A Viable GOP Alternative to Obamacare – But It’ll Never Happen

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and GOP leadership with a copy of the American Health Care Act at a news conference, Washington, DC, March 7, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via http://www.dolphnsix.com/).

Here’s the one and only way the GOP can put together a plausible alternative to the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a., Obamacare. At least, a plan that wouldn’t actually move healthcare left politically and build the path toward universal healthcare, leaving GOP leadership melting in their own clothes.

It’s pretty simple. They should hire a copy editor and a proofreader, ideally, someone who has ghostwritten books for the conservative rich and shameless. House Speaker Paul Ryan should give them a copy of the ACA, and give them three weeks to rewrite it, phrase for phrase, and sentence by sentence. They should replace words like “exchanges” with “alternative swaps,” and “individual mandate” with “personal responsibility.” The editor and proofreader should look out for specific references to coverage for preexisting conditions, the poverty thresholds for qualifying for Medicaid, and coverage of women’s reproductive healthcare costs. The two of them should make a point of burying them into subsections, using the term “other persons” (just like in the US Constitution) or, in the case of women, the female symbol ♀, which few GOP members or their constituents would know.

The biggest issue after a thorough rewriting and review would be how to repackage the old plan as new. This is where Ryan can reach out to retired GOP leadership like John Boehner or Newt Gingrich. They were so good at boiling complex issues down to three words for their conservative and far-right conservative comrades. “Tax-and-spend,” “cap-and-trade,” and “drill, baby, drill,” are among their top 40 hits since the 1980s. With help from the old heads, Ryan can come up with “more-for-less” (really “more or less,” and for Spanish speakers, “mas o menos”) in boiling down the essentials of the new-old bill. The official name of the bill would be the Alternative Healthcare Act, or the AHA. But with 45 as president, it would likely remain either Trumpcare or MAGACare.

The bill would be immensely popular, even with non-Republicans, and would pass Congressional Budget Office muster, not to mention the news media’s. And despite reporting from Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes at MSNBC, Vice News on HBO, and Mother Jones and The Atlantic, most will not notice that the GOP bill is exactly the same as Obamacare. Certainly not the dunderheads at FOX News or Breitbart.

There’s just one problem. There’s no way Ryan’s oversized ego would allow for this nefarious, new-wine-in-old-wine-skins plan to go forward. Nearly a third of the GOP members in the House just want to repeal Obamacare without providing any replacement at all, not even if it were only for their grandparents, kids, and grandkids. Mostly, the plan would die because someone would leak its details before the copy editor finished word-smithing the first ten pages of the ACA.

Hundreds of alligators at a watering hole, Myakka River State Park, Florida, March 6, 2017. (Lee Dalton via http://www.dailymail.co.uk/).

Bottom line: the GOP is caught between a roiling river full of hungry alligators and a rocky shoreline with a pride of starving lions who cannot believe their luck. The GOP as a party deserves to be eaten for lunch, starting with their guts, and all while being suffocated. And their last thoughts should be, “pain and gain.”

How Libraries Got Me Through

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Mount Vernon Public Library’s east entrance, Mount Vernon, NY, July 2, 2016. (http://maps.google.com).

I’ve been enthralled with books since my brother Darren helped me decipher the code of the English language during Christmas ’74. Going to the library for most of my life — especially my growing up years — was always a break from the Grade II bone bruise that my life often seemed to be. I remember the first time my Mom took us to Mount Vernon Public Library, in August ’74. It was only a few blocks from our old place, 48 Adams Street, and about seven blocks from 425 South Sixth. I was too young to get a library card, though, and I started complaining. “May-wa! May-wa!” — that’s what I used to call my Mom (a combination of her name Mary and Mama) — “Why can’t I get a card?,” I cried on my way out the door.

A New Rochelle Public Library card (a close approximation to my first card from 1975), March 1987. (http://flickr.com).

I got my first library card in first grade. It was a class trip, as me and the rest of Ms. Griffin’s class walked to and from Nathan Hale ES to Mount Vernon Public Library. The librarians gave us a tour, during which a thunderstorm erupted. It was sometime in September ’75, a Friday I think. But feeling that small, round-edged MVPL card in my hand with that stamped metal plate on it made my otherwise rainy day. That it had my name typed on it helped as well.

I spend many hours at Mount Vernon Public Library over the years. I needed to. I had so much to learn, more than the 28-volume World Book Encyclopedia set from 1978 could teach me. And certainly more than what my parents and idiot ex-stepfather Maurice knew, much less what they decided not to share. MVPL got me through my spiritual crisis of 1983-84, because I had access to the Qur’an, Torah, and other spiritual texts from which I could make a decision and move on from the cultish Hebrew-Israelites in my family and life. I wouldn’t have considered majoring in history if I hadn’t been able to check out dozens of dusty World War II books between 1980 and 1982. My love for all things Charles Schulz and Peanuts couldn’t have developed without the help of MVPL’s weekly Bookmobile visits at Nathan Hale on Tuesdays or William H. Holmes ES on Wednesdays, usually between 1:30 and 2 pm.

But by the summer of ’80, I began to realize that not all libraries were like the enormity of Mount Vernon’s. Nearby Pelham Library was on the ground floor of Hutchinson Elementary School. It was the size of a small bookstore, with maybe two tables and six chairs to sit in (they didn’t move into their own building until 1995). New Rochelle’s library was 1970s-style modern, with ugly shapes and colors. But both had more air conditioning and bathrooms that didn’t smell or weren’t under repair half the time.

From high school on, I used libraries mostly as a form of escape from my then-idiot stepfather and a gaggle of younger siblings. Or to escape the desperate poverty and chaos that enveloped my life at 616, and to a lesser extent, parts of Mount Vernon and other parts of the New York area. I first got the courage to go into the vastness that was the New York Public Library’s main branch on 42nd and Fifth in the fall of ’84. I infrequently went to White Plains’ public library. At least once between 1984 and 1988, I went to nearly all of the libraries between Wakefield in the Bronx and the various tiny libraries in southern Westchester County. But no library outside of NYPL’s main branch had both the collection and as easy access to the stacks as the one in Mount Vernon.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Oakland (Main) Branch, front entrance, Pittsburgh, PA, April 5, 2008. (HoboJones via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC-BY-SA-3.0.

I had more appreciation for one of the few pleasures offered by my original hometown during my twelve years in Pittsburgh. Within 230 yards of each other were the University of Pittsburgh’s Hillman Library and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s main Oakland branch. If it weren’t for their extensive collections and my alumni status after the spring of ’91, I couldn’t have attended graduate school. Pitt’s policies toward alumni alone saved me $3,000 in book and printing costs, as well as from an additional year of dissertation research. And as many times I could pick up a book, any book, go to the African American Literature section of Hillman, put two lounge chairs together, read, fall asleep, and read some more? The only other thing I could’ve asked for was a blanket and room service!

Since moving to suburban Maryland and DC in ’99, I have been struck by the lack of in libraries around here. Lack of books, lack of extensive interlibrary networks, and a lack of substances over style. The Montgomery County library system had two new ones built in Silver Spring and in Rockville. Each has enough space for a half million volumes, it seems as if their designers built them on the assumption that everyone uses a tablet or an iPhone to read books these days. If it’s nonfiction and a bestseller, they likely don’t have it. Though DC Public Library’s main branch in Gallery Place — the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library — has an extensive collection of DC artifacts and histories, and African American nonfiction and scholarly volumes, patrons cannot borrow these volumes at all. Like the Library of Congress, the MLK library is mostly a museum with books. And by the way, the main branch is now closed for the next three years for modernization, leaving the homeless, researchers, and book lovers like me with even fewer DC area options.

Silver Spring Air & Space Museum, er, Public Library, Silver Spring, MD, June 2016 (http://www.adtekengineers.com/).

Georgetown and Johns Hopkins both have wonderful main libraries with friendly security guards and extra-helpful librarians. But they’re not Hillman. Even as a professor, if I fell asleep in a lounge chair, I’d likely get kicked out. Plus, in our era of smartphones and tablets, most patrons are stuck in social media in between hectic moments for exam cramming and last-minute paper writing. This, though, is still way better than George Washington’s main library, or NYU’s and Columbia’s, for that matter. You can’t walk into either without a form from a staff or faculty member giving you permission to walk through the door.

The building that houses MVPL, built interestingly enough with Andrew Carnegie’s money between 1897 and 1904, is in serious disrepair. The men’s bathroom is nearly always out-of-order, and the collection of Mount Vernon history materials has been closed for years. A friend recently commented on the fact that an older man relieved himself in the snow after leaving the library before going back in to do his whatevers. The money is simply not there to build a brand-new home for one of the largest collections in New York State.

Still, I know how good a library Mount Vernon has. It carries the first three of my former advisor Joe Trotter’s books. I have to go to a university library for that around here. It also has my memoir, and it may have Fear of a “Black” America as well (not so sure about that). I just know that the affluent of Montgomery County have never put that much in resources into the library system I frequent now. I hope and pray that the folks raising the money MVPL so desperately needs for a major renovation, maybe even a new building, are able to meet their goals before my son is old enough to remember when libraries actually held bound books in their collections.

What Do We Tell Them Now?

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One version of Presidential Classroom logo, January 27, 2014. (http://congressionalaward.org).

One version of Presidential Classroom logo, January 27, 2014. (http://congressionalaward.org).

In all of my professional work experiences, I’ve had two stints outside of academia and more traditional nonprofit settings in which I worked with high school students. One was during my two summers as a consultant with the Junior Statesmen Foundation, where I co-taught and co-prepared an accelerated version of AP US History for students attending the JSA summer program that Princeton University hosted, in 2008 and 2009. I loved those summers with those students, even though it meant not seeing my family for a few weeks at a time.

The other one was during my time as Director of Curriculum for Presidential Classroom. Presidential Classroom, by the way, was never affiliated with the White House. Nor was it an actual classroom. From 1968 to 2011, it was a civic education program that made money by getting schools and parents to cough off dollars to send their high school kids to Washington, DC for a week. Presidential Classroom’s purpose was for students to learn about how the center of American power works from an up-close-and-personal perspective, to serve as a possible way to inspire teenagers to take up public service as adults. It was so influenced by the exaggerated sense Baby Boomers had of themselves and of their activism that was “the ’60s.”

Except that by the time I came on board as a staff person, those lofty purposes were no longer Presidential Classroom’s raison d’être. Like any small nonprofit, it was trying to make more money and compete successfully in a crowded market. Close Up had caught up with and surpassed the organization ten years before I accepted the position. As my one-time boss reminded our staff of twelve continuously, Close Up cleared 20,000 students through their programs in DC every year, while Presidential Classroom struggled to attract 4,000 students in its programs. The board of directors had decided a few years before my time at Presidential Classroom that the organization’s programming had to be more entertaining, and not just about being on Capitol Hill or asking undersecretaries of state and education cogent policy questions.

Outlook 2001, my second and last time on the Presidential Classroom annual resource guide, December 1, 2000. (Donald Earl Collins).

Outlook 2001, my second and last time on the Presidential Classroom annual resource guide, December 1, 2000. (Donald Earl Collins).

Across two summer cycles and one winter/spring cycle between June 1999 and December 2000, I worked with high school juniors and seniors as part of what I called “edutainment.” I held up the education end. One of my main jobs before groups of 300-400 students arrived for their week of civic education was to revise the organization’s resource book Outlook. It was my job to cover the various ideological and policy topics of the day using primary and secondary sources in the resource book. Even though the organization only expected me to cover two sides to any policy-based issue or political perspective, I knew that this was too simplistic. I often had three points of view for each topic in the resource book.

It was all to make sure that when the high school students got together to debate each other on immigration reform, reproductive rights, affirmative action, or climate change, they didn’t sound like they just quoted Jack Van Impe or Jimmy Swaggart. It was supposed to help them ask well-thought out questions when meeting with representatives and senators, or during a Q-and-A session with a cabinet member, senior Pentagon official, or an editor from The Washington Post or USA Today.

Unfortunately, what little bit of learning students gained during their week in DC translated into a confirmation of their existing ideas about American politics and civic engagement. Plus, it didn’t help that I was working for Presidential Classroom at the end of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment debacle and throughout the 2000 Presidential Election cycle. Arguments about the articles of impeachment turned into whether Monica Lewinsky seduced Clinton or whether the president used his power to obtain sexual favors from a then-twenty-three year-old intern. Six-year-old Elián González became either a proverbial poster child for “illegals” or a symbol of America’s broken promise as a melting pot. Every White student had a story about their dad or brother being screwed out of a job because of affirmative action, of course without actual evidence.

As for the three branches of government, checks and balances, and the bicameral chamber, or more importantly, the process of how a bill became law, who really cared? The students and some staff were more interested in comedy troupes in Georgetown or attracting more “Orientals” to program than in the distance between how government in DC was supposed to work and the Hill’s sorry-ass reality.

What remains of Presidential Classroom, a broken link on the Miller Center website, February 22, 2017. (Donald Earl Collins).

What remains of Presidential Classroom, a broken link on the Miller Center website, February 22, 2017. (Donald Earl Collins).

As hard and difficult as that job was at the turn of the twenty-first century, it would be impossible now. There’s absolutely no way I could do that Presidential Classroom job in the era of 45. I couldn’t keep a straight face while discussing meritocracy, the distinctions between the Democratic and Republican parties, or in believing that we were really exposing high school juniors and seniors to how Washington actually works. In order to do a proper debate, each group of high school students we had back then would need the full week to just focus on learning how to debate, forget about meeting folks on the Hill or engaging appointees in Q-and-A sessions. We’d have to take away their smartphones and cut off their access to wi-fi and TV to get them to concentrate. Most of all, how could I, how could any of us, have explained the ascendancy of 45 to the presidency without hundreds of center-right parents calling us for weeks afterward complaining about how often we brought American racism to John and Becky’s attention?

If Presidential Classroom existed in 2017, and I found myself unlucky enough to be its executive director, I would forever refocus it away from Capitol Hill. I would have students meet up with policy analysts and lobbyists from K Street, Northwest and the Massachusetts Avenue corridor between D Street, Northeast (the National Republican Committee and the Heritage Foundation) and 18th Street, Northwest (where the American Enterprise Institute, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Johns Hopkins SAIS are located). I would bring in journalists from across the center-right ideological spectrum. But only after I got the so-called liberal ones to admit that their first duty is to sell a story, not objectivity and certainly not truth, and with that, exposing their center-right perspective.

Most of all, I’d show them the rest of DC. The parts of the area that have gentrified in the past twenty years. The parts of Wards 7 and 8 that have concentrated poverty and the ills that result from it. I would introduce them to the nonprofit and social justice organizations that truly give a shit about neighborhood displacement and homelessness, mass incarceration, and political corruption. In all of this, I would want the students to see not only how DC really works, but what good people who care about civic participation and public service must do to put a dent into this out-of-control, money-drenched machine.

My Olivia of Our Future

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Cropped front cover of Olivia Saves the Circus (1994), by Ian Falconer, February 11, 2017. (http://amazon.com).

Cropped front cover of Olivia Saves the Circus (1994), by Ian Falconer, February 11, 2017. (http://amazon.com).

I’m imagining that the year is 2347. My great-great-great-great granddaughter is Olivia Levy-Collins. She’s in her mid-thirties. After reading my only moderately successful manuscript on the history of American narcissism as a preteen, she becomes interested in the social sciences. A resident of Africa’s southern cone, Olivia does her undergrad at the University of Botswana, double majoring in Archaeology and Ecology. She goes off to the world-renown Universidade de São Paulo (University of São Paulo) in the Brazilian zone, where she earns her master’s degree in Western Civilization (with a focus on 20th and 21st-century American history), and a doctorate in cultural anthropology, with a focus on historical social psychology.

Olivia does her dissertation on the causes of the collapse of the Western world. This is not a new topic in the 24th-century world. Every one of the six billion people on the planet knows the broad story. How, after centuries of dominance, the economic and political structures of Western Europe and the United States underwent long-term decline in the midst of growing economic inequality, continued oppression of already vulnerable groups, undue influence of corporations on governance, and climate change beyond their abilities to comprehend. The proxy wars with terrorism and quasi-nation-states that later led to right-wing revolutions within Europe and the US. The full-blown civil wars and climate degradation that followed.

The US destroyed itself, as anarchists launched a cyberattack that took out the one-time superpower’s entire electrical grid. The groups once known as White supremacists retaliated, and used stolen nuclear weapons on six US cities, including the capital, Washington, DC, to take out the cyberterrorists, most of whom had been rumored to be Arab Muslim and Latina. The riots, famine, starvation, and consequences of climate change ensued, and ensured that the US would not be ever again. Europe also went through many of these convolutions. If it were not for the collective work of scientists in Brazil, India, China, Canada, and Southern Africa to remove the buildup of carbon dioxide and methane gases from the atmosphere and oceans, full-blown nuclear war may have occurred.

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope from Scandal, a show about damage control, controlling the narrative, September 15, 2011. (http://scandal.wikia.com).

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope from Scandal, a show about damage control, controlling the narrative, September 15, 2011. (http://scandal.wikia.com).

Olivia, though, like a new generation of her colleagues, wanted to understand what would cause people from the most powerful nations on the planet to collectively lose their minds. Why would they, after overwhelming success to subdue the earth, then turn on each other to kill the very things that gave them enormous power in the first place? My book from so many generations ago gave Olivia one possible clue. She found my book on the shelf of an ancient library in Walvis Bay, in the country that used to be Namibia. It was part of a school trip that Olivia was a part of while in primary school, to give students an appreciation for ancient attempts to preserve knowledge in depositories for books made of wood pulp, glue, and toner ink. She’d heard about the book from her great-grandmother, who had heard about it from her grandmother. The latter whom had read the book numerous times, as my son had moved his family from the US to South Africa as the occasional American unrests turned deadlier in the mid-21st century.

But, even after that field trip, even after getting her mother to get her a rare electronic copy of my book from the United Nations’ central archives in Aleppo, even after reading it, Olivia didn’t fully believe it. She couldn’t comprehend a culture that would waste vast quantities of natural resources, including human ones. She’s didn’t understand how a society in which everyone thought that becoming wealthy was their birthright could possibly function. She didn’t get how a nation as powerful as the US was always so fragile as an idea, not to mention in actuality.

Olivia’s dissertation work took her to the abandoned city of New York in 2347. With the exception of its crumbling skyscrapers, most of the city was covered by tens of meters of dirt (some of which remained radioactive). Other parts, like the area once known as Wall Street and Battery Park in Manhattan, or Park Slope in Brooklyn, were also partly underwater. She and her fellow group of two-dozen anthropologists, archaeologists, and other scientists, descended on the abandoned city, along with military commandos, all trained to expect the unexpected. In the case of the military, their training included scenarios for exploring exoplanets, which many saw as less dangerous than the exploration of a relatively recently dead civilization.

They went to two sites to conduct their studies. One, the New York Public Library on West 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. The other, two hundred meters away, was this recently excavated place in the old city, something the world once called Times Square. Olivia’s team explored the unearthed library, or at least, what was left of it. Fighting, flooding, dirt, and earth had left the main branch of one of the largest libraries in the Western world a shell of itself. It did have books and other collections still. Mostly self-help books, political memoirs, and recordings of one of the last US presidents, Donald J. Trump.

A partially buried car on Governor's Island, NY, September 13, 2009. (http://scoutingny.com).

A partially buried car on Governor’s Island, NY, September 13, 2009. (http://scoutingny.com).

Olivia, though, unlike her younger counterparts, knew that as self-centered as the remaining collection appeared, it wasn’t the whole story. She knew from my book and from the other books of the 20th and 21st centuries that there were numerous intellectuals and writers who tried to warn the world that the facade of narcissism would lead billions to their deaths. That cannibalizing selfishness could even possibly destroy the world, certainly the Western world.

But she did find it interesting that after the fall of the West, in one of its greatest cities, only the most narcissistic of preserved materials remained. It told her one thing. The narcissism was real, that millions had fallen prey to it. That in an age in which the world didn’t have the technology to use energy-matter converters to replicate food, clothing, shelter, and medicine for 7.3 billion people, millions once lived as if there was no tomorrow, like life was one big party. To the point where these Westerners made significantly more copies of their homages to themselves than they did of anything else.

So Olivia took this knowledge, and the knowledge gained from the Times Square dig. She titled her dissertation, “How Western Civilization Cannibalized Itself: Reproduction, Capitalism, and Narcissism, 1750-2100.” That same year, Olivia turned it into a book, an interplanetary must-read, Runaway Narcissism and How the Sun Set on the Western World. It raised lots of questions about how humanity overcame its own narcissism, but at great cost. It would be one of the great books of the 24th century. That’s my Olivia!

Seasons Change for Us

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Angelia & me at my PhD graduation, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, May 18, 1997.

Angelia & me at my PhD graduation, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, May 18, 1997.

Yesterday, my wife of nearly seventeen years turned fifty years old (Happy Birthday! Love you! Mwah!). I still have nearly three years before I’ll be able to say the same. Yet through her, I can experience fifty at forty-seven. I have known of my wife since a month after her twenty-third birthday, met her for the first time in April ’90, became friends with her in May ’95, and began dating in December ’95. Sure, I have friends and family I’ve known longer. With my Mom being only twenty-two years older than me, I have memories of her from her late-20s onward. But I didn’t marry my Mom, thankfully.

Angelia at road stop in South Carolina during vacation, August 30, 2007. (Donald Earl Collins).

Angelia at road stop in South Carolina during vacation, August 30, 2007. (Donald Earl Collins).

I don’t have much to say here. I just want to share a few pictures of my better half from the 7s – 1997 (the year of her at 30), 2007 (when she was 40), and ~2017 (she wouldn’t let me take a photo of her yesterday for number 50). The problem with still looking young is that people seldom take your aging seriously. Whether it’s people just a few years older telling you your knees can’t hurt from years of basketball, running, and other sports because you’re “still young.” Or it’s doctors telling you your ailments are minor because you don’t look like you’re anemic or going through menopause. For my wife, though, the biggest bugaboo about how she looks at fifty is that she still gets carded at liquor stores or when ordering a drink at a restaurant. Oh well!

Angelia in year 50 (selfie), May 2016.

Angelia in year 50 (selfie), May 2016.

We’ve Got 45 Problems and…

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President Donald Trump prior to his 2016 presidential run, holding up a replica flintlock rifle awarded by cadets at the Republican Society Patriot Dinner, The Citadel, Charleston, SC, February 22, 2015. (Richard Ellis/Getty Images).

President Donald Trump prior to his 2016 presidential run, holding up a replica flintlock rifle awarded by cadets at the Republican Society Patriot Dinner, The Citadel, Charleston, SC, February 22, 2015. (Richard Ellis/Getty Images).

To quote from Jay-Z is hard for me. The only song I like with him rappin’ is Foxy Brown’s “I’ll Be” (1996), which should tell any Jay-Z fan that I’ve never gotten him or his hold on the rap world. Still, here I am, sort-of-quoting from a Jay-Z production from 2004, “99 Problems.” Except, the real problem number is 45, and the millions of other 45s he represents (hat tip to Laurence Fishburne via The Daily Show for what to call the orange turd-ball). Donald J. Trump and his followers are the epitome of all that ails the US.

Trump’s recent executive order to ban Arab Muslims and Africans with Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Sudanese, Yemeni, Somali, and Libyan citizenship is one of the worst attempts to roll back human rights in the US in recent years. But there were complementary responses as well. The burning down of the Islamic Center of Victoria in Texas a day after Trump issued his unconstitutional order. The French-Canadian Alexandre Bissonnette’s terrorist attack on praying Muslims, killing six and wounding eight at their mosque in Quebec City within 72 hours of Trump’s ill-conceived, remorseless, unlawful Muslim ban.

All prove one of the truisms of American (and Canadian) society. The terrorists Americans should worry about the most historically, indirectly through policy, and directly through bullying trolls and violent actions are heterosexual White males. No border wall, no Muslim Ban, no immigration quotas, no guest worker policy, no War on Terror, no War on Drugs, no stop and frisk, no abortion ban, no gerrymandering, no EPA gag order, no TPP withdrawal, no NAFTA renegotiation, will protect us from this mob of not-so-random terror. Their leader is 45. And like a man with a Colt .45, Trump is intent on asserting his and their superiority, through institutional policies and our deaths, if necessary.

If someone reading is a heterosexual White male, please note that if you are offended, you should be. Not because of my words. You should only be offended if you recognize the lethal privilege that many White males enjoy. That as police officers, they (and, with greater frequency, officers of color) get to arrest, beat, maim, and murder, and with few or no consequences to face. As vigilantes, often with lesser charges and less jail time. It helps these White males that the media attempts to give a full retrospective on the life of a Dylann Roof, a Michael Dunn, a George Zimmerman, a James Holmes, a Jared Lee Loughner, and so many others. Their terrorism becomes an issue of their alleged mental illness, or a “young man” somehow “losing his way.” Americans are always supposed to understand why the archetype of the master race glitches, as if their psychological and racial privilege isn’t the real culprit. As rapists, White males can expect the media to treat them with kid gloves, to the point of calling a rapist like Brock Turner the “ex-Stanford swimmer.” His rape act was “very objectionable,” but of course, the Brock Turners of America are also completely redeemable. At least, that’s what White males (and many White females) would say.

Racist jugate ribbon promoting the 1868 Democratic ticket of Horatio Seymour and Francis Blair (losers to Gen. Ulysses Grant), under the motto, "This is a White Man's Country." (http://oldpoliticals.com).

Racist jugate ribbon promoting the 1868 Democratic ticket of Horatio Seymour and Francis Blair (losers to Gen. Ulysses Grant), under the motto, “This is a White Man’s Country.” (http://oldpoliticals.com).

Please recognize that for Native American tribes from coastal Virginia to Athabascan central Alaska, White males have been the ultimate terrorists. White males led the charge to spill Native American blood on every acre that is the US. Black African sweat and blood runs deep in the red clay soils of Georgia and the deep brown dirt of Mississippi. The crimes within slavery are too numerous to list here, but the reduction of Native American numbers from at least 10 million in 1600 to about 250,000 by 1900 is evidence by itself. White men reduced wild buffalo populations from 30 million to 300 in 30 years to starve American Indians, end their ways of life, and force them onto the marginal lands that are for many their reservations today.

Policies to provide oligarchic power to White males is all part of this history. Andrew Jackson’s “Age” did more than give non-propertied adult White males the right to vote. It gave ordinary, non-slave-owning White males the right to oppress others, legally. The Hayes-Tilden compromise of 1876 allowed treasonous Confederate White males back into power, despite their anti-Black equality and lynching ways. All in the name of unifying the country. Woodrow Wilson segregated the federal civil service in 1913, to all but exclude Blacks from serving as no more than street sweepers, domestic servants, and doormen. White men led race riots to burn down Black homes and businesses in Memphis, East St. Louis, Houston, Harlem, Washington, DC, Chicago, Detroit, Tulsa, Rosewood, Florida, and so many other places between 1866 and 1943. Congress passed the 1917, 1921, and 1924 immigration laws to set up quotes to exclude all but White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) from large-scale immigration to the US.

In more recent times, the mass shootings and bombings also belong to White males. Charles Whitman, the Texas Tower Shooter, killed 16 (14 during his University of Texas at Austin rampage) and wounded 31 (one of whom died from his injuries in 2001) before police killed him in August 1966. Need I even go into detail about Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995? Or about Columbine? What about the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, or Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012?

But hey, 45 wants to protect Americans from potential terrorist threats, no? If 45 and his White male supporters and like-minded sycophants want to protect all Americans, they need to look in the mirror. They should consider doing “extreme vetting” on any White male whose Twitter avatar is a trolling egg, or whose Facebook page includes swastikas, or any White male whom voted for Trump. This is a “White man’s country,” after all. At least, that’s what these people keep saying.

Lit on Moonlight

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Moonlight (2016) poster, October 2016. (Film Fan via Wikipedia; orig. A24). Qualifies as fair use under US copyright law as illustration of subject/review of film.

Moonlight (2016) poster, October 2016. (Film Fan via Wikipedia; orig. A24). Qualifies as fair use under US copyright law as illustration of subject/review of film.

I finally, finally saw Moonlight with the wife and son at AFI Silver Spring yesterday, months after the in-crowd had already seen it and attempted to spoil it for the rest of us. It was excellent. The cinematography, the loud and incredible silences, the small moments, when actors just being in the moment with their facial expressions did more than any dialogue could to move me and anyone else watching. Mahershala Ali was only in five scenes. But his first scene set the tone for the whole movie. As Juan, Ali channeled both the need for hard hypermasculinity and the vulnerable fragility of such in just one scene. His time with the youngest version of Chiron made me laugh, cry, sad, and angry, and left me wondering if I’ve seen this much intimacy between Black man and Black boy on screen before. I know I have (Antwone Fisher, The Wire, even Roots comes to mind), but on-screen doesn’t reflect this anti-stereotypical slice of truth nearly as often as it should.

Moonlight snap shot (cropped), Mahershala Ali and Alex Hibbert, October 23, 2015. (http://variety.com).

Moonlight snap shot (cropped), Mahershala Ali and Alex Hibbert, October 23, 2015. (http://variety.com).

Yet I was also not as impressed as I expected to be. Not because I didn’t like the performances — I loved them. I thought every actor in the film was legit, every scene was moving in some way. Naomie Harris I’ve been fond of for years, André Holland and Janelle Monáe’s work I already knew, and Trevante Rhodes and Barry Jenkins, well, the two need bigger platforms for doing more great work. Moonlight wasn’t a film. It was a collage, a kaleidoscope of precious moments, blood-churning episodes, and tender images. Jenkins’ treatment of coming-of-age, Black boyhood into manhood, and Black masculinity, hypermasculinity, and vulnerability was avant-garde.

Still, I felt like I’d seen Moonlight before. Or, really, lived parts of Moonlight in my own past. No, I did not befriend an older, Afro-Cuban crack dealer in 1990s Miami, have a drug-addicted, abusive mother, or have a group of kids chase me around and beat me up off and on for ten years. But I didn’t look at the world the same way as my peers. I didn’t sound like a Noo Yawker, walk and talk and code switch like Denzel Washington, or try to fit in like so many of my 616 neighbors and my Mount Vernon school mates during my growing up years. And I paid for it, dearly, with few friends before I turned eleven, and no friends in the six years before I went off to the University of Pittsburgh.

But on Chiron and that most pernicious issue of hypermasculinity, the need to be hard all the time, I’ve been there too. I’d been called “faggot” (or in my father’s case, “faggat”) enough times to occasionally question my own sexual orientation growing up. My senior year at MVHS one day, I hit a three-run homer during a softball game in gym class. It wasn’t the first time I’d done that. But for one Jamaican dude, me drilling a ball 350 feet off his slow fastball was an affront. He called me a “faggot” after the game, and threatened to wait for me after school with a machete to chop me, adding “bumbaclot mon” at the end of his threat. I left school as normal and waited for him. He was lucky he didn’t show up that day.

Me at 16, Mount Vernon High School ID, Mount Vernon, New York, November 1985, March 21, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins).

Me at 16, Mount Vernon High School ID, Mount Vernon, New York, November 1985, March 21, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins).

You see, my rage didn’t need years to build up. All before I’d finally lose it one day, and take out a bully with a wooden chair and break it across his back, like the way Chiron did at the end of II of Moonlight. I didn’t have bullies at school per se. There were a couple I dealt with at 616, but they weren’t regular. Many folks would make a crack, but generally left me along. Any bullying I faced in high school was completely random and momentary, because I stood up for myself. Because if I could face down a six-foot-one, Isshin-ryn black belt of an abuser in my idiot stepfather Maurice, a stupid football player was gonna get hurt trying to hurt me.

No, the bullying I faced was in middle school, from a bunch of overwhelmed and racist Italian classmates in Humanities. I’ve named them in Boy @ The Window and here in this blog before. Alex, Anthony N., Andrew, Anthony Z., etc, the Italian Club. That things were much, much worse at home meant that I saw them as background noise. There was always a part of me, though, that had enough rage, even in seventh grade, to take a desk and smash Anthony N.’s head in with it until his fuckin’ Italian brains spread out all over the floor and walls!

I ended up beating up a wannabe bully in JD that year instead. I won kufi battles in eighth and ninth grade. I wore a blank face that most of my more dumb ass classmates interpreted as a smile. I made plans to get out, because I never wanted to fit in. I was already awake, coping with the day-to-day, but in it for the long-term. I had that President Barack Obama, audacity-of-hope-beyond-failure, beyond reality thing goin’. When I saw Chiron as played by Ashton Sanders, I wanted to hug him, beat up his bullies for him, and tell him that you can love who you want to love, even if they never love you back. And to always, always be your best self, and not some “I don’t want to feel pain again” version.