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2016 is a hard year for a cynic.

August 17, 2016


It has been a nauseating year for most people. There has been horrible violence, tragic death and terrifying sickness. But even worse than all that, there is another soul-crushing American presidential election. Every four years, the country comes together to argue about the soul of our nation. The teams are supposed to pick champions. No team can ever agree on who to pick. First, they fight amongst themselves, casting off the dead weight and lunatic liabilities before settling on the most agreed upon candidate to champion their causes. Pretty much from the beginning, but especially since the advent of television, the process of teams picking their champions and the ensuing battle between them has become an exercise in pompous ceremony that rivals religion in the fervor for tradition. A presidential election is usually nauseating any year, but 2016 has upped the ante. We are living through a watershed moment where the two major parties are experiencing painful metamorphosis. For me personally, it has been a revelation.

I have said from the minute Donald Trump was an actual contender, that he is the true face of America. He is bombastic, self-centered, and egotistical. He is rich at the expense of others. He’s a bigot. He is duplicitous. He is a conman that could have only been made in the USA. He embodies the unspoken American ideal of getting yours no matter what it takes or who you have to step on or screw over on the way there. He is the face America tries to hide like a portrait in the attic.

On the other side is Hillary Clinton who has never been the right candidate, but only ever the candidate for right now. While trashing stay-at-home moms, she has built a political career based largely on the fact that she married the right redneck rapist. Her political skills are so rudimentary and forced that she probably couldn’t get elected class president if she had never taken the name of Clinton. She is the ultimate elite: a lawyer and a DC insider, she has been a household name for almost twenty-five years. She has served as First Lady, as well as on the board of Walmart, and as a Senator from New York, and finally Secretary of State. About the only thing that everyone can agree on regarding Hillary Clinton, is that not many people like Hillary Clinton all that much. Most of her support is as forced as Hillary Clinton’s sense of humor and the rest only know who she is from her tweets about the Hamilton musical.

There has been a lot of discussion by talking heads and “think piece” “writers” about how this election has brought us to a lesser-of-two-evils decision as if that’s something new. It is especially pronounced this year but it is nothing to be surprised about. When has the electorate ever been happy about their candidates? For me, the real revelation was that there is an “elite” in America and they have more control over things than the voters.

Before we go on, let me explain. I know a lot of you are tuning out now if you haven’t already. “Elite” probably raises alarms with you as a fringe buzzword for the “Establishment”. “They” for some people. It immediately conjures up the specter of Fox News or spittle-spraying firebrand weirdos like Alex Jones. One is never sure if a discussion of the Bilderberg Group might be close behind an utterance of “the elites”. I am not suggesting that there is some cabal of evildoers with Mr. Burns and Dr. Evil meeting in a hollowed-out volcano plotting about how to control the world. I am not going to say there are reptilians who have infiltrated the world’s governments. What has become clear, however, is that there is an Establishment and there is everything else. It is not comprised of any specific set of people, though once inducted it is next to impossible to get kicked out. Even rape is permissible at times. The Establishment is a way of thinking: We know better than you. The Establishment is here to help. The Establishment will keep us safe. They want to make sure you have money, clothes, food and entertainment. The Establishment is here to tell you what you want. That’s why they spent nearly a billion dollars in 2012 to sway your decision-making. They are the people who have dedicated themselves to the American political system and the status quo. They do not have the vision to see beyond their own sphere of influence.

The Establishment encompasses a whole strata of society, engulfing the political world, the media and international finance. As their influence has been illuminated, partly because of the internet and the campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, so too has their failure. They are a class of people who are defined by the mantra “We Know Better Than You” but they have brought us to the uncertain and nauseating time through which we are living. In America, they have overseen the mass incarceration of minority populations and have completely abdicated the War on Poverty. Abroad, they have involved US in failed conflict after failed conflict, touting shooting an old man in the face as one of their greatest military victories. Economically, they have favored their friends with fat wallets over their hungry constituents. Politically, they have committed to ideals to gain votes rather than committing to any sort of positive change because that might imperil their standing in the Establishment. They have no remorse because they feel they are justified because they are merely performing the sacred ceremonies of the American political tradition. A notable exception to this adherence to the ceremonies of political tradition is in the media. The media, which is now owned by just a few people, has become subservient to the Establishment. Desperate to maintain access to influence across the political spectrum, they cultivate friendships instead of holding the Establishment accountable. They have abdicated their prosecutorial role, to become the mouthpiece of the Establishment. Their main target now seems to be anyone who deviates from the Established American Political Ceremony rather than shedding any light on the horrible things the Establishment has been doing in our name and it is their job to know better than you.

I have chosen to call this Establishment class “elites” because that is what they purport to be. They know better than us, don’t you know? This year, both sides have presented us with pretty compelling evidence of the presence of an elite class that are controlling things like out of some dystopian novel or loony conspiracy theory.

Let’s look at the Democrats first.

In 2008, Debbie Wasserman Schultz was co-chair for Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president. In 2011, she succeeded Tim Kaine as the Democratic National Committee chairperson. In 2016, she was exposed by Wikileaks and shown to have been working against Senator Bernie Sanders in his bid as the nominee for the Democratic party. Also exposed in the leak, were emails between the DNC and members of the media, including emails from Debbie Wasserman Schultz to prominent members of the media instructing them on how to behave. While Debbie Wassername Schultz is not the only person implicated in the leak, she is the highest profile and was forced to step down because of it. She was immediately made an honorary chair in Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The DNC had decided before the election even started who would be the nominee. Who gives a shit what the voters want? Bernie Sanders set the world ablaze with straight, impassioned talk, but the longtime party members snuffed it out. Even after the leak had been exposed, the DNC continued to stifle the voices of members of their party. At their convention, they employed noise-cancelling devices to drown out protest; they took away signs with unpleasantly true slogans; they instructed loyal delegates to drown out the protests of their neighbor with Homer Simpson-like chants of “USA! USA!” and “Hillary! Hillary!” And here we are, whether the voters had anything to say about it or not: Hillary Clinton is the nominee of the Democratic party. The most troubling aspect is that no one seems to care that it was weighted in her favor. If you found out a casino was using weighted dice, you’d be justifiably upset. Many people say she would have won anyway so what difference does it make? I say there is simply no way to know that. Had there been a DNC chairperson who took a more objective role and fostered debate instead of stifling it, who knows what could have happened? Maybe we’d all be talking about nominee Martin O’Malley right now instead of chronic Clinton fatigue. Whether you think she would have won anyway or not is irrelevant. What is clear is that a group of elite insiders worked behind the scenes to get the result they wanted for themselves and their friends and they were successful.

On the other side, Reince Preibus, the chairperson of the Republican National Committee, conducted a fair and even-handed primary campaign even when it might have benefited the nation for him to weigh the scales against Donald Trump like Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her cohorts did with Bernie Sanders. From the beginning, Donald Trump was a joke. A group of media elites literally laughed on air at the notion that he would go on to win the nomination. Jeb Bush was the favorite early on. It seems like a joke to think ol’ Low Energy Jeb ever had a shot. I see Reince Preibus yelling at the monitor backstage, “It’s a trap!” With sickening swagger, Donald Trump dispatched opponent after opponent. A few, like Scott Walker and Rick Perry, folded like George Costanza at a poker game: “Too rich for my blood!” Some, like Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, just liked seeing their names in the paper. They ran out of money and people who weren’t looking at Donald Trump. 2012’s failed nominee went on TV and called Donald Trump a clown and a lunatic. A number of prominent Republicans, including the last two Republican presidents, refused to attend the convention to nominate Donald Trump. The president of the United States dismissed him as a reality TV star unfit for the job. Billionaire media magnate and mayor of stop-and-frisk’s New York, Michael Bloomberg took to the stage at the Democratic National Convention to denounce Trump. Everybody from the established order of things has come out to decry the man, from late-night comedians to members of his own party. People I have disagreed with for years have said Donald Trump is a horrible person.The media cannot stop talking about him. Donald Trump says they demand political correctness. I say they demand adherence to the traditions of the ceremony of the teams selecting their champions and our nation selecting its new mask. The keepers and adherents of the rules and traditions stand there saying “You can’t do that!” while the bull smashes up the china shop. But it is already done and the bull can only hear their protests like a gnat buzzing meaninglessly in his ear . He has upset the natural order and elites across the board perceive the threat. He has not released his tax returns. He responds to every insult. He tweets too much. He’s a racist. He isn’t spending nauseating amounts of cash on advertising. (Side note: as someone who teeters at the edge of poverty, it is hard to believe that someone who can spend more than $60,000,000 on advertising has my best interests at heart.) He isn’t doing it the way he is supposed to do it, but somehow it is working. Despite the fact that he got more votes than any other Republican primary candidate in history, party insiders have worked hard to hobble him, launching assault after assault. All of the people who have had to follow the rules and slither through bureaucracy to gain influence and join the entrenched elite are not happy to see him subvert the will of the party elite.

It is unfortunate that it didn’t happen the other way around. Maybe if the Democrats had a chairperson like Reince Preibus, Bernie Sanders might have been the Democratic nominee. Maybe if elite Republicans had weighted the scales in favor of their chosen nominee, presumably Jeb Bush. The fois gras goose candidate was so overstuffed with donations, he could barely summon the energy to campaign. Maybe if it had gone the other way, we wouldn’t have to be talking about two people we all can’t stand and the two candidates would now be hashing out ideas and agendas instead of pointing out hand size and voice modulation.

Too bad we’re in the Mirror Universe.

The elites are here and they control everything but Donald Trump and his coalition of racists and frat boys and anarchists and illiterates and rich indolents and gun nuts. The bull is still smashing the china shop and we have yet to ascertain the extent of the damage. I don’t have a lot of confidence in the almost lifelike efforts of Hillary Clinton and her band of inept conspirators.

2016 is a hard year for a cynic.

Three Albums Featuring Organs

June 30, 2016

Like a lot of people my age, I have opinions about music that I think you should hear. I am qualified to speak about music because I have listened to it all my life and for a few months a few years ago I tried to learn how to play a banjo.

For most of my childhood, I was raised by my grandparents so I am intimately familiar with the vinyl record. My most cherished possession is probably the Tennessee Ernie Ford 45 my grandpa gave me. He used to play it every year during blackberry season.


Today’s post is three albums you should hear and it’s best that you should hear them on vinyl. Why? Because that’s the way I listen to them so that must be the best way for everybody.

“Odessey and Oracle” by The Zombies

I’m sure you’ve hear the song “Time Of The Season” at some point in your life. It has been used in Tampax commercials, sporting events and as a touchstone for the late 60s in movies and on TV. The song is a perfect representation of the album on which it first appeared. The Zombies deliver keyboard-driven rock and roll laced with airy psychedelic vocal harmonies. “Odessey and Oracle” is a revelation. Having been raised to think the only good pop rock from the sixties was produced by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, it is astounding to discover The Zombies are capable of as much musical creativity as The Beatles and deliver it without pretension. Almost every song on this album sounds like a hit and you wonder where these songs have been all your life. Why do radio stations only play the same ten bands? Stand outs on this album include “This Will Be Our Year” and “Beechwood Park”

“Mendocino” by The Sir Douglas Quintet

Fronted by Doug Sahm, a pioneer in country rock, The Sir Douglas Quintet present a unique sound. Fueled by rhythm guitar and driving organ, “Mendocino” answers the question “What happens when psychedelia meets Tex-Mex?” If there is a narrative thread to the album, it is a Texas country boy lost in the strange world of Northern California in the late 60s, as evidenced in the title track and the song “Lawd, I’m Just A Country Boy In This Great Big Freaky City” and others. Who can’t relate to feeling like a fish out of water? It is another album that makes me mourn the state of radio. “She’s About A Mover” is probably the most popular track but my favorite is “Lawd, I’m Just A Country Boy In This Great Big Freaky City”.

“Brothers and Sisters” by The Allman Brothers

Recording of “Brothers and Sisters” began not long after the death of Duane Allman, the band’s leader and guitarist, in a motorcycle accident. Berry Oakley, the band’s bassist, was distraught and buried his grief in drugs and drink. Less than a year later, Berry Oakley crashed his motorcycle less than three blocks away from where Duane had crashed his. He died from his injuries. The band carried on, led by guitarist Dickey Betts and keyboardist Gregg Allman. Somehow in spite of the tragedy, the band was able to create it’s most commercially successful album to date. It immediately dominated the charts and with good reason. The musicianship on display throughout the album is enough to justify its success. The interplay between guitars and keyboards, bass and drums is amazing. Add to that the perfect number of great songs. There are only seven songs on the album and they leave you perfectly satisfied. It is neither too long or too short. Take your country psychedelia, add an extra drummer and sprinkle it all with jazz and you have “Brothers and Sisters”. You probably know “Ramblin’ Man” and maybe “Jessica” but make sure to listen for “Southbound” and “Pony Boy”.


This Is All Jon Stewart’s Fault

June 22, 2016

Over the past month our political discourse has hit a new low. The two presumptive nominees have taken to twitter like a pair of teenage rivals vying for class president. Political campaigns are unashamed protracted advertising campaigns, where influence takes precedent over content and persuasion more important ideals. We are about to descend into an arduous battle of mudslinging and personal attacks. Rational evaluation of qualifications and capabilities will disappear in the deluge of ad hominem assaults. Plans will be ignored as faults are parsed and any meaningful discussion of the complex issues that affect us all will be replaced by one-liners and zingers. We are living in a country where the candidate who is best at assigning blame is the best to lead our country.

I blame Jon Stewart.

For starters, he probably spent a decade begging Donald Trump to run for president. As a comedian, his desire for easy laughs trumped any foresight or insight into the soul of our nation. Wherever Jon Stewart is now, deep in an upper middle-class cable package, I hope he realizes it’s not so funny now.

Jon Stewart spent years cultivating a snarky off-color persona who sneered at the self-absorbed and disdained the disingenuous. Stewart is often lauded for raising the level of comedy by incorporating news and politics with jokes and sketches. Most of the time the joke was simply Stewart pulling faces or manipulating the context of statements made by public officials or politicians. With the help of many people who achieved their own level of fame over the years, Jon Stewart was able to build a ratings juggernaut and more importantly a can’t miss stop for anyone hoping to get elected, sell a book, or hawk movie tickets. Stewart and his team dismissed the importance of “The Daily Show” to the national dialogue, claiming, “We’re just a comedy show,” while at the same time leveraging that prominence to organize rallies and campaign for pet causes.

Over time, “The Daily Show” became an institution spawning spin-offs and copycats to fill the yawning cable content chasm. Politicians of every stripe realized the importance of “satirical news” programs in reaching the coveted and increasingly important youth vote. In order to be part of the joke, politicians and office seekers began to adopt the tactics of persuasion once reserved for comedians and satirists. The appeal to voters has become more important than anything. It seems to escape most candidates notice that actually doing their job to solve problems appeals to more voters than anything else. Under the outsized influence of Stewart and his cronies, our political dialogue has become a race to the ridiculous and no one, including the sitting President of the United States, has escaped. Barack Obama has spent more time creating jokes and internet memes over the last eight years than I have and I am a millennial with a retail job.

If politicians are forced to become entertainers in order to compete in the political realm, it leads us to a very dark place. A place where a blowhard entertainer has become the nominee of one of the major parties. A place where a lady in her late sixties who can’t even use a computer is generating memes in the hopes of attaining the presidency. A place where satire and humor has been co-opted by the establishment, handed to them on a silver screen by Jon Stewart.

“The Daily Show” always sucked.

June 15, 2016

There have been a lot of articles over the last year about how “The Daily Show” has lost its edge and Trevor Noah is not as funny as Jon Stewart. Here and here and here and here and here and here

I say it is no different than it has always been. Trevor Noah does all the same things Jon Stewart did. He plays a clip and pulls a face. He plays two clips out of context to show hypocrisy. He gets emotional when he should and confronts guests when needed. He banters with his “news team”. But he is not Jon Stewart.

That is where the disconnect comes in. People want Jon Stewart, not “The Daily Show”. He was like America’s intellectual uncle who never shuts up. You can’t just replace your uncle with a different person and expect to get the same results.

You have to change your expectations.






Untapped Vein of Enthusiasm

May 25, 2016

General Zod and Hillary Clinton: The same tailor?

As you may know, I am a Bernie Sanders supporter. Though it is nearly June, I have not lost faith that he could win the Democratic nomination. Truman defeated Dewey. Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination. Leo won an Oscar. It could still happen for Bernie.

Of course, you probably also know that I suffer from a debilitating condition called cynicism. A sunny day is too hot and an ice cube is a watery drink. Hillary Clinton could win the Democratic nomination.

In my Bernie Babe cynical mind, that would mean almost certain victory for Donald Trump in November. Even Republicans think that would be a disaster (at least they used to). America has had Clinton fatigue for  25 years. It seems unlikely that Hillary Clinton will be able to tap into some untapped vein of enthusiasm. For myself, I will not be voting for either one of them. Compromise is for diplomats.

The following is what would have to happen for Hillary Clinton to secure my vote in November:

  1. Give the bulk of her personal fortune to charitable organizations like Doctors without Borders. Repudiate accusations of greed by showing us what selflessness looks like.
  2. Come clean. Out with it. Stop hiding. Quit bullshitting. We want to hear what you really think, even if it’s batshit crazy. Honesty is the best policy and helps people to trust you.
  3. Find some new friends and advisers. Even if your team is the best in the world, they aren’t the best all the time. No one is. Stagnation breeds malaise, poison to the well of voters.
  4. Apologize profoundly and profusely for any mistakes you have made (Libya, Honduras, e-mail, that weird leather jacket you keep wearing that looks like something General Zod would wear.)
  5. Donald Trump is a joke. To treat him as anything else is giving him an opening. Your trademark laugh could serve you well in taking down this bully, but you and all your surrogates have already legitimized his campaign by launching into a general election campaign you haven’t actually earned the right to compete in yet. Laugh him off. Seriously. A well raised eyebrow and a dubious “Okay, Donald,” would go a long way to putting this clown in his place.

This election makes me feel like a computer playing tic-tac-toe against itself: frustrated.

Edit: I left this off the list because I forgot it and now it’s going to look like I am riding the news of his endorsement, but she needs to pick Governor Moonbeam (Jerry Brown) as her running mate. It is the only way of appealing to progressives without picking Sanders or Warren. In fact, if Sanders or Warren accepted many progressives would be turned off to the whole thing. They would view the whole system as corrupt. Jerry Brown is progressive enough, and while as a governor, he has been practical enough. And he is authentic which is what her campaign is lacking. In fact, I believe picking Jerry Brown is one of the only paths to victory she has left.

More bullshit about the stupid election

April 13, 2016

You may remember that back in 2008, I voted for Barack Obama. I was a fresh-faced college kid who took the bait, lured by the promise of hope and unable to recognize the ambiguity of the word “change”. Casting my vote for the fist black president made me feel like I was part of that change. I still remember being in the backseat of Chelsea’s car barreling down I-5 and hearing the news that he had won. We cheered at the top of our lungs.

Of course by the end of 2009, I began to sober up. Rather than holding Wall Street accountable, Obama had chosen to focus on his lame ass health care bill, a watered down piece of legislation written by insurance companies that has done little to lower health care costs for the average American. Rather than winding down the inhumane and troublingly inaccurate “targeted assassination” program started under Bush, he expanded it, personally giving the command  that has taken the lives of many innocent people including an American teenager. He surrounded himself with insiders and elites, including the Democratic candidate he had spent months convincing us not to vote for. He cloaked himself in pragmatism to cover his compromise of the principles that got him elected. He promised the most open government in history, and delivered the most classified, where whistleblowers are labelled traitors and prosecuted more than under any other president in history. He promised immigration reform and then deported more immigrants than W. He promised an end to our wars overseas and instead expanded them. Through inaction and bumbling responses, the Obama administration, with the help of Secretary Clinton, aided in the rise of ISIS and doubled down on the insane foreign policy of George Bush and Dick Cheney in Libya and other places.

By 2012, my hope had become a full-blown case of malaise about Barack Obama. The change he had promised literally boiled down to the fact that a black guy was doing all of this horrible shit instead of a white guy. Rather than changing Washington, Washington changed him. He was willing to chastise the elite and the entrenched until he was one of them then the need for “pragmatism” prevailed. It’s like when you have to kill someone to join a gang. They need to know you are one of them. “And they looked from Barack Obama to the Washington insiders and elite and then back to Barack Obama and they could not tell the difference.” Unfortunately the only person more out of touch with America was his opponent in 2012, Mitt “47%” Romney. I held my nose, and voted for Obama a second time.

I don’t know what I could have done different, but I still regret it. I was looking forward to 2016. We will have another chance. I had not given up on hope and change, just Barack Obama’s ability to deliver it. I told Paul when we started dating two years ago that he should be prepared for me to become obsessed with the election. I was chomping at the bit to get it started.

I knew Hillary Clinton was the “presumptive nominee” but I was like, “They always say that.” No way America is actually going to go through that again. We had already left her at the alter once. I’d heard rumblings about Bernie Sanders possibly running. If only.

Slowly a small pool of candidates formed, literally all of them preferable to Hillary Clinton.  Martin O’Malley picked a bad year to get in. Where was he in ’04? or ’08? or even 2012? I’m sure he could have beat FrankenKerry for the nomination and he certainly would’ve given Obama some worry. I like to dream that there will be a peaceful paradise in an alternate universe where Lincoln Chaffee is the President and finally passes legislation regarding the Oxford comma. Even Lawrence Lessig offered more relevant solutions than the “presumptive nominee”, recognizing that no real change can happen until our election system is fixed. I trust Jim Webb would keep me safe. Hillary Clinton can’t even keep her e-mails safe. Bernie Sanders entered the race and I was ecstatic. I was aware of his work in the House and the Senate and admired his candor and principled consistency. He has been consistent about what he hopes to accomplish through government since he arrived in Washington decades ago and before that as mayor of Burlington. He has chosen to stand for his principles even when they were unpopular. I cannot say that for anyone else in the race or for very many people I know. He is one of a kind.

If you have been alive for the last three or four decades, you know about Hillary Clinton. Quick name that scandal she was involved in! No, not that one. No, not that one. No, that isn’t the one I am thinking of. I’m not going to bore you with all the reasons why I don’t think she should be the president. We knew all those reasons in 2008 and that was before she had the whole e-mail scandal or her involvement in the disaster of Libya or her support for the ouster of the democratically-elected president of Honduras or taking money from Goldman-Sachs for speaking engagements. Measuring by the level of destructive influence on the world, it would be better to take money for speaking at a Klan rally.

Mrs. Clinton has been saying she will continue the good work of President Obama. That has been her sales pitch. “Let’s keep this good thing going!” I don’t really want to vote for a fifth Bush term. I want the hope and change I was promised. I want the change everyone says they want but no one can deliver.

This is the year.

Because of their electoral clown show and their inability to do their jobs as elected officials, the Republicans have pretty much guaranteed that they are going to lose control of the Senate and soon after that, if they continue, the House as well. If a Democrat is elected, and it is almost certain one will be, they will either inherit a left-leaning Supreme Court or will be able to nominate a new justice. This hypothetical president-elect will have the best shot any president is gonna get to pass major legislation. They might even be able to pass election reform or single-payer health care. Do you really want someone who is going to go in to the negotiation low-balling everything in the interest of pragmatism? “I could get $15 minimum wage but let’s go with $12 to be on the safe side.” The next president, if a Democrat, should be ready to shoot for the moon, to get as much done as possible to prove to the American people that the progressive agenda is the agenda of the future. Half-assing it on climate change is not an option anymore and any candidate who supports fracking is half-assed in their approach.

I am aware that the world is flooded with people praising their candidate on both sides and I am sorry to add to it. It is too important for me to keep quiet.

P.S. I would very much like to have a woman president, just not Hillary Clinton. I’d rather vote for Kim Kardashian.

P.P.S. If you liked this post you may enjoy “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” from 2012

The Individual

September 30, 2015

Americans are endowed with inalienable rights: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This philosophy is the cornerstone on which our country was built. Many extol the virtues of the Constitution, but it is constructed around the notion that having the freedom to pursuit your own happiness, as long as it does not infringe on anyone else’s happiness, is essential to our success as a people and as a nation. Our founders had the good sense to see that multiple points of view are preferable to narrow vision and that strength comes from individuals united in purpose, not from individuals forced to comply. The strength of the individual is the strength of the whole. Conversely, the weakness of the individual is the weakness of the whole.

America values the individual above all else. Evidence is everywhere you look, from Caitlin Jenner to Donald Trump. America doesn’t care about anything unless there is a face, an individual to represent an issue. It is not enough to say Muslims are unjustly profiled; you must say that this 16-year-old Muslim named Ahmed was unjustly profiled. It is not enough to say the pharmaceutical industry has falsely inflated drug prices for years; you must say this misled entrepreneur Martin Shkreli has falsely inflated drug prices. Our heroes are mavericks and renegades. “Individuals”, we call them. Women who bucked the system and did things their own way, like Holly Golightly or Amelia Earhart or Harriet Tubman or Elizabeth Warren or Miley Cyrus. Men who say and do what they please, exuding confidence and taking control, like Donald Trump or Kanye West or Frank Sinatra or James Dean or Batman or Don Draper. We love and value unique, bold and hard-working Individuals. Our country was built by and for such Individuals.

While it is clear that America still values the individual above all else, our actions paint a very different picture. A society that values individuality would encourage different viewpoints, lifestyles and cultures. Differences of opinion would not be discouraged but explored. Compromise would not be regarded as sign of weakness but as a necessity needed to foster individuality and differences of thought. A society that values the individual would not be so anxious to be offended.

In America, differences of opinion are treated like unbreakable vows. One must never admit that someone might have a different view on things. We have created a culture where our politicians and public figures feel they have to twist word-pretzels and contort themselves into bizarre caricatures that border the uncanny valley in order to avoid appearing to have original thought. Public shaming has come roaring back into fashion, with the mob throwing hapless individuals in the digital stockade and pelting them with vicious slurs and misguided boycotts. Aberrant behavior that does not meet with the homogeneous hive mind’s approval will be shamed away, by destroying careers and lives. Individuals are celebrated and shamed in the same breath.

America has heeded the call of the Siren of Double-Standards. We still love Individuals, but only the ones that agree with our own narrow point of view. We have taken a country of vast open spaces and infinite potential and built walls and borders around it, suffocating possibility and undermining the very foundation on which our country was built: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.