Two Wrongs

When Antonin Scalia died in 2016, Mitch McConnell and the Republicans refused to let the sitting president, Barak Obama, fill the empty seat on the Supreme Court. They said that it was an election year and the seat should be filled by the new president. Everyone knows that. It was an unbelievably scummy thing to do, but totally consistent with what the Republicans have been for the past fifty years or more.

Now that Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died, in an election year, McConnell and the Republicans have changed their tune and decided that her seat should be filled by the sitting president, Donald Trump. Everyone knows that. It’s wildly hypocritical, but, again, totally consistent with what the Republicans have been for the past fifty years or more.

Now I (and all Democrats, really) have a conundrum. I desperately don’t want Donald Trump to appoint Ginsburg’s replacement, but I have no principled argument for why he shouldn’t. The Republicans were dead wrong in 2016. It is the sitting president’s right and duty to appoint a justice should a vacancy open during his term. Any arguments to the contrary are ridiculous. It doesn’t say anywhere in the Constitution that the president’s powers and duties stop or change before the next president is inaugurated. I don’t even care if Scalia had died in December and Trump had already won the election, Obama should still have chosen Scalia’s replacement. I’ve always thought the idea of a lame duck was nonsense.

Predictably, the Democrats don’t seem to be bothered like I am. At least they don’t show it if they are. They seem to be doing everything in their power to prevent Trump getting the pick. They’re making a show of respectability by saying they are following McConnell’s precedent, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that it’s bad to follow a bad precedent. I don’t like invoking slippery slopes, but I’m really scared by where this seems to be taking us.

Mitch McConnell’s reign as Senate Majority Leader has been a disaster for America and the American people. It’s going to take decades to fix the damage he’s done, if it’s even possible to fix it. I don’t even know what I’m hoping for anymore.

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Accountability

Jamil posed a question on my last post, “How do you hold someone accountable who made bad law despite good intentions?” It struck me not only as a good question, but an important question. Currently, we simply don’t hold our elected officials accountable for the quality or the quantity of the laws (or policies or precedents) they make. In other words, we don’t hold them responsible for how bad or good they are at their jobs. We only hold them responsible for speaking gaffes and sexual misconduct and things like that, and we’re not even very consistent about those. We judge them based on likability rather than competence.

What would it even look like if we held our legislators accountable for how well or badly they did their jobs? That’s a very hard question to answer. Most of us don’t have any kind of baseline standard to use. I know I don’t. How many pieces of legislation should a Congressperson write/sponsor/endorse/vote on per year? Is it different for the House and the Senate? How does the level of involvement in the legislation change the accountability? It seems natural to say that if you write or sponsor a bill, your level of responsibility is higher than if you merely vote for it. But what about the difference between chairing a committee versus sitting on the committee? Listening to a debate versus speaking in the debate? That’s only a very incomplete list of quantitative things, how much work the legislator is doing, and it’s already bewildering.

How do you judge the quality of a law? Are there objective standards that can be used? What’s more important, the effectiveness of the law (did it do what it was supposed to do) or the effects of the law (what did it actually do)? What kind of timeframe do you use to judge a law? It’s theoretically possible to have quick results, but most policies will take years or decades to assess. Especially in the House of Representatives, a lawmaker’s term could be over before the preliminary results are in. Most laws affect different segments of the population differently. Do you judge a law based on the effect on the majority, on the most marginalized, or on something else entirely? I don’t even have tentative answers to these questions.

Then there is the difficulty of combining the quantitative with the qualitative. What if there is one legislator who writes lots and lots of bills, but the bills are mediocre at best? What if there’s a Senator who has only sponsored one piece of legislation in the last thirty years, but it was an absolutely brilliant piece of legislation? It’s like trying to compare Harper Lee to John Grisham.

Assuming it’s possible to sort all that out, how do we hold elected officials accountable? What kind of consequences can they face for lack of quality or quantity, for not being good at their jobs? Is it all or nothing, they either win election or lose? Is there any way to reprimand a legislator? Is that what angry letters are?

This just goes to show that legislating in a democracy isn’t like other jobs and voters are not like other bosses. Government is not a business and should not be run like one. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t hold our elected officials accountable. We absolutely should hold them accountable. But there’s no list of rules we can follow, no prescribed punishments for getting things wrong.

Too often, we settle for the devil we know and fail to hold them accountable at all. The same people get elected to Congress term after term. It doesn’t really matter how well they’re doing, incumbency is a huge advantage in any race. As voters, we need to change our mindset. We need to hold our elected officials accountable by being engaged, informed, and vocal citizens. Angry letters are part of it and so are protests and civil disobedience. Making those in power look like fools is a tried and true way to hold them accountable. But voting is, by far, the most important way. They work for us and should never be allowed to forget it.

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On History: The 1994 Crime Bill

History is an odd subject in the way it combines objective and subjective views. It is full of objective facts. There can be no reasonable argument about whether certain events happened. On September 11, 2001, the United States was attacked by al Qaeda. Thousands of people died. America responded with things like the PATRIOT ACT and the “War on Terror.” That is undeniable fact. But no one can look at these facts completely objectively. We subjectively interpret everything about it. Some view the US response as good and justified while others see it as misguided and disproportional. Different views can be more or less reasonable, but there is no single, provable, correct answer. That’s just how history is.

It’s important, when it comes to the subjective parts of history, to make every effort to be reasonable. Lately, that seems to have become difficult, especially when it comes to assigning praise or blame to a person’s actions. We live in an all or nothing culture. There is very little room for nuance or complexity. When it comes to subjective judgements, we are more likely to pick a position according to which side we see ourselves on than through reasoned argument. A timely case in point is the way people on the left assign blame to Joe Biden for the 1994 Crime Bill.

I’m not going to defend the law itself. The truth about it is much more complicated than it is ever presented in commentary, but I’ll just take it as a given that it is a bad law. We’ll ignore the treatment paths it opened up for drug crimes and the Violence Against Women Act and we’ll concentrate on the acceleration of mass incarceration of Black people and the increased funding/militarization of police forces. As the lead author on the Senate version of the bill, how are we to judge Joe Biden?

My friend, Jamil, made the standard case in a recent post, “Joe Biden consistently worked against the interests of Black people for decades as a Senator. . . [H]is support for the 1994 crime bill, actively hurt Black people.” This is a totally understandable position when you look at the statistics. Especially the monetary incentives for the states to build prisons if they passed “truth in sentencing” laws.

But the statistics don’t tell the whole story. In the early nineties, violent crime was one of the biggest concerns for the United States as a whole, and for the Black community. That’s why the 1994 Crime Bill had such broad, bipartisan support. It wasn’t a case of Democrats pandering to their white, suburban base. Everyone wanted crime to be addressed.

I remember this period. I was a politically aware college student at the time. And I just don’t remember direct racism coming from Joe Biden or the Clintons. It’s possible that there were dog whistles that I missed, or that my memory is faulty, but every account I read of the debate and passage of the bill backs me up. Most Black people supported the bill. They wanted it. They were putting pressure on the government to pass it.

Joe Biden wasn’t working against the interests of Black people in 1994. He was listening to Black people and working for their 1994 interests. It’s true that those interests no longer line up with their current interests, but it’s unreasonable to expect Joe Biden to have known that. To keep Biden as a villain, it requires a belief that Black people don’t know their own interests, not to mention an absurd level of government paternalism. Biden was one of the lead authors of what turned out to be a bad law. But there is no actual evidence that that was ever his intention. He may be guilty of misjudgment, but not anything worse than that.

So, what happened to turn a law that Black people wanted and supported into something that has hurt the Black community so badly? My best theory is America. This is a deeply racist country. Nothing planted in its soil can grow straight and free from racism. I think the law interacted in unforeseen ways with the systemic issues that have always been present, and it got warped. It wouldn’t be the first time, and probably won’t be the last time, that a well intentioned policy went awry.

The reasonable view of the 1994 Crime Bill is that Joe Biden was trying to work in the interests of Black people. For all his flaws, and the bill’s flaws, Biden wasn’t pushing a racist agenda on the country. He was trying to solve a pressing problem by following the advice of his constituents, like public servants are supposed to. In November, don’t let 2020’s bizarre lens obscure this fact. Biden isn’t perfect, by any means. But he tries to be decent. When put against Trump, who is literally an existential threat to this country, Biden has to get your vote.

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The Fifth First Day of School

Every year, I write a little something on my daughter’s first day of school. It’s nothing big, just some thoughts and feelings to mark the occasion. This year, my daughter is starting Fourth Grade and I’m more confused than ever before.

School was supposed to start last week, but COVID pushed it back. I have no idea what one week does either way in terms of my kid’s safety or education, but it’s not a big deal. I think they usually start too early anyway. They are starting with a “hybrid” system this year. That means, to reduce exposure risk, half the kids attend school in person each week and half attend virtually. Then, they switch the following week. They want to reassess in October, and keep mentioning the possibility that full-time, in-person school might resume later in the fall.

All summer the school was sending information home about all of the safety precautions they’re taking. I don’t know about other parents, but I found myself getting more worried the more often they reassured me about safety. It’s almost like I was fine just taking them at their word, but they insisted on showing me the proof and the proof seemed shaky to me. I know it’s the opposite of what they were trying for. Hopefully it was just me.

The main thing on my mind as school starts again is that the virus is really exposing that the education system, at all levels, isn’t what we seem to think it is, but nobody wants to talk about it. I don’t know what will come out of that conversation, but we shouldn’t keep avoiding it. The whole nature of school/work is going to change sooner rather than later. We should start preparing.

So, that’s where my mind is on this first day of school in 2020. I hope everyone stays safe and healthy, but I’m not optimistic. I just hope I have more pedestrian concerns next year.

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Trump and Truth

This sign recently appeared in one of my neighbor’s yards:

I don’t know these neighbors. And, seeing as they’re Trump supporters, I have no interest in getting to know them. Normally, I wouldn’t notice a campaign sign at all. I don’t generally take political advice from cardboard signs. It’s not clever or humorous or insightful. But it did catch my attention because of the irony. It’s almost more irony than I can handle.

I think most people probably get the irony, but, just in case, I feel like I should spell it out. There are two ways the sign could be interpreted. It could be saying that most normal politicians BS us, but Trump is one of the only ones that is sincere. The other is that the sign could be acknowledging that Trump’s time in office has been filled with BS, but if he’s elected in 2020, it will stop. He’ll get serious, so to speak. Either way, the sign is complete bull. Trump spews more BS than anyone I’ve ever heard. He always has. It didn’t start with his career in politics. It might be the only genuine talent the man has. If Trump is elected in 2020, it won’t eliminate the BS, but instead create much, much more of it.

(I’ll pause for a moment here to address something some readers might have noticed. This is a somewhat awkward topic for me to write about. I never use the S-word. So, I’ll keep using “BS” and “Bull” instead. I hope you can still follow me.)

The fact that there’s an ironic sign in my neighborhood wouldn’t be worth writing about on its own. However, this irony highlights something important that doesn’t seem to get as much attention as it should, Trump’s BS. Everyone talks about his lies. They crow about the fact-checkers catching his untruths, as if that matters. John Oliver has a bit on his show where he shows Trump making two contradictory statements, then has a celebration because, “We got him.” It’s funny because catching him in a lie is no big deal, and that’s because what he’s doing isn’t really lying. It’s BSing.

I know that may sound weird to many people. “Of course Trump is a liar,” they’ll say. He says things that are not true all the time. But there are many ways to make untrue statements without lying. Some of the more obvious are telling stories, repeating misunderstood or misheard information, or simply making a mistake. Bull is its own special category of untruth. It has some similarities with lying, but it’s a different kind of activity.

Harry Frankfurt wrote the book on BS, literally. It was released in 2005, and is one of the few pieces of real philosophy to spend time on the bestseller list. In the book, he makes two important distinctions between lying and BSing. One is that lying necessarily has a connection to, and respect for, the truth. BS, on the other hand, is completely disconnected from truth.

[The] statement is grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern for truth- this indifference to how things really are- that I regard as the essence of [BS].

(pages 33-34)

The other is that, while both are intended to mislead, lying is intended to mislead about the statement being made whereas bull misleads about the the BSer’s intentions, motivations, or personality.

The [BSer] may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.

(page 54)

In other words, the BS artist doesn’t care if the statements are true or not. And she may not even know if they are true or not. Truth is beside the point. The bull is successful as long as it distracts, confuses, or hides something about the speaker as a person (or group, businesses BS us all the time).

If this is true, and I believe it is, it means that Trump is not primarily a liar. He is a BSer. If he were lying, he’d be very bad at it. The internet has made straight-up lying pretty difficult. There are just too many ways to fact-check. But it has made bull extremely easy. A person can say anything they want, and someone on the internet will repeat, amplify, and justify it. It’s a BSer’s dream come true, and has created the perfect conditions for Trump’s particular brand of awfulness.

We need to stop acting like Trump is a liar and trying to counter him by exposing his falsehoods. He is supremely unconcerned with truth; it doesn’t matter how many “lies” are uncovered. It won’t work to be clever, hit him with the best zingers. The only real way to battle bull is with sincerity.

As I mentioned, sincerity has become difficult in the 21st century. Everyone is constantly curating their image, presenting what they think makes them look best, in a way BSing. We all need to find a way to be honest and true, to be sincere, and stop adding to the pile of bull. Then the BS of Trump, and those like him, will be exposed for the fraud that it is.

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I’m Not Voting for Biden

Courtesy: CNN

There are certainly people who are excited that Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee, but I’m not one of them. I was prepared to do my duty though and vote for a wet sock if necessary to remove President Trump from office. Yet over the last few weeks, I’ve started to see Biden/Harris as a different kind of problem- not as acute and immediately threatening as Trump, but pretty bad for me over the long term. If Trump is a 10 on the Bad-Shit-o-Meter, then Biden feels like a 7.

Joe Biden consistently worked against the interests of Black people for decades as a Senator. His opposition to busing, as well as his support for the 1994 crime bill, actively hurt Black people. My girlfriend though says that people deserve another chance, and have the capacity for change. I agree, so I went to look for anything Biden has done that’s been pro-Black since 1994. I couldn’t find anything that Biden has done that is as specifically pro-Black as his opposition to busing was anti-Black. The dude’s been in the national spotlight for fifty years, and I’m supposed to believe now that he’s on my side, when the best his record shows is that he stopped actively opposing my people?

“But there’s so much at stake here,” is how the counterargument generally goes. And it’s true- four more years of President Trump will be a catastrophe for the United States, and probably the world. I thought I needed to do anything to ensure that his reelection didn’t happen. This is the argument that politicians always make though; that if we don’t hold our nose this time, the opposition will destroy everything.

So let’s fast-forward to November 2024, presuming Biden wins. Vice President Kamala Harris is campaigning against the post-Trump Republican candidate (I think that this point needs underscoring: every Presidential candidate from now on is going to be a post-Trump candidate who learned alot from how he won and what he got away with). The argument is undoubtedly going to go, “She may not be perfect, but we can’t risk losing all the progress we’ve made!” And we’ll be asked to hold our noses again, and wait for the right time for the right candidate to appear.

When will that change occur unless the voters stop holding their noses? The Democrats had FOUR FUCKING YEARS to get their house in order in anticipation of this election, and somehow they still landed on Biden. He picked a fucking prosecutor as his running mate during protests against police. He has consistently disrespected Black voters this election. Maybe “You ain’t Black” was a gaff (it wasn’t), but “Unlike the Black community” was not. When someone says something twice, LISTEN TO THEM!

That’s just the race stuff. Folks- he was the senator from a literal tax haven. I recall when the Panama Papers dropped, and all of my liberal friends lamented, “Where’s the American outrage? Where’s the American demands for change?” Joe Biden helped run the state that fulfills that purpose for Americans. As corporations suck up increasingly absurd amounts of money, yes, I’m more than a little skeptical of his statements about opposing corporate interests when he supported them for 36 years.

Pulling back from Biden, I’m just tired of Democrats in general. I spend so much time railing against Republicans, but when I think about my own life and experiences, Democrats have had just as much control over it as Republicans. All of my elected officials are Democrats. Most of the institutions I’ve interacted with are broadly viewed as center-left or liberal. Yet I’ve spent my life feeling disrespected, undervalued and ignored by the very people who purport to be on my side.

Additionally, Connecticut 1) has one of the largest wealth gaps in the nation; 2) has the largest racial achievement gap in the nation; and 3) is one of the most segregated states in the nation. This, despite:

Democrats holding the governorship for more time than Republicans since World War II

-Democrats controlling at least one house of the General Assembly every year since 1959 (excepting 1973-1974 and 1985-1986)

What I’m finally feeling like is that this didn’t happen despite Democrats, it happened because of Democrats. The difference between Democrats and Republicans is a matter of degrees when it comes to race, and the thermostat is set by how many Black people must be controlled. No, the state of Connecticut does not look like Mississippi, but the city of Hartford sure as hell does.

Ultimately, when I’m asked to vote for Joe Biden, I feel like I’m being asked to believe what he says, not what I see. The record is clear and consistent, right up until today. Yes, he’s saying the stuff about equality and justice, but he’s a politician. It’s his job to say what I want to hear. When I look at what he’s done though, it seems clear that he’ll be an improvement over Trump, but essentially continue the course of the nation. You know, the course which has led to outcomes like this:

CBO Chart, U.S. Holdings of Family Wealth 1989 to 2013. The top 10% of families held 76% of the wealth in 2013, while the bottom 50% of families held 1%. Inequality worsened from 1989 to 2013.[1]

This looks like a lose-lose to me, folks.

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Toilet Paper

I bought toilet paper today. I know that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but this is 2020. We had the great toilet paper shortage this spring. I was baffled at the time. I get the milk and bread runs when people are panicked, but toilet paper? I never did hear a good explanation for it. I did have the thought that maybe there are people that purposely only go number two at work so they can use the company’s toilet paper instead of their own and when the pandemic forced everyone home they had to buy TP since they couldn’t use the work supply anymore. That just seems crazy to me, though. I consider it a personal failure if I have to poop at work. Not to mention that the toilet paper they have is terrible. I think it has to be an OSHA violation.

I didn’t purchase any toilet paper during the shortage. When I buy toilet paper, I get the big package of jumbo rolls. I had plenty of toilet paper in March and it has lasted easily into August. When I bought it today, I started wondering if I’m the only person that buys toilet paper less often than the seasons change.

The thing I can’t figure is how people go through toilet paper much more quickly than I do. Sure, it’s just me and my daughter in my house. I get it that a larger family uses more, but even a ten person household ought to be able to go at least a month without buying toilet paper.

Does it have others uses that I’m not aware of? I only use it to get clean after going potty. And I only use enough to get clean. That’s not a lot of TP every day. One roll lasts a while. Are my bowels less active than others’? Do people typically use more than they need? I just don’t know.

I don’t know why I felt the need to share this. I guess it lets you know where my mind goes as I wander the aisles of the grocery store. But since it’s out there, I am genuinely curious. Should my toilet paper become some kind of multitasker? Am I missing out on something?

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The Scariest Thing I’ve Ever Heard

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

During an interview that was broadcast on July 19th, Chris Wallace asked Donald Trump if he would accept the election results if he lost the election. Trump refused to answer, saying, “I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.” It’s irrelevant what he did last time. Last time he wasn’t the sitting president of the United States. Now, he is the sitting president of the United States, and he refused to say he would accept the results of the upcoming election.

It’s impossible to overstate how bad that is. It’s easily the most anti-American thing a sitting president has ever said. But, it’s not really what scares me. People have been openly suspicious for years that Trump won’t accept the election results if he loses. My partner, Jamil, even wrote a post about it. What really scares me is the collective shrug we got as a response. The two top stories that came out of the interview were about Trump’s taking a cognitive test and how good a reporter Chris Wallace is. I had to go to the third page of search results before I found someone talking about Trump’s potentially not accepting the election results.

I would have felt much better had there been an immediate and loud response from the Joint Chiefs, or at least a couple of generals and admirals, saying that the military would ensure that Trump accepts the results. I would have felt much better if every member of Congress had spoken up about the fact that a sitting president has no choice but to accept the election results. I would have felt much better if I heard something from the Supreme Court saying that it’s unconstitutional to refuse the election results. Heck, I would have felt much better with a statement from the United Nations or some foreign governments saying that they will monitor the US elections and do what they can to ensure a smooth transition of power. Instead we got virtual silence. That’s terrifying.

We’ve gotten to this point because the press, and others, have been normalizing this administration for more than four years now. I warned them not to do it, but they did it anyway. Now, Trump can say anything, it doesn’t matter how outlandish, and people seem to think, “That’s just Trump being Trump.” Trump being Trump must not be seen as normal.

We need people to speak up. We need to let the world know that the sitting president must not undermine the integrity of American elections. None of us should accept the status quo. Silence is frightening. We need to be reassured that our basic institutions will survive this horrid presidency.

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Red Lipstick

This is the July story for the 12 stories in 12 months challenge. You may have noticed that I haven’t published one of these in a few months. Between the pandemic and starting a new job, life has just been too crazy. But, hopefully, I’m back in the groove now. This month’s prompt was “red lipstick” and the word count was 300. It’s not my best work, but it’s good to be writing again. And it’s short enough to be painless.

***

He carried the bus pan into the back and put it on the counter to the left of the dishwasher. He put a tray in between and started unloading the dishes. He looked down at a set of lip prints on a white mug.

Ugh. Red lipstick. I hate red lipstick. It never wants to come off.

Besides, it doesn’t even look good. If you’re going to make your lips look fake, why red? What about yellow or blue?

He finished loading the tray. He lifted the handle on the dishwasher and slid the tray in. He lowered the handle and the cycle started.

Gram used to wear red lipstick.

Yeah. It always smudged on my cheek. I’d be rubbing it off forever.

She never went out without makeup. Had to look presentable, even if she was just getting the mail. It’s funny, I don’t think I’ve ever seen either of her daughters wear any makeup. Must be a generational thing.

It was shocking seeing her in the hospital. No makeup at all. She must have been mortified. All those doctors and nurses and attendants going in and out, and she didn’t even have her face on.

The cycle finished. He pulled the tray out of the right side of the machine and watched the steam dissipate. He started collecting the dishes to put away. He picked up the white mug. They were lighter, but the lip prints were still there. He chuckled.

Like I said, it never wants to come off.

He rubbed the stain with his thumb. Nothing happened. He wet a cloth and put some soap on it, then rubbed the rim of the mug. After a minute, it was white again. He put it with the other mugs and sighed.

I miss her all the time.

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Flags (And Other Symbols) Are Important

On June 30, 2020, the Governor of Mississippi signed into law a piece of legislation that will, finally, remove the Confederate battle flag from Mississippi’s state flag. This is a big deal, and an unequivocally good thing. It comes during a time of intense debate about all kinds of symbols, from statues and monuments to names of schools and other buildings to sports mascots. This is an important conversation for several reasons.

I’ll start with the most obvious reason. Adopting a symbol is the same as endorsing what that symbol symbolizes. Mississippi, by having a Confederate symbol on their official flag, has been endorsing racism and treason for over a century. Those endorsements are both blameworthy and shame-worthy. It’s sad that it took Mississippi 126 years to feel that shame, but at least they do now.

Another reason the debate around symbols is important is because there is a difference between remembering history and commemorating history. Remembering means knowing what happened. Commemorating means celebrating what happened. A statue displayed in a public place is commemorating, not remembering. Every statue of Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis is celebrating what they did. They are celebrating traitors who fought for the right to enslave other people. The Civil War is well documented in books, movies, and museums. There’s no danger of people forgetting what happened. It’s long past time to stop celebrating the bad guys.

The third reason the debate is important is probably the most contentious, but it shouldn’t be. Certain symbols offend groups of people. Many people will dismiss this as being overly PC, but we should worry about offending others. It’s basic morality. Offending someone is hurting that person. Intentionally hurting an innocent person is clearly immoral. Intentionally using a symbol that offends a group of people, especially a marginalized group of people, is clearly immoral. It’s possible (although unlikely) that when the Washington football team adopted its name and mascot, they didn’t know they were hurting anyone. But that excuse is long gone. Continuing to use the offensive symbol is just being cruel.

It’s not always easy to tell which symbols are acceptable and which are not. Symbols have both intended meanings and unintended meanings. The intended meaning of the American flag, for example, is to commemorate the nation’s founding (with the thirteen stripes) and present (with the fifty stars). The unintended meanings are too many to list, but they include freedom, capitalism, democracy, racism, imperialism, and power. In other words, the American flag is complicated. My intuition is that it is acceptable, but I’m not afraid of having a conversation about it.

When talking about the commemorative aspect of symbols, it is important to remember that many flawed people did things worthy of commemoration. There’s currently a debate in England about what to do with statues of Winston Churchill. On the one hand, he was one of the most important figures in stopping the Nazis. On the other hand, he was an unapologetic imperialist who was probably fine with Gandhi’s assassination. When commemorating someone, are were celebrating everything about the person? Probably not, otherwise there would be no one worthy of commemoration. We have to look at how big and important the praiseworthy things are compared to how big and important the blameworthy things are. With Churchill, I’m apt to say that beating Hitler is big and important enough to warrant commemoration. But I could easily feel differently if I were Indian. I welcome the debate.

When it comes to the offensiveness of a symbol, we need to remember that you can probably find someone out there who is offended by anything you can imagine, no matter how wholesome it may seem. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use symbols. Since someone will always be offended, I think a type of contractualism can help. Under this we can say that a symbol is offensive if it can be considered offensive under a set of principles which no one can reasonably reject. I don’t have time to get into all the details, but the Confederate flag is offensive because no one can reasonably reject that it is a symbol of racism. Black Lives Matter signs are not offensive because anyone can reasonably reject that they are offensive. It takes some racist mental gymnastics to find them offensive in the first place.

That leaves us in a place where many, if not most, symbols can and should be debated. But it also leaves us in a place where many symbols should be removed or changed immediately. The Maryland state flag is an example. I’ve written about this before, but the red and white parts of the flag intentionally symbolize the traitors who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. That is not something Maryland (or anyone who cares about the United States) should endorse or commemorate. Not to mention that it was adopted during Jim Crow, so it was probably intended to intimidate the black residents of Maryland. Plus, it is offensive in a way that no one could reasonably reject. Any symbol that endorses or commemorates the Confederacy is offensive and has to go now.

So, I applaud Mississippi for taking a long overdue step in the right direction. If Mississippi can do it, it can be done anywhere. Let’s all join them taking steps in the right direction.

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