We don't debate whether anyone who says the things Trump says is a racist. It's obvious. I mean, if your neighbor told a black person to "go back to Africa" or a any other non-white, native-born person "go back to where you came from," the message would be loud and clear: a non-white person is less-than-American and unwelcome to them. It would be racism in its most naked form.
Yet, suddenly, when the guy who does it has some sort of political constituency, it's a matter of fine nuance, with the media choosing its mildly-at-best condemning language carefully and Republicans breaking out Webster's dictionary to parse the meaning of "racism" in a way that makes it OK for them to give Trump a pass.
It's patently ridiculous, of course. Trump is a racist. It's not even a close call and it's far, far from being a matter for debate. If you support him, you support a racist. It's pretty simple.
Now, to be clear, you can like some things presidents do and not like others and hedge support most of the time. But not when racism is involved. You don't get to pick and choose when the evil is so dire.
Racism -- via slavery, Jim Crow and everything that has flowed from it -- is our nation's original and lasting sin. It is that, above everything else, our nation has to answer for, then, now and forever. As such, all else should fall away when it re-emerges, re-ascendant. You don't get to pick and choose to say "sure, he's ushered in an age of white ethnonationalism, but the economy is good, so . . ."
People can have one view or another on any manner of issues and take the good with the bad in what will, inevitably, be imperfect leadership. But not when it comes to racism. When it comes to that, anything other than total rejection and opposition is morally and ethically unacceptable. Your tax cuts and deregulation and whatever the hell else you want from this administration can wait while you either oppose it fully or admit you stand complicit with racists, legitimizing them. Our nation's history has mandated that you make that choice.
Pick your side.
Baseball and literary legend Jim Bouton died today. He was 80. My full story about his life and work can be read over at the baseball site. Now, though, something personal.
I have spent most of my life as something of a square peg in a round hole.
What should I have done with all of those past uneasy fits and what should I do about the present ones?
It's natural for some to simply assess the landscape and do what needs to be done to conform and fit in. I can't do it and never have been able to. There are times I desperately wished I could do that. I often think about how much easier my life would've been if I could've done it. But I simply can't. It's not in me.
By the same token, it's natural for some to rebel. To embrace iconoclasm and nonconformity and to wear those things like a badge of honor. That's not me either. My inability to readily fit in is not a point of pride and lashing out at authority or the establishment is not a part of my DNA, even if its opposite is not either.
I've always been caught in between. I am aware that I have always been different -- aware that I don't fit in well with my surroundings -- and I am proud of those differences. But I have never been able to shake the reluctant realization that I want and need at least some semblance of the approval of others. At least some validation from my peers, however defined. At least some place within the institutions I respect and which I superficially inhabit. This conflict has often caused me to exist in the world I live in uncomfortably, torn between my desire to find peace within it and my inability to simply relax and let peace wash over me, chafing against those constraints.
Despite all of this, I am a man at peace. I'm a happy person. Not because I know how to solve this dilemma -- I certainly don't -- but because I know I am not alone. I know that there are many people who feel this way. I have even had role models who have faced these same dilemmas and managed to triumph. Jim Bouton was one of them. Maybe the greatest among them.
Bouton was a square peg in baseball's round hole. He figured out pretty early that he wasn't much like his peers even if his skills entitled him to a place alongside them. He might've done well for himself if he had managed to put his head down and conform like so many players before him and so many since. He might've pitched in the big leagues until the late 70s or early 80s as a rubber-armed knuckleballer. Or, at the very least, might've latched on as a coach and maybe could've become a manager or a front office executive one day. He was a smart guy. He would've done a good job with it, I bet.
But he simply couldn't. For all that he wrote I don't think he ever really explained why, but my sense is that, like me, it would've simply been impossible and self-denying for him to do so. He had to do what the voice inside his head told him to do, even when it was likely to send him into a bad place. Which, by the way, it did. It caused him to be involuntarily exiled from baseball and to be ostracized by his former teammates and peers. He landed well -- he became a sportscaster and an actor and did all kinds of other interesting things -- but there was no guarantee that would happen. Bouton did what his conscience and is id told him to do, foregoing the easier path that conformity would've offered him.
Yet, at the same time, he was no true rebel. He was no iconoclast and never claimed to be. He didn't want to burn down the game of baseball and walk away as he blew out the match. Even before the fallout, as he was writing "Ball Four," he wrote of his fear and anxiety about not being a part of the game anymore. He worried that he couldn't pitch anymore and openly wondered what and who he was if he could not get major league hitters out and stick with a team. Later, years after the professional success and professional calamity that was occasioned by "Ball Four," he still longed to play baseball. He worked his tail off in the minors and the Mexican League simply to continue to do what he loved, with his most famous written words -- "You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time" -- no doubt echoing in his mind.
And he was successful. His five games with the Atlanta Braves in 1978, eight years after he was more or less drummed out of the game, served as validation for him. He had bristled against baseball's culture of conformity and, as a result was pushed out of the game, but he still needed it and wanted to be a part of it, badly. And he got it.
I was only a teenager when I first read "Ball Four," but something in it beyond its merely enjoyable prose resonated with me, even if I had no idea what it was. When I re-read it in my 30s it hit me harder. I felt a push and pull in my life that I couldn't really describe and I saw something akin to it in Bouton's pages even if I didn't know quite how it all fit together.
Now, on the day he died, it has finally crystalized for me. The battle between Bouton's inability to conform and his inability to truly rebel was not one either side of him was ever going to win and success or failure in his life was never going to be defined by the outcome of that battle. Rather, Bouton was defined by that push and pull. His success in life -- which I believe he achieved in spades, and I hope he died believing it too -- was a function of his finding grace and peace in the midst of it all, knowing that conflict would never be truly resolved.
In this, Bouton provided a sterling example for all of us who find ourselves in that same dilemma. In this, Jim Bouton became the patron saint for those who chafe.
Last week the president dispatched his daughter, who is a professional fashion designer, to the G-20 summit and the DMZ.
This morning tanks and fighter jets are rolling into Washington as the president turns our nation's annual Fourth of July celebration into a show of military strength cum campaign rally.
A leader sending his hilariously unqualified children out on official state business and hosting strongman military parades on the streets of the capital are not things that happen in healthy democracies. It's what happens in autocracies. It's the stuff of would-be cults of personality. It's the stuff of banana republics.
That that's where we are right now -- and that no one in a position of power or influence seems interested in calling it out or doing a single thing to stop it -- pretty much says all that needs to be said about the state of America.