What to do when your president is an Internet troll

Most of us like to freely express ourselves through Twitter, mainly because it comes with little consequence.

There have been plenty of historical examples of people taking their anonymity for granted, only to see it backfire in their face. But for us average joes, whose followers consist of our close friends and Internet bots, we can pretty much tweet on — as long as we don’t say anything really stupid — and not worry about too much.

It’s only when you become famous when you immediately go back and delete all of your insensitive tweets.

Our tweets are there to offer a little bit of humor, maybe some political commentary or just some unmitigated expression of emotion based on recent developments in our life. But they really carry no weight. Our tweets aren’t going to change anything.

But what happens when the person who possesses the most powerful job in the world is a reckless tweeter?

That is currently what we are dealing with. A man whose Twitter account was actually taken away from him at one point by his own campaign, and now, whose tweets can actually be viewed as potential policy shifts for the country that we live in.

What a time to be alive, folks. What a time.

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This is the quandary that we find ourselves in now. How seriously do we take Donald Trump’s tweets? After all, while they sound just like any generic rant from your commonplace Twitter troll, the reality is that they still serve as a declarative statement by our nation’s leader.

It’s especially problematic for journalists, who are currently tackling the question of whether they should even bother spending time and resources reporting on Donald Trump’s tweets.

When Donald Trump tweets that flag burning should be illegal, do we take it seriously that he may actually infringe upon our First Amendment rights?

There’s been a couple of interesting schools of thought on this topic. In a New York Times article about this, the editor of Politico said they must report on each one, but at the same time it is their responsibility to inform the public how realistic Trump’s tweet really is to potentially be put into action.

Trevor Noah tackled a similar subject on the Daily Show, insisting that when Donald Trump says something outrageous, whether in person or through social media — like that “millions voted illegally” in this year’s election — that instead of fact-checking it, they need to push Donald Trump harder to prove it with evidence, which he inevitably won’t.

And that’s not even getting into the fact that, by making this statement, Donald Trump is actually questioning the validity of an election that he won.

Again, can’t make this stuff up.

Others think Trump is just doing what he does best: saying ridiculous things in order to distract us from the obvious truth, like the fact that his immense conflicts of interest involving his business make it nearly impossible for him to make a domestic or foreign policy decision without him having a personal stake in it.

But don’t worry, he’s putting the smartest people around him to make those decisions. Like an attorney general who was once blocked from becoming a federal judge for making racist comments; a national security adviser who once said Islam is not a religion; an education secretary whose advocacy for more charter schools in Detroit has resulted in the city having the worst school systems in the nation; and a secretary of health and human services who, if he had it his way, would prevent millions from having affordable healthcare and women’s health resources.

Maybe his next appointee will be better though.

Like … Sarah Palin?

God help us.

Minnesota: where progress happens

Back during the Republican primaries earlier this year, a common cry from voters was their lack of a viable choice.

There was Donald Trump, hardcore Christian evangelist Ted Cruz, and the steadfast Conservative establishment choice that was being stuffed down their throats in John Kasich.

We all know what the outcome ended up being. But before that, one state broke the mold — Minnesota.

Despite having virtually no connection to the state, Marco Rubio won the Minnesota Republican primary. Now, he was far from a perfect choice, and his inexperience was on full display during the Republican debates, but the vote showed the willingness of Minnesota voters to be different from the mainstream.

And it was not an aberration.

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Minnesota is considered a deep blue state (even though it nearly turned red in this year’s election). Republicans have the majority in the state House of Representatives, but Democrats lead the Senate, and their Democratic governor, Mark Dayton, has a high approval rating of about 61 percent.

One of their U.S. representatives, incidentally, is Al Franken, the comedian turned politician.

But what makes Minnesota unique is that they are often the first to break barriers in terms of diversity. At least in recent times.

In 2007, they elected Keith Ellison to the U.S. House of Representatives, the first Muslim to ever serve in Congress.

And this past November, voters picked 34-year-old Ilhan Omar to the state’s House of Representatives, making her the first Somali-American Muslim woman ever elected to a state legislature. It was one of the few bright spots to come out of Election Day.halima-aden

Now Minnesota is in the news again for positive reasons. Halima Aden, 19, is competing for the state’s title of Miss Minnesota. But what makes her unique is, as a Muslim immigrant from Kenya, she will be competing in a hijab and a burkini — an article of clothing that came under intense controversy in France earlier this year.

You see, in Minnesota, these things aren’t as polarizing. People there aren’t afraid of others for being different. And while it may take a while for the rest of the country to get there, it’s heartening to see it at least happen somewhere.

This, of course, is especially noteworthy in the aftermath of a terrorist attack that took place at Ohio State University on Monday. Fortunately, nobody died besides the attacker, who was a Somali Muslim who moved to Pakistan and then legally immigrated to the United States in 2014. ISIS has already taken credit for it.

It annoys me that we even have to point out when people from other countries are Muslim — especially when it’s the world’s second most popular religion.

Anyway, I’ve been to Minnesota. It’s a beautiful place. The people there are extremely polite and welcoming.

But you didn’t need me to tell you that. Just look at their recent history of openness towards people of different backgrounds and faiths.

Saturday Night Live joked the other week about liberals moving into a literal bubble.

Screw that. I’m going to Minnesota.

Why Fidel Castro’s death is such a big deal

Cuba, an island country in the Caribbean Sea a mere 90 miles away from the southern coast of Florida, is the 78th most populous country in the world, with some 11.4 million people.

A place like that is typically an afterthought in global politics.

I mean, a country like Uzbekistan has nearly triple the amount of people in it. And when do we ever talk about them? How many people before reading this sentence even knew that Uzbekistan was a country?

But we all know Cuba. Its imprint on not just Latin America, not just North America, but the world, has been significant for the last half century.

And that’s all because of one man: Fidel Castro.

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The average American would probably hear Fidel Castro’s name and automatically think: “bad man.” They’d associate with him a long line of other known dictators like Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin or Saddam Hussein.

And it’s true that Fidel Castro was a dictator. It’s true that he’s exiled, jailed, even killed dissidents, and that he’s suppressed free speech and the rights of the LGBT community within his nation. And that makes him a bad man.

But I think it’s also important to understand why we all know who Fidel Castro is. And why the entire world knows who he is.

A revolutionist and a rebel to his core, Fidel Castro has survived civil war, imprisonment, exile, assassination attempts from within his own nation and abroad. He’s bedeviled 11 American presidents, which began with Dwight Eisenhower’s embargo on the nation in 1960 and was solidified with the failed Bay of Pigs invasion under John F. Kennedy in 1961.

And it was in 1962 when Castro allowed the Soviet Union to place nuclear warheads in Cuba, pointing directly at the United States, putting the world on the brink of nuclear war.

The animosity between the two nations has not subsided. It wasn’t until 2015 when Barack Obama, after nearly two years of secret negotiations, re-opened the possibility of relations with Cuba– nine years after Fidel shifted power to his brother because of illness.

All that is significant for historic purposes. But there is much more to be fascinated with in regards to how Fidel Castro actually ran his country.

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For one, it’s the only Communist nation that has not failed. Ever. The Soviet Union collapsed, along with its satellite states. China drastically altered its economy to adapt capitalist policies. North Korea is a hot mess.

Cuba’s healthcare and medical industries are widely praised. Education is public and free, and 99.8 percent of Cubans are literate. 90 percent of Cubans own their own homes. And poverty is almost nonexistent.

And for 50 years, the man leading a small island country managed to stymie another country roughly 30 times the size of it.

Again, there’s a reason why it’s such big news that Fidel Castro died. And it explains why there was such polarizing responses to his death, exemplified by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s warm remembrance of him; and Donald Trump’s single celebratory tweet.

But I encourage you all to learn a little bit more about what made him such a mythical and larger than life figure. Because even though he did indeed do many bad things, he’s also implemented things of significance that nobody had ever done before. And there will probably never be any one else like him.

I wouldn’t quite call him The Most Interesting Man in the World, but from a recent history perspective, he’s pretty up there.

And oddly enough, I’ve been craving a Cubano sandwich ever since I heard he died.

I know what I’m having for lunch tomorrow.

Alt-right: the term you wish you never knew

Since the election, I have been trying to stay extra cognizant of not letting the media guide my viewpoints on politics.

I don’t mean to say that the mainstream media is necessarily trying to sway people in a certain direction — in fact, I’m one of the staunchest defenders of print and broadcast journalism whenever I hear it criticized — but, you know, the results on Nov. 8 offered a bit of a reality check after the media kinda got the whole thing wrong.

One of the terms that has popped up intermittently in the media this year, and even more so lately, is the “alt-right” — which is basically just a more digestible way to say white supremacy. Or racism.

It’s one of those things that you know is out there, but choose not to think about. The amount of racists that live in America. Unfortunately, this election has brought this topic to the forefront of presidential politics like never before.

Not all Trump voters are racist. But it certainly appears that all racists were Trump voters.

The media has heavily focused on a conference that took place this week involving these alt-right folks, or white supremacists, or racists; whatever you wish to call them.

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At the conference, they praised the election of Donald Trump and celebrated him with Nazi salutes.

Oh. Good. I hate that “alt-right” has been so focused on that I can’t unknow it. It’s like when you open a word of the day calendar and see something like “sesquipedalian.” I’d rather just never know it existed.

While the rhetoric that took place at this conference was certainly alarming and even shocking, given that we’re in the year 2016, it’s still worth mentioning that there were only about 200 people in attendance. Oh, and Tila Tequila is apparently one of them. So there’s that.

But anyway, I point out the attendance because it’s not like there were hundreds of thousands of people there stating their case. They also weren’t donning white hoods (although they may have very well put them on later).

It appears that people are worried that this will become the new norm.

Call me naive, but I truly believe that the overwhelming majority of Americans — Republican or Democrat — strongly condemn this line of thinking.

Is it frustrating that the chairman of Breitbart news — a haven for the alt-right — is a chief strategist for our next administration? Is it maddening that Donald Trump chose to stay mute on this topic while rebuking Saturday Night Live and Hamilton? (He finally denounced the alt-right  in an interview with the New York Times on Tuesday.)

Yes to all of the above. But I refuse to believe that post-civil rights America can ever become a breeding ground for racism so damningly overt that it’s right there in the public eye.

One can argue that the perpetuation and survival of the alt-right is being pedaled by the news media for their consistent coverage of it. Which is one of the reasons why I hate even talking about it.

However, this has obviously been on people’s minds in the past couple days and I thought it was necessary to address it.

I get that people are scared to death right over what the next four years will bring.

But let’s just stop and be realistic. We are not becoming Nazi Germany. White supremacy is not the new normal. It exists and that sucks, but at the same time, we are an increasingly globalized country and we know better. Of that I am confident.

So let’s collectively acknowledge that this is a small but deeply unfortunate part of our society, denounce it, and then stop talking about it so that we don’t continue to give them the attention they so desperately crave.

The alt-what?

Exactly.

Mike Pence’s night at the theater

Remember when I said I would stop talking about politics after Nov. 8? Well … yeah.

The election is still a bit on the forefront of people’s minds. And it may stay that way for another four years.

I’m not trying to be the voice of reason. I’m not pretending that I am more lucid on this subject than most other people. But what I am trying to do is think about what’s happening from a sensible perspective.

Because in the aftermath of this contentious and divisive election, I feel like that is something missing in the conversation: sense. People are so angry and so emotional that they are speaking from their heart and not from their brain.

“Not my president” is the common calling card among protesters and dissenters. Well, guess what? He is your president. Unless you relinquish your citizenship and take refuge in another country, then Donald Trump is the legitimate leader of the country that you live in. And we must all deal it. It might take a while, but that process begins with sensible conversation.

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And yet, at the same time, it boggles my mind that people fail to understand why others are so unhappy with the result. Donald Trump denigrated various minority groups for a year and a half. He emboldened people who previously hid their hatred to lay it out in the open. So how can people be so blind to not realize that our nation’s most vulnerable residents feel threatened?

Perspective is needed on both sides.

My recent travels have taken me to North Carolina and Florida in the past 10 days — two states that, had either of them voted differently, we may be talking about President Hillary Clinton right now.

Well, after spending some time down there, I’m happy to report one central conclusion — America is still America.

People were not waving confederate flags in the streets. There were no people pledging allegiance to a giant mural of Donald Trump in a public square.

Rather, the two Republican-leaning states consisted of regular, everyday people, just like you and I.

For now, let’s just take this one day at a time. Work hard during the week, and enjoy your nights out over the weekend. We can all go a weekend without discussing politics, right?

Like Mike Pence, who on last Friday night decided to enjoy a performance of the universally-acclaimed Broadway show, Hamilton.

And then the encore happened.

I honestly don’t know why people are surprised. Hamilton reinterpreted American history to highlight the fundamental contributions that immigrants have made on this country. So when the show hosted the vice president-elect whose legislative record has not shown support towards women, minorities or members of the LGBT community, and who is part of an administration that’s boasted widely anti-immigrant sentiment, how could they stay silent?

Their message was cordial and compassionate; pleading yet respectful. And eloquent.

It was the furthest thing from harassment — as our president-elect stated — and was spoken on behalf of immigrants across the nation.

I am not a big fan of the theater. But even I know that Broadway is a beacon of expression. It’s the world’s epicenter for the arts. It’s where our most animated and theatrical souls unite to emote and to vocalize.

If not in that location, at that play, then where else do we tell this administration that we expect equal and fair treatment for all of our residents?

And if people want to boycott the show, then be my guest.

Maybe a dude can finally score some tickets after all.

What I learned from my Jamaican Uber driver

We are closing in on one week since Donald Trump became the president elect, and needless to say, I am still trying to wrap my head around how exactly how we got to this point.

It’s very easy to say right now that we made a mistake. It’s easy to joke about how terrible of a president Donald Trump will be. But by doing so, we are completely discrediting and ignoring the more than 60 million people who voted for him.

I understand that people are angry. I understand that people want to take to the streets to voice their disapproval of the ideologies that have been expressed by the man we elected.

But we also must be pragmatic. Protesting only deepens the divide that has already been exposed. And doing it violently only sends the opposite message of the cause you wish to further.

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Yes, we must remain vigilant. And yes, we must look out for each other — which has been nicely symbolized by people who are wearing safety pins on their shirts as an act of solidarity — but we also must understand one another.

Go home and talk to your family members. Talk to your friends. Talk to strangers on the street. And in my case, talk to your Uber drivers.

While visiting the swing state of North Carolina (which was a planned trip … I didn’t travel there post-election to yell at people for tilting the election), I was driven back to the airport on Sunday by a man who immigrated from Jamaica a few years ago. And for 15 minutes, we had a very thoughtful conversation about why so many people voted for Trump — and why so many chose not to vote at all.

Needless to say, this election has been a wake-up call for young white liberals. To us, Trump is the biggest threat to the ideologies that we want to see championed across the nation. And in our mostly privileged lives, it’s one of the first time we didn’t get our way.

But for young black voters, a Trump presidency is not an existential problem, especially when you consider how much hardship they have endured — and continued to endure — throughout their long history in this country. To them, Trump is simply another inconvenience towards their path to equality, and one of many.

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On a racism scale of 1 to 10, my Uber driver pegged Trump at “about a 3,” which caught me a bit by surprise. When I asked him to elaborate, he said Trump preaches the sentiments of most people who were born during the Baby Boomer era, who long for the good ole days days of their childhood when nationalism was high and, consequently, segregation was the status quo. Trump’s not trying to be racist, he told me, he just doesn’t know any better because he’s never associated with black people, like most Americans his age.

This was a very similar sentiment expressed by David Chappelle in his cuttingly poignant monologue on Saturday Night Live. “We’ve been here before,” Chappelle lamented. In other words, a roadblock towards progress for African-Americans is nothing new.

Systematic racism has always been there, my Uber driver told me, but now, with Trump as president, it’s more out in the open than ever before. We the people, as well as the media, are on high alert for bigotry. And that, he said, is a good thing.

In other words, it might have to get a little worse before it gets better.

Amazingly, this was the first time I had spoken to a non-white person about the election results. And it just showed me beneficial it is to gain different perspectives.

You can’t stand up for something until you fully understand what the problem is.

I am just as unhappy with this election result as the people who are out there protesting on the streets. You can say that racism, misogyny, xenophobia and hate won in the end.

But instead of simply accepting that and disregarding all other possibilities, I’d rather focus my energy on learning what cultivated the emotion that led to this result.

Until we understand one another, we’re not getting any better.

That Uber ride cost me $13.20.

But the life lessons I learned along the way were priceless.

To protest or not to protest?

Well, we made it one full day with Donald Trump as the president elect.

One step at a time.

It was not, however, a peaceful one.

The day was marked by protests in major cities throughout the country, from Oakland to Chicago to Dallas to outside the Trump Tower in New York City, where Donald Trump lives.

It shouldn’t be an unexpected occurrence in the immediate aftermath of the election of one of the most divisive candidates in modern political history, if not ever. When you stoke hatred for a year and a half, it’s going to have its consequences.

And naturally, like all things in this world, people had varying opinions on the protests. Those on the left approved of the peaceful resistance and encouraged the protesters to march on, while those on the right decried them as whiny savages.

As you can see, it will take a little more than a day for our country to unite.

And probably longer until we are “great again.”

 

I will always support people’s rights to assemble. It’s a Constitutional right as equally foundational to Americans as our right to vote.

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When I was in high school, a hazing incident involving sexual assault by members of one of our athletic teams actually prompted the Westboro Baptist Church to protest on our school grounds. They’re the most despicable organization this country has to offer, and yet, they had the right to be there to push their agenda. Thankfully, they were met by a significantly larger crowd of counter-protesters and the ordeal went peacefully.

Those who say protests accomplish nothing forget how our country came into existence. Or haven’t brushed up on their recent history in countries like Egypt or Tunisia.

But anyway, we also have to look at these protests in a pragmatic sense. The fundamental question we must first answer is: what exactly are people protesting? And the answer is an election result that was decided democratically.

Putting it in that perspective, the whole thing seems kind of illogical.

Secondly, Donald Trump hasn’t done anything yet as president. I understand that people want to protest the ideologies that he has stood for in the past 18 months, but he still has yet to have the opportunity as president do a single thing that could earn our disapproval.

Yet at the same time, I wrestle with another question. If you’re unhappy with something that’s happening in our country, then what can you productively do to make things better?

That has sort of been a rallying cry among the anti-Trump crowd over the last 36 hours. How can we rise up to make sure this country does not go backwards?

And that’s a difficult thing to answer. Is it donating money to a cause that will do the work for you? Is it volunteering?

Or is it protesting and having your voice heard?

Is that what you should do when something so profound happens that it completely undermines all of your beliefs and principles? When do you hit the point when you can no longer stay silent?

I still stand by my original belief that Trump, however loathsome you may find him, deserves our open minds. But remain as vigilant as ever.

I won’t join any protests right now, but if he actually follows through with some of the poisonous and prejudiced ideas he hinted at on the campaign trail, then next time, I might be outside Trump Tower right there with them.

Let’s see what Day 2 will bring.