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Neither side has a monopoly on incivility and anger

By Michael d’Oliveira

One of the tactics in American politics these days involves pretending as though everyone who agrees with you is always respectful and civil and the other side is filled with angry and disrespectful people.

And like many things involving politics, the reality is much different.

The truth is that both sides, liberal and conservative, contain groups of people who exceed the kind of behavior that society generally defines as socially acceptable.

On several occasions, liberal protesters have yelled at and harassed Republican politicians and members of the Trump administration in restaurants and other public places.

The same has happened at several Trump rallies. Trump supporters have regularly yelled at members of the media, including the use of profanity and the middle finger.

Most recently, Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was yelled at and harassed by a group of conservatives in South Florida. One man called her a “piece of shit.”

Regardless of whether or not this type of behavior is acceptable, only politics is capable of getting people this worked up and angry.

And only politics is capable of blinding people to the fact that no side has a monopoly on incivility and anger.

The alteration of this “Halloween” billboard (the featured image at the top of this post) is a good example of that – people thinking only the other side has a problem.

If anyone wants to argue one side has a bigger problem with incivility and disrespect, that’s an argument that can be made. But arguing one side is completely innocent of this kind of behavior is not an argument that can be made credibly.

And, of course, leading that charge of lacking credibility is President Donald Trump.

As someone who has repeatedly condoned and encouraged violence, Trump somehow thinks he’s the best person to call the Democrats an “angry mob.”

At a political rally on Oct. 18, Trump praised Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte for body slamming a reporter. “Any guy who can do a body slam – he’s my guy.”

The next day, Trump called the Democrats an “angry mob.” And then he said something about unity, which is the perfect thing to expect if you’re the kind of guy who constantly belittles your political opponents.

Thankfully, there are at least some Republicans and conservatives who are speaking out against Trump’s language.

Radio host and former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh is one of them.

On Twitter (below) he wrote, “The President encourages & applauds physical violence against a journalist. Hey Republicans, don’t ever complain again about violence coming from the Left.”

We need people on both sides to call out violence and the encouragement of violence.

The hypocrisy of “shut up” culture: Kanye West edition

By Michael d’Oliveira

The hypocrisy of “shut up culture” reached new highs (well, lows actually) this week with Kanye West’s Oval Office meeting with President Donald Trump.

The newly crowned leader of “shut up culture” is Candace Owens. A conservative pundit, Owens has gotten a lot of attention lately – from conservatives and liberals.

Not too long ago, Owens did a whole video on that now classic conservative saying: celebrities should shut up.

In the video, Owens says, “Here’s the thing, famous ladies and gents: Nobody cares what you think. Nobody.”

And nothing says “nobody cares what celebrities think” than devoting a three-minute video to talking about how nobody cares what celebrities think. Truly not caring would involve just ignoring the thing you claim to not care about.

Fast forward to this week and Owens is smiling from ear to ear and talking to everyone about how great it is that Kanye, who, in case you’ve forgotten, is a celebrity, has spoken out against the Democrats and everyone else who is anti-Trump.

On Fox & Friends, she said Kanye was “Bold enough to move the ball forward and start speaking about these things publicly.”

Quite the turnaround.

Of course, this naked hypocrisy of telling one group of Americans they can’t be part of the political conversation while praising another for the exact same thing is nothing new. It was written about on this website earlier this year.

This hypocrisy and these double standards represent one of the big problems with our public discourse: some of us would just rather shout at people we disagree with.

It’s certainly everyone’s right to disagree with anything anyone says. If some actor or musician tells you Trump sucks, you don’t have to agree. You can even reply that liberal celebrities are the ones who suck.

But it rings very hallow to tell some celebrities they shouldn’t be involved in politics while telling others they are great for doing so.

And Owens is probably the last person who should be telling celebrities to shut up. She’s basically a celebrity herself. She’s certainly treated like one by many conservatives who like what she has to say.

Before the internet, most people couldn’t have their political opinions disseminated to the entire world. That kind of widespread exposure was really only reserved for celebrities, people in the media and politicians.

But in the age of social media, literally anyone can say or write something and the whole world will pay attention. It doesn’t matter if you are an expert in what you’re talking about or you have many years of experience, you can become famous just by expressing the right opinion at the right moment.

The game has changed, and we’ve become a society where everyone’s opinions can suddenly drive the public discourse. The time of telling others to not use the platforms they have access to are over.

Everyone should stop calling for Trump and Clinton to be locked up

By Michael d’Oliveira

“Lock her up” is a staple of rallies hosted by President Donald Trump. It’s a chant directed at Hillary Clinton for all the crimes conservatives claim she’s done.

It’s become a very tired chant – one that’s been yelled for years but brings Clinton no closer to getting thrown in jail. It’s also a chant that shouldn’t be uttered. Calling for the incarceration of a major political figure before she’s even been charged with a crime is dangerous, divisive and distracting.

In July of 2016, Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin wrote about the “lock her up” chant. “The suggestion is that Hillary Clinton was not just wrong, negligent or dishonest but should be imprisoned. In lieu of policy disagreements we now criminalize the opposing party’s nominee,” she stated.

She was right.

The same should be said for liberals saying “lock him up” about Trump.

Like Clinton, Trump has been the subject of countless newspaper articles, television broadcasts and other media outlining supposed and alleged crimes.

And, like Clinton, all or some of it might be true.

But “might” is the key word here.

Nothing has been proven and no charges have been filed. Neither Trump nor Clinton have been convicted of anything.

Liberals who chant “lock him up,” or post it on social media, are acting no better than the Trump supporters who think the justice system should just throw Clinton in jail with no trial.

But the phrase seems to have become just as popular with Trump’s critics as it has with Trump supporters.

Asked why he put bars on Trump’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star, an artist who goes by the name Plastic Jesus, said Trump was “goin’ to jail.”

It should be noted that, even if a court of law found Trump guilty of something, there is a very slim chance he would actually go to jail. Presidents just don’t go to jail in this country. For a myriad of reasons, both good and bad. So, if you really dislike Trump, don’t get your hopes up too much.

That being said, “lock him up” and “lock her up” are both corrosive phrases that do nothing but make people less likely to listen to each other.

It’s just not something that should be said in a country where the rule of law and due process are vital to the stability of the country.

But that’s politics today. Say something as incendiary as possible, no matter what the consequences.

The Democrats need to run on ideas in 2020; well, every year, really

By Michael d’Oliveira

Whomever the Democratic nominee for president is in 2020, they need to ignore most, if not all, of what President Donald Trump says and does.

Hillary Clinton constantly talked about Trump in 2015 and 2016 and look where that got her.

Trump’s Democratic opponent in 2020 needs to talk about what he or she will do to improve the country, not what Trump writes on Twitter. He or she needs to give voters good, solid reasons why they should make Trump a one term president.

He or she needs to tell the American people their ideas on:

The economy

The military

Foreign policy

Healthcare

Education

The environment

The national debt and deficit

Job creation

Taxes

And everything else that’s important to the present and future of this country.

When the 2020 campaign starts, the Democratic nominee doesn’t need to tell us what he or she thinks about Trump’s latest tweet. We’ve all had enough of hearing about Trump’s tweets or comments.

Frankly, even people who dislike Trump are tired of hearing about his behavior.

There’s obviously a little room to criticize Trump’s behavior. But the vast majority of his opponent’s campaigning should be devoted to his or her ideas.

They shouldn’t tell us they’re a better person than Trump. We already know they’re a better person than Trump. Everyone, except for Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer, is a better person than Trump.

Besides, Trump’s tweets are covered incessantly in the mainstream media and on social media. Everyone is going to hear or read about it and form an opinion. They don’t need anyone else’s help either way to decide how they will feel about what he says.

There’s no need for the Democratic nominee to chime in. That person has more important things to comment on, like how they’re going to lead this country.

Voters on the fence about Trump need to be able to look at the Democratic nominee and see someone who has strong, well-developed ideas about the economy, America’s relationship with its allies and every other issue of national and international importance.

If they aren’t confident in what that person will do as president, they might stay home or stay with Trump. But, just a few months of campaigning without talking about Trump’s tweets could save us from having to hear about them for another four years.

Many Trump supporters also don’t understand

By Michael d’Oliveira

It’s become a common refrain amongst many of President Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters: The Democrats and the media don’t understand us.

That’s true.

Many people who are anti-Trump (the Democrats) or who report on Trump (the media) don’t understand many Trump voters all that well. But the opposite is also true: many of Trump’s supporters don’t seem to understand (or care) why Trump is disliked and disliked so intensely.

It’s important to note though that “many” is the right word here. Not every person who voted for Trump in 2016 is an apologist who thinks he can do no wrong.

For that group of Trump voters, the policies are what matter; the man on Twitter and at rallies is deeply flawed and reprehensible, the man singing laws is making the right moves for the country. It may be a thin distinction, but it is still an important one that should be made. Painting everyone with the same broad brush is unfair and doesn’t do any good.

However they view it, they’ve figured out something important: you can generally support what a politician does without making excuses for his personal behavior and speech.

As a nation of individuals, each with our own opinions, we’re always going to disagree on what policies are best for the country. There’s also nothing wrong with passionately defending our ideas. We should never be afraid to stand up for what we believe in and vehemently try to prove why other people are wrong and why we’re right. Spirited debate can be passionate and respectful at the same time.

And that’s probably the biggest issue Trump’s hardcore supporters don’t seem to understand: Trump poisons every debate with personal insults. Or, if they do understand it, they’re glad he’s “sticking it to liberals.”

Whenever challenged, Trump never actually defends himself or his position. He just insults the critic. And insults are not a real defense, they’re just insults.

Instead of expecting the president act like a president when he addresses his critics, many Trump supporters have turned into this mob that just hoots and hollers approval at every new insult.

Except for Trump’s hardcore supporters, Trump’s behavior has become a growing concern for anyone who cares about how a president is supposed to act.

Even people from Trump’s own party and retired military men and women (who almost never give opinions in public) have called him out on it.

Yes, Trump should meet America’s enemies and adversaries

By Michael d’Oliveira

Diplomacy is a good thing, especially between nations that aren’t exactly on friendly terms.

In a press conference yesterday, President Donald Trump said he would be willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani without any preconditions. “They want to meet, I’ll meet.”

Trump’s already demonstrated he believes in that by meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un in June in Singapore. So it’s not out of the realm of possibility he could eventually meet with leaders in Iran and possibly some of America’s other longstanding foes, including Cuba.

Trump’s willingness to meet with America’s enemies has been met with condemnation by many liberals. It’s a complete reversal from when former President Barack Obama said he would meet other leaders without preconditions. Liberals applauded Obama at the time for making a statement in favor of diplomacy.

Now, not so much.

“The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them is . . .  ridiculous,” Obama said in 2008.

Many conservatives also changed their tune on meeting with our enemies once Trump started talking about his willingness to meet with America’s enemies. 

But all hypocrisy aside, talking to our enemies is a good thing. America has never suffered for its willingness to open a dialogue with its enemies. It’s always been a good thing. Talking with your enemy doesn’t mean you give up or give in.

It was a good thing when Kennedy met Khrushchev. It was a good thing when Nixon met Brezhnev. It was a good thing when Nixon met Mao. It was a good thing when Carter met Brezhnev. It was a good thing when Reagan met Gorbachev.

There are obviously potential risks with every diplomatic meeting. But there are also potential benefits. The latter is worth the former.

But talking isn’t the risk in diplomacy. The risk comes from what is said. In Trump’s case, it was his praise of Kim Jong-Un that was the problem. It certainly didn’t create a further risk of war, but it did create a scene where a president was giving a murderous, brutal dictator compliments.

In one interview, Trump said “His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor, they have a great fervor.”

As the Washington Post pointed out, other presidents, from both parties, have spoken diplomatically with other adversaries and enemies without heaping praise on them.

“President Barack Obama met and spoke with Cuban leader Raúl Castro several times. Obama had a rote way of describing his interactions with Castro,” stated Washington Post writer Philip Bump. He continued, “I want to thank President Castro for the spirit of openness and courtesy that he has shown during our interactions,” he said in April 2015. The two had “both concluded . . . that we can disagree with the spirit of respect and civility, and that over time it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship in our two countries,” Obama said. Nothing about Castro being a beloved, talented leader.”

Even if you don’t like Trump, there is no valid reason to buy or read Omarosa’s book

By Michael d’Oliveira

Not long after she left the White House last December, Omarosa Manigault told “Good Morning America” that her story is one that people “will want to hear.”

I’m not one of them.

That “story” is in the form of a new book due out in August. You can look up the title because I don’t feel like giving it any more attention than I’m already doing by writing this. Looking up the title is as far as you should get though.

Besides, there’s already a book about the inner workings of the White House under President Donald Trump: “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” by journalist Michael Wolff. Wolff’s book is filled with stories about Trump’s behavior behind the scenes. It’s filled with quotes and statements that could be true and could be false. Stories like this one: “Early in the campaign, Sam Nunberg was sent to explain the Constitution to the candidate [Trump]. ‘I got as far as the Fourth Amendment,’ Nunberg recalled, ‘before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head.'”

The real strength of the credibility of a book like Wolff’s rests on the strength and credibility of its author. We believe the stories if we believe the writer is honest and credible. We have to base our opinion of his book on our opinion of his integrity as a journalist and human being. Unlike Wolff, Omarosa is not a journalist and she has no credibility, either personally or professionally, on which to make her word worth believing.

On the contrary, she has become famous as a television “villain” and she sustained that fame.

On the talk show “Bethenny” in 2013, Omarosa referred to herself as a “brand” and said her career in reality television was because people “want to see” her be the villain everyone knows. And she’s right. People love watching her be the villain.

That’s why nothing she says, unless it is backed up with actual evidence, can be trusted. It’s all gossip because she has no reputation to back it up. Her reputation, as she described it in her own words in the video, is of a person who says things to get attention.

And that’s what this book is: her latest attempt to get attention and profit off of that attention. With the way Trump acts, there’s bound to be at least one true thing in her book. But even that will probably be embellished and exaggerated for effect. Boring books don’t sell. Omarosa knows that. She also knows that sensational claims get a lot of media attention. The kind of media attention that can help drive book sales.

If you’re going to claim you’re better than Trump and those who defend him, you have to actually be better. That involves intellectual consistency. If you thought every good thing Omarosa said about Trump was a lie, why do you suddenly trust her when she criticizes him?

Do you trust liars just because they say things you want to hear? Are your standards that low?

That’s why rejecting this book is so important. Truth has to always matter, no matter who is president. Even when it comes to people who are saying things we want to believe.

Omarosa has to held accountable through low book sales. If we give the word of a journalist and the word of an attention-seeking reality television star the same weight, that’s an insult to the journalist and journalism. Standards have to be enforced all the time. Otherwise, they’re not standards. And people without standards aren’t good at preserving a free society.

Political correctness is a bipartisan problem

By Michael d’Oliveira

If you ask conservatives, “Do liberals own political correctness?” most of them would probably say yes. But, in actuality, political correctness is a bipartisan issue.

We’ve become a country (maybe we always were on some level) where people seem incapable of tolerating different ideas. On many college campuses, leftist college students routinely shut down and interfere with conservatives who were invited to their campus to speak.

There’s nothing wrong with protesting the visit of someone you disagree with. There’s also nothing wrong with expressing your disagreement with them in a peaceful manner. But you should not prevent others who want to hear those conservatives or try to engage them in a real debate.

President Barack Obama talked about that problem in 2015.

“Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying ‘you can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.’”

Unfortunately, while leftist college students are the most extreme example of political correctness, they aren’t the only ones engaging in it.

President Donald Trump has become the voice of politically-correct republicans and conservatives. (To be clear, not all conservatives engage in political correctness. Just like not all liberals do).

On Twitter Friday, Trump wrote, “The NFL National Anthem Debate is alive and well again – can’t believe it! Isn’t it in contract that players must stand at attention, hand on heart? The $40,000,000 Commissioner must now make a stand. First time kneeling, out for game. Second time kneeling, out for season/no pay!”

Conservatives have certainly engaged in political correctness before. The Dixie Chicks received death threats and had their songs pulled from many country music radio stations after they criticized President George W. Bush in 2003.

More recently, many conservatives called for a professor to be fired over her comments about the death of former First Lady Barbara Bush.

But the issue with the NFL and the players kneeling during the National Anthem has become the prime example of conservative political correctness. Social media is filled to the brim with people wanting the NFL players who kneel to be fired or punished in some way.

One man wrote, “No more playing around. Just fire the players who don’t respect this nation.”

Anyone is free to dislike the actions of these players. Fortunately, we all have the right to choose what we think and feel about what other people say and do.

As Christopher Hitchens stated years ago, “Just as Lincoln said, ‘As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.’ . . . I don’t just claim the right not to be censored. I claim the right not to be a censor. I insist on this.”

But wanting people punished for something they say or do is the very essence of political correctness. You’re telling the entire world someone should have to face some kind of punishment because they “disrespected” something you hold sacred. That’s no different than if some liberal wanted someone fired because they said something offensive about Obama.

Of course, people are perfectly free to express the opinion that these NFL players should be fired. That’s also free speech. That’s also political correctness.

It’s important to understand Russia’s real role in the 2016 election

By Michael d’Oliveira

Yesterday’s press conference with President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki is one of the more attention-grabbing chapters of the ongoing Russian election influence story.

And while it’s important to call out Russia for its actions in 2016, something Trump failed to do yesterday, it’s also important to know who is truly at fault for putting Trump into the Oval Office – the voters.

Russia masterminded a misinformation campaign in 2016. It did not rig the election and install Trump, as some people, including the ones who made this meme below, claim.

It was the voters who didn’t properly vet the false information they based their vote for Trump or a third party on. The Russians didn’t rig the election. Voting machines were not compromised. Russian agents did not change Hillary Clinton votes to Trump votes. What they did was use social media and hacked information from the Democratic National Committee to help make Clinton look as bad as possible.

Their actions still crossed a line but it’s important not to exaggerate their influence and role in our elections. Making this all about the Russians is not going to address the real root of the problem: people putting too much trust into what they find on the internet.

Instead of questioning what we see and hear and doing our own independent research and critical thinking, many of us just believe whatever fits our preconceived ideas. But for a lot of people, it’s not really a matter of stupidity.

That’s not what’s really driving this. For most people, it’s a matter of laziness. Vetting information takes time and effort. The internet makes it very easy to look into a lot of accusations, but even that’s too much for some people.

It’s much easier to accept that endorphin high of something telling you that you were right all along. Researching something we believe is a threat to that belief is an unpleasant task, especially if the belief makes us feel good about who we are or what our place in the world is.

Just like we each have to take responsibility for what we believe, we also have to take responsibility for who we elect as a country. Saying Russia rigged the election does nothing to address the fact that many Americans aren’t engaging in critical thinking.

For a society, way of life and system of government which all depend on individuals being properly informed, that’s a very scary idea.

Calling out people who disrespect veterans can’t be based on politics

By Michael d’Oliveira

When President Donald Trump criticized Senator John McCain’s war record in 2015, many prominent Republicans chose not to criticize him publicly. That list includes Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska. When Trump said of McCain, “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured,” Palin’s response was to say McCain and Trump were both great in their own way.

But this week, Palin has heavily criticized comedian Sacha Baron Cohen for an “interview” he did with her for his new show “Who Is America?” Palin accused Baron Cohen of disrespecting the military because he pretended to be a disabled veteran.

This is part of her Facebook post, “The disrespect of our US military and middle-class Americans via Cohen’s foreign commentaries under the guise of interview questions was perverse. Here is my challenge, shallow Sacha boy: go ahead – air the footage. Experience tells us it will be heavily edited, not pretty, and intended to humiliate. The challenge is to Cohen, CBS and Showtime: donate all proceeds to a charitable group that actually respects and supports American Vets. Mock politicians and innocent public personalities all you want, if that lets you sleep at night, but HOW DARE YOU mock those who have fought and served our country.”

Trump clearly mocked McCain, and, by extension, many other POWS, by belittling McCain’s status as a war hero. McCain isn’t a war hero just because he was captured. He’s a war hero because of how he conducted himself during his imprisonment.

Even Trump, two years after his McCain comments, said POWs were heroes. “NEVER forget our HEROES held prisoner or who have gone missing in action while serving their country,” he wrote on Twitter. No apology to McCain has come though.

Respecting the men and women of our military, past and present, is a value that all Americans should believe in.

And how we respond to those who fail to respect our military shouldn’t be predicated on who they are or what political party they belong to. Like all things, our response should be about what was said or done, not who said or did it.

Palin is just the latest example of how what should be the rule is the exception. Both parties can be hypocritical on many issues, including how veterans are treated. They’ve both certainly failed, either by incompetence or apathy, to provide everything veterans are entitled to.

As for Palin’s opinion of how Baron Cohen treated veterans, until the video of what happened surfaces, it’s impossible to really form an opinion. Maybe he did “mock” veterans, as Palin accused him of doing. The thing with Baron Cohen though is that he plays a character to get a reaction. He’s not giving his real opinion.

In a 2006 interview with Rolling Stone, he explained how he uses Borat to tell a bigger story and reveal how there are still many people with bigoted views – views they might otherwise not reveal. 

“Borat essentially works as a tool. By himself being anti-Semitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudice, whether it’s anti-Semitism or an acceptance of anti-Semitism. ‘Throw the Jew Down the Well’ [a song performed at a country & western bar during Da Ali G Show] was a very controversial sketch, and some members of the Jewish community thought that it was actually going to encourage anti-Semitism. But to me it revealed something about that bar in Tucson. And the question is: Did it reveal that they were anti-Semitic? Perhaps. But maybe it just revealed that they were indifferent to anti-Semitism.”