And You Thought Those Metal Rulers Were Bad

In response to the continuing scourge of school violence with weapons, there are those who believe the answer is not increased gun regulations, but increased armed guard and, in particular, arming school teachers. A few thoughts on that proposal:

  1. The right often quotes a statement by Benjamin Franklin about those who give up liberty for security get neither. This is usually in reference to proposals to ban or take away guns. But it is equally true to the notion of having increased armed presence in public and becoming a police state. Neither is the correct approach.
  2. Although the proposal is to arm the teachers, no one ever asks where those teachers would get the guns, and who would pay for them. Teachers are woefully underpaid as it is, using personal money for classroom supplies and educational material. Do we expect them to find the personal money to buy the guns; money that they don’t have? Do we expect the school districts, which are also underfunded, to supply them? What educational courses do you want cut this time; remember,  curriculum has also been cut to the bone due to lack of funds?
  3. In terms of hardening the schools themselves, ask yourself this: In the past — in the time of your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents — schools were not fortified, and did not have guards let alone fences. Yet there weren’t school shootings. So what has changed?
  4. Would you be comfortable with loaded weaponry, out and accessible, being present in a classroom with curious children? If not, when the unthinkable happens, would you rather the teacher protect the children and get them to safety, or fumble to find the keys to unlock the gun safe to get out the gun, load it, and then shoot? Where should those precious minutes be spent?

Arming the teachers is not the answer, when you think about it critically. Think about what other solutions might work better. I have a few ideas.

[ETA: Over on FB, a friend shared a post that captured three other areas I missed: Training — who will train the teachers and who will pay for it; Liability — who will be liable if the teacher misses and hits someone else; and Psychological — there will be numerous psychological impacts of asking a teacher to potentially shoot a child or a former student, and who will pay for all the counseling afterwards. Yet more reasons this is a poor idea. Here’s the reference to that shared post.]

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Working Towards a Solution on Violent School Assaults

Over on Facebook, a comment of mine has resulted in a thought provoking discussion between friends on all sides of the political and gun control spectrum — and I thank all the participants for being willing to listen to others and have a civil discussion. There have been some key underlying notions that have emerged that provide some good ground rules for discussion on this issue:

  • The answer is a complex one, and there is no single solution — or to use a bad analogy, no silver bullet. However, there are a number of small things that might work together to reduce risk.
  • The answer is not blanket taking away of guns. The guns are just a symptom of an underlying problem, and if you take them away without doing anything else, people will find another outlet that could be equally deadly.

The following is a collection of ideas and thoughts I’ve had from these various discussions. None are fully worked out, and I’m open to further civil discussion on them. Although they are numbered, that is solely for ease of discussion, and not to indicate any priority or ordering.

  1. Constitutional freedoms are not unlimited. Courts have ruled that there are limits on speech, especially when it goes to the level of harming others. Some rights are limited to citizens; others can be lost with criminal convictions. It is permissible to regulate guns in various ways (“well-regulated” is part of the 2nd amendment) — the question is what is the right way.
  2. In discussions like this, people commonly bring up Benjamin Franklin’s statement about giving up liberty for security not being the answer. That’s true on both ends of the spectrum. Just as giving up the ability to legally own guns doesn’t bring security,  nor do armed guards and bag checks and hardened facilities everywhere. Some levels of both, when warranted in a risk reduction context, are appropriate; however, neither is a complete answer. [ETA: The answer is also not arming the teachers, for the reasons discussed in this subsequent post I made.]
  3. One approach might be to treat more lethal weapons (automatic or semi-automatic weapons, for example) differently. Not to take them away, but to have increased regulation of ownership: regulations for refresher training on how to store such weapons, more frequent health and anger screenings, special permits. Handguns and hunting rifles and such may have easier ownership regulations. In a way, this is similar to what we do with vehicles: motorcycles and commercial vehicles have different training and licensing regulations than passenger automobiles and trucks.
  4. It is increasingly clear that we need to address the root causes of the problem: the stresses that make people turn to guns and such violence as a solution to their problems. Perhaps what we should be discussing is the cost and benefits of a different tradeoff: the tradeoffs of tight gun control or armed protection on one side, vs. the cost of health and societal safety nets on the other. It might ultimately be cheaper — and more preserving of liberty — to have no cost, low cost, or affordable mental and physical health services available so that those facing the stresses can get help before turning to guns; to have living wages and financial support for families in need so that those pressures don’t result in a turn to violence; to have programs that address the inequalities and bullying so that people don’t feel the need to turn to violence. It could be that the cost of providing those things is much less than the cost of arming or taking away things (with the concurrent costs of the regulatory and legal structure). There’s often the comparison to other countries that don’t have those problems. Those countries don’t have the guns, but they also typically have better support systems as well.
  5. We need to address the culture of anger and hate that underlies the violence. We need to teach people that violent assaults are not the proper response to stress and anger. Just as the car chases you see on TV never result in the criminal winning, shooting up innocents has never solved the underlying problem behind the solution. We need to better understand the role our various media — the internets, publishing, music, games — play in this culture of anger and hate; we need to figure out appropriate regulations — but regulations and processes that move away from taking away things (negative) to positive additions. This means emphasizing a different message, and using media to teach other ways to resolve problems.
  6. We need to address the acceptance and glorification of violence in society. When our media celebrates violence; when video games focus more on violence than positive interaction; when guns are used casually and no thought (and no consequences) in movies; when our social media celebrates and amplify violent memes — we’re doing something wrong. We need to replace violence as a solution with a different message.
  7. We need to address dehumanization. When one sees others as “less than” due to various attributes: economic status, skin color, sexual orientation, political stance, religion, gender … then violence against them becomes more acceptable. I have seen — on all sides — views that people of different political stances are not worthy of life … and that’s plain wrong. We need to value everyone, from the lowliest welfare recipient to those with economic success; gay or straight; all shades of skin tones; all religions. We need to address the Internet echo chambers that feed upon and amplify the hatred of the different.
  8. If we are to build a culture that values life, we need to do it at all stages. One can’t be valuing the life of a fetus and then turning a blind eye to the person once born. The entire spectrum needs to be considered. Reasonable regulation of abortion (making it harder to obtain as independent life outside the womb is increasingly viable), as well as social safety nets demonstrating we value  the child once born, and the adult that child grows into. If we value children and adults in everything we do, than it becomes increasingly unacceptable to have violence against those who are valued.
  9. We need leaders that are role models again. When we have leaders that joke about violence to others, that act in ways that dehumanize segments of society, and that who operate through bullying and ridicule, we teach that those values are acceptable. We need to make it clear that such leaders are not leaders to be followed and emulated.
  10. We need to care about and for each other, and that means recognizing that the camel’s back is about to break before it breaks. We need to teach society to recognize the signs that indicate someone is antisocial and about to snap, that someone is dealing with situations they cannot handle. This is not to “take away their guns”, but to intervene with solutions that will help the individual before they turn to violence. The best gun is not one that is taken away, but one that isn’t used out of choice.
  11. While it is reasonable, in a National sense, to restrict certain rights and privileges to citizens (for example, ask yourself if the Second Amendment applies to the undocumented immigrant or the violent felon who has lost certain rights), some solutions may not be acceptable to limit. For example, we don’t restrict vaccines to citizens, because non-citizens can get sick and spread disease. It may be reasonable to extend societal safety nets and other support systems broadly, because even non-citizens and undocumented residents can go crazy, get angry, and grab their weapon of choice to assault others. Weapons don’t work only for citizens. (This, by the way, is a notion similar to why drivers licences should be available to undocumented residents — they still share the roads, and their vehicles can still crash into ours. That doesn’t prevent the license from making clear that the bearer is not documented, which simplifies law enforcement’s job if they do get in an accident.)
  12. There has been much discussion of thoughts and prayers. But I never seem to see the notion that God’s answer to our prayers might be the brains that God has given us. We were made in God’s image, and that includes the ability to answer our own prayers by developing a solution, perhaps with a little divine inspiration. We have been given free will; we have been given the choice of life or death, right or wrong, to act properly or not. The answer to our prayers is not doing nothing, the answer is choosing to do the right thing even when it is difficult to do.
  13. In general, the answer is not to ban and take away things, to be negative. Rather, the answer is to be positive and proactive. Prevent the situation that leads to the violence. Educate people on alternative solutions. Make the necessary help available so that violence and guns are never considered even as a potential solution.

 

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A Lunchtime Rant: Ohm on the Range

userpic=divided-nationEarlier today, a politically conservative friend of mine posted the following cartoon from Legal Insurrection:

Sourced from https://legalinsurrection.com/2018/01/branco-cartoon-love-trumps-hate/
 

My initial reaction is the situation pictured will be about as successful as the “Hate Obama/Clinton” strategy was for the Republicans in 2016.

I’ll let that sink in a minute.

But seriously, the picture highlighted a problem and perception that I have with our progressive, resistance movement. Far too many of us are just as knee-jerk in our hatred of Trump as the Conservative side was of Obama. Look at the memes from groups like Occupy Democrats making fun of Trump. Look at the posts on Pantsuit Nation with people in fear of Trump. As you read memes from our progressive groups, ask yourself if they are the same types of memes you might be seeing from the Conservative side against Obama or Hillary. Hell, you’re still seeing them from that side against Hillary.

An aside to any Conservative reading this: We’ve given up on Hillary; you should too, and let her fade back into the historical record.

We are better than that. I like to think that liberals and progressives are well educated and critical thinkers (which is why we’re liberals and progressives). I like to think that we have in-depth knowledge of the issues; that we take the time to learn the nuances and complications before we tweet. We shouldn’t need to sink to sophomoric name calling, fat shaming, slut shaming, ad hominem attacks, and all the other silliness that I see.

The issues in the upcoming elections are critical not only to our nation, but to the world. They are complicated issues — health care, climate change, treatment of women and minorities, religious freedom, equality, economic class warfare, and much more. I like to believe we have the better positions. I like to believe that we can represent and discussion those positions, and win based on the strength of our arguments — even in the face of conspiracy theorists. Certainly, in a fact based discussion, we can demolish Trump’s position and expose them for what they really are, and who they do and do not benefit.

If our platform for 2018 and beyond is simply hatred of Donald Trump, we’ve lost. We’ve let partisanship eclipse our intelligence and common sense. Let’s win the upcoming election season not by dropping down to the level of hatred, but by rising up to the level of intelligent political discourse where we take the time to listen to the other side, and use our intelligence and critical thinking to refute their arguments and to convince them of the correctness of our positions.

Hatred never wins. Well, except when you manipulate the electoral college and district boundaries.

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Where The Shutdown Blame Lies

userpic=divided-nationThroughout the day, I’ve been reading posts trying to place the blame for the looming government shutdown. The Republicans blame the Democrats for holding up the bill because of DACA. The Democrats blame the Republicans for not passing a bill, given they are the majority party. Where does the fault really lie? Hint: It has nothing to do with DACA, and everything to do with Congress — in particular, Congress not doing their job.

The US Office of Budget and Finance has a great infographic on the budgeting process. In short, Congress is supposed to develop a budget and appropriations bill well before the start of the government fiscal year on October 1. This bill should be one that can pass both houses with appropriate majorities — meaning that it must represent bi-partisan goals and compromise. Neither side gets 100% of what it wants, but can live with the results. It must be something that either the President can sign, or Congress can override the veto.  When this happens by the start of the fiscal year, there are no government shutdowns. Money is appropriated, Federal agencies can operate, they can do appropriate long range planning, and things run smoothly.

When the majority party FAILS to do its job — that is, fails to pass budget and appropriations bills on time and get everyone on board, then continuing resolutions become necessary. This keeps the funding going at last year’s levels for a short period while they supposedly are finishing the budget. We are now on our second or third continuing resolution, and they are attempting to pass another one.  Further, this ends up costing the government more in terms of wasted time, inability to plan ahead, in ability to purchase ahead for a discount. Congress failing to do its job costs you, the taxpayer, more.

So when placing the blame, remember that the entire need for a continuing resolution goes back to the majority party not doing their simple job of passing the needed budget and appropriations bill. It means the President failed to work with all parties to reach concensus. It means that the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader failed to negotiate a compromise in the overall interest of the nation, as opposed to just their party. And since the President, Speaker, and Majority Leader are from the same party, there’s only one party to blame: The Republicans, for not doing their constitutionally-mandated job.

Remember also that it is the Republicans that have conditioned us to expect budget bills to be late, to hold up appropriations threatening shutdowns, to say they are against deficits but then pass tax bills that increase the deficit. It is the Republicans that continually “kick the can” down the road when they don’t want to face an issue and do their job: be it establishing a realistic budget that might be balanced, or hiding the deficit inherent in “temporary” tax fixes for individuals but permanent fixes for corporations.

P.S.: Both sides will be trying scare tactics with the shutdown, claiming social security checks or welfare checks won’t go out, or soldiers won’t be paid. That’s not true. Here’s what won’t shut down:

  • Programs that don’t require annual appropriations. That group, which includes Social Security, Medicare and other so-called entitlements, continue without interruption.
  • Those entailing functions “necessary to protect life or property.” Law enforcement, the military, intelligence agencies and foreign embassies all will stay open.
  • Some programs that have other sources of money that will allow them to function for a while. Courts, for example, can spend money they have collected through fines and fees, funds that would allow them to keep functioning for a while.
  • The U.S. Postal Service. It’s a quasi-independent entity and does not depend on annual appropriations, so its business will continue as usual.

What does shut down? Parks, non-essential services, and such. Who gets hurt? The middle and low income contractors, who don’t get paid. The people to whom the government owes money. Taxpayers, who can’t file returns or get refunds.

Now you know.

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Girth Certificate? Really?

userpic=trumpEver since the report came out on the President’s health, the liberal groups I read have been in an uproar? “How could it be true”, they ask. “They’ve got to be lying about his weight — I demand to see a girth certificate“, they jest, while posting pictures comparing the President to athletes.

C’mon folks. As they say, “get a life”. This is a distraction, a diversion. There are more important things to focus on. Consider:

  • Does it really make a difference if the President is obese, other than to make fun of him? They say, when he sits around the White House, he sits around the White House.
  • As for mental health: Be careful what you ask for. Although a President with mental impairment does make a case for invoking clause 4 of the 25th Amendment, that likely wouldn’t happen anyway, and I hope you’re not wishing that the leader of the free world is crazy. Perhaps you’re scared that maybe he isn’t crazy and knows exactly what he is doing. I find that a lot scarier, given what he is doing. Further, passing a mental acuity test doesn’t mean he has the right skillset to be President, or that he has sound judgement, which is different than smarts. Mental tests don’t judge personality issues or things like self-aggrandizement or narcissism.

As I noted, the health issue is a diversion, a focus of our attention away from issues like DACA, the President’s racism, and the potential illegal, impeachable acts that are being investigated by Mueller. Don’t let yourself be distracted.

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I Can Deal With The Shit, It’s The Farts That Wear Me Down….

userpic=trumpOne of my favorite quotes from William Mulholland serves as the title of this post, “I can deal with the shit, it’s the farts that wear me down.”. He said it about endless lawsuits over the LA Aqueduct construction, but it equally apropos to the current shitstorm in Washington DC.

Folks: The issue isn’t whether Trump said shithole or shithouse, or that he used profanity at all. Listen to the Nixon tapes. He swore. The issue is the racism underlying what he said. I had a link that explained this well in a recent post. In short, he was indicating that people from a particular region — predominately black and brown — were not welcome in the US, while people from another region — predominately white — were. That’s racism. He wasn’t looking at individuals and their particular skills, health, or other attributes. He was making a blanket statement based on stereotypes of origin.

What prompted me to write this post was another article I saw today exploring how Trump is serving to make explicit the formerly racist subtext, and how a particular segment is responding to those dog whistles. It had a particularly cogent conclusion that bears repeating:

It’s possible to take a “rule of law” attitude toward unauthorized immigration while welcoming legal immigrants (though most Americans who are exercised about the first also oppose the second). It’s possible to support lower legal immigration, on balance, to the US, without caring much about where those immigrants come from.

It’s possible to support “merit-based immigration” as a way to affirmatively select each individual allowed to settle in the US, and oppose forms of immigration — including family-based migration, humanitarian migration, and the diversity visa — that have any criteria other than an individual’s accomplishments.

The problem is that some of the people who espouse all those attitudes are consumed, at heart, by the fear that the America they know is being lost or in danger of being lost. They believe that America has a distinctive and tangible culture, and that too much immigration from cultures that are too different will dilute or drown it; they may even worry about a cultural “invasion.”

This is an anxiety born of xenophobia. It accepts as a premise that people who come to America from certain places “don’t assimilate,” and concludes that there are some groups of people who cannot ever be fully American.

The policy aims of restrictionism can be negotiated and legislated — even as the extent to which they’re underpinned by racism will inevitably be part of the debate. It’s almost unimaginably hard to figure out a way to “end chain migration” that would both pass Congress and avoid a collapse of the immigration system, but it’s still a discussion that can happen.

You can’t negotiate with people who believe that an America that lets in people from “shithole countries” isn’t the America they know or love. Either America is a nation of immigrants or it is a nation of blood and soil.* It cannot be both.

To me, in the end, it is a question of power. Why won’t Puerto Rico be admitted as a state? Because it would vote Democratic, and thus dilute Republican power. That’s a political equation that goes back to the Civil War, where a slave state could be admitted only if paired with a free one for balance. Similarly, why don’t the Republicans want to admit minorities? Because they believe they would vote (when they become citizens) in such as way as to dilute their power base, in such a way that is a threat to the caucasian male privileged leadership positions they possess. And thus, racism and hatred of the other are embraced because it keeps them in the swamp. Drain the swamp? Hell, they are the swamp.

If you want to get rid of the swamp, the answer is not to drain it, but to dilute it with fresh water. Bring in new blood, new ideas, and embrace the diversity of thought and solutions. Try things that haven’t been tried. That is what immigration — from all over the world — brings to this nation, and we have shown with our growth the power that diversity can bring.

————————
From Wikipedia: Blood and soil (German: Blut und Boden) is a slogan expressing the nineteenth-century German idealization of a racially defined national body (“blood”) united with a settlement area (“soil”). By it, rural and farm life forms are not only idealized as a counterweight to urban ones, but are also combined with racist and anti-Semitic ideas of a sedentary Germanic-Nordic peasantry as opposed to (specifically Jewish) nomadism. The contemporary German concept Lebensraum, the belief that the German people needed to reclaim historically German areas of Eastern Europe into which they could expand, is tied to it. “Blood and soil” was a key slogan of Nazi ideology.

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Legal Immigration and Racism

userpic=trumpIn the aftermath of Trump’s “shithole” comment, aboth Neo-Nazi’s groups and those who want to reduce legal immigration are celebrating. Why? Because the dog-whistle of “merit-based” legal immigration that Trump is championing is implicitly racist, and allows them achieve racist goals while deluding the public.

Don’t think Trump’s comments were racist? Do you believe they were just talking about bad countries? You’re wrong. Trump’s comments are clearly racist, talking in a blanket sense about all people coming from a particularly country. Further, it just so happens that the people coming from countries that Trump likes are white and economically advantaged, and those coming from countries that Trump places in the “shithole” category are brown and black, and economically disadvantaged. It may not be explicit to you, but it still is racism and it still is classism and it still is elitism.

Why do I care about this? Why do I — a well educated, white man (three things going for me in this administration) care? Because I’m Jewish, and the exact same view of “shithole” companies were used to justify not admitting Jews to the US — and essentially sentencing them to death. Because Jewish immigration to the US used the exact same approach of bringing over family members to save other Jews. It was these family members that enabled the immigrants to start new businesses and use their family as workers to grow the business, giving us many of the largest businesses today.

Those arguing for a move away from “chain” immigration and immigration lotteries to a “merit-based” approach ARE being implicitly racist, in the same way that many companies hiring policies are implicitly unequal and work against diversity. The “merit” based approach is one that selects for economic advantage, and economic advantage is often clustered in first world “white” countries, and for male leaders. Economically disadvantaged people — primarily minorities and women — don’t have the means or opportunities to acquire the “merit” based skills. Those escaping as refugees from the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa, Central America, South America, and East Asia are dealing with war and poverty, and don’t have the same opportunities for higher education. It is the exact same implicit education that kept blacks and minorities down, when they were in school districts that didn’t have the funds to educate and prepare them for college, and so they were considered less skilled — when they just economically had fewer opportunities.

This is why the neo-Nazis celebrate these views: because they advance white people, and work against people of color.

But having fewer skills does not mean the people are any less intelligent, or have any lower of a work ethic. It just means they had less advantage. Given the opportunity to work and to learn, people from any country succeed spectacularly. Often, in fact, it is the least disadvantaged that do more, because they have the most to gain.

Diversity is vital to the US. This episode of Reply All does a great job of explaining why. Diversity gives us different ways  of thinking. Different ways of problem solving. It gives us new ideas. It gives us new energy. Diversity is what makes America strong.

Lastly, think about the other implicit problem: Why does the “Party of Trump” want to reduce people coming in from what they call “shithole” countries — which is essentially reducing legal hispanic and black immigration? Because those immigrants, if admitted legally, will work towards citizenship. As more and more blacks and minorities get the power of the voting box, what does that do to the power of the base that is electing people like Trump? What does that do to the country? Answer: It is the same thing that Israel is fighting against as the number of Arabs and non-Jews in the country grows. Loss of Power. The “Party of Trump” (and I use that term because I don’t believe all Republicans agree with Trump) saw the election of Barack Obama as a sign that the minorities they hate are winning, and if mobilized, have the power. They expertly, and with outside help, manipulated the environment in 2016 to get the minority coalition to see the Democratic candidate as “not one of them” and against their interests, and got them to stay home. The combination of minorities staying home in 2016, combined with a whistles to constituencies that had stayed away from the ballot box, gave Trump the election. Now that they are in power, they don’t want to dilute that power, and will do anything to preserve it. False news, propaganda, distractions, and fighting immigration — legal or not — are just tools in that battle.

This country was started by people fleeing economic and religious persecution. It was founded on principles of freedom and equality (never mind the slave trade behind the curtain). It grew on the backs and the hard work of immigrants — Jews, Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Chinese laborers, slaves, and others — who were not asked about their merit (only that they were healthy). It grew even stronger as they brought in their families, cementing their ties to this country, keeping money in this country, and building businesses in this country. Immigration and diversity is American’s strength and America’s bedrock, not something to be feared.

</end rant>

 

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Transitive Hate

userpic=trumpDo you remember how, in high school, you learned that if a=b and b=c then a=c? Do you remember learning that what you say is important, because your words often reflect your innermost beliefs? Today, you need to put that learning into action.

I do not care where you are on the political spectrum. I do not care what your personal position might be on financial, immigration, or any of the myriad policy discussions floating around right now. If you do not believe that your Senator or your Congresscritter must push for a resolution to censure, condemn, or otherwise reprimand the President for his language today, then you are guilty of holding the same racist, sexist, and hateful beliefs that are espoused by this man.

We’re all aware of the President, on tape (before he was President) talking about how he behaves towards women.

We’re all aware of the President, on tape (during the campaign) mocking the disabled.

We’re all aware of the President saying America is “going to hell” because the NFL defended openly gay player.

We’re all aware of what happened in Charlottesville, where he implied support for the antisemitism of the marchers.

But today … today …  Growing frustrated while discussing immigration with lawmakers in the Oval Office, President Trump suddenly asked why people from “shithole countries come here” — referring to people from Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations. He also asked why more people from Norway don’t come here. (ref: Buzzfeed, Vox, Los Angeles Times)

Just unpack that. We need more white Nordic people. We need fewer people that look like shit (i.e., coming out of a shithole, i.e., brown and black). That is so incredibly racist, especially in this day and age. It harkens back to the worst of America — the treatment of the Irish, Italians, Jews, and other minorities. It harkens back to the attitudes used to incite Germany against foreigners and those who are not Christian. It is language that in multi-cultural American must be universally and soundly condemned. This is not how our President talks. This must not be how our President thinks. The President is not the President of White Christian American, but of all America, and he is bound by law and oath to follow the principles of equality enshrined in our Bill of Rights.

The President’s speech is not an impeachable offense. However, offensive speech demands a response, rebuttal, and accountability. Every American must demand that their representative introduce / publicly support a resolution stating that such speech does not represent America, and is not appropriate to be said by a President of this nation. It must say that such speech — from the President — is unacceptable, and does not reflect the views of Congress or America.

Any representative or senator that does not condemn what has been said, by the law of transitivity, in my eyes is considered to hold the same view. I hope that you view them similarly, and that on election day (if not before) you remember this behavior.

[ETA, with a hat tip to Jay L.: This echoes what I say above, as well as giving the background of why censure is the appropriate response.]

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