Trump’s USA

It is hard not to reflect on Trump’s U.S.A.   I drove back over the border to Canada and could hardly stifle doing a happy dance.   Is a decidedly different U.S.A. with Trump at the helm.  The promise and hope that accompanied Obama’s election has been obliterated and the despair and fear is palpable.   We entered the United States at the Peace Arch crossing and were promptly subjected to a “random” comprehensive search, along with many other people, most whom did not have white skin or spoke another language.  We were herded along with others receiving various degrees of scrutiny by American officials.  The long lines and indifference to making people wait is apparently here to stay.  Traffic was gridlocked around most cities en route to the Sierra Nevadas along the I-5 and then to L.A. with road work “to serve us better”, too many cars and a lack of infrastructure to provide public transit.

True to our reputation, we are friendly Canadians, and friendly Americans gravitated towards us.  We had fun times with neighbours at the Silver Lake cabin in the Sierra Nevadas.  Shared camaraderie in Ernie’s tackle shop and in the Sierra Inn in June Lake.  Talked “education shop” with a hiker (aka teacher from Oakland) en route to Gem Lake.  Had a blast in the mountains with my older sister’s family as we navigated through our #GrantFire crisis that threatened possible evacuation from our family cabin.  Talked books with the librarian in the Gull Lake Library.  Dashed down to L.A. to visit with more family.  Learned more about my Dad’s life.  Navigated waves in Malibu with our younger nephews.  Had great conversation in the hot tub in Medford.  Yet the news, coffee shop conversations, bumper stickers, billboards and ways people treat each other show a dark underlying current of self-serving interests and unkindness.

One billboard read “REAL” Christians follow the teachings of Jesus.  The love, kindness and a lack of a judgemental stance forming my understanding of Jesus was not the vibe coming off this massive and somewhat threatening sign with the link to “fire and brimstone” rules to follow on the internet or else. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People), the civil rights organization formed in 1909, issued the first ever travel advisory and warns of “looming danger” for people of colour traveling through Missouri after Trump’s buddy, Governor Greitens, passed Senate Bill 43 – accurately hailed as a Jim Crow Bill, rolling back human rights and facilitating legal discrimination.  Deadly, race- fueled clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia unfold and Trump is unable to condemn neo-Nazis, skinheads and members of the Ku Klux Klan protesters for their hate propaganda instigating death, racial hatred and mayhem.  People joke and sport bumper stickers saying “Black lives matter to who?’ or disrespect the people who work for them with talk of building a wall or questioning which children are entitled to health care or education.  Trump stickers have dollar signs on either side of his name.  What are the lessons American children are taking from this?  Who do they want to be in the world?  What do they want it to look like.  It is quite telling that the white supremacist group Vanguard America target a university campus to recruit. This seems the polar opposite of the open mindedness and lofy ideals that we expect higher education to inspire.

The basis of the Trump election platform was vilifying “the other” and framing blatant lies as “alternative truth”.  When your quest for power is fueled by racism, misogyny, hate, greed, fear mongering and lies, then that is the basis for your term in office.  For any student of history, this is quite disturbing and comparisons to WWII Germany are not out of line.  Hitler’s speech in the early 1920’s was titled “Why Are We Anti-Semitic?”  People knew exactly who they were voting for and facilitated his actions.  By the end of WWII, 6 million Jews had been killed in Nazi Germany.  This was far too many people to have been killed by the SS.  A population was catalysed to view their Jewish neighbours as sub-human by government leaders with hate discourse, legislation and propaganda.  History has already taught us this lesson.  Our job is to not let history repeat itself.

How we act and what we say defines who we are.  Honesty matters.  Respect matters.  Tolerance is not enough.  Tolerance indicates we are enduring something or someone who is a pain in the neck.  It leaves the “tolerant” one feeling put upon and the recipient of her benevolence feeling embarrassed and insecure. It is true that change and differences and honesty can cause a degree of stress in our lives.  However when we choose to learn from a different perspectives and ways of being, tell the truth, admit mistakes, ask for forgiveness and look for commonalities of our humanity, we open up the opportunity to grow and learn.  When we choose to care about people’s feelings, forgive mistakes and give rather than take, we open our hearts and minds and allow love, respect and reciprocity to be the outcome.  Yes, I’m talking about living in harmony and with generosity towards our families, our neighbours, our fellow citizens and within the global community.  It seems like we should have evolved enough to embrace this by now.

Trump’s latest strategy seems to be uniting the masses by going after an outside target – Kim Jong Un – after all he’s been is a movie and is recognizable by even the uneducated.  It is something we have seen before.  Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were proven not to exist but the propaganda united Americans to the point that some Americans still believe.  As CIA Director Mike Pompeo has clearly stated, there is no imminent threat from North Korea, in direct contradiction to Trump’s war mongering.  It seems “making America great again,” boils down to waving a big stick.  It feels like haunting foreshadowing of a dark time in global history that we’ll be trying to understand long after the fact.

Many elementary school students will tell you that bullying through violence, humiliation and exclusion is wrong.  They will also tell you that lying to create a reality more to your liking and creating “alternative truths” are both the same thing.  They will be able to explain strategies for solving problems.  They can tell you why the United Nations Universal Declaration of Rights and Freedoms was written and signed in 1959 by so many nations striving to avoid a repeat of past wrongs.  I’m looking forward to going back to school and talking to children about who they want to be in the world and what they want our world to look like.  I want to talk about the ideals of honesty, generosity, integrity and inclusiveness.  It gives me hope.

I Believe in You

“I Believe in You!”  This is the mantra of my daughter.  To my chagrin in secondary school, she joined the Cheer Squad at Charles Best Secondary School.  I saw the objectification of women.  She saw the comradarie of the cheer squad and the physical challenge.  It has served her well.  She bought into the importance of encouragement.  As a tiny little girl who only wanted to be with her Mommy, she experienced the encouragement to go out into the world on her own.  In Kindergarten, her teacher nicknamed her Sparky because she brought palpable, positive energy into the classroom every morning.  As a competitive soccer player in school, she witnessed the power of encouragement to impact her performance.  In cheer, she learned why cheerleading came into being.

I worked very hard to interest Larkyn in attending UBC for selfish reasons of my own.  Her quest for adventure and independence, took her off to Queen’s University.  She made a group of friends that negotiated the ups and downs of university life.  Visiting her and her housemates was always refreshing.  The young women who she pulled close to her, were people who demonstrated the same encouraging way of being.  “I believe in you” was often uttered as a young woman with the unbrushed hair in a sock bun emerged from her room with a scowl on her face to take on some assignment or test or interaction that she was not feeling particularly good about.  In this case, “I believe in you” was not a statement assuming success would be the end product.  It was a recognition that her friend was doing something hard.  It was a promise that at the end of the day, success or failure, you were still someone who mattered.

I had an adoring mother who believed I was wonderful and always assumed success in my ventures.  My steadfast determination assured a fair record of successes.  However failure meant not only failing at an intended task, but also disappointing her.  It is something to this day that I experience.  Missing the mark and disappointing the people who really want my success, results in the heavy heart times two.  Perhaps this is residual from being a little girl with blonde ringlets and an over reliance on pleasing.  I do find the “I believe in you”, received and delivered with a smile, has a more positive impact.  It’s like being sent off with a hug of reassurance.  It doesn’t presume an outcome, just the encouragement to “Go for it” and acknowledgement that you’re taking a risk that is hard.

In Grade 3 due to a significant family upheaval, I ended up in a new school after the beginning of the school year.  Peer groups were already established and I was doing poorly on daily timed math drills.  My Mom suggested I talk to the teacher about what I could do to improve.  The teacher told me not to worry about it, I was in the average range.  My take away was that she didn’t believe in me and my belief in me faltered.  It took me until my statistics class in Graduate School to discover I didn’t actually suck at Math.  We have huge power as educators to deflate or inspire.

“I believe in you” is a message that inspires people or at least may help them lighten up.  It isn’t the belief that success is imminent.  It isn’t the belief that failure is an opportunity to teach you an important life lesson.  It’s the statement, “You’re on my team!” and the commitment to cheer for you no matter what!  Unconditional cheering.  Not a bad way to go out into the world and make our mark.  It is a message that I aspire to communicate to my staff, students, friends and family on a regular basis.