Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trump's Presidency: What Do We Do Now?

By now, it's all over the news: Donald Trump has been elected to the Presidency of the United States. And not only that, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the majority of Governors will be overwhelmingly Republican. Already, even after one day of the election, racism-fueled incidents are happening all over and are being broadcasted via social media.

The reason why this is happening is because Trump won by openly courting and inciting racism and violence against people of color while scapegoating liberals, and now they have been emboldened to step out of the internet forums and do their best to bring back the days of Jim Crow, segregation and lynch mobs. This is scary enough as it is, but it gets worse.

Already, the new Republican majority has indicated it will completely repeal Obamacare and replace it with something only the middle class and higher could effectively use: Health Savings Accounts. Which is exactly what it sounds like: a tax-emempt savings account that can only be used for healthcare. In other words, healthcare insurance for the poor will literally disappear as an option for the lower classes, which will result in people literally dying from not being able to save enough money in their HSA to cover already skyrocketing health costs.

But it gets worse:

The Republicans have long pined for the opportunity to reverse Roe v Wade, which granted the right of women to have safe, legal abortions. Their opposition to abortion rights stems from the right-wing religious "pro-life"(more accurately "pro-birth") doctrines. With Trump and his Republican supermajority, he will be able to pick up to three Supreme Court justices to guarantee a total reversal of Roe v Wade.

LGBT rights are also on the chopping block as Republicans have opposed civil rights, including marriage, to nonstraight individuals and couples for decades as well. Trump's Congressional supermajority and Supreme Court picks can easily reverse Obergefell and potentially even criminalize being anything other than straight. The core of this anti-LGBT stance, just as with abortion, is solely religious dogma.

And it gets even worse:

Trump has said he wants to "open up the libel laws" to allow him, as President, to sue anybody who criticizes him, even if said criticism holds truth. Put quite simply, he wants to gut the core constitutional rights to free speech and free press solely to protect his ego. That would de-facto establish a kind of "blasphemy law" similar to what North Korea has when it comes to criticism of Kim Jong Un.

And it still gets worse:

Trump's likely choices for his Cabinet reads as a who's who of anti-intellectualist clowns: Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and others. More fracking, shale oil, deep dependence on fossil fuels, climate change denialism, anti-multiculturalism, anti-higher education and anti-science will become the official government platform.

And with anti-multiculturalism, Trump has also promised a ban on granting asylum to refugees and openly discriminating against immigrants from countries where there is conflict(which is a quite a legitimate reason to emigrate in the first place). And there's his famous vow to "build a wall and make Mexico pay for it".

Trump's completely unexpected ascendancy marks a complete 180 degree shift from the increasing progressiveness America has enjoyed since the Civil Rights Act, and threatens the most core institutions of American democracy. So the question becomes: How can we fight this? How can we defend the progress and rights we've fought for since the 1960s against a Republican party that has been completely gutted by white nationalists and Christian theocrats, and headed by a reality TV conman who effectively mobilized hate to launch himself into the White House?

The answer to that is simple: We play the long game, just as they have. We let enough of their regressive policies and behavior bear their rotten fruit, put it on blast in the news and social media when it hits their voters and their loved ones hard, and then point out that there is a better way while being careful not to repeat the mistakes that cost progressives this election so gravely(looking straight at you, people of the Democratic National Convention who screwed over their strongest candidate). When a Trump-supporting family sees their gay child bullied or assaulted(or worse), when a Trump supporter realizes their HSA is very ill-equipped to handle real health costs, when a Trump supporter sees their friends of color openly discriminated in ways not seen since the days of MLK, when a Trump supporter realizes that jobs aren't coming back to the U.S. just because their strongman gave employers an incentive to keep them out of the States, when a female Trump supporter is unable to get an abortion or reproductive health care, the Republicans and Trump will be unable to scapegoat progressives, and their support will collapse under its own weight.

It will be extremely tough to endure, but think about this: We suffered two terms under George W. Bush, where in one year he erased the budget surplus Bill Clinton worked hard to leave us with, dragged the U.S. into a second Iraq War under a false pretense and a personal grudge, and promoted the sub-prime mortgage crisis that precipitated the Great Recession of 2008. The Bush Administration's policies and behavior hurt the American economy so bad, that the country had no choice but to elect the first black president in history, and the rest is history.

So let the Trump train speed towards the cliff. After the inevitable wreck, and the horror of what they have wrought upon themselves sets in, that is where we can respond with our own anger tempered with hope, and offer a better, more rational alternative to racism, xenophobia, jingoism, misogyny and class warfare. We can do this.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Alternate Universe of "God's Not Dead 2"

"Ugh, do I have to review this film?

I just got back from watching "God's Not Dead 2", and there's quite a bit to talk about. Just as in first film, the movie's events take place in a strange parallel universe where Christians are practically a persecuted minority living in a United States that is seriously hostile to Christianity. Yet unlike the first film, the temper against atheists is slightly softened. Slightly being the key word, however. This isn't the unintentionally awesome non-Christians found in the Nic Cage remake of Left Behind. But I think it would be beneficial this time around to calmly explore this parallel, alternate universe that GND2 occupies. So buckle up and prepare to have some aspirin handy, because you'll be eye-rolling and facepalming so hard your head will hurt.

Atheists are people robbed of genuine emotion

The most soul-crushing motto I've ever heard.

Without God in your life, you have nothing to look forward to. Atheism leads to hopelessness and despair.[via]

That's the thing about atheism. It doesn't take away the pain, but it takes away the hope. -Pat Boone's character in GND2

In the first half-hour of the film, we're introduced to high school student Brooke, who is the one whose innocent classroom question gets the ball rolling on the film's main plot. But before that happens, we get some backstory on her: Her brother recently died, and even though she's still grieving, her freethinker parents have already "gotten over it" and they refuse to listen to her thoughts at all. She confides this to her teacher(played by Melissa Joan Hart), who then tells Pat Boone, and he responds with the above quote(which I found particularly offensive).

What this is, is a propagation of the evangelical narrative that without Christ, you're not "whole" in some way or another. This is a running theme with many of Pure Flix's films. With Brooke's parents, they're practically Vulcans. The first film had Kevin Sorbo's strawman atheist professor having nothing but hatred and trauma without a Christian belief.

But this narrative, as with the rest of the narratives spun in this film, is debunked when compared to reality. Every human being is more or less capable of experiencing the full range of human emotion regardless of religious belief: joy, happiness, sadness, grief, anger, love, hate, confusion, hope, despair, transcendance and so on.

American Christians are a hair-width away from persecution

Another narrative in the GND2 alternate universe of Evangelica(h/t Neil Carter) is that atheists practically rule the government and Christians are always on the brink of persecution.

This is the main thrust of the film, and it's one practically built into the core of Christianity to the point of lusting after persecution as a means of faith validation. Melissa Joan Hart's teacher is suspended without pay and is at risk of losing everything if she loses her case. There's a side plot where pastors are legally forced to turn in copies of their sermons to the government, mentioning a real-life similar incident but neglecting to point out that it got shot down in a blink of an eye, followed by a post-credits scene of Pastor Dave getting arrested for refusing to turn in his sermons. Even the Newsboys eke in a song that dwells on this lust for persecution in the name of their faith.

Reality, however, paints a very different picture. Christians are still a vast majority in the United States, with a Republican dominated Congress that openly panders to and privileges Christianity. In the deep south, there are teachers who openly proselytize Christianity and aren't even told "You might want to ease off the faith stuff".

But say you're something other than a Christian... especially an atheist, and you're likely to experience some form of shunning, discrimination or judgmentalism at some point. And on that note, our next narrative is...

Freethinkers want to indoctrinate their children

Let's get back to Brooke and her Vulcan freethinker parents. Later on, after her brother's room is emptied out by Salvation Army volunteers, she discovers her brother was a Christian in secret(like the Muslim girl from the first film who converts to Christianity in secret). When she reveals this information in the courtroom, she elaborates on why the secrecy: He feared his family would shun him, and from their behavior in the film, it would seem that fear was warranted.

This is another reversal of reality. By and large, freethinking parents don't want their children to be indoctrinated at all. The goal of freethought parenting isn't raising atheists, but raising children in how to think critically, not what to think. The distinction is critical.

Atheists are violent, while Christians are all about nonviolence

In the first film, a Muslim father beats and shuns his daughter Mina for converting to Christianity. The atheist professor openly threatens the main protagonist's academic future. In this film, the father of the Chinese student from the film slaps and shuns his son for converting to Christianity and persuing a pastoral job. The atheist protesters are absolutely seething at the silent, handholding Christian protesters outside the courthouse.

The subtext of these scenes are clear: On Planet Evangelica, Christians don't do violence to others. They do.

Reality check:  The Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Thirty Years War, the Troubles in Ireland, Christian violence against LGBT individuals and Muslims, the war on women's reproductive rights, abusing children accused of witchcraft in Africa(inspired by American evangelical missionaries), systemic child rape by clergy, etc. I've yet to see the headline "the Atheist Army scored a major victory by blowing up the Agnostic Camp while the Freethinker Brigade took heavy shelling from the Secularist Coalition".

The ACLU is virulently anti-Christian

From the school attorney who first mentions the ACLU("They've been dreaming for a case like this!") to ominous music playing when Ray Wise says "separation of church and state" and "We're going to prove once and for all that God is dead!", the film does its damnedest to portray the ACLU as an anti-Christian organization.

This narrative, is of course, utter BS. The reason for this narrative is simple: Conservative Christians hate the fact that the ACLU isn't a Christian-exclusive legal entity like ACLJ, Alliance Defending Freedom(who provided much of the source material for GND2) or Liberty Counsel. The ACLU is rather a religiously neutral(read: secular) legal entity dedicated to defending the civil liberties of ALL Americans.

The legal system moves in mysterious ways

Ok, this isn't exactly a narrative, but rather just pointing out that GND2's portrayal of the legal system is a giant joke to anybody who knows how slow, deliberate and focused the legal system is.

Instead, with blinding speed it goes from an administrative inquiry to practically a criminal case even though it's crystal clear Hart's character did nothing wrong, to veering off the rails into (surprise, surprise) attempting to prove the existence of Jesus. And Judge Winston Zeddmore is perfectly fine with that. That's Planet Evangelica for you.

Back on Planet Earth...

When I went to go see the first "God's Not Dead", the theatre I walked into was packed like it was the first midnight screening of "The Avengers". This time, however, the theatre had less than 15 people and they were mostly laughing at the film's lame jokes rather than whooping and fawning over the triumphalism of Planet Evangelica's persecuted protagonists. I didn't come out of the theatre angry or shocked at Pure Flix's demonization of non-Christians like with the last film. In fact, I felt disappointed. It seems Pure Flix is losing it's appeal. And judging from the latest box office earnings, it's clear the target audience sees it too:

God's Not Dead 2 debuted in fourth place with an estimated $8.10 million. The faith-based sequel from Pure Flix performed below expectations and opened 12 percent below the $9.22 million debut of 2014's God's Not Dead. God's Not Dead 2 opening below its predecessor was especially underwhelming given that God's Not Dead 2 opened in 2,419 locations this weekend, while God's Not Dead opened in just 780 locations.