Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tomthemick@gmail.com

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Chasm Widens

Bridge to Portland from South Portland

Not many people in the Portland, Maine area see the world as I do. It’s been five years since my wife and I bought a second home across the bridge in South Portland and I’ve kept a low profile. I do meet, however, with a group of writers every couple of months who know I’m a conservative columnist out in the hinterland. At last Wednesday’s gathering, everyone expressed dismay at the upcoming Trump inauguration and after listening for a while, I told them I voted for him. Instantly, the new person in the group who was sitting right next to me, said: “You’re an a**hole!” Everyone tightened up as I turned to look at my accuser, but no response was necessary. It was clear who the a**hole was.
Portland Marchers with signs
Congress Street, the main thoroughfare in Portland, was blocked off Saturday when my wife and I were trying to get to the YMCA where our nine-year-old grandson, Alex, was competing in a swim meet. The local Women’s March was breaking up and as I searched side streets for a way through, women and girls were carrying their signs back to their cars. The Portland Press Herald said ten thousand turned out. That’s a lot for Maine, but I was in the heart of America’s northeast bastion of progressivism where Trump is the devil incarnate. Hardly any of the 30 million women who voted for Trump live in the Portland area.
2016 electoral map by county

America is indeed divided. Mainstream media are in a frenzy about it, but our country has been divided for a long time. Barack Obama lamented it in his first big speech to the Democrat national convention back in 2004: “There's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America… no black America and white America… The pundits… like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states: red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats.” He said it again in 2008, and again in 2012, promising to heal the divides, but did he?
2008 electoral map by county

There was indeed a red America and blue America and the divide was getting wider. Many voted for him hoping he would transcend it, but it the divide had become a chasm by the time he left the White House last Friday. Rasmussen reported last summer that: “60% Say Race Relations Have Gotten Worse Since Obama’s Election.”
The right wasn’t thrilled when Obama, then the most liberal member of the US Senate, was inaugurated in 2009 but pretty much accepted it. After trillion-dollar deficits, ramming through Obamacare, a disastrous foreign policy, an anemic economy, lies about Benghazi, the Tea Party rose up, then was blocked by Obama’s IRS.
Mainstream media praised Obama throughout but rural Americans elected a Republican House and Senate to block his policies. Republican congressional leaders sat on their hands and watched instead. Rural Americans did a slow burn when Obama condescending called them “Bitter clingers” and Hillary Clinton called them a “Basket of Deplorables.”
By 2016, they were looking for someone who would go to Washington and really shake up the elites in both parties. They were ready for a bona fide butt-kicker when Donald Trump showed up. That he’d been married three times and talked about grabbing women didn’t faze them. When mainstream media attacked him and he gave it right back, they loved it. Maine’s rural Second Congressional District where I live went for Trump in 2016 while the coastal First District went overwhelmingly for Clinton. The divide in all of America between the coastal elites and the rural heartland is stark and we can expect it to get broader and deeper for the foreseeable future.
Maine's congressional districts

In last week’s column, I tried to poke fun at the “Pussyhat” preparations and the LGBTQIA+ meme of the Women’s March, but there’s little sense of humor among progressives. Their cause is sacred to them, a kind of surrogate religion. To laugh at them is heresy. Fifty of the organizations sponsoring the march nationwide are funded by left-wing billionaire George Soros and “Reproductive Rights,” a euphemism for abortion, was the strongest single theme. Pro-life women were banned.
Nearly all marchers vilified Donald Trump directly or indirectly as someone who objectifies and mistreats women. It’s interesting to note that there were no marches against President Clinton after he was formally charged with sexual harassment and paid $800,000 to his accuser, but Clinton was pro-abortion. That absolved him from the wrath of feminists no matter what he did to women.
Last week I was reminded again that progressives believe in tolerance, even of people like me who don’t agree with them, as long as we don’t speak up about it.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

A Lot To Learn

The lead story in Maine’s Portland Press Herald on Saturday told us that so many women are making knit hats for the Women’s March on Washington, the entire region was running out of pink yarn. The local chapter of the nationwide Pussyhat Project says it’s a dig at Donald Trump’s infamous remarks ten years ago. Remember? Because he was famous, women would let him grab them by their you-know-what. NBC had it on video and used it against him during the campaign. Women want to “reclaim the term” according to organizers. Three thousand Maine women have signed up to march with their hats which have two little ear-like things sticking out on top to resemble cat ears.
Portland Press Herald photograph

It’s not just about pussyhats. Former Maine State Senator and liberal Democrat Cynthia Dill says it’s about gender and race too and explains the march this way:

“The prism through which marchers will march is one of ‘intersectionality,’ a term coined by a law professor that now serves as currency in social justice circles seeking to recognize multifaceted levels of identity and power.”
I’ll admit, I don’t understand that. Probably my ignorance has something to do with being a white guy who hasn’t renounced his privilege — yet. Maybe it’s time I did. As a young man in the seventies and eighties, I was a left-wing Democrat, but then I moved right. Is it time to consider that maybe I went too far? Is it time for to modulate? Move toward the center?
American's deep divisions are on display as preparations for Trump’s inauguration continue. A hundred thousand women are expected to march on January 21st and I can’t understand when they tell me why. Still, I considered going down there Saturday and putting on a pussyhat with the rest of them. I’ve never liked wearing hats but my hair is getting thin and it's cold… Nah — I’ve got too much going on here in Maine.
How would I actually go about denouncing my while male privilege? Bring it up in casual conversation? “Ahh, the Patriots should go all the way to the Super Bowl, don’t you think? Oh! By the way, I’ve denounced my white male privilege.” Would that work? How many times would I have to say it? To how many people?
Huh?

And how about my toxic masculinity? How do I get rid of that? No, wait… one at a time. But I suspect both have been getting in the way of my understanding what the Women’s March is about, so I read the articles again. The Women’s March is about “intersectionality” including intersecting with LGBTQIA+ people, who are an integral part of the march. Notice how that acronym keeps getting longer? I understood the “LGBT” part — that’s been around a while, but what about the “QIA+”? I had to look that up. The Q could mean either “Queer” or “Questioning,” but isn't “Queer” was a pejorative? I had to look that up too. According to the GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates And Defenders) Media Reference Guide:

Once considered a pejorative term, queer has been reclaimed by some LGBT people to describe themselves; however, it is not a universally accepted term even within the LGBT community. When Q is seen at the end of LGBT, it typically means queer and, less often, questioning.

Okay, but then there’s the “I,” the “A,” and the plus sign. Thanks to the GLAAD guide, I learned “I” means “Intersex,” the “A” could mean either “Ally” or “Asexual.” The plus sign stands for, well, just in case there’s some new group of unusual sexual people claiming they’re not accepted fully enough, and weren’t assigned their own letter yet. We can, of course, expect the acronym to grow longer as things progress. That’s what Progressivism is all about, right?
I didn't have to learn any of this stuff when I was a lefty forty years ago. You only had to resent rich people, believe in socialism, and hate capitalism to be accepted back then. It’s much more complicated now and people are so sensitive...
And this is just a partial list

Now that I understand what LGBTQIA+ means, I can start learning the new pronouns I’ll have to use when addressing each of the groups. The list is long, including the first person, second person, third person singular and plural, the possessive forms, and so forth. Then I still have to practice pronouncing them. Can you see why I can’t be ready to attend the Women’s March by Saturday? I’d offend whoever I talked to because I don’t know how to address them.
People tell me the bald spot on the back of my head is getting bigger. I can’t see it but I feel the effect on cold, windy days, so I really need one of those pussyhats. Maybe I can meet the busses when they return to Portland. Maybe they have some left over…

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Monday, January 09, 2017

Too Much Information

Every day I get emails from news aggregators, those individuals and organizations who scan the news day and night and select links to what they think I should know. I signed up for them but I cannot read them all. There’s not enough time in the day — and if there was, I don’t have the energy. I have to delete some each day without reading them and I feel guilty when I do that. I feel I’m missing something I should know.
There was a time I thought it was possible to get at least a cursory understanding of anything and everything. Long ago I learned that’s not possible, but sometimes I forget. As a boy, I read newspapers, magazines, and  books of all types. My father subscribed to The Boston Globe, The Lowell Sun, Time, Newsweek, US News and World Report, National Geographic, and others. Occasionally, I’d see a Playboy left in the woods. The library was just over a mile away. I also purchased comic books and Superman was my favorite. Then there was a collection of Classics Illustrated — abridged, edited, comic-book formatted classic books like “Last of the Mohicans”; “Moby Dick”; “Silas Marner”; and many others. There was never a lack of things to read. It was a rich environment for a boy who wanted to learn about the world, past and present.
And I was sent to school — Catholic schools from second grade through high school. There I was taught many things, including the long history of the Catholic Church — the oldest, continually-functioning institution on earth. After that, I attended various colleges and earned degrees. All during that time, I took lessons from the school of hard knocks and I have the scars to prove it.
Understanding the present is difficult enough but then I was a history teacher. I had to help students make sense of the human past and relate it to the present. Courses were chunked into specific places and time spans but that didn't make it much easier really. There was the stuff we know happened, but what did it mean? It was humbling.
Since the late 20th century, I’ve used the internet to supplement my information gathering, but I have mixed feelings about it. My laptop has become the primary way I interact with the world beyond family, and sometimes with family as well through texts, email, and social media. I’m using it now to write this. Soon I’ll send it out for publication in various places, hard copy and digital.
In my pocket is another device with which I can tap the worldwide web, but I prefer my laptop because I don’t like typing with my thumbs, because the laptop is faster, and because its screen is bigger. I can’t remember the last time I looked online for information and didn’t find it. Can you? So, nearly all of us have something in our pockets that can reveal to us almost any kind of facts we may be looking for.
But is this access making us wiser? Better citizens? Better people? Not from my perspective it isn’t. For many of us, the information we’re looking for isn’t edifying. For some, it’s gossipy. For others, it’s prurient. Online, there’s always an option to go in a different direction. We may have originally been searching for edification, but were distracted and taken somewhere else. 
That’s not possible when we’re reading a book. Turn the page and we go where the author wants to take us, and if we chose the book wisely, that’s a positive direction. We can put the book down and pick up some kind of pulp, but it has to be readily available. To read a Playboy growing up, I would have to close whatever I was reading, go out into the woods, look for it, and it probably wouldn’t be there. Online in the 21st century, hooks are everywhere. If someone nibbles, more is just a compulsive click away. We must choose not to bite. When laptops with wireless internet were issued to all my students during my last years teaching, use of social media or accessing pornography were forbidden, but it was difficult to monitor, especially because they could be taken home. Compared to Playboy of my youth, pornography available to children today is shockingly evil.
Even without distractions, it’s not possible to learn all we want to know. There’s simply too much information available at our fingertips now. We’re nearly always on overload. and we don’t take time to process, and our online experience tends to be solitary. Someone may put a phone under our eyes wanting us to watch something, but how often do we discuss it? How much time do we spend just thinking about it? Not nearly enough would be my guess. Instead, we're always looking for more.
All this is taking us all somewhere, but exactly where is anybody’s guess.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2017

UK out of EU; US out of UN next?

Watters' World

Why are we surprised that our young people are ignorant of US History? For decades now, our academic elite has been consciously making them so. George Washington University is just the latest institution to drop a US History requirement — even for its history majors. Will Jesse Watters of O’Reilly Factor’s “Watters’ World” go to our nation’s capital and ask a GWU student who George Washington was? Will we see a blank look followed by a giggle and a shoulder shrug, and then an answer something like: “Umm… I should know this…”? Watters isn’t the first to expose this ignorance; Jay Leno did it for years with his “Jaywalking” segment on the Tonight Show.
Jaywalking

It’s sad, but cluelessness about our nation’s history has been the desired outcome of academia for decades now. A high school graduate may not be able to tell you when World War II was fought, who the combatants were, or even who won — but would have heard about internment of Japanese-American citizens. That’s because the dwindling number of students still taught US History learn more about America’s sins than America’s glory. The texts I used reflected that. After many chapters I had to offer students a contrasting perspective.
According to Ian Tuttle writing in National Review Online: “To the administrators and academics who revise these institutions’ mission statements, the nation-state has had its day… [They] work toward a ‘global community.’” Our elites see themselves as citizens of the world. Senator Barack Obama declared himself such in Berlin, Germany six months before being elected president — and his entire presidency seemed predicated on that vision. By contrast, his successor was elected promising to “put America first.” Donald Trump sees the world through an American lens, whereas Barack Obama saw America through a world lens. After his inauguration, Obama went around the world apologizing for America. Don’t expect that from Trump.
Academia had its way for decades, but backlash has been brewing among Americans living away from coastal bastions who are proud of America and would die for it. The coastal elites acknowledged them, but only to heap ridicule. In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama described them to a Marin County audience: “[T]hey get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” In 2016, Hillary Clinton called them “[T]he basket of deplorables… racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic -- you name it… Some of those folks -- they are irredeemable.” Two months later, those people elected a man who traveled the country wearing a baseball cap famously emblazoned: “Make America Great Again.”
Nationalism is ascendant throughout the western world now. People in Europe and in the USA want to preserve their way of life, not see it subsumed under a bland multicultural miasma in the European Union or the United Nations. There’s a common thread in the rise of Brexit and the rise of Trump. It’s no coincidence that Nigel Farage, the face of Brexit, appeared with Trump on the campaign trail here in the USA. Both tapped movements the elites scorned: renewed nationalism and disdain for globalism. Voters in both the UK and USA saw their nations as bulwarks against the vagaries of the world. They were willing to die for their countries but not for the EU or the United Nations (UN).
Nigel Farage wallops EU president to his face

Will the UK be better off out of the European Union (EU)? Will Donald Trump make America great again? Will he take the US out of the UN? 2017 will offer hints, but it will take at least a couple of years for enough evidence to make an educated guess. Government elites, as well as their cocktail party friends in elite media and academia predict disaster. They did their darnedest to forestall both developments and have yet to accept either. Some among them, however, are bold enough to predict the continued decline of EU and even its eventual collapse — with radical Muslim terrorism and uncontrolled Muslim immigration being the driving forces. Trump warned often against both here in the USA. Working through the United Nations, Obama has done his best to hamstring the Trump Administration in the Middle East and keep importing Muslims even after his term ends.
When it looked like her husband would win the Democrat nomination, Michelle Obama said: “For the first time in my adult life, I’m proud of my country…” We can assume that, like so many who who attended elite universities, she was ashamed of it.
Trump and LePage

Resisting the trend in our universities, Maine still requires US History as a condition for high school graduation. That won’t change over the next two years with LePage as governor. Nor is it likely to over the next four years with Trump as president. After that, we’ll see.

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