Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"You shall not follow the masses in doing evil."

     Bigotry is bad but not for the reason people assume — or not just for that reason. It isn't bad merely because innocent people are harmed by the irrational hatreds carried around by the prejudiced and by the random cruelties those hatreds inspire.
     Bigotry also harms the bigot, since it is a form of ignorance, a misapprehension of the world. They see not what is in front of them, but what is in front of them filtered through the distorting lens of the disdain they grew up with or slid into. Their world is colored not by what's before their eyes but by the jumbled mess behind them.
     So they make mistakes.
     For instance: eliminating the DREAM Act, which President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to do on his first day as president — Jan. 21, for those keeping track. That would keep up to 5 million young Americans off the path to success, in school and employment, for a very Third Reich reason: because their papers aren't in order. It will, of course, hurt them, making their lives harder, more complicated, more anxious. It would also hurt the country. A country which, contrary to the bigot's skewed perspective, is not burdened by foreigners but benefits from them. A country that needs every capable person it can get its hands on. Otherwise we end up like Japan, in a demographic death spiral.
     Cutting off your nose to spite your face is a hallmark of bigots. The classic example is after courts ordered public pools integrated in the 1960s, Southern towns closed their pools, even filling them in with dirt rather than risk whatever horror was supposed to come from letting blacks into the pool — interracial dating, I suppose.
     That's the bad news. The good news, if any news can be considered good in this perilous moment of our national saga, is that, because of their myopia, bigots screw up and overlook important considerations....

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Give to The Night Ministry

     Our Illinois leaders have been trying to balance the state financial crisis on the backs of the poor and disabled, which means cuts for vital social services and long waits for charitable groups to get paid.  I don't support many social services, but The Night Ministry is different: they are the last defense, the final safety net between Chicagoans who have nothing and utter misery. It provides the most basic needs: food, water, medical attention.
     November 29 has been dubbed "Giving Tuesday" and I hope you will consider visiting The Night Ministry's Giving Tuesday page and making a donation.  
    I already have, and it feels good. This is a time when individual participation is even more important. The situation is only going to get worse as a particularly heartless and brutal form of Republicanism takes over in Washington. How many homeless people have you passed by where you wanted to give them money, but weren't sure it would help them? Money given to The Night Ministry directly benefits homeless people, particularly LGBTQ youth, who are especially vulnerable, as outlined in this story from 2012.

     It's 9 p.m., and 26 young men and women have shown up at the Crib, a shelter for homeless youth in the Lake View Lutheran Church at Addison and Halsted.
     Which is a problem, since there is space for only 20 foam mattresses on the floor of the cinderblock community room where they will sleep.
     "Most nights we're full," says Nate Metrick, the Crib coordinator. "Especially in winter, we're pretty much full every night."
     Or in spring when it feels like winter — it's 42 degrees outside tonight. So staff from the Night Ministry, the nonprofit organization that runs the shelter, along with many other outreach services, feeding and providing for Chicago's downtrodden, does what they are forced to do most cold nights: turn people away.
     "There's a lot of you here tonight," announces staffer Hope Benson, after quieting down the commotion. "We start a new intake process today. When I came outside I noticed there was a lot of running. There's no need to run. Intake is between 8:45 and 9 o'clock. You can be here between that time and we'll still let you in. Okay? If there's more than 20 people, then we're going to do a lottery, like we're going to do now."
     There is a burst of protest, excited conversation and drama, with nearly everyone speaking at once.
     "Yesterday was first come/first serve," says one. "What happened?" "This is messed up!" says another.
     They are black, white, Hispanic, male, female. All under the age of 24. They sit on chairs, stand against walls, slump on the floor, their possessions piled around them.
     Darnell, a powerfully built 19-year-old with aqua-painted fingernails, clutches a pink stuffed monkey to his chest. "This is J-Moe," he says. About 70 percent of the youth who stay at the Crib are gay, lesbian or transgender, and there is a direct connection between homosexuality and homelessness among the young.
     "Youth are coming out at a much younger age — 12, 13," says Paul Hamann, the Night Ministry's CEO and president. "Youth see society being more accepting and are willing to come out early, but the family might not be ready for that, which sometimes puts their housing in danger. It's a little paradoxical."
     Nor does anyone have an idea how many homeless youth are in Chicago or in the country. "There are no numbers out there," Hamann says.
     Benson draws slips of paper out of a white plastic bucket and reads off 20 names or nicknames: John. Phillip. Diggie. Romeo. Izzy. Desiree. Darnell. Ryan. Dee. Temper. Knox. Cory. Conrad. Red. Dan. Leo. Homary, Dougie. Adrianne. Cain."
     "Can I say something please?" says Leo, 19, standing up. "Motherfuckers who have somewhere to go, who think the Crib is just a hangout spot, get the fuck out, because there are people who really need this place. I'm just saying. You all being selfish."
     A common complaint: Other people don't need it but I do. Also theft.
     The six whose names don't get picked get CTA cards with $2.50 — one fare — on them, and they're lucky to get that; somebody has to donate the cards to the Crib, which began as a pilot program with the city of Chicago in January 2011, ran for four months, was closed, then re-opened in September. Its future is uncertain.
     "We are trying to come up with additional funds to keep it open year-round in a very, very tough funding environment," says Hamann. (The Crib receives donations at the Night Ministry, 4711 N. Ravenswood, 60640, or at
     The fare cards are last-resort housing. "Most homeless people, at night time they sleep on the train," explains Conrad Burnett, 22, who sometimes does that. "It's an hour and half, two hours from 95th to Howard, back and forth and back and forth. It's warm on the train. You get used to it, sitting up sleeping. You gotta hold all your bags. They'll cut your pants and take what's in your pockets. They took my shoes one time."
     Though warm, a night on the train isn't an appealing prospect.
     "I have nowhere to go!" complains Tobias, 22, a muscular young man with a slight beard and an earring. Homeless almost a year, he stops at the door to argue, loud and long — they shouldn't use the lottery, they should keep the old system. "You knew I was here!" he shouts over staffers. "No! No! You're not listening to what I'm saying! The first 20 who got in are the first 20 who are supposed to stay in!"
     "We only have 20 spots," says Benson, explaining the need for a change. "People push past others. It's dangerous. People get hurt."
     Getting nowhere, Tobias kicks angrily at the crash bar on the door. It locks behind him and he is standing on Addison Street, holding a bag of pumpkin seeds.
     "I don't know what I'm going to do," he says.
     Joddy, 18, kisses her boyfriend, Dougie, 24, hard, then quietly leaves — he was picked; she wasn't. She walks a block west, uses her fare card to get into the Addison Street L station, where she stands on the platform, a slight girl in a red-plaid hooded sweatshirt, pressing herself against the wall, looking scared.
     "What am I going to do?" she cries, tears rolling down her cheeks. "I don't know where to go."
     She won't say why she's homeless. "That's confidential to me."
     Nor will she risk riding the 'L' all night. She's done that before.
     "It's sometimes dangerous, especially if you're a girl," she says. "There's a lot of guys, who'll just hit on you. It's dangerous. It's not easy. You get scared, because it's late, and you don't know where to go."
     Joddy grew up in Humboldt Park. "I'm mixed, I'm a lot of races — Native American, Puerto Rican, Irish." She has been homeless since she was 16 and went to Evanston Township High School. "I couldn't finish. I had to drop out," she says.
     She insists that she and her boyfriend watch out for each other. "We have each other's back." But she couldn't let him pass up his spot at the Crib to stick with her on the streets. "He can't — I can't let him do that," she says. "He suffers more than I do."
     So what is she going to do?
     "I don't know. Walk down North Avenue. It's actually a lot safer there than a lot of places.... I tend to walk a lot. Every day. Once I walked almost eight miles."
     She talks about the various Northside youth services and shelters she uses, and how homeless youth are sometimes treated.
     "I been in Chicago my whole life, and I've been growing up around here, and I've grown up to see everything," she says. "I'm a very observant person. I see everything. I don't have to say anything. But I see it. And I see how they disrespect everybody. Everybody who doesn't look rich or doesn't have class."
     She has ambitions. "I'm a really good artist. I can draw," she says, hoping to be "an artist maybe, a comic book artist." But she sees how she and her friends are viewed by many in society.
    "Homeless people are human too," she says. "We got lives, too. Just 'cause you have money in your pocket, just 'cause you have clothes on your back and a job doesn't mean that you can go ahead and say that a person's not human. That person has feelings, too. That person went through bullshit too. We went through abuse. We went through all this shit, and you know why? Because it's people that hurt people. It's not people who do this to themselves. Especially the young ones, who don't even deserve this. And that's coming out from some real experiences of my own. You can't just say people are not people because they don't have anything. Nobody has everything in the world. Nobody is perfect."
    The train arrives. "Belmont is next" the canned voice calls. "Doors open on the right at Belmont." She walks onto the train and is gone.

     —Originally published in the Sun-Times, April 30, 2012

Monday, November 28, 2016

C'mon, pitch in, I can't buy presents for ALL these kids!


     Modesty demands that we truly generous individuals refrain from bragging about our good works. So I've never written about founding the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust's "Letters to Santa" program, nor about my purchasing countless presents for Chicago children, nor about prodding my reluctant colleagues to get off their kiesters and pitch in which, to their credit, they generally do, eventually.
     But it's a big city, and we need help. Last year the program gave more than 10,000 children Christmas presents. I can't buy them all. So while I'm gathering gifts for the, let's see, one, two, three, four, five, six ... 27 needy kids I've taken under my wing this year, I'm hoping that you'll pause from staring, stupefied with distress, at the day's political headlines and make Christmas brighter for just one child who, believe it or not, has it tougher than you do.
     Oh, that isn't true. Well, the getting gifts for 10,000 kids part is, as well as the hoping you'll join part.
     Otherwise, for the record, a) I did not start the Letters to Santa Program. b) My colleagues leap to help, far quicker than I do. And c) it's a big deal for me to buy a few gifts for one child, never mind tackle 27.
     But I figured, blatant lies are in vogue. If Donald Trump can hold a gala promising veterans millions of dollars, ballyhooing his supposed generosity, then fail to cough up a dime of his own until the lying media points out the lapse, and almost half the country votes for him anyway, then why not puff myself up as a philanthropist? Worrying about the actual truth has become an antique pastime, like churning butter.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sweet gratitude

      Thanksgiving's over—it really worked at the old Steinberg household this year. About two dozen people, including two I'd never met before, a friend of a relative and a friend of a friend of a relative. I love that. It makes me feel like Papa Hemingway, to have this big old house filled with people, talking and eating and drinking and laughing. 
    Sure, we were all a little shell-shocked over the past election. But not too much. I latched onto a Comforting Historical Fact: the election of Lyndon B. Johnson as president in 1964 more or less doomed 50,000 American servicemen to die in Vietnam. Only nobody knew it, then, and we don't really view it that way now. And Johnson was a pretty good president, and Nixon, Watergate notwithstanding, is credited with going to China and such, and neither man is blamed for this incredible loss of young American life over a fear that did not prove valid. 
    At least with Trump, we have eyes wide open—goggled-eyed in sheer amazed horror, maybe. But certainly forewarned, for all the good that will do. 
     Though let's not get lost in the political weeds today. I really wanted to talk about thanks, giving thanks, not just to God or some unspecified good providence, but to specific people. I was so occupied trying to set the proper It's-still-a-country-worth-giving-thanks-for-even-if-we-elected-a-boob tone when I gave my speech of thanks, I forgot to thank my wife, who worked for three days preparing the feast. Sorry honey. Though I suspect that is a common oversight—we're so worked up over the big picture we forget to focus on the important stuff right in front of us. 
    So if you are having a hard time in the year to come—as I imagine most thinking, caring, patriotic Americans might—considering making yourself feel better by thanking somebody.
    In words, if nothing else. But also consider a more tangible thanks. During the two years my co-author Sara Bader and I were locking down legal permissions for "Out of the Wreck I Rise," the mountain of paperwork, the contracts and rights payments, were handled by Rodney Powell at the University of Chicago Press. It really was our responsibility, but he just stepped in and gave us a hand. So Sara and I tried to express our gratitude in a tangible way, by dispatching brownie hearts from Misericordia's Hearts & Flour Bakery, and sour cream coffee cake from Zingerman's and macarons from Botega Louie in Los Angeles.  I can't speak for how it made him feel, but it made me very happy.  I came to think of it as "Dispatching the Gratitude Sweets."
Young Charles Percy
    Not to forget our holiday advertiser, now in its fourth season on Everygoddamnday, Eli's Cheesecake. I have a reader who points out typos almost every single day, and as thanks I offered to send him a cheesecake. He demurred, but asked instead that I send it to his grandson in Seattle, Charles Percy, great-grandson of our late senator of the same name. So I sent the lad a cake.
      I don't know how this world is supposed to be, but if even a tiny part of it involves babies being dispatched cheesecake by grateful strangers in distant cities as thanks for their grandfather's grammatical and orthographic skills, well, that's getting to be the sort of world that meets my approval. 
    What if you have nobody to thank? That is a puzzlement. Maybe you aren't thinking hard enough. Maybe you need to expand the range of ideas that can be conveyed with sweets—they're also great at apology. I wrote something unfair about a neighbor last month, and decided to deliver my apology note in one of BasketWorks gift baskets, which seemed a sign of sincerity, and was gratefully accepted as such. Dispatching the basket was one of the highlights of an otherwise dismal year. 
     And if you have nobody to thank, and nobody to apologize to? That is worrisome. Maybe you need to send the basket to yourself. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Being white helps ... a lot.

Kevin Lavin at Guildhaus

     The complex, unvarnished truth and a feel-good finish are enemies. Which is why sometimes space limitations can be a reader's friend, if not a writer's.
     Earlier this week, when I finished saying all I wanted to say about my interview with Kevin Lavin, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict and the executive director at Guildhaus, the Blue Island halfway house, I had a column 1,300 words long—the length of a two-page spread. Knowing that would probably never happen, I cut it back to 940 words and hoped it might get squeezed onto a page on Wednesday. But my bosses wanted to save it for Page Two Friday, meaning it had to be 700 words long, which is how long the finished column ran.
      When you have to cut a piece of writing that much, you lose nuance. Tales of Guidlhaus' colorful founder, Jack King, for instance, or how difficult a heroin habit was to overcome: an average of five rehab stays and 10 detoxes, according to Lavin. Didn't make the final cut, because I had to preserve the thrust of the story—Lavin's dramatic flight from the cops, and the caring officer who was more interested in helping than busting him.
     You also lose entire avenues of thought. As soon as Lavin started telling me about phoning his guardian police officer every Thanksgiving, I knew that would be my hook for the holiday. But I also had a qualm, which I raised even as he was praising the police officer.
     "...every Thanksgiving I call him," Lavin said. "He's just a great guy. He didn't charge me for fleeing and eluding. He had me for four or five felonies. He threw the drugs out I had."
     "Why do you think he did that?" I asked.
    "Because he saw me as a human being that was hurting. He saw me as a father and a decent guy. This guy stayed and talked to me for 13 hours. We talked about life."
     I couldn't resist: "And being white helped."
     Lavin, plain-spoken and not one to mince words, didn't argue.
    "If I were a black guy, I'd be in the system still," he said. 

Kevin Lavin
    Later in the conversation, the subject came back up, again discussing the heroin epidemic. 
     "We're finally coming to attention, prevention, and not detention," he said.
     "And a reason for that is it's happening to white kids in the suburbs," I pointed out.
     "It's the only fucking reason," Lavin said. "Because Tommy who lives in Orland in a $3 million house, got caught. Tommy ain't going to jail. He's going to get bought out. But if it's Lil' Tommy in Englewood, he's going to jail because he doesn't have the measly thousand dollars to bond himself out. It's insane."

    To be honest, that was not quite the "It's a Wonderful Life" ending I had hoped for. But it seemed too true to leave out.  "Insane" was the word. 
    But we weren't getting to 699 words with it there. So I cut it, feeling bad about polishing reality to perhaps too bright a sheen. And I felt worse when the most common reader reaction was celebrating seeing a story that paints cops in a positive light, often from readers pausing first to point out how they never read me because of my blistering biases but had somehow stumbled upon this column anyway and were pleased to see me straying into the realm of reality as they understood it.
     "The policeman in Alsip upheld his oath to serve and protect by giving a young man a 2nd chance by analyzing the situation and realizing that by intervening he could do more by counseling him then charging him," a reader in Homewood observed. "I always believed that the main issue with crime is not race but relationships between police and the public.
     Which is not what this episode, laid out in full, really illustrates. Kevin Lavin's police officer savior certainly deserves praise. But he isn't evidence the system works. The bad thing isn't that Kevin Lavin was treated as a person and given a break. The bad thing is that guys with black skin, guys who are as human as Kevin Lavin but who find themselves in crisis, often don't get that kind of break. They get a bullet. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Giving thanks to the cop who didn't shoot

Kevin Lavin, Executive Director of Guildhaus in Blue Island; above him is a photo of founder Jack King.

     Everyone has a Thanksgiving tradition: the kindergarten crayon hand outline turkey decorations, the touch football game in a nearby field. Me, I made my famous challah stuffing, a big warm pan of savory comfort. It was a hit, as always.
     And Kevin Lavin called the cops, as he has every Thanksgiving Day for the past 13 years.
     Not just any cops; one particular Alsip police officer named . . . well, I can't say, for reasons that will become clear.
Guildhaus is next door to the Maple Tree Inn,
a popular Blue Island bar
  Lavin is the executive director of Guildhaus, a Blue Island residential treatment center for recovering alcoholics and addicts — or, lately, make that for recovering addicts and alcoholics, as the heroin epidemic has flipped the recovery world around.
     "Things have changed," says Lavin, sitting in his office at Guildhaus, in the shadow of Western Avenue, across from the Cal-Sag Channel. "From 1987 to 1995, there were alcoholics, for the most part, a little cocaine. From '95 to 2002 it was crack cocaine. Insane. A few alcoholics here and there. Now my demographic is heroin addicts: 80 percent. You know where they're from? Everywhere. Not the picture you think: 22 to 28, from well-to-do families, good families."

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Members of the Guildhaus have their own coffee mugs.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Family: Thanksgiving's mixed blessing

     This Thanksgiving is going to be a strange one. Then again, they're always strange ones. I dug back into the closet for this chestnut from 1998 because, well, I didn't feel like writing anything. Try not to fight about politics. We always go around my Thanksgiving table and give thanks, and while I typically go last, this year I'm going first, to set the tone, because I don't want a bunch of pouty faces giving thanks that they live in a country that would clamp its eyes shut and elect a fraud and a liar who is going to take us on a tour of the darkest regions of the American nightmare. 
    None of that! I'm going to start by saying that I'm thankful that I live in the United States of America, a great country where the people living there always, always, always had to struggle to see who gets to steer. A country that is not great because it never erred, never went sailing off into the deep weeds, as it has done now. But stayed great because we always found a way back. We survived the Civil War and the Red Scare. We'll survive this, and for that I am thankful in advance. 

     Maybe the whole Thanksgiving feast is a bribe. That wonderful home-baked turkey? Bribe. The savory fresh stuffing? Bribe. The pies? Bribe.
     Why else is this particular feast denied to us all year long? Why, if a friend served you that same menu in August, would you find it very strange?
     The reason, perhaps, is that it would be puncturing the longed-for prod that gets us moving, almost unwilling (and in some cases, definitely unwillingly), toward home.
     Going home is often hard. That's worth saying despite all of the opposing hype, the smarmy TV ads showing joyous embraces at airports, happy shouts of welcome ringing out in the crisp New England air.
     Nice work if you can get it. If that's you this season, if you are reading this at the airport, tapping the crystal of your watch and wishing the minutes would go by so you can find yourself again in the warm soup of love that is your family -- well, then count yourself among the blessed. You have more than just turkey to be thankful for.
     If that isn't you, don't feel like a freak. Lots of people are in the same boat. Almost everyone I know returns to their families with a certain hesitation, like a person reaching into a dark space to see if there are snakes.
     Me, I've been lucky these past 15 years to go to Thanksgiving at my in-laws in Skokie, who actually do have one of those Kodak home-for-the-holidays clans, with everybody going around the table and saying why they are thankful, and no ugly episodes to regret, and no misbehaving black sheep to worry about.
     Unless that's me. I sometimes worry that I'm the scary uncle, frightening my nieces by quizzing them about school, exhibiting a little too much gusto at the feast and a little too much interest in the wine, then sprawling on the sofa, flushed and sated and slightly grotesque.
     I hope not. I remember that sort of uncle from my own Grim Thanksgivings Past, heaping Cool Whip on his pumpkin pie while his soon-to-be-ex-wife gave him a look that would bore a hole through a steel plate.
     Am I the only person who, even in happy times, feels the need to grope back toward dismal Thanksgivings past?
     There was one classic Thanksgiving of Doom I remember, cringing, every year.
     My Grandma Sarah had just died. She was the star around whom the solar system of my own family revolved. She had always made the feast. She served it. You could barely get her to sit down. My mother and her sisters would beg her, "Mother! Mother, sit down!" But she would keep bustling until, it seemed, someone grabbed her and held her in her chair.
     The year she died, the star went out, and the planets just flew off into space. There was one disastrous attempt, by my mother, at a Thanksgiving. It was like a horror movie. My central memory of that meal is the sound of clicking silverware punctuating the oppressive silence. Every now and then, someone would lob an attempt at conversation, but it would disappear into the heavy mist.
     What's important to remember this time of year is that things change, from good to bad and back again. If you are not having the best Thanksgiving, if you are reading this to drown out the argument in the next room, have hope. Who knows what a year will bring? Next year could find you in that happy place you've always wanted to be.
     Or if you are one of the lucky ones, enjoying the dream Thanksgiving we all want to enjoy, then I'll tell you what I do at every Thanksgiving dinner.  
     I wait until all the ingredients are assembled on the plate -- the turkey, the stuffing, the sweet potatoes, the cranberry sauce. I gaze down at the plate, then around at each of the faces at the table, hard, trying to fix them in my mind, to remind myself that they're here, and I'm here.
     And then I give thanks.

                    —Originally published in the Sun-Times, Nov. 26, 1998.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Trying to climb out of the Trump morass

     "Are we gonna be okay?" said the Metra conductor, punching my ticket.
    "We always have been," I replied, because what else are you going to say? "No?" I have no flippin' idea. I'm not the Delphic Oracle. 
    At least I was sincere; I might gaze into the abyss good and long, but then I lean toward optimism. I feel obligated to examine the negatives—and after this most astounding of presidential elections, you don't need much imagination to see things going into the weeds and fast. But why feel miserable about bad stuff that might never come?
    It's early yet. Yes, Trump promised a bunch of things that are some combination of a) immoral; b) harmful; c) evil; d) impossible.
    But Trump has a proven history of saying almost anything, of making promises then denying them. At this point, that is a strength. His saying that, after a year of promising to put Hillary Clinton in jail, nah, he isn't going to do that, well, it felt like springtime.
    There have been a lot of people buttonholing me, to talk. Even a pair of librarians at Northbrook Public Library,  when I stopped to return a book Tuesday night, gathered around to parse the situation. We were more or less flabbergasted, but holding up, and talking helped.
    "Their reward for enduring the awful experience,"  J.K. Rowling writes in The Casual Vacancy "was the right to tell people about it."
    A colleague stopped me at the paper.
    He asked, What about this video of neo-Nazis in Washington, D.C., exulting over Trump's election? Two hundred people! I thought he meant, "200, and that's a lot," but he meant just the opposite. Two hundred isn't very many neo-Nazis at all, he said. Why was the media even covering it?
    Well ... I said, maybe because a bunch of bigots and far right haters are goose-stepping into the White House. That creates a sensitivity. And two hundred may not be a lot, but it's not nothing. Maybe next week it'll be 500.
    He wasn't quite following me, so I tried a metaphor.
   "It's as if the doctor found a malignant lump on your arm," I said, "It being real small wouldn't be that important. You still wouldn't say, 'But the rest of me isn't cancer so I'm fine!' You'd watch that small lump very carefully. That's the situation here."
     No need to slide into panic or depression. That doesn't help. The immediate threat is from, not Trump or the government, but the sidewalk toughs and schoolyard bullies who are being emboldened, by the illusion that their worldview isn't horrendous, who feel free to abuse whoever is before them who seems a little different, blacks and Muslims and Hispanics. Not so much Jews and the handicapped, though I imagine that's coming. We need to see how these situations are treated--does the rung above the empowered deplorables, the local cops and school principals and such, stick with our view of American as a diverse nation, or do they get with the Trump program and wink at these offenses? My gut tells me the former. Though that could be hope talking.
     There is cause for alarm, but also cause for hope. On the phone with my older boy, Ross, over the weekend, whip smart and very political, I observed that he didn't seem at all anxious about the change in administration. Why?
    "We have strong institutions," he said. Not meaning, I should point out, mental institutions where these alt-right haters can be stuck after they are finished acting out in public. He meant the courts and the judiciary, the media and the police, the business community and what state, city and local governments haven't been too corrupted by the right wing mania against American rights. One mean-mouthed talking yam can't undo that overnight.
    That's an actual comfort. Trump can dog whistle haters all day long, and individuals will follow. But to turn the ship of state into the direction he's seems willing to have it go, well, that takes time and effort. Barack Obama, if you notice, never closed Guatanamo Bay, despite his promises. I have no doubt that Trump will try to do some awful things. But whether he succeeds is an open question, and while concern and alarm is natural, so is tentative optimism. We just don't know.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Unexpected benefits of the Trump era #3: A chance to get in shape.

    It was during Dave Edmund's "Get Out of Denver" that the endorphins kicked in. As if my brain said, "Ahhh" and smiled for the first time in two weeks.
    I was at the Northbrook Y Monday evening. Not a time I usually go -- it's better in the morning, before stuff starts happening.
    But I hadn't worked out that morning — talking on a New York radio show about the disastrous election. Hadn't since before Nov. 8 in fact--too busy, too tired, too dispirited. It was easy to sit for hours in front of the computer, absorbing the latest unimaginable development.
    But four years is a long time, and it hasn't even begun. We have to pace ourselves and settle in for the Long Haul Toward Trumpian Fascism. Since there is nothing you can do right now -- people are marching in the streets already, and that's fine, I suppose, but I'm holding off joining the protests until Trump begins implementing the folly he's promised. They'll need fresh reinforcements and it'll help to be in shape. When police turn the water cannons on the crowd, I might be a bit more nimble dodging behind a car for protection. And maybe I'll hit the ground just a little bit faster when the National Guard opens fire on the protesters.
     I'm not preaching tuning out, tempting as it is. You don't want to find out the trucks are coming for you by hearing their rumble down the street. That said, there is only so much bad news you can absorb, and fretting is not actually productive. Walk, run, swim, hike. The country won't go to hell any faster because you do 45 minutes on the elliptical, and you won't suffer as much. Exercise helps.
     As does music. I always blast music when I exercise. It also helps. In fact, I really can't enjoy exercise without it. Though in my regular workout mix tape I couldn't help notice odd echoes of the past election, from Anais Mitchell's "When the Chips Are Down" ("What you gonna do when the chips are down?/Nowwwww, that the chips are down") to Genesis' plodding "Squonk" ("If you don't stand up/You don't stand a chance.") Not to mention The Call's "I Still Believe."
     In 2010, I lost 30 pounds after a doctor told me that my sleep apnea would go away if I did. (It worked). Since then, a dozen pounds have crept back. My goal, by the end of 2017 to peel 20 more back. It won't keep the year from being The First Plague Year of Donald Trump. But I'll be a little more fleet of foot running from the New Brownshirts emboldened by Trump's embrace of white nationalism.
     So watch what you eat. There were lots of jokes about drinking your way through the Trump administration, and if I thought it would carve a second off his presidency, or diminish the odds of his utterly fucking up the country even by a percentage point or two, I'd be right there. But it wouldn't.
    Alas, it would be only me who'd get screwed up, and I have a sense we're going to need every single sound head and stout heart in the years to come. So eat that grapefruit. Snack on apples instead of candy. You never know when you'll have to run alongside a freight train as it picks up speed, trying to snag the outstretch hands of the other refugees, heading for Canada, who'll pull yourself into a boxcar.
    You've got time to prepare for that now;, don't spend it on the couch, bemoaning what is done and chain eating Mallomars. The news will unfold without you. I really felt the panic notch down during "Get Out of Denver" today. The good feeling lasted through the evening. It might ratchet back up tomorrow when Trump names Ted Nugent as Secretary of the Interior. But at least now I know where to go when it does.


Monday, November 21, 2016

Which are more dangerous, Muslims or gun owners?

     Radical Islamic Terror!
     An untraditional way to start. But these are untraditional times. And since Donald Trump fans obviously read this — trust me on that — and they seem to like hearing that phrase, why not keep them happy too?

   Again again, as the Teletubbies cry: Radical Islamic Terror!
     There, I said it twice. They must really like me now. President Obama, on the other hand, refuses to say it because he realizes that the whole purpose of the phrase is to weld these three concepts together. Republicans may be against gay marriage, but they’ll happily wed “Radical” to “Islamic” and “Islamic” to “Terror.”
     Yes, there is terror inspired by Islam. In their zeal to make those who disagree seem ridiculous, the GOP insists that not using the phrase means you are unaware there are terrorists who blame Islam for their actions.    

       Look at it this way: terrorists also have two legs, and mirrored left and right halves to their bodies — every single terrorist is like this, in fact — and yet we don’t scream “BIPED BILATERAL TERROR!” because that would draw white folk into the range of blame, which is what this exercise is really about: offloading responsibility for terror from those who commit it to innocent individuals who share their religion.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Unexpected benefits of the Trump Era #2: A chance to be courageous.

    Growing up in the 1970s as I did, there was a sense that the great moments of history were behind us. In the 1960s, just disappearing over the horizon, there were Civil Rights to win, a Vietnam War to oppose, protests in the street, a chance to stand up and be counted. A chance to matter. The whole world was watching.
    And before that, World War II, when our parents' generation—"The Greatest Generation"—had Hitler to oppose, a world to free. Not a lot of soul-searching required when Nazis are taking over the world (actually, there was, one of those small details lost in popular history. A reminder that general public cowardice and folly are not ailments specific to our present day. Most of America would have shrugged and let the Axis have the rest of the globe, under the daft notion that we'd somehow be safe between our oceans. The Japanese did us a favor).
    With the advent of Donald Trump, and the wasp's nest of un-American, radical haters he is installing in Washington, each of us suddenly has a job to do, a chance to matter, to be a soldier in the army of American decency. Sure, our country suddenly is frightening as hell, but that means each one of us will have plenty of opportunities to oppose the mean, counter-productive measures Trump's henchmen will put in place, whether unleashing religious bigots to oppress gay people, dialing back women's reproductive rights, or forcing Muslims onto some fascist-tinged "registry." Every time you go to the Target could be a test. We will be called upon to push back against the haters who, liberated by Trump's example, will now feel free to oppress others.
    Not that it will be easy, or at least not always easy. The third time I was noting on Facebook that of course all decent folks, especially Jews, will sign up for any Muslim registry, a sort of "I'm Spartacus!" standing with our singled out brethren, I paused, and asked myself, "So ... what if this new registry carries a penalty for false reporting? Say up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine for representing yourself as a Muslim if you're not? Do you still sign up? Just how committed are you to this whole freedom thing?"
   A tougher question. Online bravado is easy— a good thing, in one sense, since that cuts both ways, and just as on-line support is easy, so is on-line hate, and that means the vast majority of the sewer-dwelling white nationalists on Twitter probably would not actually, oh, set fire to a black church in the real world. The way they used to. At least one hopes they wouldn't, though a string of atrocities is to be expected — acts of terror committed in the name of opposing terrorism. I certainly expect them.
     But don't be deceived. When the rubber hits the road this spring, standing up for American values will have consequences, more than just nudging yourself into the comforting crowd at a rally or tweeting a particularly cutting remark. There will come a point when you will have to put your neck on the line. What will you do then?
    That may be an opportunity that you have dreamed about. Had I lived back then, what would I have done? When the world is falling apart — and if our world won't fall apart, count on it to split a bit at the seams — what would I have done? 
    No reason to answer that now. We all imagine we'd be heroes. Sure, we'd see the child slip into the water, kick off our shoes and swan dive into the river to save her without a moment's hesitation. That's what we tell ourselves anyway. Even if, had the moment ever really came, we might have just stood there gawping, pointing one trembling finger, frozen.
     The moment is going to come. Count on it. As Donald Trump and all he represents sour the American dream, as the highest offices, then lower offices, are filled with hard-eyed bigots, they will begin to build their vision for this country. Some Americans will eagerly join in. People who will no doubt shock you, by their presence, grinning on the podium next to The Donald. People you know, joining in the general hilarity of running some loathed group down. No one dreams of being a quisling, but they will leap at the chance. If the government started to recruit members for the New Waffen SS tomorrow, the line to join would be a mile long. And some would oppose it so long as doing so was convenient and risk free. But as soon as that opposition has consequences, risks, danger, many, maybe most, will fold, and go grumbling back to the sidelines to watch the tragedy unfold.
     “If it weren’t for fear,” Hemingway wrote. “Every bootblack in Spain would be a bullfighter.”
     Not everyone will cave, of course. Some will stand their ground. How many do that — dig in, stand up for their beliefs, hold firm,
 even when it isn't easy, even when they are imperiling themselves — that will decide how this thing ends up, just how much of a tragedy our nation is in for. You always wondered what you'd do in a crisis. Soon you'll get to find out.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Women for Trump

   A lot of email from yesterday's column about a woman who says she's fleeing to Canada out of fear of  a new holocaust. Perhaps surprisingly, the most passionate came from women. My guess is, since Trump is so blatant and grotesque in his disregard for women, they have to be especially fervent in their love for him to avoid any risks of recognizing the dissonance between their actual interests and what they're supporting. A number of sneering emails from women Friday; this will stand in for them all.
Your article comparing the Trump presidency to the actions of the third reich is hateful garbage. To base an entire article about some bigoted nitwit leaving for Canada is insulting. Hatred is consuming you, please leave.
     The charge that one is acting out of a hate is an example of the fallacy of assuming everyone is motivated by the same thing driving you. Particularly when you can't understand the argument they're trying to make. She's also aping Trump's habit of merely echoing back whatever charge is being made against him. "I'm a racist and misogynist? Noooo. Hillary Clinton, SHE'S the racist and misogynist." This week I stopped answering negative emails, generally — it took 30 years, but it finally happened. But this one the temptation was too great. I replied:
What's the hateful part? I just see a rightly frightened woman -- millions of them actually -- terrified by the real actions, this week, of the utterly unfit president-elect you've chosen. You're just doing the I'm-rubber-you're-glue parroting that your leader does so well. Proud of yourself? Really? The sad thing is, I bet you are. Thanks for writing. I'm staying right here. To thwart people like him. And you.
    Though I immediately regretted sending it — a big drawback of email. That last sentence, I would insert "try" — "To try to thwart people like him." Because who can be confident of stopping this juggernaut of hate that's assembling in New York City? I'm not. The time to stop them was Nov. 8, and we blew it. Now, all we can do is try, and grieve over the consequences of our failure.

Saturday fun activity: Where IS this?

     The photos I think are difficult to the point of being impossible to solve are usually the ones that are guessed right away.
     But this picture, while genuinely hard—it's just a house—will yield fruit to those who think a little about it. Solving the puzzle almost demands cogitation – assuming someone isn't familiar with the place and IDs it just based on personal experience.  With so many readers—and the numbers keep going up, which I appreciate—sometimes someone gets lucky.
      I renewed the contest because I found a cache of these desktop flags, copies of Commander Oliver Hazard Perry's battle flag. I want to give them away, to provide inspiration and encouragement. In these challenging days, as Donald Trump assembles his rogues' gallery of nitwits and haters to run our government into the ground and afflict vulnerable American citizens with fear, we need to remain calm, strong and stoical. Do not give up, the ship or anything else. Our country has survived many hardships, the worst always self-inflicted. Remember: the Red Scare. Vietnam. The battle for Civil Rights. Watergate. The path is seldom smooth. While Donald Trump represents an unprecedented departure from anyone we have had before in the Oval Office, despair is premature. We will survive him too, though we might have years of calamity, suffering, failure and shame ahead of us. The bad guys won an election, but that's all they won. A free people remain free, and as Barack Obama's eight years remind us, the president can only do so much, good or harm. 
    Enough. So where is this lovely house? Place your guesses below. Good luck. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

"History warns us ... the best thing to do is leave"


     Your neighbors will gladly murder you, given the nod by authority, then blame you for bringing your own death upon yourself. They’ll then move into your empty house, live there guilt-free, and years later, should anybody be so impolite as to raise the subject of your death, deny it ever occurred.
     That, in brief, is the lesson of the Holocaust, and if you suspect it left a scar on world Jewry, you’re right. Nothing like seeing the culture that produced Goethe, Rilke and Beethoven herding children into gas chambers to make you realize that the solid bedrock of civilized life, well, ain’t so solid.
      The earthquake of Donald Trump's election began with his calling Mexican immigrants rapists, then radiated outward, as hatred will, jarring Muslims and blacks, rattling women, before deputizing Mike Pence to go after gays. Hate doesn’t discriminate — talk about irony — it settles for whoever is convenient.
     Jews not fixated on Israel were shaken by formerly fringe anti-Semitic organizations riding into the mainstream on the Trump bandwagon, their slurs retweeted, their coded rhetoric about shadowy global conspiracy pockmarking his speeches.
    It worked. He won. Since Trump’s seismic election, rather than distance himself from the focused cruelty he exploited, as many wanly hoped he might, Trump has kept going, naming alt-right Breitbart bigot Stephen Bannon as his special adviser one day, recommitting himself to forcing Muslims in America to register the next.

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Unexpected Benefits of the Trump Era #1: Less argument

   I usually reply to any reader who makes a halfway cogent statement. It takes time, but I find myself focusing my thoughts and using phrases that later prove valuable in columns.
    Last Friday, however, under the strain of readers replying to my column on a dozen things to do before killing oneself in despair over Trump's election, I would silently block people. Their anger was too high, their points too wild.
    To be honest, I felt relieved. No more contention. No more pointless bickering. No more getting in trouble when their ire infected me and I strayed over the line, then they complained to my bosses of being ill-used by having their vileness echoed back. Just block the stuff and be done with it.
    Reading the email below, however, the old habit of replying stirred. Such a slow pitch right down the pipe. How could I not swing? He was merely aping Trump's I'm-rubber-you're-glue reply to valid criticisms, with a spice of anti-media disdain. Words began forming in my head.
    But I didn't write that. Well, here, first read it.
I noticed you used the Southern Poverty Law Center as a resource. Considering it has little credibility (it's a partisan liberal hate group which is being paid---via donations from ignorant liberal bigots---to smear decent moral people), you damage what little credibility you currently have. You have to know that the public criticism of the media by influential people is going to get worse and worse, until the media get "fixed." Right now the credibility of the media, according to various polls, is at an all-time low. It's going to get even worse unless you people start playing fair and stop using ignorant liberal bigots as if they had any credibility. You really should be condemning the SPLC for its ignorant bigotry, instead of using it as a resource.

    I replied simply "Wow. Thanks for writing." Which was an honest summation of my feelings and drew no reply. Success! We've sailed into a realm beyond argument, where Right Wing hatred and fear are so extreme words are useless against them, mere noise, rain on a tin roof.
     Walking the dog a few minutes later, I heard, in my mind, some crashing chords from a Pink Floyd song, and its stark opening lines.
    "What shall we use... to fill ... the empty....spaces...where...we used... to talk?"
    What indeed.

Sand Castles at the Cultural Center

     I'm a big fan of the Divvy bike system, but it does have a flaw, and I'll tell you what it is. Since the Divvy bikes need to be left at Divvy stations, that discourages spontaneously stopping places en route. Oh, you could carry a light cable lock in your helmet bag, and I've considered that. But then you have the half hour limit, and you can't really pause and idle places with the meter running like that. They get you quickly from Point A to Point B, but if you suddenly want to pause at Point C, you're shit out of luck. 
    For instance. Tuesday I Divvied from the paper to Millennium Station, then strolled over to The Gage for lunch. After, I was about to hop on the bike back, when I thought, "What's your rush?" bypassed the Divvy station and began to walk back. There, right in front of me, is the Cultural Center. 
    The Cultural Center is the old main Chicago Public Library, which Richard J. Daley announced the city would pull down, on general principles of replacing gorgeous and intricate older buildings with plain, ugly brutalist new ones. But Sis Daley, his wife, in her only public intrusion into city affairs, said, in essence, "The hell you will." And so the Cultural Center was born.
    Despite its huge Tiffany dome and interesting exhibits, I never set out for the Cultural Center as a destination: I've never said to myself, "I think I'll head over to the Cultural Center and see what's cooking." Not once.
    Which is a shame, because they have neat things going on, like Spectacular Vernacular, a show of design elements put together by the duo behind the British Parsons & Charlesworth design studio. It was a typical Cultural Center show -- odd, not quite museum quality, but engaging for a few minutes nevertheless, particularly these sand ziggurats constructed using wooden blades designed by Tim Parson's great-grandfather, Henry Ingham, an engineer in a cotton mill. I spent 10, 15 minutes gazing about the show, which had a vast array of Japanese artifacts for reasons I couldn't fathom, then went on my way -- perhaps not infused with culture, as such, but certainly distracted. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

We're all guardians of American values now

Morgan Library, New York City

     When the Sun-Times eliminated its library, years ago, as one of the many cost-cutting measures that allowed the paper to survive to this day, I learned about it when our last librarian stuck her head into my office.
     “Well, I’ve been fired and they’re shutting down the library,” she said. “Since you’re the only person who uses it, come take what you want.”
     I liberated a hand truck, muscled a couple 7-foot bookcases into my office, then started transferring the most useful volumes. As I did this, the librarian took a yellow legal pad and began writing down which titles I was removing. She didn’t get far before an awful realization clouded her face: it didn’t matter anymore. There would be no library for these books to be missing from, and no librarian to care where they were. She left me to my task; a few days later she was gone, and I never saw her again. 

      That haunting moment came to me again this week, as protesters took to the street to decry the presidential election. To whom are they complaining? Donald Trump? The American people who just elected him? The czar? If only he knew! Like my departing librarian, they were showing fidelity to a structure of official values that had simply evaporated.
     At least she was talking to a sympathetic audience, me. What the protesters accomplished was to comfort the very person they were protesting against, serving up a chance for the false equivalence that got him elected in the first place. See? Violence! These incidents counterbalance our candidate winning office by maligning vulnerable minorities for 18 months, his campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again," itself a coded credo for nationalism.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2016


     The night the Cubs won the World Series — less than two weeks ago, as difficult as that might be to believe — I slid by the Field Museum for the Founders' Council party for their new tattoo exhibit. 
     It was the sort of thing that sounded like a good idea beforehand — I'm not a big sports fan, why not take in something cultural when everybody else is holing up at a sports bar? Although I admit, a half hour before the opening pitch, sitting in a theater at the Field, listening to two ethnographers discuss tattooing in the Philippines, well, I wondered just what was wrong with me.
    But the Field people set up a big flat screen in the lobby. And the show was interesting, surveying a practice that has been part of nearly every society, throughout time. They created silicon torsos and commissioned some of the best living tattoo artists to decorate them; it seemed a clever solution to how to display the designs without offending our Midwestern standards of prudery.
      Tattooing is not my thing—I remember three years ago, when I wrote an article examining the practice in Chicago, I considered getting one — nothing elaborate, just a simple orange dot, say, the size of a pinhead, on my inner forearm, to see what it was like. But I knew, as soon as I imagined doing it, that I couldn't. I'd hate having it there, probably end up gouging it out of my arm, just to be rid of the thing.  I have a hard enough time buying glasses.
    Which is silly, because our lives tattoo us whether we like it or not, every line, every spot, time's artwork upon our faces. Whether we are happy or sad, sour or easy-going. We tattoo ourselves silently, inexpertly. I admire people who can do it cavalierly. But I'm not them. 
    Even though I wouldn't want one, I did appreciate the designs, particularly this modern America eagle by London artist Alex Binnie, who melds traditions of Africa, the North Pacific and New Guinea into what he calls "urban primitivism." I couldn't get a tattoo, as I said, but if I did get one, I'd hope it was something like this. 
    In a clever move, the Field Museum has set up a working tattoo parlor, where top Chicago artists will put designs on customers, of which there was no shortage. In the first three hours, the president of the Field told us, they received 2,900 calls from people who wanted tattoos applied at the Field. The waiting list has 1,000 people on it. The tattoos cost $250 each, and the artwork must be selected from among 42 designs. The first public sessions are Nov. 19.
      I always thought that tattooing had become so popular in the United States in the past decades because we had lost the tribalism that glued people together for millennia, and this was a way to ape it. But as the recent election shows, the tribalism never really went away. Society was just focused on the new globalism, which we thought was the future, and now seems as if it might have been a phase, a veneer that can be puffed away by a small percentage of the country falling this way instead of that on a particular day. Tribalism reared up, like a bushman on the savannah, and drove a spear deep into our notions of America. 
     Enough. The tattoos have a cartoonish beauty, such as these designs from Sailor Jerry, a famous Hawaiian artist of the 1940s and 1950s. They have an innocence, a joy. 
     If it seems a stretch for the Field, that might be because the show was developed by Musee du quai Branly — Jacques Chirac, Paris' newest major museum, which opened in 2006 on the Left Bank of the Seine. It runs through April 30.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Farmall Calendar: "It isn't just about tractors"

      Richard Schmitt remembers the first tractor he ever drove.
     “My dad started farming in the mid-40s — he had a Farmall F20,” said Schmitt, 82. “I was about 7 years old, and he taught me how to drive it. My dad still had horses, yet I couldn’t drive a horse; the horses he had were kinda wild-like.”
     Mechanized farming is such a given now, it might be hard to imagine that once farmers had to be persuaded to use tractors, which were both expensive and dangerous — a new one easily cost a year’s profits, and a quarter of the fatal farm accidents when Schmitt was a young man were caused by farmers being crushed by tractors. That had to be balanced against the ability to pull a bigger plow.
     “The horses couldn’t pull the 7-foot plow,” said Schmitt, who lives in Sterling, 100 miles due west of Chicago. “The tractor could pull a 7-foot disc, and the horses could only pull a 4-foot disc.” A bigger plow allowed for a bigger farm, more crops and — in theory — more money. “We were really farming big.”
     Now Schmitt owns 750 acres and 58 Farmall tractors, including five featured on the new 2017 Farmall calendar, which arrived on my desk last week, a welcome break from post-election turmoil. It was sent by Dan Herrick, an Oregon photographer with local roots, who works for a variety of websites selling farm equipment, including
     This is the second year he’s done the calendar.
     “My boss told me, ‘I’d love to see a Farmall calendar,'” Herrick remembered. “I said, ‘I know where a whole bunch of them are and can shoot them in their natural environment, all in north central Illinois.'”

     To continue reading, click here

Sunday, November 13, 2016

"Please give him the respect that comes with that office."

     My older son said something once I liked to quote as an aphorism, because it's so true: "People are the worst!" 
     I'm not even sure exactly what it means. Just that emphasis on worst — I really like to get my back into it.  A general summation of how humans fail their lofty potential.
     I could write for hours on the subject. But today I will just focus on one aspect. Raw hypocrisy. How you can say and do one thing, applying a standard to someone else, for years, and then flip around 180 degrees when convenient and embrace something exactly opposite for yourself. How does a person do that?
   Consider this email from Sunday: 
     I got very upset when I read your column on Friday. Again, you were so critical and disrespectful to President Elect Trump.
     Stirring up more hate against him divides our country when we should be healing it and working together to solve our problems.
     Donald Trump was elected by the people and will be the President of the United States.
     Please give him the respect that comes with that office and support him when he does something praiseworthy.
     Thank you.
     Here she signed her name, which I will withhold, so as not to subject her to abuse. Nobody should experience that.
    To be honest, I've stopped answering most people. I think I added more readers to the filter Friday than I've added all year. I'm just so tired of reading their diatribes, their lengthy manifestos, their point-by-point bullshit refutations that are only persuasive if you already believe everything they're saying. I'm tired of answering, of trying to be polite, of doing that thinky-feelly thing I do. 
   But this one, I couldn't resist. This is what I wrote back:
     Question: did you give Barack Obama "the respect that comes with that office"?
     Thanks for writing.
     No answer of course. You never get an answer.* They're shocked you wrote them back at all. And they certainly aren't going to jump through this intellectual hoop just because I hold it in front of their nose. They just shrug, I assume, and move on. It's not as if anybody does any self-assessment.  Not that anyone slaps their forehead and thinks, "Ohhhh! He means the way I slagged Barack Obama, a dignified, thoughtful man, as a secret Muslim terrorist, and castigated his elegant, sophisticated wife as Chewbacca, fooling myself that my dimwit racist code somehow went undetected, then spun around and salaamed at the feet of this foul-mouthed yam and his mail order bride wife and demanded they immediately be extended the full pomp and respect of the presidency despite their jaw-dropping 18 months spent appealing to the toilet of American political life. Yeah, I guess there is a double standard at work there."
    Nobody does that. It's naive to expect anyone would. My bad. What I've finally figured out is that honesty and reason can be as deceptive as deceit and folly, if you assume other people are using them, that truth forms some kind of hard bottom to the world. Reason can be the mat of woven rushes over the pit. Rather than assume sense, it is better to assume people are idiotic, mean, tribal, hypocritical.
    People are the worst. 
    There was no mystery here. The great tragedy is, it was all apparent. Anyone deceived has only himself to blame. The Democrats kept pointing out the inconsistencies, the lies, the fraudulence, and the hypocrisy. As if that mattered. It's like going to McDonald's and hectoring people in line about the calories. "Yeah, yeah, shut up, I'm getting a Big Mac and Biggie Fries anyway..."
     In the end, it didn't matter. None of it mattered. This election—maybe every election—was about what voters chose to focus on, what they felt was important. Not experience. Not judgment. Not temperament. Not fairness. Not character. 
       Trump supporters wanted change, and voted for him, end of story. It's like jumping off a cliff to feel the breeze. It's like going to a bar and ordering the strychnine because you like the bottle it comes in. 
   "You know that's poison," the bartender might even say. "It'll kill you."
    "That's okay," you say. "I'm looking for a change, and I really like the bottle and am really thirsty."
    "Okay..." he says, pouring a big slug. "It's your funeral."

* In this case I did, later Sunday:
Dear Mr. Steinberg,In response to your question, "Did you show respect to President Barack Obama?"The answer is Yes! REALLY
Thank you for considering my opinion.

To which I replied:
That's encouraging. Of course I will judge Trump by what he does. He already seems to be backing away from his most extreme beliefs, which is encouraging.