Alex Mathews

Alex Mathews – writer, bared naked dude blah blah blah

“Political Thuggery, Plain and Simple”

1 Comment »

Today the Indivisible Group in the 48th Congressional district convened in yet another attempt to get the attention of Dana Rohrabacher, congressman in absentia. As has been customary, the doors to the congressman’s office have been locked, as the congressional staff sits behind the locked door. The Huntington Beach Police have been consistently called into service in anticipation of the group’s arrival, despite the fact that the group is merely making as best an attempt as it can to find someone in their congressional representative’s office to simply listen to their concerns. The focal point of the group’s activity is to engage the congressman to hold a town hall meeting where all of their concerns may find a forum. As the weeks have gone on, it becomes more and more clear that the town hall represents a demand that the congressman will evade and avoid indefinitely. It seems, however, that the interplay between congressman and constituents is more than a basic rejection of a request for a forum. The antics and tactics employed by the Rohrabacher staff to dismiss his own constituents is a tale of weaseling and strategy, of propaganda and press manipulation, of dishonesty and abuse of power. Pretty much what you might expect from a member of Congress, if you are among the deeply cynical, like myself. But I want better for my county, my district, my family and neighbors. Laying aside my cynicism, I want better from my government.

Today’s coverage of our action by the OC Register offers a strange narrative of a conflict that rises to the level of a “tussle,” as a two-year old girl was knocked down by a door that swings out into the hallway where the constituents were gathering to deliver snide Valentine’s Day greetings to their congressional representative who refuses to address their concerns. Apparently the staffer opening the door fell down and claimed injury—unconsciousness and paramedics and hospital visits. The incident is unfortunate, whether it is wholly exaggerated or downright false. Rohrabacher issued a press release calling his constituents a “mob,” who call themselves, “with supreme hypocrisy, by the name ‘Indivisible.’ In fact, they are bent on dividing the nation, defying the will of voters and undermining the legitimacy of the election. These holier-than-thou obstructionists will be held responsible for this outrageous assault. They are exposing themselves for what they are — enemies of American self-government and democracy.”

The piece in the Register does less damage to the face of the group, but the story certainly sensationalizes what should be a story of voters seeking representation and the conniving done by a United States congressman to both avoid answering to his constituents and to marginalize them by creating an inaccurate if not patently false narrative that paints us as outlaws and anarchists and agitators, playing on the strings of the cliché that energizes his base. When I downloaded the Indivisible Guide, I had no idea I would be stepping on these landmines of political warfare, nor did I anticipate that the game would be played by such dirty players.

As a fledgling group, we are still finding our way. We need to develop better internal communications to ensure that calls for action can reach the entirety of the group, and we need to be able to gauge our engagement. We need to help each other express ourselves in a manner that is constructive, and does more to further our cause than undermine it. We need to learn from experienced activists who engage successfully in peaceful resistance. We need to be very mindful of the fact that our friends in our congressional district want to prove that we are a fringe element and therefore have no credibility. We must be aware that the press can get it wrong. We must accept that peaceful resistance will expose us to humiliation and other vulnerabilities. We must control the narrative, always. We need to help each other take the higher ground as we fight together. We have to carry the flag. And I mean literally, every time we gather. It doesn’t belong to only one party, and when we do we show we are Americans, not a mob, and not enemies of America, but the remnant advocates for our democracy.

While I never could have anticipated the deviousness and wretchedness that we would be met with from our own congressman, this is the landscape we are operating in. To be accused of ‘political thuggery,’ as Rohrabacher did of us, is not a characterization that I will let stand. Not while his Twitter feed is a case study in actual political thuggery. Not while his staff is intent on painting his constituents as an outlaw mob. Not while the GOP is flaming out. Not while the Executive Branch is having a fire sale on decency and competence. Not while the rule of law seems to be impossible to energize our elected officials to seek. Not while we stand on our principles of decency and duty to our republic. So let us hold on to the fire, and channel our passion into the work of organizing, as we commit to demonstrating our standing as agents of good. We are not a mob. Nor are we political thugs. We came to end thuggery.

From the Resistance: One Issue, Indivisible

2 Comments »

All over the country, small groups of citizens are forming groups in their own congressional districts in an attempt to fundamentally oppose the Trump agenda. The Indivisible Guide offers a playbook for starting activist groups focused on local congressional districts in the hopes that such action can move the political needle. From personal observation, I have seen a cross section of progressives come together and stage weekly actions at congressional offices, only to find that these elected officials don’t much want to hear from a group of unhappy constituents. On our first visit to my congressman, Dana Rohrabacher, I was exhilarated by the mere presence of so many people I had not otherwise known, as we faced off with an unprepared staff who attempted to hand out constituent concern forms for us to fill out. Our issue of the day was the Affordable Care Act, and our spokesman attempted to object to the potential repeal. The mood was tense, but the group of Indivisibles behaved appropriately, for the most part, and we left having done our civic duty. The following week our numbers increased, but the Rohrabacher staff was prepared, for they refused to open the door, and the police were on hand in case there was some mass uprising. We left messages on their intercom system until the mailbox was full, and many members filmed the happening, and it garnered some local press that began in the crime blog of the Orange County Register, as well as a rather I-told-you-so account by Matt Coker of the OC Weekly. This fit with the national story, where similar groups were finding it difficult to impact their own congressional representatives. The phenomenon, however, made news, and for progressives forced to play desperate defense under a house majority, this was a very big victory. Yuuge.

As we look ahead, it is hard not to feel some sense of hopelessness in the face of the indecency of the Trump regime. As I observe the group dynamics play out, I see the diversity within the group itself, as well as the diversity of personalities. Some people are positive and optimistic, declaring small victories with glee. Others, like myself, are quietly pessimistic. Anger seems to look different depending on whose face you are looking at. So many people I meet are relatively inexperienced in activism, myself included, and I recognize in so many a beautiful and innocent idealism and hope, that I weep at the thought of it being stamped out by the Sisyphean task that lies ahead of us. I am like many of the 700-plus members of the Indivisible Orange County 48 group, having been awakened rudely by the 2016 election, and we are all wondering where justice is, where decency is, and where the rule of law is. We are all having to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to our political process. One thing I have learned is that timing is everything when it comes to channeling outrage with any expectation of creating change. Calling your senators and congressman is effective when you are in lock-step with their legislative schedule, and it helps to travel in numbers. Spreading outrage over too many issues doesn’t focus the action enough to penetrate the small ears of congressional staffers who will tally the vox populi. David Frum’s article in the Atlantic Weekly speaks to this problem in an astute manner. We will be more successful if we prioritize our asks, and the dissent will hold more power if we speak together. I reflect that the biggest injustices can’t be lost in the spread of the smaller ones, nor can we allow them to pass in the flux of the attack on our republic that seems to be happening daily. What happened to that Russian thing? Are we really going to let Trump’s taxes fall into the cracks if they might reveal a threat to national security or constitutional violations? Unless your congressman is the chair of a committee that has power of oversight, those are demands that basically fall on deaf and incapable ears. The point, however, is that our basic reasons for mobilizing are based at the very root of the problem. Pruning branches on the poison tree doesn’t rip it from the ground.

This is where the Indivisible model represents slow progress—a game of inches, and causes pessimists like myself to fret that the end-game is both far off and a far cry, as I demand results that will take years to accomplish. My congressman isn’t going to lift a finger to investigate malfeasance in the White House, the campaign or the election. He isn’t likely to vote for any measures that protect the environment. He isn’t going to work to take guns away from people who are mental defectives. He isn’t going to fight for a fair health care system for all. His voting record as recent as last week affirms this. No amount of visits to his office are going to change the fact that he does not represent the interests of most people in his district, whether they know it or not. A town hall meeting isn’t going to suddenly cause my congressman to become human. This is not an expression of defeat or pessimism, it is pragmatic. The idea, however, is that the constant pressure, the constant action, the constant vigilance, will shake loose the foundation. For it to be effective, it requires organization, focus and coordination. We have the beginnings of that structure, now it is time to execute. Beyond my pragmatism, I am profoundly idealistic about the future and what could be possible in America. We are told to pocket that idealism now, to forget about a progressive vision for policy, and defend against the barrage of insults to democracy, but I have to hold on to some of it today. I have to learn to take solace in today’s action, to gear up for tomorrow’s, and to take hope in the face of what feels too often like a hopeless assault. To borrow from Eduardo Galeano, I personally have to remember that the time for optimism is now, and I will save pessimism for better times.

The current environment in the political scene, if you oppose the Trump regime, is a difficult place to live, and I refer to the welfare of the people having to contend with it. Ridicule from the opposition is bait for the hooks of contention, suffering and demoralization. Ideological differences, when one comes face to face with, are frustratingly polarizing. The litany of absurdities emanating from the White House are fuel for outrage everyday. It is important to be aware of the emotional and psychological effects of these things. Developing habits that help digest the horror in a way that allows us to function happily is a challenge, but it is vital. There are good days and bad, and I am discovering that is part of the new stage on which we play our parts. Hopelessness does not fester when we act. We must remember we are part of a national upheaval, with localized groups acting in concert with each other to face down the same problem. Our effectiveness depends on our ability to speak as one nation, indivisible. So, what will we say?

The Strange Covenant between the Orange Party and the GOP

1 Comment »

I was fortunate enough to visit the North Shore of Oahu between Christmas and New Year’s, and I enjoyed a week off from social media and the news cycles. It was an amazing thing to do, to exist in the world before me of big waves and trade winds and feral roosters, and most wonderfully, where the stress of politics didn’t intrude too much. Despite the fact that such a thing is possible, the unreality of American politics can’t be ignored forever. Upon my return I was dismayed to discover that my bubble enclosed, echo-chamber of libtard, lily-livered, pansy-assed, pinko, commie, queer, abortion-loving, anarchist friends had not dispensed with the Trump Organization. I’m sorry, I meant the Trump Administration. Sure enough it was still there, perpetuating the absurd farce that it is. So I re-acclimated to the new abnormal and continued to try and wrap my brain around the phenomenon. I must interject here that I am a fairly simple guy when it comes to the complexities of lawmaking and government, so I never really understand why justice seems like such a difficult thing to find in the machinery of the federal government. My blitz of calls to various Senate Committees and congressional reps illuminated quite clearly the ridiculousness of the process—that justice is much more difficult to find when you start seeking it. I figure that when there’s evidence of fraud and foreign tampering in an election, simple common sense would dictate that the whole thing needs to be halted and set aside, and the quest for truth should outweigh the imperative to keep moving forward on tainted ground. But clearly I haven’t met the federal government. After only a short while, I began to long for the breaks off Haleiwa.

As I had done on my previous trip to the islands, I read James Michener’s fictional tome on the Hawaiian Islands, and a few things struck me that I will attempt to tie in to the clown party that has become the American landscape. The missionary known in Michener’s book called Abner Hale was a righteous Christian, and he had very stringent ideas about his mission and the way life should be transformed through the aggressive and dictatorial infliction of Christianity on the islanders. Abner Hale’s cry of a passage from Ezekiel, ‘he who whores with Trump must also get syphilis’ was Michener’s way to reference the narrow perspective held by missionaries in the nineteenth century, for Abner Hale was a by-the-book Christian, and he had no tolerance for idolatry and surfing. Only Christ can walk on water. ‘Who are these savages without Christ?’ Hale exclaimed in many different ways. They must cease to worship their gods the way they had for a thousand years because God is the true God. It was this inflexibility, coupled with hubris, that arguably led to the demise of the native Hawaiian people during the missionary age, and set the stage for regular old American imperialism, racism, destruction and greed to become rule of law in Hawaii. I digress. Sort of.

I would be remiss if I misquoted Ezekiel 23:30, for the actual passage states:

I will do these things unto thee, because thou hast gone a whoring after the heathen, and because thou art polluted with their idols.

As Abner Hale’s cry, it was a rather vicious indictment of spirituality in the islands, and he was hell-bent on destroying the pagan gods and heathen practices that were interfering with his attempt to convert the native Hawaiians to the true and absolute virtue of Christianity. There would be no freedom of religion on the Hale watch. When one believes that their way is the only way, there isn’t much need for religious freedom. It’s actually a threat, I suppose.

Back on the mainland and back in the present, it occurred to me that firmly held beliefs, whether they are right or accurate or based in empirical reality or whatever, define people. I look at the cabinet appointments of the Trump organization, I mean uh administration, or the actions of the GOP congress or the senate with bewilderment, with shock, with confusion, and with wonder. I make the fatal error of wondering why. It is simply that people innately believe that what they are doing is right. I think that helps me because I kept trying to look at the GOP and the Trump organization, I mean administration, from the vantage point of their being like me, and these opposing ideals clash such that a battle between rightness and wrongness erupts. Like the early missionaries, people simply believed that their way was the way. They must feel a similar responsibility to tame the savage idolatrous world with their righteousness and their policies and their laws. This is rather well established I’d say. But now the GOP has a wolf in Orange clothing in their midst. The relationship between the Orange Party and the Grand Old Party is an interesting and new phenomenon. They have formed a strange covenant, and the dynamics present opportunity for their political enemies.

The fact is that Donald Trump is, and will be, a weak president. He is weak because of his deportment. He is weak because of his lack of knowledge and experience, because of his lack of perspicacity, because of his outlook and orientation, because of his delusion, and because he is hugely unpopular. He is weak because he doesn’t understand democracy, nor does he even understand the basic workings of the system itself. He is weak because he only understands the world in terms that fail to exceed even a most rudimentary grasp of complexity and nuance. He is weak because he really does represent a party that now merely resides inside the GOP, and despite the fact that divisions inside the structure have yet to break it entirely, the cracks are showing, and the stress points can be seen by his detractors and his enemies as focal points for exploitation. I put this is terms of weakness because this is the only manner in which he relates to the world, in terms of weakness and strength, in a particular approach to life that most people outgrow as children. And this is how he appears to be trying to govern, or dictate, or whatever the hell he is doing. And for that he is weak. And in the simple world he lives in, weakness is the fatal flaw. It will seal his fate.

At this point it is necessary (and perhaps comforting) to note that when we speak of Orange Party and GOP voters, we are dealing with a minority, and enumerating that minority is important. As it turns out, only approximately 28% of Americans eligible to vote voted for the Orange candidate. We’re really talking about less than a third of voters here. We can go crazy about the third of people who couldn’t be bothered to vote at all later. Anyway, I watched a piece on MSNBC where a correspondent went to a few swing states and interviewed Trump voters, because I gather people are still incredulous about how anyone could, in good conscience, vote for this person so lacking in character and vision and decency. I witnessed a few things that are worth noting. First I will say that some running theories are that racism won, or that poor rural workers swung the apparatus because of their woes. What I saw on this interview only served to aggravate my bewilderment. In a diner outside of a city, in the America we are spitefully told that liberals ignore and despise, we saw a laid off factory worker, a Mormon housewife, and a stereotype of the blue-collar Caucasian worker. Each in their own way explained their decision to back the new Orange Party candidate. The unemployed factory worker and the blue collar guy were sort of easy to figure. They wanted economic power and class superiority, respectively, and where they felt weakened. The last eight years, somehow, had instilled in them some sense that their economic situation and their impending class inferiority was the fault of the liberals, so the Orange candidate represented hope for lifting them up with the ruse and con of his phony populism. I should note, too, that class is just a polite way of veering off into good old-fashioned racism, and racism that is ingrained and secreted and an apparently massive undercurrent in the American electorate. The Mormon housewife was a bit different, but perhaps even more puzzling. She insisted that her choice was not in any way related to the Orange Party values on display, for she claimed she wasn’t asking him into her home, merely to be ‘head of state.’ This is a baffling acknowledgement that the Orange Party values aren’t hers, and that while they disturbed her enough to form a defense about, somehow she permitted herself to overlook the moral midgetry of the Orange candidate and actually pull the lever. I think everyone develops a narrative for the world and their response to it. And quite often that narrative is not based in fact or reality, but in deep-seated beliefs that facts and objective reality simply cannot permeate. As the group assembled in a diner, the Mormon housewife mentioned reluctantly that she felt the Orange candidate was a protector of her religious freedom. As it turns out, the blue collar white guy and the Mormon felt that when it came to ‘religious freedom,’ they seemed to feel strongly that the Orange Party was somehow fighting to safeguard this concept as they interpreted it. Now, I don’t know what that means, really. I can’t quite figure how these voters concluded that The Orange Party was a champion for religious freedom, but I assume he appeared to be the champion of their religious freedom. Now, where did the assault on their religious freedom begin, exactly, I have no idea, but judging from the visceral and emotional response to that notion from both of those Orange Party voters, the notion was deeply rooted. The reaction telegraphed irrational fear, yes, and certainly a misconstrued idea about the concept of religious freedom, and most definitely illuminates the xenophobia and the fact that people of certain faiths feel threatened by actual religious freedom in practice.

The type of change that appears warranted in terms of hearts and minds will occur in inches, and over generations, unfortunately, and at this point we only have two years to change the math. And in four years, we have to have that math unequivocally locked. The reality that there is any support at all for the Orange Party is soul crushing, but reality cannot be ignored, however in vogue such a tack might be. If we take these three voters as representational of a cross-section of the Orange Party voter, convert one of those voters, and well, that’s an election. The easiest is the guy who simply wants a decent job to support his family. I had no sense that he was entrenched in some deeply ingrained ideology, nor was he bound to some set of beliefs other than his desire to support his family. However puzzling the other folks were in their thought processes and rationale, the door must be open to shift the ground for at least some of these voters as well. In many respects I feel like that is not a job I am well suited for. Clergy and churches are better situated for that fight, although I have seen attempts to de-legitimize the Christianity of both the GOP and the Orange Party fail miserably. And a war of righteousness is just an ugliness I’d like to leave to the righteous.

The future of the world under the Orange Party is unsustainable. That isn’t so much a reflection of my righteousness as it is objective reality. The type of work that lays before the people of this nation is complex and broad. While we will not lay aside our idealism or our vision for a sustainable future, we are forced to play defense for a while. We don’t pull the goalie. We work hard to keep the score low. The GOP is more vulnerable because they’ve invited the Orange Party into their big tent, or perhaps more appropriately, they are in many ways held hostage there. It is a strange covenant, and it is theirs to manage. But it is ours to ensure that it is broken.

Enter your email address to get blog updates