Political Apathy is Unacceptable

I sent a few of my Facebook contacts an invitation to my page and didn’t think about it again until one of those invitees sent me a message to tell me that he wasn’t going to my page because he has “zero interest in politics”. Before the 2016 elections, I too thought of politics as something that other people cared about, despite voting the Democratic ticket starting with Jimmy Carter in 1976. I got most of my information from watching local and national news on the ABC affiliate WPVI out of Philadelphia along with listening to KYW 1060, the AM all-news-and-traffic radio station. All things considered, I got enough accurate information to know which party had my best interests at heart.

Today, I have no concept of how anyone with skin in the game (like my 61 year old diabetic smoking friend) can be indifferent about politics. This election is for all the chips, because if Trump and the Republicans are not soundly defeated and removed from power, we will be living in an authoritarian dictatorship during all future Trump terms. I want my friend will read this one post in the hopes of inspiring him to participate in the democracy that has been so good to both him and his family by voting for Joe Biden and the Democrats down ticket. I’m going to refer to my friend as “Billie” (not his real name).

Billie, I read your message declining my invitation to my Facebook page and was disappointed that you have no interest in politics. I don’t believe that’s true; I think that there are a multitude of places where your life, health, financial well-being and future comfort are directly and inextricably intertwined with the outcomes of elections, such as right now, in the middle of the worst pandemic in over a century. If the federal government was being led by a capable, competent, empathetic and caring leader who placed the good of the country over all else, the awesome power of the office of the President would have done everything to contain and control this virus, issuing national orders for staying home, social distancing and mask wearing while also putting a robust, nationwide testing and contact tracing system in place to find everyone spreading the virus and limit the spread. Instead, we have a person so incapable of ever admitting he’s made a mistake that he prefers to watch more than 150,000 of our fellow Americans die while he exhibits magical thinking by insisting that the virus will “just disappear”.

The Republicans have been laser-focused since the Affordable Care Act was passed on overturning it and stripping health insurance from millions of Americans while making those of us with preexisting conditions like diabetes, emphysema/COPD and osteoarthritis pay exorbitant premiums if we can even obtain health insurance coverage at all. Trump and his cadre of former fossil fuel executives, Wall Street bankers and right-wing media pundits have used his presidency to roll back rules and regulations to benefit corporate interests at the expense of all the rest of us and the planet. Trump’s delusional belief that he is the holder of all knowledge has made him incapable of accepting input from those in his own government with specialized knowledge of all manner of subjects versus taking the word of assorted hosts on Fox News and OANN. There are millions of Americans out of work because Trump is unable to do his job to put people in positions throughout the federal government with actual experience and skills to handle a crisis like the one we’re living through now. Instead, Trump appoints sycophants who agree that their first priority is to praise the dear leader no matter the reality on the ground, while their second priority is to allow Trump’s corporate donors to run rampant over everyone and everything in their paths.

Billie, you mentioned that your roommate has Covid-19 and that he’s still sharing the house with you. Your diabetes and smoking history make your chances of having a negative outcome if you contract the virus much higher than a healthier individual. The reason you’re in this position right now is because enough people in the right states decided that voting for the most prepared individual in history to run for the presidency wasn’t an option if that person also had a vagina, so they instead voted for the most incapable, incompetent, incurious, inept, undiplomatic and self-serving individual to ever seek the office. A lack of ‘interest’ in the actual issues combined with centuries-old, systemic misogyny led millions of voters to either stay home, vote third party, or actually cast votes for Trump because they thought Hillary was going to win and their individual vote didn’t really matter. Sadly, some 70,000 of those individual votes mattered way more than they should have.

I know you don’t have kids of your own Billie, and I’m sure that affects your attitude about ‘politics’, but your brother does have kids that I’m sure you love like they were your own. Think for a while about the world that will be left to them and their kids, and ask yourself if maybe the things that we’ve been doing to the planet for the last 100 years or so have helped or hurt the environment. I don’t know what the weather has been like in Vegas recently, but I can tell you without qualification that the heat and humidity here in New Jersey has been oppressive and unrelenting. We have always had our hottest days of the year in July and August, but I can’t remember in my lifetime having so many consecutive days of high humidity and high temperatures like the one we’re in the midst of now. Your brother’s offspring will have to deal with the climate disaster that our generation has been particularly loathe to address, given the propensity for the Republicans to claim that some climate ‘scientists’ don’t agree with the 97% of actual scientists that climate change is caused by humans releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. They don’t mention that their ‘scientists’ are actually employed by the fossil fuel industry to spread their bullshit, or that those same fossil fuel companies are full of their political donors.

Billie, I know that Whitey was your grandfather by blood, but you only saw him occasionally. During the ten years that my Mom and I lived with Whitey and my grandmother, I spent every day with him, and I think I can say with some degree of certainty that he was NOT just interested in the Phillies and the Eagles. Whitey knew that politics wasn’t just about the people in Washington; it’s about all of us, and what we want for ourselves and our families as part of a functioning democracy to which we pay taxes for services that said government is supposed to provide to us all when things happen that affect a large swath of us here in the United States. There is no way that Whitey would have remained completely uninformed and uninterested in the damage being done throughout our government and around the world by a lawless, incompetent president and the complicit Republicans. I know that he watched the evening news on a daily basis, because we all watched the evening news together back then, and I used to watch him reading the entire paper – not just the sports section – so I know he had a pretty good idea of what was going on in the government and the world before he exercised his right to vote.

The Republicans’ goal for decades has been to prevent as many people of color as possible from entering the US from anywhere else; had they been successful back in the fifties, it’s quite possible that you and your brother wouldn’t even exist. Your Mom marrying a man from the Philippines back in the fifties was a big deal back then, and I’m sure that your parents were on the receiving end of a lot of racist crap during their marriage. The point is that the people who win elections get to make the rules about who to let in and who to keep out. It is abundantly clear that leaving Republicans in charge of anything related to immigration or equality for all is very much like the fox watching the hen house. Electing a person uniquely unqualified for any of the tasks a US president must address along with keeping Republicans who have not interest in governing or legislating in office leaves all the rest of us subject to Trump’s whims and his inability to ever let any real or perceived insult or negative opinion go without a fight. Trump has never cared at all about the country; he entered the 2016 election in order to get free publicity so that he could start his own cable network; then, the unimaginable happened.

This is NOT the face of a happy person!

Trump didn’t want to win; he’s spent his whole life not working at a job he couldn’t get fired from that he didn’t have to apply for – just like his three older children have done – and the last thing he wanted was an actual job that required him to focus for more time than he ever had to in his entire life on someone other than himself. The look on his face in the photo above says all that and more.

Billie, right now the Republicans in the Senate, after refusing to consider the HEROES Act that the House sent to them May 12th to provide additional stimulus during the pandemic have taken two whole days to ‘legislate’ the Heals Act behind closed doors that gives businesses, hospitals and schools five years of liability protection retroactive to 2019 while cutting the weekly emergency unemployment payments from $600 to $200, because of course Republicans have to insist that it’s the $600 weekly benefit check preventing people from going to work, not the pandemic raging through a country without any plan to stop it or even slow it down. Apparently, these professional politicians don’t understand that the only reason that the “economy” has done as well as it has through the pandemic so far relative to the number of people out of work has been that $600 bonus, which has permitted millions to remain in their homes, buy groceries and other necessities, and keep their heads almost above water. Republicans also fail to see the irony when they indignantly point out that some people are making more money now than when they were working – because of course the answer to that wouldn’t be increasing the pay for those workers, right? The moratorium on evictions, foreclosures and other legal actions due to a lack of payment are going to expire, and who knows how many families will be forced our of their homes in the midst of a pandemic; state and local governments are going to have to significantly reduce services to help their citizens because the HEALS Act includes only funds for schools, although just a tenth of what the House proposed. Student loan deferments are also ignored in the HEALS Act.

The HEROES Act addresses state, local, tribal and territorial governments and provides stimulus funds for them all; along with the HEALS Act, it recommends a second $1,200 stimulus payment to every adult, but that is the only major similarity in the two. The House bill expands paid sick days, family and medical leave, nutrition and food assistance programs, housing assistance, unemployment, and payments to farmers. It also eliminates cost-sharing for Covid-19 testing and treatment in addition to a range of other policies. The bill passed because of the Democrats – only one Republican supported the bill.

Elections have consequences, Billie. An uninformed electorate distracted by social media posts that often have no basis in fact while they avoid any of the actual journalism still available in multiple formats is a large part of how we ended up here. Once upon a time, when it was unthinkable that someone so completely lacking in ability, restraint or a willingness to follow norms and laws could be elected to the highest office in the country, it may have been acceptable to proudly proclaim yourself to have “Zero interest in politics…” The last forty years or so have demonstrated that those among us who have chosen to abdicate their civic responsibility by simply ignoring everything political including refusing to vote is somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 million. It is unacceptable in the time of viral social media posts and massive disinformation from the president’s Twitter account for anyone eligible to vote to remain on the sidelines, or to stay ignorant of the facts before they cast their votes.

Billie, you owe it to your country, your fellow citizens, and the next generation to take some time out of your life (maybe every time you go outside to smoke) to learn why you should care about these things.

I hope you understand that I’m only telling you this because I have been paying attention to ‘politics’, not because I like them, but because what those people do matters. No one should sit back and let others make the big decisions, because everything that the government does and does not do has an effect on every one of us. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the cars we drive, how our homes are built, how efficient our appliances are…. All that and more than I can write in this post are affected by the government, and how much or little you are personally touched by those things is also a function of some part of government. You have no legitimate excuse for remaining uninformed and disinterested in the political landscape while your country literally burns around you.

The price of apathy is to be ruled by evil men.

Plato

What the Hell, Dr. Phil???

My mom told me I should watch The Dr. Phil Show when it first came on the air, and I have been a faithful viewer ever since.  In fact, I often use Dr. Philisms when I write and speak, with my favorite and most used one being “When you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.”  When Libby (my cat) and I took our cross-country trip in 2018, I was excited to go to the show in LA, where I sat about ten feet away from Dr. Phil’s wife Robin during the taping of two separate episodes.  The studio has flat screen TV’s on the knee walls between sections of the audience, and I found myself watching the show on the TV in front of me instead of looking up at the stage where the show actually was.  It was surreal.  I’ve enjoyed watching him because he usually dispenses common-sense advice (given that common sense isn’t so common anymore) to people willing to air their dysfunctional lives and families on national television.

Dr. Phil has mostly managed to keep his political opinions and affiliation separate from the show, as he should.  Honestly, knowing for sure that he’s a died-in-the-wool Republican who supports Trump will forever taint my view of him and make it harder for me to see past that knowledge.  Yesterday, Dr. Phil went on Fox ‘News’ and said things that force me to re-evaluate my high opinion of this man from Texas.

Here’s the rub, though.  If Dr. Phil, a 69-year-old male and a known diabetic who is a member of the demographic group most at risk of a fatal outcome from Covid-19, really believes that he’s being harmed by sheltering in his 5-bedroom, 6-bath, 6,170 square-foot home with an in-ground pool, more art than the Met, an entire wall of guns on a half-acre of property (my house is on more than an acre), then he should walk outside and mingle with the little people out in the rest of the world, sans PPE.

Phil McGraw is a psychologist, and, although given the title of ‘doctor’, he is not a physician.  Psychologists do have to obtain a bachelor’s degree, followed by a master’s and doctoral programs, which Wikipedia shows Phil did, graduating in 1979, but he is not a medical doctor.  In fact, he is no longer a licensed psychologist, having voluntarily surrendered his Texas license to practice in 2006.  He has not hidden his unlicensed status from his viewers, and most of the guests on the show are offered actual mental health services with licensed personnel throughout the country paid for by the show.

His “I’m just an old Texas boy” character is a big part of his appeal, at least for me, and his show has occasionally aired subjects that seemed to reflect a right-wing perspective.  He doesn’t hesitate to let us know that he’s a Christian, although I would prefer he keep his personal faith, well, personal.  To those of us who have recovered from religion, there is no benefit to his talking about how he’s got a personal savior in Jesus.  In fact, I find it offensive when celebrities like Phil McGraw think we care one way or the other about their religious choices. If he doesn’t want to hear about my atheism, then he shouldn’t tell me about his god.

All those things were of no significance to my devotion to his show.  My DVR has been set to record every new episode for years – in fact, it’s the first show on my list – and I’ve watched them all, usually the same day they air.  It’s been frustrating during this pandemic, because the Philadelphia station that carries his syndicated show has been pre-empting portions for local Covid-19 news conferences, so his filmed-from-his-house shows haven’t been available in their entirety.  I find myself distracted by the stuff in the room behind him (what is that red thing in the corner of the counter over his shoulder???) and keep wondering how much countertop you have when you can cover so much counter with stuff.  Then I think about how much time someone has to spend dusting all the stuff in the kitchen alone.  Having seen photos of his eclectically decorated home, I also question his insistence that Robin is keeping that house clean.  There’s no way in hell that Robin is the one cleaning that stuff – she’d never have the time to do anything else, and would never be able to leave the house.  My mom used to tell me the way you know that a house is more than you can afford is when the first thing you think about is how long it will take you to keep it clean!  Those with money don’t have to worry about cleaning – they just pay someone else to do the work for them.  It must be nice.

Yesterday Dr. Phil revealed both his political ideology and his ignorance, two things that now force me to reconsider my devotion to his show.  I saw a clip of his Fox appearance on MSNBC last night, and today my daughter Anna made sure I didn’t miss him making an ass of himself.  At first, I tried to convince myself that maybe it was from a few months ago, before the fecal matter hit the air-moving device, but reality’s a bitch, so I was forced to acknowledge that Phil has revealed a part of himself by both appearing on Fox ‘News’ in the first place and then saying things that clearly have nothing to do with anything as it regards this highly contagious virus we are trying to keep from killing hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens.

For someone who purports to be wise and knowledgeable, his comparison of the Covid-19 pandemic to pool drownings, cancer or car accidents was beyond dangerous.  I’m not sure how Phil concluded that the loss of life from Covid-19, which has taken more than 33,000 Americans to date, can be equated to those lost by non-contagious illness and accident.  Surely, even though he never went to medical school, Phil McGraw can intellectually understand that a highly contagious virus with a significant mortality rate (especially among older men with comorbidities) that has no effective treatment or vaccine cannot be allowed to just spread unchecked throughout the population, overwhelming the healthcare system and leading to even more deaths because of a lack of ventilators and ICU beds in the interest of getting back to business as usual, right?  RIGHT?

The financial problems facing the citizens of this country could be addressed by a functional federal government led by a president who gives a damn about someone other than himself. Instead of pointing out how destructive this ‘lockdown’ is on people’s mental health and finances, maybe Dr. Phil could have pointed out how the Trump administration is failing to help out the neediest among us while they give more tax breaks to people in his own income bracket. Or maybe he could use his significant wealth and platform to help those most in need, instead of giving Trump’s state tv another sound bite to support their anti-science platform. Even better, he could use his private plane to fly around the world, gathering PPE for the healthcare workers on the front lines and flying it back to the US for distribution.

Phil McGraw is not a doctor – he’s a retired psychologist without any relevant experience or knowledge about infectious diseases – and he has overstepped his bounds with this Fox appearance.  Opinions are like assholes – everybody has one, and they should keep both of them out of the public eye!  Phil can be unhappy about the situation in which we now find ourselves, but he should not be publicizing his opinions in this atmosphere of political polarization and the demonization of experts.  His appearance last night on Fox has revealed that Phil McGraw’s common sense isn’t so common anymore.  So go on out, Dr. Phil.  Walk amongst the unclean, go to a homeless shelter or maybe an ICU full of Covid-19 patients, and breathe in the air, unmasked.  Then go back home and share what you’ve acquired without washing your hands or changing your clothes with your wife, your sons, and your grandchildren. Which one of them will you sacrifice to restart the economy?  If you’re unwilling to offer up one of your own on the altar of capitalism, shut the fuck up about getting everyone else back to work.  You’ve lost a devoted fan by revealing your callous disregard for your fellow citizens. 

I suspect I’m not alone.

When you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.