the right to protest.

As was basically expected by anyone with a pulse on the nation’s political climate, this weekend’s inauguration of Donald J. Trump reignited feelings of fear and defiance that never really went dormant. Indeed, the country remains as divided as ever, perhaps even moreso – social media is littered daily with attacks on “the left” or “right-wing racists” or “liberal hippies” or “trumptards.” Friendships have fractured and families were desperate to avoid the topic over the holidays. With an ever-present 24 hour news cycle and opinions ever-present in the palms of our hands, we’ve reached a true fever pitch. While some try to compare it to Obama’s election, the truth is that wasn’t even close – this level of division is truly something I’ve never experienced.

Today’s demonstrations spread across most major metropolitan areas in the country and indeed many democracies worldwide. It was called the Women’s March, but men and women of all races and ages took to the streets, almost entirely nonviolently and in support of LGBT rights, reproductive rights, healthcare, and anti-racism and xenophobia. It was a culmination of the deepest and darkest concerns the new administration brings. And those who weren’t there largely hated it.

Stop crying. This is your President now. Get a job. Stop having a temper tantrum. My personal favorite, the son of Michael Flynn (Trump’s national security advisor): “What victory? Women already have equal rights and equal pay in this country. What more do you want? Free mani/pedis?”

Precedence aside, the divide could not be more evident than in the response to these demonstrations. If you weren’t celebrating Elizabeth Warren’s speech, or sharing Madonna’s live TV f-bombs, or posting pictures of the throngs of people in city centers, you were probably decrying “the left” or laughing at “liberal tears” and posting memes of a laughing President Trump. Some even compared it to the less tempered reaction to Obama’s election, as if Barack Obama and Donald Trump are comparable individuals at this point in their political career. While you may have disagreed with Obama’s policies, sane people never thought that their way of life or freedoms were threatened. Before going further, I would like to point out the facts; after one day on the job, the verdict isn’t yet in – but due entirely to rhetoric and baffling ignorance, Trump boasts a 32% approval rate on inauguration day to Obama’s 79%. Please note that inauguration is historically the high for most administrations – the new president has some work to do.

Back on track. Regardless of your opinion on the marches, one thing is absolutely certain and cannot be taken away: the right to protest is definitively American, and when the numbers are as staggering as they were today, it would be wise to take notice and at least try to understand their point of view. What the Women’s march today stood for is not the belly aching or sore losers, they weren’t defeated city liberals throwing a tantrum. They were a response to the Trump claims that he has a “mandate” to do however the GOP pleases. The demonstrations were a defiant stand against the looming possibility of discriminatory laws and the potential birth of a new movement, a far cry from the “#notmypresident” protests of months back. These were demands that this administration work for the people and not for the party.

It’s a cliche and has been repeated ad nauseam over the last several years, but America is at a crossroads – the election of a populist, anti-intellectual candidate is almost certain to be, for better or worse, a drastic departure from administrations past. Now, regardless of your opinion, it’s a fact that many who voted against Trump, myself included, would have given him the second look had he surprised us with generosity and grace. He did the opposite, and so the great divider has only deepened the split. To that end, we cannot look to our newly appointed leader and would-be public servant to heal the nation’s wounds, because it’s not going to happen.

The nation is more than our executive branch, more than our government, and more than our political and social ideologies. The United States of America is some 320 million people with individual beliefs and values, problems and fears. Stop calling protesters crybabies or sore losers, and they might stop calling you racists and bigots. Enough with the sweeping categorization of anti-feminism and “the left” and “the right” and discuss differences, don’t throw insults. Trump may truly drain the swamp and turn America’s economy on its head, but he will never be the sort of empathetic figure to bring about unity. That’s on us.

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we need empathy.


It goes without saying that the topics of national policy and political affiliation are controversial and contentious – it’s a country that has long since lost the true meaning of big government liberalism vs. Small spending conservatism and replaced it with party-affiliated beliefs in social issues. The Democrats have only recently been revitalized as the party closest to the Democratic Socialist form of government, but the two parties are still known to the larger part of the population as the anti-gun, pro-choice hippies vs. the homophobic military strongmen of the GOP. They’re reputations that are nothing if not earned after years of pandering to their respective bases.

In 2016, however, something changed. The rise of outsider candidates changed the national discussion from a Bush vs. Clinton reprisal to something else entirely – it was a battle of celebrity personalities. Donald Trump ruled the airwaves and Bernie Sanders ruled the internet – campaigns built on fundamentally different objectives with similar means to an end. Their insurgent campaigns rocked the GOP and the Democrats to their core and left both parties distinctly different in their wake.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, their champion may ultimately be the end of their party – in fact, it may have already happened. Both conventions were incredibly different from years past, but the RNC in Cleveland showed no true conservative values, it showed no clear message, it showed no consolidation of small government and family values. It was a week-long love affair with their newly appointed leader, Donald J. Trump. With no recognizable ties to true conservative agendas, the Republican party is left essentially belonging not to the people, but to one man.

Therein lies the problem. Trump has offended, insulted, and generally proven incompetent to many people, but he still garners partisan support simply because of Elephant vs. Donkey politics. Marco Rubio once said he’d “hold his nose and vote for him.”

This brings us to Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the now famous Muslim couple that spoke on the final evening of the DNC. Khizr is an American Harvard Law graduate, a man who lived the American dream by immigrating here for a better chance at life. His son grew up to be an American soldier who lost his life in Iraq. His speech was that of a man who clearly did not often speak in front of raucous crowds – his wife winced against the bright lights, and as he reached for the copy of the constitution, he trembled out of nervousness. He didn’t use a teleprompter, he spoke from the heart and challenged a man a few steps away from the most powerful individual position on Earth.

It was, for all intents and purposes, a strategic political move by the DNC to use a sympathetic figure. The convention was actually full of them – Trump’s infamous mocking of the disabled reporter immediately preceded an appearance by a disabled young woman, his rant about Mexican rapists and murderers introducing a family of undocumented immigrants. A better man would have expressed his condolences and condemned the obvious political gain the Democrats attempted to gather.

Donald Trump is not a better man, and he is not a good man. It should come as no surprise at this point that he has no love for anyone but himself, no sympathy for any but his own interests – but somehow, he continues to further enhance the narrative to prove himself a veritable monster, this time doing all that he can to insult and marginalize a Gold Star family. His response that “some people are saying that his wife wasn’t allowed to speak” is just the latest in a string of ignorant, racist statements – he’s openly implying that all Muslim men control their women and keep them silent (never mind that Khan’s home nation of Pakistan elected a female Muslim Prime Minister, twice). He then follows this statement up with comparing his sacrifice of paying for his employees’ health care and wages to losing their son. His self-absorption knows no bounds.

Khan has become an overnight celebrity, and he does not attack, he does not incite, he does not even take a clear pro-Hillary stance – he preaches peace and acceptance, he begs his fellow Muslims to band together with their communities and unite. He is a testament to the goodness in this country – and Trump continues to attack him. As Khan appears on CNN’s “New Day,” Donald tweets about Radical Islam. As Khan tells all who would hear him that he only wishes for the potential next leader of the United States and free world to exude empathy, Trump plays the victim and says he is being attacked.

Paul Ryan, the highest ranking true member of the Republican party, posted a picture of himself today holding the Constitution, the same pocket-sized copy that Khan presented at the DNC. While he and his representation won’t admit to it, the image is clear – the Republican party does not want this man any more than the Democrats do. They know that he is a disaster, a hateful and delusional demagogue unfit to hold office. It seems that an attack on a Gold Star family is the final straw – you can almost hear Trump saying “but they’re just Muslims!” in the background.

Hillary Clinton is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of American politics – but the Democrats have united around her and presented a progressive platform littered with the left-leaning demands of the Sanders campaign. There is solace in that she will do the party’s bidding and push that agenda, whether the top of the ticket is preferred or not. When a party abandons its morals and presents a man as the showcase of their convention, then there is nothing to stand on but the figure itself – in this case, Donald J. Trump. He has shown time and time again that he doesn’t understand domestic policy, is not a true conservative, and can’t comprehend international and military law. Despite countless opportunities to prove otherwise, he has proven to be a racist and a bigot. He is quite possibly the most self-absorbed man to ever grace the public eye. There’s no such thing as bias when one option is so, so wrong.

At the RNC, Ted Cruz infamously declared to “vote your conscience” in November. It is my firm belief that no self-respecting man or woman could possibly cast a ballot for the lying, repugnant, twisted mess of human filth and evil that is Donald J. Trump.

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outsider appeal.

As the 2016 election season starts to ramp up and the general public begins to take notice of the different campaigns and candidates, an overarching theme of the last several election cycles has come to full fruition – that of the outsider, the non-career politician, someone who “speaks the truth” or otherwise doesn’t sound like a career Senator or Governor. Candidates like Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina have proven themselves to be almost completely inept for a commander-in-chief role, yet have still garnered significant support simply based on the fact that they aren’t your typical candidate. A breath of fresh air sometimes clouds perception.

The two most likely “outsider” candidates also seem to be heading down the path to a head-to-head general election. On one hand, we have Donald Trump, the crass billionaire who has clung to a massive lead in the Republican field and managed to crush any insurgent rivals while somehow being virtually immune to self-degradation; all this despite being arguably one of the most offensive public figures in recent memory. On the other hand, the Democratic party is beginning to take the shape of Bernie Sanders, a career politician who comes off as quite the opposite. Most remarkable is that these two men stand for forms of government that have always been considered simply incompatible with American values – Sanders is a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, while Trump, whether he knows it or not, is running on a platform of pure Fascism. Neither one of them claim to be actively religious, and both of them base a portion of their campaign on the idea that they cannot be bought.

What this speaks to is that the voting public has come to a point where we are either more educated about policy, or (more likely) we simply do not care about the political process and focus on a candidate’s relative likability. It’s a dumbing down of the American system, for sure, but it absolutely coincides with the rise of outsider candidates, especially the aforementioned that don’t seem to know what they’re doing.

A quick review of a typical Trump rally or speech reveals that his views on economic policy, social issues, and international affairs are some combination of bombast, lies, and misinformation. He mentions killing Muslim families and has no regard or even apparent knowledge of the Geneva Convention, considers our current regime a “disaster” with no real reasoning. Trump has taken the typical political campaign and turned it into a popularity contest with global ramifications – his throngs of supporters have come to genuinely believe that whatever goes wrong, Trump will take care of it; or more specifically, he’ll take care of those other people causing it. Terrorism? Kill all Muslims, don’t let them in the country. Drugs? Deport all Hispanics, don’t let them in. It’s a culture built around garnering praise for the individual: you guys don’t have to do anything, elect me and I’ll take care of it all. Every televised debate, he’s sure to remind us all that the crowd likes him, and doesn’t like anyone else.

Meanwhile, on the polar opposite end of the spectrum, Bernie Sanders is running a campaign almost exclusively issue-oriented; in a way, despite one’s beliefs, that makes him an appealing candidate for those tired of political lambasting. In stark contrast to Trump’s agenda, Sanders increasingly asks for support and promotes a sense of togetherness – that not only does he need us, but that we all need each other. It appeals to the societal part of ourselves before realizing that it is, in fact, the very foundation of that awful word, socialism. However, his reluctance to actually attack other candidates, as well as his insistence on clinging to the unpopular socialist term despite being virtually unable to implement

Trump is the likely candidate to represent the Republican party this fall, and while Sanders is still second in the polls to prohibitive favorite Hillary Clinton, her lead seems to be dwindling daily in the face of fresh excitement. Therein lies the point – we as a people are at a crossroads. The newer generations of Americans are more educated, yes, but they also simply have more access to information. Personalities like Sanders and Trump are available to be discovered or probed at any hour; try as they might, the GOP and Democratic establishments no longer have any real control over pushing a chosen a candidate to the forefront. Regardless of the outcome, the next administration will mark a turning point for American politics as a whole, as these candidates have essentially aligned themselves to their particular parties simply in order to be taken seriously (Sanders was an independent only two years ago, and Trump seemed to waver between the two depending on which party benefited his business most at the time). While it’s unlikely to see an utter erosion of the two party system, it certainly seems to be cracking in the face of these immensely popular outsider candidates rejecting and thriving without typical campaign finances.

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the fall of western conservatism.

As the internet, social media, blogs, and other lightning quick paths to expressing opinions and knee-jerk reactions have taken to the mainstream, America has seen a sharp, almost violent divide between Conservatism and Liberalism. Followers on the far right as well as the far left see each other as the demon on the other side of the equation – not an opposition to work with, understand, and compromise, but an enemy to be destroyed. Even as the average citizen claims disgust with politicians and pandering, those same citizens opinions fall somewhere heavily on one side of that conservative-liberal divide: partisanship in the absence of political process. Extreme views breed an easily offended populous.

I’ve generally leaned leftist and progressive in the short amount of time my voice has at all mattered in the political process – two general elections, a handful of local votes. The Democratic party has been largely in line with my views on social issues – gay marriage, abortion, science and the like, while both parties have starkly different economic views that make sense in their own right. I actually went into this election cycle with the intention of leaning towards a Republican candidate – America is grounded in a two party system that should give way to the other every so often, so as not to allow government to grow too large or too small. After eight years of Democratic rule and government growth, it may be time to cut spending and push a conservative agenda.

Unfortunately, what passes for candidates in the GOP is a far cry from true conservatism and instead focuses on radical anti-immigration, evangelical extremism, Islamophobia, and scientific ignorance. Trump grabs the headlines with what can only be regarded as blatant xenophobia, but men like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are equally as guilty of abandoning what the party should stand for in favor of extremist views. Cruz is more or less in line with Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, even if he’s slightly more subtle about it – let the Christians in, to hell with the rest. “I do not agree with his proposals,” Cruz stated, making a minimalist statement in response to Trump’s bold declarations even as his own party condemns the actions – surely the plan of a man to gather the bigot vote if Trump were to fail. Marco Rubio, the establishment favorite, aims to ban abortion in any and all situations – specifically including cases of rape, incest, or where the mother’s life would come into question.

He also plans to commit a trillion dollars to our military – essentially tripling a budget that already takes up 54% of the country’s spending and is already more than the following nine nations’ budgets combined. Rand Paul, another presidential candidate and possibly the most sensible of the Republican bunch, responded to Rubio in the November 10th debate: “How is it conservative to add a trillion dollars in military expenditures? You cannot be a conservative if you’re going to keep promoting new programs that you’re not going to pay for.” What Paul’s quote (as well as the general apathy towards his campaign) highlights is that the basic foundations of conservative economics have lost their way – to a point that following eight years of a liberal in the Executive office – in a government that lives and breathes by the rotating shift between liberalism and conservatism – a self-proclaimed socialist would likely triumph over any so-called conservative candidate.

Whether Donald Trump is ultimately the Republican nominee or not is more or less a moot point – anyone with general knowledge of the American political process understands that the presidency is not the be-all, end-all of running the country, and policies and measures can still be pushed through on a state level or denied in Congress. With that being said, it is likely that we are hurtling head-first towards a second Clinton administration, a relative extension of Obama’s ideologies. However, what we will see, and already are experiencing, is a rise in racism, bigotry, and hate being acceptable – a few minutes’ glance at social media will see memes aimed at Muslims, bluntly false statistics about violence in the black community, and clueless claims that Christianity is somehow a more peaceful, superior religion to any other. The country is becoming blind to its own bullshit.

Don Black, the founder of white supremacist group Stormfront, applauds Trump’s recent foray into fearmongering. “Demoralization has been the biggest enemy and Trump is changing all that…that will continue independently of him even if he does fold at some point.” Unfortunately, he’s correct. An almost certain (and likely enormous) loss for the GOP in the upcoming general election will cause the party to do some soul searching, and may ultimately lead to the excision of extremist Evangelicals and those who condone violence and racism in favor of true conservative economic principles; and the country will undoubtedly be better for it if and when that next nominee takes power following a Clinton or Sanders administration. However, the damage has already been done. It’s suddenly acceptable again to have an “us vs. Them” mentality, to blindly hate those who are different from us or come from another part of the world. In short, men like Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and Huckabee (among others, of course) have given bigots a justification. And regardless of which direction this country goes politically, that in and of itself is an absolute disaster.

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hail to the hypocrites.

“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:33-34

It’s truly incredible the way that tragedy warps the perceptions, opinions, and ethical boundaries of the populous. A week ago, any civilized person in the public eye would be foolish if not blatantly idiotic to proclaim religious superiority, or to imply that we should save some and not others – and yet, here we are in the wake of the Paris attacks, as one leading Republican candidate for the most powerful individual position on the planet openly declares that we should allow Christian refugees and banish Muslims. Ted Cruz, senator from the Lone Star state, will actually be introducing legislation to ban Muslim refugees from finding haven in the United States. Over thirty states, predominantly represented by Republican governors, have come out and refused to accept refugees in their states.

Their claims are as cartoonish and ill-informed as they are bigoted and disturbing. “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror,” Cruz told reporters, continuing by offering the idea that the United States should have a religion test to allow Christians into the country and reject the rest. Without even bringing to light what the victims of Timothy McVeigh, Anders Breivik, and the IRA would think about his woefully historically inaccurate comments, it’s hard not to compare this line of thinking to that of the National Socialist Party’s attitude towards Jews.

Cruz and his far right colleagues who unfairly make up a disproportionately public section of the Republican party have leaned on what they claim to be deep Christian sentiment in all their thinking, and it makes one beg the question – should religious devotion in a world leader be seen as a virtue or a red flag? Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and a man who runs his very campaign on the basis of his Christian values, not only wants to ban all visas from countries that even contain a sliver of ISIS presence, but has actually gone on record comparing pre-existing medical conditions to a “burnt down house,” and that we should insure them the same way. Christianity, and most respectable religions, for that matter, are grounded in the basic ideal of the golden rule – to treat others as we would like to be treated. It’s terrifying that these men in power, and men that could be put in power, are so blind to their own hypocrisy.

Historically, while religion does motivate an excessive amount of violence and terror, there’s no real correlation or pattern that would imply that one branch of theology is particularly worse than the other. Christians, Muslims, Hindu, Atheist – there’s no real difference. The Middle East is a turbulent, violent area full of Muslims – and it’s a turbulent, violent area because of the rampant poverty and relative primitive status of its nations, not because it happens to harbor Islam. The reality is that Islam is fundamentally no different from any other world religion in its root devotion to peace and understanding.

ISIS is indeed an organization as brutal as we’ve seen in the modern era, and they’re very effective in showing us just how brutal they are – make a quick Google search if you don’t feel like sleeping tonight. However, refugees from Syria are exactly that – men, women, children trying to escape barbarism and terror at the hands of that organization. They are a self-proclaimed nation, under which women have no rights, men are subject to death and dismemberment, and children are used to harvest blood transfusions for their soldiers. Yes, the attacks in Paris were an atrocity, and truly terrifying – but it’s what these people deal with every day. There are men in this country who claim devout Christianity and yet go directly against the Gospels; nowhere in the Bible does it advocate telling a starving man or woman that “you are not our problem.” Accept them, and give them a chance – no matter your belief, we are all humans.

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It can be said that the only thing worse than seeing a parent go is never getting the chance to do so. For clarification, it’s a meditation on the nature of mortality in our lives – if you don’t get the opportunity to see your mother, father, and/or whoever so nurtured you pass, then that can only mean they had to watch you go. It’s hardly solace, but in a world where the “only certainty is death and taxes,” what really is?

A common trope is to say that some are fortunate enough to see their parents pass at a much more advanced age than others, but is length truly the determining factor in a successful and fortunate life? All men must die, so what does the length matter? “So young” is a cliche thrown about when a person passes under some predetermined age, as if there’s a set goal we should strive towards before crossing the river styx. Call it what you will, but I don’t believe that life should be measured in years or quality but in impact. We are a society, we live not to eat, shit, sleep but to teach, nurture, and love; that difference in life’s very meaning is what makes us human.

The sad byproduct of evolution is that the chaos and randomness of a million years ago has been replaced with a relatively long life that ends only when our bodies can no longer support themselves. Almost invariably, that last percentage or so of everyone’s life is one full of pain and uncertainty; it’s almost like a measuring stick or a morbid competition of who is there for you at the end. If you’ve done well, there will be a room full of confused, crushed people at the end of the hall. Irony hurts.

For those you’ve left behind, our natural inclination towards routine and always knowing who and what will be there is suddenly gone. Change is frightening, even more so going through it without someone. Nothing can be done or said to make you feel better or bring anyone back, it’s just a fact of life; everyone goes through these feelings of loss, and that looming knowledge will never makes things easier. It’s a cold reality that for a short time, your identity will be “the person who lost their dad.”

When it comes to losing those you love, there’s no such thing as true solace or acceptance. There’s moving on, there’s remembering, and there’s continuing to cherish what you had. It’s a disturbing thought, but your mother or father’s impact can be measured in the tears shed at their passing. It’s easy to say he was so young, but if he can muster that emotion with his absence, maybe he accomplished all he needed to anyway.

In memory of Dale Malisiak, a good man and a great would-be father-in-law.

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shield of bigotry.

He said they served the gay community gladly for several years but “just didn’t want to be party to a commitment ceremony” because such an event reflected “a commitment to sin.” *

At what point do we as a society cross the line between frowned-upon freedoms and absolute bigotry?

The argument made by the most avid supporters of 111 Cakery, the Indianapolis-based bakery that now infamously refused service to a local gay couple, is that they were in no way refusing the couple of their rights – go forth and be wed, be happy, and have a cake – just don’t do it here. We’re happy for you, even if we think that your happiness is abomination. 111 is not the only bakery to come under fire in the last several months for their staunchly anti-homosexual stance; in particular, a Colorado-based bakery owner named Jack Phillips claimed that he would “rather go to jail than prepare a same-sex wedding cake” after a judge ruled it unlawful to deny service to LGBT customers on the basis of their sexuality.

It’s a sign of better times that these are stories at all – it infers that the greater population is on the side of acceptance, whereas only a few decades ago it would all be swept under the rug, or the victims of discrimination themselves would be cast as the villains. Regardless, it’s truly alarming that there still exists a great many corners of the country where people can genuinely deny human rights and happiness while claiming godliness. The owners of 111 stated to the press that they were very supportive of the largely gay community that harbored their shop – that they had “many close friends with whom they still spoke” from the neighborhood, or that they had helped the local gay bars in the past. (It’s a clear parallel to the racist white man claiming that he has “plenty of black friends.”) They proceeded to mention that gay marriage was inherently sinful, and that they could not in good faith support it. In short, they hid their prejudice behind religion’s veil. “We’re okay with it, really! But you know, God and all..”

In Indiana, lawmakers are pushing to pass a bill that would allow business owners to refuse service based on religious grounds – it is a direct response by the far right to the legalization of gay marriage in the state the previous year. Indiana, as a Mid-western, blue collar state, was always going to have a stark divide, and it predictably has become the center of attention in the gay rights movement. If the law were to pass, any business would be well within their right to deny service to anyone based on religious grounds – so where is the line drawn? Will it be acceptable to not only deny a wedding cake to two women, but an black man and a white woman? If religion deems it so, is it now acceptable to deny service to black people altogether?

I repeat: where is the line drawn?

There seems to be a sense that claiming an ignorant stance in the name of God makes a person untouchable, but the reality is that they are nothing more than cowards hiding behind something that people are scared to show anything but the utmost respect towards. America aspires to stand as an exemplary beacon towards the rest of the world; it’s hard to imagine being presented as a forward-thinking nation while still looking at racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination as “okay.”

*Source: Higgins, Will. February 28, 2015. Indy Star, “Bakery that refused to do cake for gay couple closes its door”, retrieved from on 4/1/2015

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one of ours, two of theirs.

“I’m putting wings on pigs today.”

Ismaaiyl Brinsley followed that statement on his Instagram account with “this may be my final post.” Hours later, two police officers were shot in the head through the windshield of a parked NYPD vehicle, and Brinsley turned the gun on himself. That’s three more bodies in what has quietly become a scattershot, unorganized and uninformed violent anti-authority street revolution. The murders were allegedly meant to be a sort of revenge for the recent death of Eric Garner, a man who died as the result of what can really only be described as police negligence – he was left unconscious on the ground for several minutes without any attempts at resuscitation before medical help arrived. Eric Garner has often been lumped in with the cases of Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, John Crawford and Tamir Rice as indicative of a new wave of police brutality and racism; reactions have ranged from the silent t-shirt protests of notable athletes to public crowd-based demonstrations – and of course, the aforementioned senseless violence.

While it’s easy to lump these together as proof that white cops get a rise out of killing black men (and in the case of Rice, children), the sensationalist media and what are essentially hipster protesters seem to miss that the only thing that really ties these stories together is that they happened so close together in time. Michael Brown was shot while essentially attacking a police officer; he was already a robbery suspect and was blatantly refusing simple police orders to move out of the way of traffic. Meanwhile, Akai Gurley was simply walking up a dark flight of stairs when he was shot. Tamir Rice (although it was later found that the shooting officer had been deemed “emotionally unstable and unfit for duty” in a previous job) was strolling through a park with what appeared by any bystander to be a live weapon. Regardless of reason or fault, the death of another human being is a tragedy through and through; but to lump what are clearly isolated events into reason for violence or hatred towards police officers as a whole is nothing more than ignorance and buying into hype.

Brinsley walked the streets looking for the first white officers he could find (ironically, the men he killed – Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, are Asian and Hispanic, respectively), and he approached several people, told them to follow him on Instagram, and watch what he was about to do. These are the actions of an attention-starved maniac, driven by the bright lights of internet stardom and not some greater purpose. He is a murderer who will be treated by some as a martyr for equal rights.

Being an officer in the United States is an incredibly difficult job, and these are men and women to be respected, not treated like dirt and scum – after all, very few career choices garner such hate on a day-to-day basis. To say that every cop is good or bad, racist or fair, is a generalization that is far too easy to make. The fact that the outlined events above have happened are a reason to respect officers more, not less. How often are officers faced with the choice to use force and decline to? It’s news that they do use force because on a statistical basis given opportunities, it’s rare and tragic when they do.

In the case of Eric Garner, the footage is undeniably horrific. The officers here swarm a man who is upset but not threatening; a father, not a thug. He had minor criminal charges in his past, but nothing violent or generally disruptive – marijuana possession, driving with a suspended license, or in this case, selling untaxed cigarettes. The reaction was in the wrong, and may or may not have been urged on by present racism or prejudices – regardless, it is an isolated incident in a year full of isolated incidents blown to extreme proportion and opinion by social media and the ease of accessibility the internet provides. Garner, Brown, Rice, Gurley, Crawford, Liu, Ramos, and even Brinsley are all names that should be mourned – but will unfortunately be remembered as a rallying cry for what may be more senseless “retaliation” to come.

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of lies and prejudice.

A week ago, I was parked just outside of the Hard Rock Cafe in an alley downtown at about four in the morning; the traffic lights at major intersections blinked without regard, and only a few cars headed to or from the casino still littered the streets. Saturday night and the heart of Cleveland was, predictably, a ghost town. While waiting for the girlfriend and her friends to find their way to my car, a shoddy old Ford pulled up behind me. The gentlemen within were all African American, outfitted with bandannas, baggy t-shirts, and ragged throat beards. The four men looked at each other repeatedly, sometimes opening the door and then closing it, and I swear that they were making eye contact with me through my rear view mirror. I drove off and picked up the girls somewhere else.

I would love to tell you that I have a certain knowledge of gang rituals, that I was absolutely certain that my life was genuinely in danger due to symbols and gestures – but to be frank, I was terrified due to some deep rooted prejudice that quietly exists within us all. I was terrified of four black men because they were starkly different from me.

By now, the Donald Sterling comments have been publicized, noted, analyzed, and discussed a thousand times over. The legality of the recordings are, at this point, a non-factor: Sterling is destined to ride into his twilight years a public pariah known to have a mindset that well predates the civil rights movement and modern, logical thought. However, the reactions have been eye-opening. Most notably, outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban responded:

“I know I’m prejudiced, and I know I’m bigoted in a lot of different ways… If I see a black kid in a hoodie on my side of the street, I’ll move to the other side of the street. If I see a white guy with a shaved head and tattoos, I’ll move back to the other side of the street. None of us have pure thoughts, we all live in glass houses.”

Predictably, Mark Cuban has come under fire (obvious comparisons to Trevyon Martin’s hoodie abound). However, he stands by his remarks, and those among us who aren’t fooling ourselves should stand by him as well: it is not a perfect world, and as a creation of that world, we are not perfect beings. Not one of us.

In a way, the Donald Sterling discussion has allowed us an opportunity to take a greater look at race relations and how far we’ve truly come; as Cuban so adamantly put, we all have our prejudices. We aren’t born with them, but we are raised and fed them by whatever culture that surrounds us. It’s not something to be proud of or wear on your sleeve; it’s simply a mark of being undeniably human. Prejudice does not, however, equate to racism. Our thoughts are generally a swirling, uncontrollable storm, but they are a storm trapped safely within our minds, and it is up to us to control them. You’re not a bad person for assuming with no forethought that a black family has no money or consistent income; you are, however, a bad person for denying them service, housing, or equal treatment based solely on that assumption.

The world has certainly come a long way as far as acceptance and tolerance are concerned; it’s telling that Sterling’s comments are as outrageous as they are. It is, however, a long and arduous process, one that will certainly be set back time and time again. We already know that outward displays of prejudice are wrong, and now is the time to eliminate the thoughts that plague us altogether – and it may not happen this generation, or the next, or the one after that. Social evolution is an odd current, impacted by the uncontrollable variable that is the world around us. All we can do is better ourselves, and hope for the best.

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an (un)happy medium.

I once read that the definition of happiness and unhappiness is simply the positive and negative ledgers on the scale of normalcy; in other words, they are fleeting, often changing and molding emotions that really only exist because we tell them to. Are you “happy” because of that girl, or simply because she is a routine part of the norm at this point? By that same token, you’re only unhappy because that definition of normal in your life is no longer there, and you preach misery as a way to cope. In short, happiness and unhappiness are directly within our control, whether it’s a conscious decision or not.

That being said, a 2013 national poll came to the conclusion that 67%, or roughly two thirds of the country considers itself unhappy. The world’s historically most prosperous nation, a country that prides itself on freedom and an oft-sold “American Dream,” somehow manages to only keep a relative small sample of its population content. Now, given that happiness and unhappiness are essentially two sides to a half, where normal is the exact middle, how can it be that the scales tip so heavily towards despair?

We as a people seem to not acknowledge or create our own definition of “normal,” and instead buy into that oh-so-American glamour lifestyle. Each and every one of us believe a six figure salary is a pretty achievable objective; most of us honestly probably just believe we have it coming to us if we work hard enough and finish school. We’ve been taught that we “can do anything we put our minds to,” the American Dream; our blessing and our curse.

It’s not wrong to dream – every day, I think about where I could be, both in a realistic and grandiose fashion. I think about how a little bit of luck could change everything, and I’m sure we all do. Hitting the lottery, fluke landing a new work position, writing the next big novel, developing the next big game – we all have our pipe dreams. However, we need to back up and realize that pipe dreams are exactly what they are: distant possibilities, lovely but not likely. We need to stop sulking on what could have been and embrace the now with an eye towards future possibilities. You may have flunked the job interview, you may have lost that girl, but it’s foolish to dwell – without resorting to cliches, sometimes things just don’t work out.

To be blunt, most of us really need to examine where we’re at and understand that we are NOT as unhappy as we seem to claim, we just need to accept normal and make a change if we can’t. Chances are, the source of your sullen thoughts is certainly survivable and simply needs to be accepted as the new normal. Live where you are, not where you feel you deserve to be.

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