson wasn't the inevitable outgrowth of the Sixties. If anything, he was a harbinger of today's far right.

Ingraham quoted that and wrote: Nov 21, 2017 8:37 PML “Far right”? You mean “right so far,” as in @realDonaldTrump has been right so far abt how to kick the economy into high gear.

And Trump retweeted it, somehow both proving my point and completing the circle of my year.

Baynard Woods is a reporter for the Real News Network and the founder of Democracy in Crisis, a project of alternative newspapers across the country. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter: @baynardwoods.

Published in National/International

In a tax speech in Pennsylvania on Oct. 11, President Trump gave a shout out to "the great Jeffrey Lord.”

He went on to explain that Lord “was on fake news CNN for a long time. He was one of my few sources of truth."

CNN severed ties with Lord after he tweeted “sieg heil,” a Nazi salutation.

Trump’s flirtation with racism is nothing new; it extends back through the campaign and into many facets of the presidency. He called the white supremacists in Charlottesville “very fine people” and has repeatedly refused to condemn hate groups. But the precise mechanisms by which the administration and allied media outlets like Breitbart act as bridges to normalize hate groups are becoming increasingly clear.

Buzzfeed’s massive Oct. 5 story on the right-wing provocateur showed that Milo Yiannopoulos sent at least one major Breitbart story to a number of white supremacists to vet and line-edit. In a video embedded in the story, Richard Spencer and others gave a Nazi salute as Yiannopoulos sang “America the Beautiful” at karaoke. (Scroll down to see the video.) Milo even spiked a story at the suggestion of white nationalist Devin Saucier, a friend of Spencer’s.

Yiannopoulos was forced out of Breitbart after an old tape in which he appears to condone pedophilia came out, but he has remained in contact with the major funders to the site, the billionaire Mercer family, which supported funded Milo Inc.

Bannon, who had declared the Mercer-funded Breitbart to be a “platform for the alt-right,” left the site to run Trump’s campaign and work as a senior adviser to the White House. He returned to the site when he was ousted shortly after the white-nationalist terror attack in Charlottesville.

“Dude—we r in a global existentialist war where our enemy EXISTS in social media and u r jerking yourself off w/ marginalia!!!!,” he wrote to Milo. “U should be OWNING this conversation because u r everything they hate!!! Drop your toys, pick up your tools and go help save western civilization.”

“Western civilization” is often code for whiteness. It is less offensive, and less likely to scare away potential converts.

In his New York Times Magazine story on the Breitbart, Wil S. Hylton (a friend of mine) talked to Yochai Benkler, a professor who had been studying the site’s rise.

Breitbart, according to Benkler’s study, was three times more influential than its closest rival, Fox News, during the 2016 election. In this way, it has, according to Benkler, served as a sort of filter that helps legitimize racist ideas. Benkler told Hylton: “Breitbart is not talking about these issues in the same way you would find on the extreme right. … They don’t use the same language you find on sites like VDARE and The Daily Stormer'’—two sites connected to the white-nationalist alt-right movement.

But they are talking about the same issues, and the fact that they don’t use the same language is what makes Breitbart effective as a “bridge” that, in Hylton’s words, “functioned as a legitimizing tether for the most abhorrent currents of the right wing.”

Now that we know that Yiannopoulos actually sent “his” Breitbart stories (which were often not actually written by him) to Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, who works at the Daily Stormer, the bridge phenomenon comes off a bit differently.

“What we saw in our larger-scale analysis was that Breitbart was offering a bridge, a translation platform from the white nationalists to the rest, but that the language and framing was sufficiently different to not be read directly as white nationalist,” Benkler responded in an email when I asked about the Milo story. “To the extent that the BuzzFeed news story is correct in its details, it describes in great detail the level process by which the ideas were transferred, but then still partly sanitized for consumption by people who would be receptive to the ideas, but not the messenger (e.g. Daily Stormer) or the very specific explicitly white nationalist language.”

Trump himself has often acted as a similar kind of bridge. Although he first endorsed Luther Strange to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate seat in an Alabama special election, Trump has now come around to fully supporting Roy Moore, the theocratic former Alabama judge twice removed from office for failing to recognize the rulings of a higher court, who beat Strange in the special election Republican primary for the Senate seat.

But Moore is himself acting as a bridge for even more extreme figures.

As Talking Points Memo recently reported, Moore’s top supporter is Michael Peroutka, which the site described as a “hardline Confederate sympathizer with longtime ties to a secessionist group” who has “expressed beliefs that make even Moore’s arguably theocratic anti-gay and anti-Muslim views look mainstream by comparison.”

Peroutka, a secessionist and debt-collection attorney, ran for president in 2004 for the Constitution Party. A decade later, in 2014, he ran for the county council in Anne Arundel County, Md., and was supported by Moore, whom Peroutka has honored by naming a field on his farm for the Alabamian. In 2012, Peroutka asked attendees of a League of the South conference to “stand for the national anthem” and proceeded to play “Dixie.” (Scroll down to watch the video.)

So as the president and his administration continue to throw fits about athletes “disrespecting the flag” by taking a knee during the national anthem, they are actively supporting or receiving support from racist extremists who support either the Nazis or the Confederacy. In the same way that Breitbart launders the extremist views of the Daily Stormer, making them more palatable, the administration is acting as a bridge to legitimize those elements on the right that are even more extreme than Trump.

Baynard Woods is a reporter at the Real News Network. Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers across the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter: @baynardwoods.

Published in National/International

“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

This was Donald Trump talking to Billy Bush about assaulting women more than a decade ago, but it has proven to be the ultimate expression of Trumpism.

When Matt Lauer, a rich celebrity, asked Trump, another rich celebrity, about North Carolina’s discriminatory “bathroom bill,” it became a question of whether Trump “would be fine with (Caitlyn Jenner) using any bathroom she chooses” in Trump Tower.

Jenner, like Trump, is a reality TV star with complicated lines between business and family. Of course, she can pee wherever she wants. But trans people who aren’t stars and who have to go to the bathroom in less-glamorous places than Trump Tower are shit out of luck after the administration declared in late February it would not protect the rights of trans students.

Jenner spoke out against Trump’s reversal on trans issues, telling him to call her. But because she is also a star, her plea misses the point: Trump attacks the most vulnerable.

If Trump wanted to understand how it feels to be denied access to basic services, he could talk to Gavin Grimm, a trans high school student whose lawsuit against his Virginia school district—for forcing him to use a refashioned janitor’s closet instead of the men’s room—was scheduled to reach the Supreme Court later this month. However, on Monday, March 6, the case was sent back to a lower court because of the new guidelines set by Trump’s justice department.

Or when Trump spoke at the ultra-right Conservative Political Action Conference in late February, he could have talked to Jennifer Williams and Jordan Evans, two trans women who stood out in the hallway holding a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and a sign that said, “Proud to be Conservative, Proud to Be Transgender, Proud to be American #sameteam.”

“We spent the last year fighting for transgender rights and being part of a presidential campaign, (and) we didn’t know what we were walking into,” Williams said of the anti-trans fervor once again spiking in the ruling party.

Williams has attended the conference since 2006, when she was working on a film called Fear of a Black Republican. She felt that the conference and the conservative movement was moving toward the libertarianism of Ron Paul and away from the “traditional values” of Mike Huckabee.

Until 2016, she attended the conference presenting as a man, rather than as Jennifer, her authentic self. She says she was received warmly when she reintroduced herself last year; her friends asked if she was still a conservative and when she said she was, they were cool.

But after a brief moment of high hopes, the mood shifted.

First, former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos got a keynote spot on CPAC’s program. Yiannopoulos regularly called trans people “mentally ill” and used a December speech in Milwaukee to mock a trans student.

Like Yiannopoulos, some other openly gay people at CPAC seemed eager to put down trans people in order to cement their own endangered status among the bigots. One conservative lesbian blogger sitting in the press section “explained” to a Breitbart editor how trans women were really just men who like to dress in women’s clothes and masturbate. “Autogynephiles,” she said, talking high and punching down.

“It’s going to be hard for the administration to go after lesbian, gay and bi people, because they have numbers; they have resources; they have money. We don’t necessarily have that,” Williams said. “You’re going after transgender people ... We’re only 0.6 percent of the population.”

Williams was briefly relieved when Yiannopoulos was disinvited from CPAC, but the night before the conference began, the regime rescinded the Obama-era directive offering federal protection for students to use the facilities that correspond with their gender identities rather than their birth certificates. So when Williams and her friend walked in with their signs and their flag, they didn’t know what to expect.

“I was really worried because people were hyped up. We didn’t expect it to be the issue du jour by 8 in the morning, walking into CPAC with 11,000 or 12,000 conservatives of all different stripes from all over the country.”

Although Williams’ access to public facilities is legally protected in Maryland, where the conference took place, she and her friend located single-occupancy restrooms where they knew they would be safe.

“Hopefully nothing bad will happen. I don’t expect it to. This is my tribe, just as LGBTQ is my tribe. People at CPAC don’t start fights,” she said. “But there’s always that one person you have to be careful about.”

She is especially worried for young trans kids. “When I grew up, we had no hope, and you knew that if you were going to be out and proud and live your life authentically, it was just going to be tough,” she said. “These kids have had a great run for several years, making life better and easier so they can live openly. But now if I’m them, everybody knows who I am. What’s going to happen to me now?”

The fear, she says “has to be overwhelming, because at least the federal government had your back. Now they don’t.”

At its best, the federal government protects the minority from the tyranny of the majority. But Trump’s populism says, in essence, “Fuck that shit.”

On the same day Trump press secretary Sean Spicer said that trans protections are “states’ rights issues,” he also said that recreational cannabis would become a federal issue. In this regime, there are no real principles—only power and the repression of anyone vulnerable enough to repress.

Williams has placed whatever hope she has left in the U.S. Supreme Court. “If we lose the Gavin Grimm case, it could be pretty dismal for a long time. I don’t want to say ‘until a Democrat gets elected,’ because I’m a Republican committee person,” she said. “Hopefully our party will be the ones to make freedom happen for everyone.”

That’s the thing about freedom: If it doesn’t happen for everyone, it doesn’t happen for anyone.

Column updated Monday, March 6. Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington PostVox, Salon, McSweeney's, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other publications.

Published in National/International

On this week's only-sort-of-fake weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson examines recent Orwellian reversals; The K Chronicles gets frightened on an airplane flight; This Modern World ponders how it always starts with a tweet; and Red Meat makes a deal with the kids.

Published in Comics