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Why We Shouldn’t Let Resentment Define Us

So this driver is stopped at an intersection. A pedestrian is dawdling in the crosswalk. Driver leans out the window and yells, “Get out of the street, you damned liberal!”

It’s been years since I read that in a magazine. I can’t remember if it was a true story, though I think it was. But even if only apocryphal, the picture it paints of American acrimony in the post-millennial years is true beyond mere facts.

As such, it leaves me questioning the likely impact of two recent well-intentioned pleas for ideological outreach. Joan Blades, co-founder of the liberal activist group Moveon.org, wrote an essay for The Christian Science Monitor, asking progressives to stretch beyond their left-wing comfort zones and “love thy neighbor.” And New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof warned the left against a tendency to “otherize” Donald Trump voters.

I’ve got no real argument with Kristof or Blades. It’s a noble gesture they’re making. It occurs to me, though, that none of this addresses a question that has come to seem obvious: What if the problem is simply that we just don’t like each other?

As I’ve said often, our acrimony is not political. It’s not about tax rates, government regulation, or even abortion rights. No, this is elemental.

This is about the city versus the country, higher education versus a mistrust thereof, Christian fundamentalism versus secular humanism. And it is about social change versus status quo.

Consider for a moment how often in history that change has been forcefully imposed on conservatives. It has been done by statute, by court decision, by executive order and, once, by war.

This is not an apology for that. In every instance, force was necessitated by the intransigence of those who defended that status quo because they were not ready for change.

If change must wait until all parties are “ready” for it, then change will never come.

So no, the foregoing is just an observation: Resentment is the residue of forced change. And this particular resentment is old, deep, and festering. Worse, it is useful. Republicans have found the maintenance and exploitation of that resentment to be a political gold mine. For instance, it helped elect Donald Trump.

But resentment is not identity. Or at least, it never was before. These days, people seem to wear their resentments — and more to the point, the ideological labels that give them voice — the way they wear gender or ethnicity, i.e., as an immutable marker of self. Suddenly, “conservative” is not about what you believe, but what you are. Small wonder the feud between ideologies comes to seem as mindless — and about as amenable to amicable resolution — as the one between the Hatfields and the McCoys.

Then you see a George W. Bush cozy up to his friend Michelle Obama and it stirs some vague, vestigial hope, some reminder that none of this is destiny, some realization that we must resolve this hate — it is not too strong a word — if we want to continue as one nation, indivisible. You see them buddied up across their vast ideological divide and you wonder why we can’t all be like that.

Still, with due respect to Kristof and Blades, I don’t know that progressive outreach alone can get us there. I find it noteworthy that I’ve seen no prominent conservative columnist or activist issue a similar call to the political right. Maybe I missed it. If so, I look forward to the correction. It would be a hopeful thing.

Because it’s a fallacy to believe progressives can fix America’s acrimony by changing their attitudes. I am all for reaching out.

But it helps to have someone else reaching back.

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during his “Make America Great Again” rally at Orlando Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2017.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Does Ben Carson Know The Difference Between Slaves And Immigrants?

A hypothetical narrative for your consideration:

A man climbs through the window of a sleeping girl. She stirs awake and starts to scream, but he punches her with a closed fist. Brandishing a gun, he vows to kill her parents, asleep in the next room, if she makes another sound. She nods in tearful comprehension and he is upon her, tearing at her night clothes. Then he violently makes love to her.

It could be argued that there’s nothing wrong with the foregoing description. After all, the basic mechanics of love making and rape are the same: sexual intercourse. But if you understand why that argument would be specious and offensive, please explain it to Ben Carson. The new secretary of Housing and Urban Development just described slaves as “immigrants.”

This happened Monday in a speech before HUD staff. Carson waxed eloquent about America as a nation built by people from other places, then said, “There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they, too, had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

But the slaves were no more “immigrants” than rape is making love. Nor is it difficult to tell the difference.

Immigrants booked passage and came to these shores in steerage, enduring heat, stench and cramped conditions in hopes of better lives in America. Slaves were kidnapped and came to these shores shackled, lying cheek to cheek in their own body waste.

Immigrants disembarked at Ellis Island where they endured questioning and health inspections before being allowed to enter the country. Slaves disembarked at places like Annapolis, Charleston, and Savannah, where families were snatched away from one another, had their bodies probed by foreign fingers, then were sold at auction, sometimes on credit.

Immigrants stood staring up at the towers of New York City and were daunted and inspired by the universe of possibilities they represented. Slaves stood staring down at fields of cotton or tobacco, at an overseer’s whip, at a thin mattress of corn shucks in a tiny cabin where winter’s icy breath came slicing through the cracks, and tried to understand that this was life now, and that death would be their only freedom.

Immigrants relocated. Slaves were relocated. They had no more say in the matter than a chair moved from one side of a room to the other.

After being excoriated for his apparent ignorance of this, Carson issued a statement on Facebook that said that the immigrant and slave experiences were different and “should never be intertwined.” Which doesn’t explain why he did exactly that.

It’s hard not to see this as part of an ongoing campaign by the political right to arrogate or neuter entirely the language of politics and social grievance. Consider how, in the last 25 years, “liberal” and “feminist” became curse words and “racism” was redefined as “speaking about race.” Now it’s becoming sadly common to hear enslaved Africans described as “workers,” “settlers,” and, yes, “immigrants.”

Words, you must understand, have weight and effect. So this campaign is neither incidental nor accidental. No, like Holocaust denial, it is an attempt to minimize and trivialize a crucible of agony, to rob it of pathos, to render it unworthy of reverence. It’s heartbreaking to have to explain to anyone why this is wrong.

It’s pathetic to have to explain it to a 65-year-old African-American man.

IMAGE: Republican candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks during the Heritage Action for America presidential candidate forum in Greenville, South Carolina, September 18, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Thanks To Trump, Newspapers Matter Again

I’m beginning to feel like Sally Field.

Remember the 1985 Academy Awards, when she was stunned by the idea of being accepted? “And I can’t deny the fact that you like me!” she gushed. “Right now! You like me!”

I could give the same speech today.

I am, you see, employed in an industry that is dealing with, well … let’s be diplomatic and call them “challenges.” Truth is, though, the newspaper business is “challenged” in the same sense the Titanic was “leaky.”

Wherever I travel, I make a point of picking up the local paper. Almost always, it is like holding a cancer patient, some stricken friend you haven’t seen in awhile. You are shocked by how thin and flimsy it has become, how little substance remains. Budgets are shrinking, ad revenue is declining, some cities no longer have seven day a week home delivery, some don’t even have seven day a week newspapers.

And now, all of a sudden: “You like me! Right now! You like me!”

Which is to say that lately, I’ve been hearing from readers who say they’ve found renewed appreciation for newspapers as we trudge through the Valley of the Shadow of Trump. They see them as the last line of defense between 2017 and “1984.”

Initially, I didn’t attach much importance to such comments; I thought it was just a few isolated folks. But I’ve since learned that other journalists are hearing the same thing. Amazingly, a number of papers are reporting that subscriptions are up since the November election. The Washington Post has even hung out the “Help Wanted” sign.

Apparently, Donald Trump is good for business. Who knew?

I am of multiple minds about this. In the first place, as already noted, there’s the Sally Field response. Close behind that there is a wish that some of this love had been in evidence 10 years ago when I began losing friends and colleagues to the unemployment line

And close behind both is a realization that, while an uptick in subscriptions is certainly a good thing, it is unlikely to be a panacea for what ails newspapers. The changes wrought to the business model by the technological revolution of the last quarter century are too profound. The Internet has hollowed this business out like a cantaloupe.

We are, as a nation, poorer for that.

In the clangorous acrimony of our hyperpartisan politics, in the forward rush to master the new tricks and the next technology, we somehow lost appreciation for the values this old technology — we’re talking things that happened yesterday printed on dead trees, for criminy sake! — brought, quite literally, to the table.

When I say that, I don’t intend to signal some romantic rumination about lingering over breakfast with the sports page, or the tactile joys of ink and paper, though those things are not unimportant. But I’m talking about information, the kind of in-depth briefing for which television lacks the time and Facebook, the authority. I’m talking about knowledge that equips a citizen to hold his or her government to account. I’m talking about the fact that facts matter.

This is what some people seem to have belatedly remembered. It’s what seems to be prodding their return.

I’m more than glad to have them back, but pardon me if I regard all this with a jaundiced eye. The newspaper, we used to say, is the watchdog of power. Well, it seems to me that some of us are only just now — i.e., since November — discovering the paradox of watchdogs: You can get along fine without them. You really don’t need one.

Right up until you do.

IMAGE: NS Newsflash via Flickr

In The Face Of Hatred, Americans Can Speak Up Or They Can Look Away

There is a strip mall across the street from Auschwitz.

From the commandant’s house at Plaszow it’s a short walk to McDonald’s.

Belzec is in a residential neighborhood.

I didn’t expect that.

In 2005, when I joined an interfaith pilgrimage to these camps where the Holocaust happened, it kept surprising me to find them located, not in deep woods hidden from prying eyes, but smack in the middle of urban areas.

I assumed all this development was new, that it had grown up in the decades since the war. But our guide told me these were always residential and commercial districts. Joe Engel, a Holocaust survivor in our group, said the same thing in a different way:

“People say they didn’t know. All the camps were so close to the city. How could they not know? You could smell the ashes, the flesh.”

The closeness of death factories to places where people lived, worshiped, and shopped was chilling. It suggested that evil didn’t mind witnesses.

Saturday night, nearly eight decades after the death factories were closed, someone — more likely a gang of someones — toppled about 100 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia. The same thing happened last week in St. Louis. And there have been dozens of false bomb threats at Jewish community centers in over two dozen states, including Florida.

When the people of Poland were forced by their occupiers to stand witness to acts of mass atrocity, each had to decide how to respond. Some acquiesced willingly. Some looked the other way. And at risk of property and life, some fought back. They hid Jews from death and smuggled them to freedom.

What Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi did last week was not nearly so dramatic or risky, but it was certainly in the same spirit of outreach to the vulnerable Other. The two activists started a campaign on LaunchGood.com, a crowdfunding website for Muslims, asking their brothers and sisters in Islam to help raise $20,000 to repair the cemetery in St. Louis.

They reached that goal in three hours. As of Tuesday afternoon, their total stood north of $140,000. Sarsour and El-Messidi say the surplus from repairing the St. Louis cemetery will go toward the one in Philadelphia — and to a fund to repair any future acts of desecration.

Why would they do this?

On their LaunchGood page, they tell a story of the Prophet Muhammad once standing to pay his respects as a Jewish funeral procession passed by. When questioned about it, they say the Prophet responded: “Is it not a human soul?”

And what greater way to honor that common soul than for members of one group of the despised to reach out to another? At a time when we confront so much of what is wrong with America, it is heartening to be reminded of what is right. Necessary, too.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that since the election of Donald Trump, there has been a spike in right-wing extremism. African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Muslims, gays, transgender men and women, all of the most vulnerable and marginalized, find themselves under renewed attack: harassment, vandalism, and even murder.

Again, no one is equating any of that with the Holocaust. That’s not the point.

Rather, the point is the willingness to see what’s going on around you, what’s being done and to whom. In the digital age, you don’t need to live across from a death camp for that. Sarsour and El-Messidi remind us that we, like the Poles once did, bear witness to a campaign of hatred. And like them, we must decide:

What kind of witnesses shall we be?

IMAGE: Rabbi Hershey Novack walks through Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Missouri where almost 200 gravestones were vandalized. Robert Cohen / St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Trayvon Martin Had To Be Guilty Of Something, Right?

A few words on the innocence of Trayvon Martin.

The very idea will outrage certain people. Experience says the notion of Trayvon Martin being innocent will offend them deeply.

But they can get over it. Or not.

Because it is five years now since Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin’s unarmed son died. Five years since he was killed in Sanford, Florida by a neighborhood watchman who dubbed him, on sight, a “f—— punk” and one of “these a–holes.”

Five years. And there are things that need saying. His divorced parents say much of it in Rest In Power, their new book about the tragedy.

“My son had been intensely alive!” writes Martin. “My son had been a life force, a teenager who had hopes and dreams and so much love. But in death, he became a figure we could only see through the dark mirror of evidence and testimony, a cursed single night when our son and all that life inside him was reduced to a stranger, a black kid in a hoodie, a young man in the shadows. A suspect.”

George Zimmerman was the first to make that reduction when he stalked Trayvon through a gated community despite a police dispatcher advising him to stay with his car. Then the police did it, testing the shooting victim for drugs and alcohol while telling his killer to “go home and get some rest.” Then the jury did it when they set Zimmerman free.

Much of America did it, too. One reader wrote — without a shred of evidence — that Trayvon was “casing” houses when he was shot. This was a boy walking back from 7-Eleven to watch a basketball game at his father’s girlfriend’s house.

Another person, upset that family photos made Trayvon look too young and, well … innocent, forwarded a chain email showing a tough-looking man, with beard and mustache, tats on his hands and face, insisting, “This is the real Trayvon.” It was actually the real Jayceon “Game” Taylor, a then-32 year old rapper.

Supplied with a death scene image of Trayvon — darker skin than Taylor, younger, slimmer, no facial hair, no visible tats — the woman was unmoved. “They’re both Trayvon,” she insisted.

Because Trayvon could not, at all costs, be innocent. The very idea was a threat.

So people embraced absurdities. Like a 140-pound boy jumping a man 12 years older and 50 pounds heavier. Like the boy hitting the man 25 or 30 times and bashing his head against concrete, though Zimmerman’s “injuries” amounted to a bloody nose and scratches on the back of his head that needed no stitches. Like Trayvon, shot point blank in the heart, dying like a villain in some 1950s western, groaning, “You got me.”

They seized upon his suspension from school. For them, it proved not that he was an ordinary boy who needed — and was receiving — the guidance of two loving parents. No, it proved he was not, could never be, innocent. Trayvon was no angel, they would announce triumphantly.

But why did he have to be? And why was there no similar requirement of the killer, who had been arrested once for scuffling with a police officer and had been the subject of a domestic-violence restraining order? The answer is too obvious for speaking.

Five years ago, a black boy was shot for nothing. And many Americans made him a blank screen upon which they projected their racialized stereotypes and fears.

They could not allow him to be a harmless child walking home. No, they needed his guilt.

They knew what it proved if Trayvon Martin was innocent.

Namely, that America was anything but.

IMAGE: This undated file family photo shows Trayvon Martin. Martin was slain in the town of Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26 in a shooting that has set off a nationwide furor over race and justice. 

Fear Led Us To Intern Japanese Americans. Who’s Next?

Imagine this.

You are a boy, living in a child’s blissful unaware. You are not terribly different from other kids. Maybe you play stickball in the street and pretend to be Joe DiMaggio. Maybe you listen to “The Lone Ranger” on the Philco. Maybe you’re crazy for Superman.

Maybe it’s a good life.

Then comes that sudden Sunday in December. All at once, everyone is angry about something bad that happened at a place called Pearl Harbor, and people you know — people who know you — are staring at you as if you are no longer who you always were.

Two months later — 75 years ago this week — there is news about a new executive order signed by President Roosevelt. Soon, the poster starts appearing on lamp posts. The headline reads: “Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry.” It is an evacuation order.

As a child, you know nothing about the column in the San Francisco Examiner where Henry McLemore wrote: “Let ’em be pinched, hurt, hungry and dead up against it … Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them.”

And you didn’t hear how Assistant War Secretary John McCloy said, “If it is a question of the safety of the country [and] the Constitution … why, the Constitution is just a scrap of paper to me.”

All you know is that suddenly, with maybe a week’s notice, you are on a train, being taken away from your Philco and from stickball games, from Superman comic books, from, well … everything.

Maybe your name is Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, and you will someday be Mr. Miyagi in “The Karate Kid” movies. Maybe your name is Hosato Takei, and as George Takei, you will become the original Mr. Sulu on “Star Trek.” Maybe your name is Norman Mineta and you will be a congressman.

But in the desolate camps to which you are exiled, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you might someday be. In the camps, as they say, “A Jap is a Jap.”

So in the camps, you live behind barbed wire, under armed guard in tar paper barracks with toilets where you must do your business in public view.

You live with inferno heat, aching cold, and gritty dust. Yet, you struggle to hold on to who you used to be.

You play baseball. You draw and sing. And you go to school, where every morning you stand, hand over your heart, and recite, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America …”

Seventy-five years later, communal memory recoils from what the United States of America did to you. And as we tend do when memory indicts conscience, we choose to forget.

So many of us no longer know what happened, how you lost your businesses, your homes, how your lives were never again the same.

As many of us forget the story, we also forget its moral: how fear can interdict reason, make you lash out with hatred at harmless people.

Thus, some of us cheered recently when a new executive order was signed and our airports turned to chaos. Some of us echoed McCloy: “The Constitution is just a scrap of paper to me.”

But the rest of us were saddened by what America has done to itself — and to countless innocents — in the spasms of its fear.

The rest of us were stunned by what Winston Churchill called “the confirmed unteachability” of humankind.

We never learn, do we?

Imagine you are a boy, living in a child’s blissful unaware, not terribly different from other kids. Maybe you play hoops at the park and pretend to be Michael Jordan. Maybe you watch Power Rangers. Maybe you’re crazy for Spider-Man.

Maybe it’s a good life.

But then comes a sudden Tuesday in September.

IMAGE: War Relocation Authority – 210-G-2A-572, Records of War Relocation Authority, Record Group 210; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. Wikicommons / United States Department of Interior.

Mr. So-Called President: Just Who Do You Think You Are?

Dear Mr. So-Called President:

So let me explain to you how this works.

You were elected as chief executive of the United States. I won’t belabor the fact that you won with a minority of the popular vote and a little help from your friends, FBI Director James Comey and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The bottom line is, you were elected.

And this does entitle you to certain things. You get your own airplane. You get free public housing. You get greeted with snappy salutes. And a band plays when you walk into the room.

But there is one thing to which your election does not entitle you. It does not entitle you to do whatever pops into your furry orange head without being called on it or, should it run afoul of the Constitution, without being blocked.

You and other members of the Fourth Reich seem to be having difficulty understanding this. Reports from Politico and elsewhere describe you as shocked that judges and lawmakers can delay or even stop you from doing things. Three weeks ago, your chief strategist, Steve Bannon, infamously declared that news media should “keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”

Just last Sunday, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller declared on CBS’ Face The Nation that “our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

What you do “will not be questioned?” Lord, have mercy. That’s the kind of statement that, in another time and place, would have been greeted with an out-thrust palm and a hearty “Sieg heil!” Here in this time and place, however, it demands a different response:

Just who the hell do you think you are?

Meaning you and all the other trolls you have brought clambering up from under their bridges. Maybe you didn’t notice, but this is the United States of America. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Nation of laws, not of individuals? First Amendment? Freedom of the press? Any of that ringing a bell?

Let’s be brutally clear here. If you were a smart guy with unimpeachable integrity and a good heart who was enacting wise policies for the betterment of all humankind, you’d still be subject to sharp scrutiny from news media, oversight from Congress, restraint by the judiciary — and public opinion.

And you, of course, are none of those things. I know you fetishize strength. I know your pal Vladimir would never stand still for reporters and judges yapping at him.

I know, too, that you’re accustomed to being emperor of your own fiefdom. Must be nice. Your name on the wall, the paychecks, the side of the building. You tell people to make something happen, and it does. You yell at a problem, and it goes away. Nobody talks back. I can see how it would be hard to give that up.

But you did. You see, you’re no longer an emperor, Mr. So-Called President. You’re now what is called a “public servant” — in effect, an employee with 324 million bosses. And let me tell you something about those bosses. They’re unruly and loud, long accustomed to speaking their minds without fear or fetter. And they believe power must always answer to the people. That’s at the core of their identity.

Yet you and your coterie of cartoon autocrats think you’re going to cow them into silence and compliance by ordering them to shut up and obey? Well, as a freeborn American, I can answer that in two syllables flat.

Hell no.

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump returns a salute as he steps from Marine One upon his return to the White House in Washington February 6, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The Double Standard On White Terrorism

White terrorism is not as bad as Muslim terrorism.

That, believe it or not, was the crux of an argument Sean Duffy, a Republican representative from Wisconsin, made last week on CNN. What follows has been condensed for space, but it unfolded like this:

Asked by anchor Alisyn Camerota about the Trump regime’s failure to condemn a recent massacre in which six Muslims were killed by a white extremist in Quebec, Duffy allowed that, “Murder on both sides is wrong,” but insisted, “There is a difference.”

That difference, as he sees it: there’s no white extremist ISIS or al Qaida fomenting terrorism. What happened in Canada, he said, “was a one-off.”

And the Oklahoma City bombing?

“So, you’ve given me two examples,” said Duffy.

And the Charleston church massacre?

“Look at the good things that came from it. [Then-South Carolina Gov.] Nikki Haley took down the Confederate flag. That was great. But … there’s no constant thread that goes through these attacks.”

Of course there is.

“Domestic right-wing terrorist groups often adhere to the principles of racial supremacy and embrace antigovernment, anti-regulatory beliefs.” So said Dale L. Watson, then the executive assistant director of the Counterterrorism/Counterintelligence Division of the FBI, in Senate testimony way back in 2002.

Duffy is wrong about pretty much everything else, too. No white extremist groups fomenting terror? What do you call the Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan? The Southern Poverty Law Center has tied one group, Stormfront, to acts of murder and terror that have killed nearly 100 people.

As for Duffy’s belief that white extremist terror is somehow rare, well, the 1996 bombing of the Atlanta Olympics, the 1999 attack on a Jewish community center near Los Angeles, the 2000 killing of five people in greater Pittsburgh to protest “non-white immigration,” the 2009 murders of three Pittsburgh police officers to oppose a supposed national gun ban, the 2012 murder of six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin., and the 2015 killing of three at a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs, (to name a few), argue otherwise.

Go further back and there is the 1963 bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four little girls. Go beyond these shores and there is the 2011 attack in Norway in which 77 people died.

Terrorism is defined as the unlawful use of violence to coerce or intimidate a government or a people in furtherance of some social or political cause. But for Rep. Duffy and others that seems to apply only to swarthy individuals with difficult names. When white people do it, it is less likely to be perceived — or reported by news media — as terrorism.

This double standard reflects not simply America’s xenophobia, but also America’s maddening insistence upon the blamelessness, the fundamental innocence, of whiteness, even when the evidence screams otherwise. “Look at the good things that came from,” the Charleston church massacre, chirps Duffy, as if lowering that odious flag somehow — what? — balances things out?

Imagine how offensive that must be to anyone who lost someone in that church. The lengths to which some will go to protect the fiction of innocence are staggering.

White terrorism is not as bad as Muslim terrorism?

Well, because of white terrorism, Emily Lyons lost an eye, Abdelkrim Hassane’s three young children lost their father, and Cynthia Wesley, age 14, had her head torn off.

So they might beg to differ.

IMAGE: June 17, 2015: A white supremacist gunman kills nine black churchgoers during a Bible study session at a historic, predominantly black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The suspect Dylann Roof is awaiting trial. REUTERS/Jason Miczek/File Photo           

America Rarely Lets You Forget That You’re Black

So I had myself an epiphany.

Actually, that’s not quite the right word. An epiphany is a moment of sudden clarity, but mine rolled in slowly, like dawn on a crystal morning.

I’m not sure when it began. Maybe it was in 2012 when Trayvon Martin was killed and much of America held him guilty of his own murder. Maybe it was in 2013 when the Voting Rights Act was eviscerated and states began hatching schemes to suppress the African-American vote. Maybe it was on Election Day. Maybe it was a few weeks later, when a South Carolina jury deadlocked because the panel — most of them white — could not agree that it was a crime for a police officer to shoot an unarmed black man in the back. Could not agree, even though they saw it on video.

I can’t say exactly when it was. All I know is that the dawn broke and I realized I had forgotten something.

I had forgotten that I am black.

Yes, I know what the mirror says. And yes, I’ve always known African Americans face challenges — discrimination in health, housing, hiring, and a racially biased system of “justice,” to name a few. But I think at some level, I had also grown comfortable in a nation paced by Oprah, LeBron, Beyonce, and Barack. The old mantra of black progress — two steps forward, one step back — had come to feel … abstract, something you said, but forgot to believe.

So when we hit this season of reversal, I was more surprised than I should have been. I had forgotten about being black. Meaning, I had forgotten that for us, setback is nothing new.

Right after the election, as I was grappling with this, I chanced to see this young black woman — Melissa “Lizzo” Jefferson — on “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” and she performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the “Negro National Anthem.” Something about that song always gets to me. Something about it always stirs unseen forces, shifts something heavy in my soul.

“Lift Every Voice” was written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900. That was 23 years after the Republicans sold out newly freed slaves, resolving a disputed election by striking a backroom deal that made Rutherford B. Hayes president on condition he withdraw from the South federal troops who had safeguarded African-American rights and lives since the end of the Civil War. It was five years after the first “grandfather clause” disenfranchised former slaves by denying the ballot to anyone whose grandfather did not vote. It was four years after the Supreme Court blessed segregation.

And it was a year in which 106 African Americans were lynched — a routine number for that era.

Yet in the midst of that American hell, here was Johnson, exhorting his people to joy.

Lift every voice and sing

Till Earth and heaven ring

Ring with the harmonies of liberty

Let our rejoicing rise

High as the listening skies

Let it resound,

Loud as the rolling sea.”

Lord, what did it take to sing that song back then?

I pondered that as the year deepened into December, as Christmas came and went, as the ball dropped in Times Square. Now here it is Black History Month, and I know again what I had somehow forgotten.

I had forgotten that we’ve been here before, that our history is a litany of people pushing us back after every forward step. I had forgotten that it long ago taught us how to weave laughter from a moan of pain, make a meal out of the hog’s entrails, climb when you cannot see the stairs, and endure.

I had forgotten that America is still America — and I am still black.

But it won’t happen again.

IMAGE: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) is joined onstage by first lady Michelle Obama and daughter Malia, after his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Trump’s Muslim Ban Is An Embarrassment To This Country

I have never been more embarrassed for this country.

Under the rubric of protecting Americans from terrorism, the Trump regime last week banned travel into the United States by people from seven majority-Muslim nations. And never mind that experts, including the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank, say the combined U.S. death toll in terrorist attacks from citizens of those nations is zero since 1975.

Trump’s ban created predictable chaos around the world. Watching the stranded travelers and bewildered families, I kept wishing I could apologize to those whose lives, careers, and plans were thrown into needless turmoil because a minority of American voters chose to invest a fear-mongering man-baby with the awesome powers of the presidency.

That includes Nisrin Omer, a Sudanese woman who has lived in the United States since 1993. She told the New York Times she was handcuffed, searched, and interrogated for five hours as she returned from Sudan, where she was doing research for a Ph.D. from Stanford University.

It also includes Sarvin Haghighi, an Iranian woman who wound up stranded in Australia after visiting family there. Her husband, a U.S. citizen named Andrew Culley, told Al-Jazeera she was first admitted to this country only after three and a half years of vetting by the Department of Homeland Security.

Most of all, I wished I could apologize to Hameed Khalid Darwish, a 59-year old Iraqi man who was handcuffed and spent nearly 19 hours in detention at Kennedy Airport. Over 10 years, Darwish — at grave risk to himself and his family — worked with U.S. military personnel in Iraq as a translator and contractor. For a man who put himself on the line to further American interests and safeguard American lives to be treated like that upon arriving on American soil is shabby beyond belief. Of course, shabbiness is a hallmark of the new regime.

The one heartening thing in this is that the detentions sparked such a great outcry, with mass protests erupting at airports across the country. Taken in conjunction with the Women’s March that brought huge numbers to Washington a week and a half ago and inspired echoes across the country and around the world, it seems not unreasonable to hope that we are seeing the birth of a mass movement here.

It’s darn well about time. Over the last 25 years, as conservatism has mutated from a respectable ideology to a cult of perpetual lunacy, progressivism has been marked by an often milquetoast unwillingness to fight for its own values. The tea party organized, demonstrated, and became a force in Congress. Progressives wrote think pieces, shared snarky tweets, and complained.

These were people whose forebears once took to the streets to stand down racism, sexism, imperialism, and homophobia. Now — especially in Congress — they were people who were routinely left standing with their figurative pants yanked down around their metaphorical ankles.

Well, progressives need to stop taking boxing gloves to a knife fight. What is at stake here is not any one ideology, but reason itself, decency itself. A muscular and consistent resistance is required now. Pray God, that’s what is taking shape.

Darwish, by the way, went free Saturday after lawyers filed a writ of habeas corpus. “America is the land of freedom,” he told reporters after his detention. “… America is the greatest nation, the greatest people in the world.”

He spoke without irony. He meant it from his heart.

And that may have been the most embarrassing thing of all.

IMAGE: People participate in a protest against President Donald Trump’s travel ban at Columbia University in New York City, U.S. January 30, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith/File Photo

‘Alternative Facts’ And Trump’s Running War With The Truth

This president lies.

Granted, every president tells the occasional politically expedient untruth. But this guy is different. He lies constantly. He lies about relatively unimportant things. He lies when the truth can be easily verified.

None of this comes as a surprise, of course. It’s been obvious since long before Donald Trump took the oath of office on Friday. Still, it is disheartening to realize that that oath, and the awesome responsibilities that come with it, have not changed him in the least. He still lies as prolifically as ever.

For instance, in a speech on Saturday at the CIA, Trump blasted the news media for making it “sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community.” But it wasn’t the news media that sent out a tweet as recently as Jan. 11 likening the intelligence community to Nazi Germany. Did Wolf Blitzer have a gun to his head or something? No, that was Trump.

On Monday, in a meeting with congressional leaders, Trump renewed his claim that he would have won the popular vote in the November election except that massive fraud cost him millions of ballots. And that’s a lie, too. There is no — repeat: zip, zilch, zero — evidence to support that claim.

On Saturday, Trump sent press secretary Sean Spicer storming into the White House briefing room to berate reporters for reporting — accurately — that the crowd at Trump’s inauguration was much smaller than that at President Obama’s first swearing-in in 2009. Pressed to explain that behavior Sunday on “Meet The Press,” senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said something bizarre: “Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts.”

Whereupon, my cousin Kelly called me, sputtering in disbelief. Kelly, a career prosecutor, wanted to know if this means he is now free to put untruths into evidence if he dubs them “alternative facts.”

Meantime, my colleague, Miami Herald cartoonist Jim Morin tweeted, “I would like to congratulate Hillary Clinton for winning the presidential election and enacting a progressive agenda for USA. #AlternativeFact.”

Even Germany’s national railway joined in: “Good news — 120% of our trains are on time today. #alternativefacts”

You’d think Team Trump would learn its lesson, but there was Spicer the very next day, echoing Conway’s — ahem — “reasoning.” “Sometimes,” he told reporters, “We can disagree with the facts.”

In a word: Argh. Look, you can “disagree” all you want that 2+2=4. You may offer to your heart’s content the “alternative fact” that 2+2 = rainbow sherbet. None of it changes the hard reality of what sum is produced when you add those numbers. Nor can you insist otherwise and expect anyone with half a brain to take you seriously.

Ask yourself: If we cannot trust these people to tell us the truth on minor matters that can be easily checked, what confidence can we have that they will be square with us on substantive matters where the truth is not a Google search away? What confidence can our allies and adversaries have?

The answer is, none. That should scare you.

As should this: Just a few days in, this may already be the least trustworthy regime in history. Yet last week, that regime was said to be thinking of evicting reporters from the White House.

And Newt Gingrich just said press briefings should be open to non-journalists, i.e., a designated cheering section lobbing softball questions.

Trump will tell you he has a bad relationship with reporters because they are “unfair.” He says he’s in a “running war” with news media. But that’s another lie.

This guy’s “running war” is with the truth.

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Armed Services Ball in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

New ‘Sheriff’ Has A Badge — But Doesn’t Have A Clue

It was, arguably, the most telling moment of Donald Trump’s inauguration speech.

People want good schools, neighborhoods and jobs, said the incoming president. “But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

“This American carnage,” promised Trump, “stops right here and stops right now.”

Leave aside the dubious veracity of painting our admittedly challenged nation as a hellish doomscape — “American carnage?!” Really? — and ponder instead what he actually said there. Poverty, unemployment, miseducation, crime and drugs, issues that have bedeviled every nation and all generations, came to a screeching stop “right here … and right now” at noon on January 20th.

Why?

Because there’s a new sheriff in town, pardner. Because he’s putting his foot down. Because he says so. If Trump gave any other reason — if he has ever given any other reason — it escaped notice. No, once again, we are promised a magic solution through the sheer force of his will.

It’s silly enough that you want to laugh until you remember that 63 million Americans didn’t get the joke, that they took this stuff seriously. Indeed, they took it seriously enough to make him leader

Never mind that Trump is really just that guy at the end of the bar who, with beer-lubricated certainty and megaphone volume, tells you how to solve humanity’s most intractable problems. And maybe as he’s speaking, as you’re under the spell of it, it sounds like wisdom. But the next morning, you sober up and see it for the hogwash it is.

Unfortunately, America has not sobered up yet.

It will soon. If the country is even halfway serious about resolving its challenges, it has no choice.

The magical thinking embodied in Trump’s speech is not a recipe for fixing problems, nor even for addressing them. It is, rather, a primal scream, viscerally satisfying in the short term but masturbatory and useless in the long term. At some point, in the not-distant future, after poverty, unemployment, miseducation, crime and drugs have not magically disappeared, one hopes the people who fell for this act will realize that.

Lasting change does not come because you yell at a problem. Lasting change comes because you work at it, because you commit to using the best ideas and the best minds to produce the best results. It’s not perfect, but it’s the process we have.

In the meantime, if there is a silver lining here, it is that the GOP now has the White House, the Congress and no excuses. So the rest of us would like to know when we can expect America to be “great again?” Is there a date the party would like to share?

Yes, the question is tongue in cheek, but it is also meant to point out what has always been painfully obvious and became even more so after the new president finished ordering poverty to get out of town by sundown. Namely, that it was all always an act, a fake, a con, even if voters have been slow to figure that out.

Bluster is not governance and the world doesn’t stop being complicated because you tell it to. Maybe even Donald Trump doesn’t know that yet.

But he’s about to find out.

IMAGE: President Donald Trump is joined by the Congressional leadership and his family before formally signing his cabinet nominations into law, in the President’s Room of the Senate, at the Capitol in Washington, January 20, 2017. From left are Vice President Mike Pence, the president’s wife Melania Trump, their son Barron Trump, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis. REUTERS/J. Scott Applewhite/Pool

The Great Trumpkin Rises From The Trumpkin Patch

Sometimes, you’ve got to go through it to get to it.

That’s a personal motto with which I have occasionally consoled myself since I was a teenager. It means that for as much as we naturally seek to avoid the unpleasant situation, to find a way over or around it, there are times in this life when the only option is to go through it, to endure the unendurable thing and pick up the pieces on the other side.

That philosophy has succored me through breakups, deaths, and career reversals. I find myself turning to it again to gird for the inauguration of the 45th president.

For years, many of us have sought to avoid, to go over or around, the consequences of the Republican Party’s retreat from seriousness. Meaning its studied outrage, its practiced hysteria, its obstructionism, its bigotry, its withdrawal into a facts-free alternate universe, its embrace of human cartoons like Sarah Palin, Ben Carson, and Herman Cain. But avoidance is no longer an option, and the impossible is upon us.

The Great Trumpkin is rising from the Trumpkin patch. Cliff Clavin just got the last laugh on the gang at “Cheers.”

The most flagrantly unfit man in history is about to be sworn in as president. And for the first time in my life, I am not optimistic about America’s future — at least not its next four years. There is no disaster, up to and including a nuclear exchange, that would surprise me under the incoming administration.

If you need a silver lining, I can offer only this: Assuming America survives the next four years in any recognizable form — by no means a foregone conclusion — I suspect Donald Trump’s debacles and the sheer tiresomeness of the man himself, will so thoroughly discredit this strain of Republicanism as to destroy it completely.

Maybe then the country will be in a mood for serious people — Democratic and Republican — with serious ideas again. That’s what passes for hope these days. Meantime, I have made a resolution: I will, at all costs, retain my capacity for outrage.

Yes, that will be easier said than done.

The capacity for outrage is like a physical muscle in the sense that it tires from being overworked. And certainly, Trump has worked our capacity for outrage like a drill sergeant.

Shock upon shock, insult upon insult, falsehood upon falsehood, he has been a daily deluge of the unbelievable and the unthinkable until you don’t even know what to respond to first. Shall we answer the misogyny? But then, what about the bigotry? Shall we decry the incompetence? Will that leave us time to deal with the ignorance? The man is a white noise of badness.

The danger is that it comes to seem normal, that you stop seeing how truly bizarre it is. One of the things that makes us human, after all, is our resilient adaptability. Whether sickened by cancer, swamped by flood, broken by bankruptcy, or savaged by war, we always find a way to accommodate ourselves to the new circumstance. With good humor and quiet courage, we accept the new normal.

But I refuse to do that now.

Doing it now would feel less like an act of courage and good humor than one of surrender, of forgetting that there was once a time dignity, intelligence, honesty, and statesmanship were traits we desired and demanded in our leaders. But if we forget that, we forget us, and then we are well and truly lost.

Love of country demands better. Martin Luther King once said he was “proud to be maladjusted” to the inequities and inequalities of his time. That works for me.

So I am proud to be maladjusted to Donald Trump.

IMAGE: DonkeyHotey/Flickr

President Obama’s Historic Presidency Comes To A Close

Dear Mr. President:

“Barack Obama is not Jesus.”

Those were the first words of the first column I ever wrote about you — a poke in the eye to Democrats who were singing rhapsodic hosannas about a certain highly regarded young senator. “Yes,” I griped, “he has great potential. But is it asking too much that people wait until he actually does something before they starting chasing his name with a hallelujah chorus?”

Two years later, you were elected president. Shows what I know.

Now the time has come to say goodbye. Which means it’s also time for people like me to furrow our brows in summation. I will leave it to others to analyze your legacy with regard to the economy, healthcare, foreign policy, privacy rights and war.

As you head for the door, I find myself simply wanting to address you as one African-American man to another about the singular mark you made on American history: first black president. To be a first black anything significant has often been a thankless task. Jackie Robinson learned this when he crashed Major League Baseball in 1947. Your experience proves that it remains true 70 years later.

You got it from all sides, didn’t you, Mr. President?

Certain opinion leaders on the left held that you failed to speak — and act — boldly enough on issues of concern to African Americans. It’s an argument that did not take political reality into account — would the same drain clog of a Congress that couldn’t agree to routine measures to raise the debt ceiling really have passed some huge program to ameliorate African-American woes? I also think you get too little credit for quietly dismantling much of the ruinous War on Drugs and working to reform racist policing.

Meantime, the political right thought you the love child of Louis Farrakhan and Nat Turner. By simply existing, by acting as if winning two elections actually entitled you to be president, you drove them crazy. You made them reveal — even revel in — the ugliness, hatred and fear that have always undergirded so-called conservatism where race is concerned. It is telling that the folks who grasped at every untruth and exaggeration to make you out as an America-hating Other now watch in feckless silence as Donald Trump plants sloppy kisses on the autocratic thug Vladimir Putin.

For myself, Mr. President, I was frustrated by your naivete. You were surely the last person in America to recognize the degree to which racial resentment drove the rigid resistance and shrill hysteria you faced. You seemed to think you could win over your most hateful critics by being conspicuously even-handed, even-tempered and good. But it doesn’t work that way.

Most any black person could have told you that. That said, let me also say: A defining truth about black life in America is that each of us carries all of us wherever we go. The incompetence of a black man in Dallas will keep a black man in Miami from getting a job. The dishonesty of a black woman in Oakland will get a black woman in Baltimore arrested.

Each one of us is every one of us. Which places an inordinate weight on the one of us who is called to perform on a high public stage.

You have performed on the highest, most public stage there is, sir, faced headwinds unprecedented in American politics and nonstop disrespect from the GOP. But you did so with unflappable dignity, unshakable class … and urbane cool. No stench of personal scandal wafts after you as you leave office, and the country is better for your service. So allow me to say, as one African-American man to another:

Godspeed, brother. You did us proud.

IMAGE: U.S. President Barack Obama pauses during an interview with Vox at Blair House in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

What’s In Trump’s Heart Comes Out Of His Mouth

How about if we let Jesus answer Kellyanne Conway?

Donald Trump’s indefatigable apologist was at it again Monday on CNN, defending her boss against, of all people, Meryl Streep. The 19-time Oscar nominee got under Trump’s famously thin skin with a speech at Sunday night’s Golden Globes.

In it, she chastised him for, among other things, mocking Serge F. Kovaleski, a New York Times reporter who has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that causes abnormal muscle development and severely restricted joint movements. Trump, lying as is his wont, has frequently denied what he did, even though the proof is as near as Google.

He denied it again while tweeting about Streep. Conway, appearing on CNN, took umbrage when anchor Chris Cuomo expressed skepticism. “Why don’t you believe him?” she asked. “Why is everything taken at face value? You can’t give him the benefit of the doubt on this and he’s telling you what was in his heart? You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.”

It bears repeating because even by the standards of Trump World, it’s a humdinger. Don’t listen to what the president-elect says, she says. Go by what’s in his heart.

Jesus saw that one coming 2,000 years ago: “ A good man,” he taught, “brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

For those of you playing along at home, that’s Luke 6:45, the Son of God calling BS on the son of Fred, and on Conway’s bizarre insistence that somehow people have — repeatedly — misread his intentions all these months. Sorry, but if the eyes are windows to the soul, then the mouth is its megaphone, and Trump has used his repeatedly and effectively to tell us what sort of person he is.

So it’s funny, but frankly also chilling, to see Conway scurrying around at this late date, in effect asking America to grade Donald Trump on a curve. Don’t go by what comes out of his mouth?

Seriously? Seriously!?

She does know this man is about to president, right? She realizes, doesn’t she, that a president’s words can incite revolution? That they can move the stock market? That they can get people killed?

Yet this woman thinks the problem with Trump’s diarrheal mouth is the fact that we listen to it. In other words, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Is that to be the message our ambassadors give our foreign friends — and foes — for the next four years?

“Oh, don’t worry about it, Mr. Prime Minister. That’s just Donald. He’s just talkin’.”

Yeah. That’s totally not ridiculous.

To hear Conway tell it, some combination of Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama has been hiding in plain sight all along, except that somehow, Trump’s unruly mouth failed to properly represent Trump’s saintly heart and it’s all your fault, anyway, for believing words and actions have meaning. The trouble is, inconvenient realities like this one insist on telling a different story. Indeed, the Kovaleski case is the whole tragedy of Donald Trump in microcosm: the scorn, the bullying, the pettiness, the lying, the self-delusion.

In the face of that, Conway’s entreaty to disregard Trump’s mouth and look into Trump’s soul is beyond asinine. Sorry, but Jesus — big surprise — was right. “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Trump’s mouth has made it starkly clear what fills his heart.

And, sadly, what does not.

IMAGE: Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the first debate with Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, U.S., September 26, 2016.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Farewell, Michelle Obama, You’ve Made Us All Proud

Dear Michelle Obama:

This is just a note to say that I think you’re gorgeous. I’ll thank you not to share that with your husband, given that I have no desire to open my door and find a predator drone waiting for me. Or, worse, an IRS auditor.

And yes, as a 21st century U.S. male, I am well aware of the minefield a guy enters when he assays public discussion of a woman’s looks. But I take the risk in order to express the head-snapping disconnect I feel whenever some white person attacks you on the basis of being insufficiently pretty for their tastes.

Obviously, it’s sexist, this implicit notion that you exist for their approval. But for me, it also calls their eyesight into question. I always find myself wondering: Are they seeing the same woman I am? Are they seeing this statuesque lady with lively eyes and a smile full of fun?

They aren’t, of course. That’s the entire point. I see an attractive wife and mother, a lawyer, author, activist, educator and fashion trendsetter. But they see you — more accurately, fail to see you — while looking through a prism of their own fears and stereotypes, a broken-glass refraction of hateful images whose repulsiveness ultimately says more about them than it ever could about you.

This has happened repeatedly. In November, some bureaucrat in West Virginia called you “an ape in heels.” Last month, a GOP official in New York said you should “return to being a male” and live with an ape in a cave in Africa.

The bureaucrat swore she was “not of any way” racist. The official swore that race had nothing to do with his words. They did this with straight faces. One would guess they now sleep the untroubled sleep of the truly righteous — and utterly clueless. We’ve had over eight years of this. Now we reach the point where the Obama era is measured in days. And I, like many people, find myself reflecting on what your husband and you have meant to the nation.

I’ll address myself to him in a few days. For now, for today, I just want to express how awed I am by the grace with which you have carried yourself through nearly a decade of racial denigration from ugly, stupid people. They’ve denied your patriotism, your femininity and your humanity. They watch even now in acquiescent silence as the incoming president plays tonsil hockey with Vladimir Putin, but they acted like you were the reincarnation of Joseph Stalin when you planted a garden and encouraged kids to exercise.

It would be enough to make anyone bitter. But you never gave them the satisfaction of your attention, much less your bitterness. Instead, you just did you. And “you” was enough. By the time your husband had been in office six months, many people could no longer remember what the fuss was about.

But too many others are still like the West Virginia bureaucrat and the New York party hack. Too many others still offer too many stark reminders that where race is concerned, America remains an unwell nation. And that it’ll probably get worse before it gets better.

Yes, I know what you’d say: “When they go low, we go high.” I don’t mind telling you that I’m finding that easier said than done. But your example challenges me, and that’s not nothing.

So, farewell, Mrs. Obama. Please know that, as an American — and particularly as an African American — I am proud of how you’ve conducted yourself as first lady. At risk of political incorrectness and IRS audit, I reiterate what I said coming in.

You, madam, are gorgeous — in many more ways than one.

IMAGE: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama speaks during an event to mark Nowruz on Wednesday, March 11, 2015, at the White House in Washington, D.C. Nowruz is a holiday that is celebrated by more than 300 million people in diverse ethnic and religious communities across the Middle East, Central and Southwest Asia, and Eastern Europe. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

News Media Must Take A Moral Stand

“Five minutes for Hitler, five minutes for the Jews.”

That, according to legend — and a Facebook page for alumni of The Miami Herald – was the routine response of an eighties-era editor whenever some hapless reporter was working overly hard to bring “balance” to a story where none should exist, where the moral high ground was clearly held by side or the other. I don’t know who the editor was, but that riposte brims with a wisdom sorely lacking in modern news media, obsessed as they are with the fallacy of journalism without judgment.

Take as Exhibit A Gerard Baker, editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal. In a Sunday interview with Chuck Todd of “Meet The Press,” he explained why his paper declines to label Donald Trump’s manifold falsehoods as lies.

“‘Lie,’” he said, “implies much more than just saying something that’s false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead.” It is better, he argued, to report a given Trump claim, juxtapose it with the facts and let the audience make up its own mind. Otherwise, he said, “you run the risk that you look like you are…not being objective.”

Besides, he added, Hillary Clinton also spoke some untruths, but media were not so quick to label her a liar.

Of course, the plain fact is that Trump is a liar – and a fantastically prodigious one at that. Baker’s preferred method of handling this would be like reporting on each individual drop of water that falls, but never mentioning the storm.

And likening Trump’s untruths to Clinton’s is like likening Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring to Zan Tabak’s. Abdul-Jabbar is the leading scorer in NBA history. You’ve probably never heard of Tabak, though he also played in the NBA and, once in awhile, scored a basket.

Baker’s is a mindset that has become all too common. With the obvious exception of certain partisan news outlets, some reporters, fearful of being tagged for “bias” on contentious issues, seek to safeguard themselves by ritually quoting a source from Side A and another from Side B while avoiding even painfully obvious conclusions. They call this “fair and balanced.” It’s actually gutless and dumb.

Five minutes for Hitler, five minutes for the Jews.

And then what? Five minutes for ISIS, five minutes for Charlie Hebdo?

Yes, these are outlandish examples. They are also logical extrapolations.

The plain fact is, journalism without judgment – moral judgment – cannot exist. If you doubt it, try a thought experiment. You’re a news manager on a day when the mayor is cutting the ribbon on a new hospital and there’s been a mass shooting at the mall. What’s your top story? Is it the shooting? Why? Won’t the hospital directly impact more people? If you go with the shooting, what angle will you take? What resources will you commit? What answers will you demand?

Congratulations, you just committed multiple acts of moral judgment.

Yes, news media must strive to be fair, to hold all sides to rigorous account, to offer a balanced view. But occasionally, there comes a point – subjective, but no less real for that – when pretending to moral equivalence between those sides is a lie, an act of journalistic malpractice.

In these perilous times, with authoritarianism coming to the White House and bizarre untruths infesting our national discourse, that is a sin we can ill afford. No one ever had to remind Cronkite or Murrow of the need to speak the truth when the truth was plain and the moral imperative clear. No one should have to remind this generation of journalists either.

There are two sides to every story, goes the axiom. But you know what?

Sometimes there’s only the one.

IMAGE: U.S. Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump is shown on video monitors as he speaks live to the crowd from New York at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 19, 2016.   REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni