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Believe It, You Matter: The “May Contain Peanuts” Presidency

This post originally appeared on OTYCD in April 2019.

 

Believe It, You Matter: The “May Contain Peanuts” presidency.

 

Sarah Jane here. I write all the Believe It, You Matter entries. Offering this in case it helps you talk to friends who might have voted for Trump in 2016, who lean Republican, and who are struggling with who to vote for in 2020.

 

Ok, so you go to the store and you buy a bag of peanuts. *As you’re having your snack, you idly flip it over and notice that on the back, in a far smaller font, there’s a warning:

 

May contain peanuts.

 

This despite the fact that it says PEANUTS in two-inch-high red letters on the front of the goddamn package.

 

Why the hell is that warning there?

 

It’s there because a) the company that sells the peanuts got sued by someone, and they got nailed for not having an explicit, legible warning printed on the package, or b) the lawyer for the company got spooked by a similar lawsuit and insisted they put that language on the package, just in case.

 

It seems ridiculous to warn people that a package of peanuts contains peanuts. It should be self-evident. And guess what? It IS self-evident to virtually everyone. The vast majority of people who are allergic to peanuts read the front of the package and stay far away.

 

Except one guy.

 

THAT guy.

 

There’s ALWAYS that guy.

 

And somehow That Guy finds a That Guy Lawyer and brings a ludicrous lawsuit claiming that a bag of peanuts that says peanuts on the front is not enough of a warning. So the company does a collective eye-roll and tells the graphics department to put the warning on the back of the goddamn package, just in case.

 

Trump is That Guy.

 

There’s a bunch of things that everyone who runs the country, or wants to, does because it’s The Right Thing To Do.

 

An example of that is candidates for president releasing their tax return at some point in their campaigns.

 

They do that because Richard Nixon submitted some hinky-looking tax returns in the early 1970s. The hinkiness fed into the Watergate scandal. It was the tax thing, NOT Watergate, that prompted Nixon to famously say, “I am not a crook.”

 

Anyway. Since Nixon, all presidential candidates have released a series of tax returns from their recent past, to show they’re clean and hink-free.

 

It wasn’t, and isn’t, a law. It never needed to be.

 

Everyone understood that releasing their tax returns was The Right Thing To Do, and it let the public get a clearer picture of the people who wanted the job of Leader of the Free World.

 

Except Trump.

 

Oh, he PROMISED, as a candidate, to release them, but he never got around to it, and the GOP never got around to demanding that he do it before picking him as their 2016 nominee.

 

As President, Trump famously said, “Hmmm, nah, not gonna,” and KellyAnne Conway was wheeled out to back him up.

 

As I type this in late March 2019, the Dems who run the House of Representatives are in the process of summoning Trump’s tax returns. [I have no idea why it’s taking so goddamn long.] Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is bracing for a fight, even though Congress definitely has the right to ask for them.

 

But the Dems shouldn’t have to ask for them, because Trump should have released them like every single other candidate has since Nixon. And the GOP should have told him “Release your goddamn tax returns, or you can’t be the 2016 Republican nominee. Simple as that, dude,” and they should have followed through.

 

But he didn’t, and they didn’t, so here we are.

 

Because of Trump, we now have to codify in law what everyone did voluntarily for decades, because while their individual political worldviews might be shitty, they, themselves, were not shitbags.

 

Because of the GOP, we now have to codify in law what they should have stepped up and enforced, voluntarily, because they’re craven cowards who claim to hate regulations and big government, but they won’t do what’s necessary help create a world in which people Do The Right Thing without being compelled to by law.

 

Trump is That Guy.

 

Fuck That Guy!

 

Fuck him for forcing us to pass laws covering acts that everyone before him was sensible enough to do without having to be compelled. Fuck him for his shitbaggery that’s forcing us to say, “Hey, you presidential candidates can’t be a shitbag in this particularly obvious way, or else.”

 

Fuck the GOP for not stepping up when it mattered.

 

Fuck him for making the process of running for high office that little bit more grim and tedious.

 

Trump is That Guy.

 

Don’t re-elect That Guy.

 

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*I have not encountered such a bag of peanuts in the wild, but I have encountered other products with equally absurd warnings on their packaging. I have not meticulously cataloged them with photographic evidence.

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Learn If Your State Is Passing Laws That Restrict Voting, and Fight Back

This OTYCD entry originally posted in June 2017.

 

Is your state trying to pass laws that make it harder to vote? Consult the Brennan Center’s info and maps, and if the answer is yes, fight back.

 

Voting restrictions are a scourge on democracy, but as long as they benefit Republicans, Republicans will try to pass them. We feel that if you are eligible to vote, and you want to vote, you should be able to vote, and you should be given many options for doing so to let you choose what works best for your schedule.

 

The Brennan Center for Justice, located at the New York University School of Law, tracks state bills that intend or have the effect of making it harder to vote.

 

First, read the Brennan Center’s Voting Laws Roundup for 2017, and see if your state is mentioned:

https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/voting-laws-roundup-2017?utm_content=bufferba0df&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

 

Also see the Brennan Center’s interactive map of New Voting Restrictions in America:

https://www.brennancenter.org/new-voting-restrictions-america

 

Once you know what’s going on in your state, call your state-level reps to speak out against laws that restrict voting.

 

Don’t know who your state house rep and state senator are? Plug your address and zip code into this search tool (note–the address is key. If you only give your zip code, you won’t get the two names you most need):

https://whoaremyrepresentatives.org

 

Then click on the names of your state house rep and state senator. Their contact info will come up.

 

Here’s a sample script that you can modify accordingly:

“Dear (State Senator/House Rep Lastname), I ask you to oppose (House/Senate bill ####), which will have the effect of making it harder to cast a vote. Everyone who is eligible to vote, and wants to, should have the opportunity to do so. Bills and laws that make it harder to vote are inherently anti-democratic. Please do not sponsor, co-sponsor, or support bills that stop people from voting. Thank you.”

 

Subscribe to One Thing You Can Do by clicking the button on the upper right of the page. And tell your friends about the blog!

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Learn How to Fact-Check in the Age of Trumpism, Thanks to Laura M. Browning

This OTYCD entry originally posted in April 2017.

 

Read Fact-checking in the Age of Trumpism, a concise primer by Laura M. Browning. 

 

Just after the election ended, much was made of an NPR interview with an admitted purveyor of fake news (by which we mean stories deliberately made up to get clicks and earn ad revenue) who claimed that while right-wing folks swallowed any article that reinforced what they already thought about Hillary Clinton, no matter how ludicrous, left-leaning folks never seemed to fall for fake news focused on Trump.

 

Specifically, he said: “We’ve tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off. You’ll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out.”

 

What’s our point? Don’t get cocky. You might have rudimentary skills for spotting and rejecting fake news, but you’re vulnerable to believing things you’d like to be true, but aren’t. You need to hone and maintain your bullshit detector if you want it to work properly.

 

Laura M. Browning wrote Fact-checking in the Age of Trumpism for a January 2017 presentation about how to spot and avoid fake news. It’s not about fact-checking Trump or your MAGA-spouting uncle. It’s about controlling and cultivating your news feed and keeping it free of garbage.

 

Also, pay special attention to the paragraph about checking your emotions. Does this news flatter your worldview? That’s all the more reason to kick it, pinch it, and generally jump up and down on it to make sure it’s solid before you retweet and repost it and tell friends about it.

 

Browning’s primer is the difference between eating a free fish lunch and learning to fish. It’s a must-read any day of the year, and doubly so on April Fool’s Day.

 

Read Fact-checking in the Age of Trumpism:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1E0m6GEQwwTnOk3-mWrC6zZs60wDJBh9IH-yfpl3TRvM/edit#

 

Sign up for Browning’s newsletter, One Small Thing:

http://tinyletter.com/onesmallthing

 

Follow Browning on Twitter:

@ellembee

 

Read that NPR interview with the creator of fake news who claimed that left-leaning readers were harder to trick:

http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/11/23/503146770/npr-finds-the-head-of-a-covert-fake-news-operation-in-the-suburbs

 

And for the sake of it, here’s a link to Snopes:

http://www.snopes.com

 

…and a link to Politifact. Browning recommends both sites for fact-checking:

http://www.politifact.com

 

Subscribe to One Thing You Can Do by clicking the button on the upper right of the page. And tell your friends about the blog!

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Join the Postcards for America Page and Keep Fighting Trump With Postcards

This OTYCD entry originally posted in March 2017.

 

The OTYCD page on joining #TheIdesOfTrump–the effort to bury Trump in postcards on March 15–is the most popular in the young blog’s history.

 

Seeing as you all have such an appetite for sending postcards, we’re doing a post on one or our favorite Facebook activist pages: Postcards for America.

 

Its main goal is to encourage you to send postcards to your members of Congress about your fears and concerns. But it also alerts you to other postcard campaigns and suggests legislators who might benefit from receiving great wobbling piles of postcards that tell them they’re wrong, or in some cases, exquisitely correct and in need of thanks.

 

Apply for admission to the Postcards for America Facebook group:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/postcardsforamerica/

 

Please note: Postcards for America is a closed group. You can apply to join and you will have to wait for an administrator to approve you before you are admitted.

 

Subscribe to One Thing You Can Do by clicking the button on the upper right of the page. And tell your friends about the blog!

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Read How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail

This OTYCD entry originally posted in March 2017.

 

Read this January 2017 Scientific American column by Michael Shermer on how to convince someone when facts fail.

 

Once upon a time, everyone agreed that you can have your own opinions, but you can’t have your own facts. Sadly, companies such as Fox News learned to make mad profits off of selling people a set of facts that just plain feels better to them than the reality that the rest of the news media reflects.

 

Twenty-one years later, we’re in an ugly situation where Fox News finds itself beset by upstarts that pander even more blatantly to what a subset of people want to believe, regardless of whether it’s accurate or true.

 

Talking to true believers is tough, and maddening. Getting through to them is even harder. Shermer, a professional skeptic and publisher of Skeptic magazine, discusses the phenomenon and has good advice on how best to handle it.

 

Read his column on how to convince someone when facts fail:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-convince-someone-when-facts-fail/

*Full disclosure: One of us at OTYCD was active in the skeptic movement in the 1990s and met and worked with Shermer on several occasions.

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Leave Your House

This OTYCD entry originally posted in August 2017.

 

If you’re going to effectively push back against Trump, you have to commit to leaving your house more than you might like. 

 

Robert Putnam’s 2001 book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, is a classic for good reason. He traces how civic and community engagement started falling in the 70s or so and continued to drop. He also examines many factors that might have contributed to the decline (increased TV-watching and longer commutes seem to matter). The data he gathers shows that the generation who lived through World War II were the last exceptionally engaged group of Americans. Their children (commonly called the Baby Boomers) somehow failed to follow their example, and the generations that followed the Boomers were even less engaged. This is a problem because widespread civic engagement is the gasoline that fuels democracy–it can’t function without it.

 

In a subsequent 2010 paper published in the Journal of Democracy, titled Still Bowling Alone? The Post 9/11 Split, Putnam and his co-author, Thomas H. Sander, note that people who were young during the 9/11 attacks–from elementary school to college-age–show more civic involvement. This is good news. (Scroll down for a link to this paper.)

 

Cataclysmic events that affect everyone, such as World War II and 9/11, seem to have a lasting impact in the form of greater civic engagement among those who live through them. Let’s be dead clear on this–the Trump administration is not on the order of those events, but the 2016 election shocked and mobilized millions of people into action, or into becoming more active than they had been.

 

Bowling Alone appeared in August 2001, before social media really took hold, but the book makes it clear that routine face-to-face engagement with other human beings is absolutely vital to the survival of democracy. This doesn’t mean that social media lacks value. It means that its greatest value is in cementing and enhancing relationships that also exist in the real world.

 

Which brings us to the headline of this post: Leave your house. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve done that already, if only to join the big national and international protests that happened throughout 2017. But you need to think about leaving your house on a semi-regular basis to push back against Trump. You need to show up and contribute to groups devoted to that cause, and you need to cultivate friendships that you make in those groups.

 

Putnam notes that the Rotarians, the Lions Club, the Odd Fellows, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and similar organizations were hemorrhaging members as the 20th century yielded to the 21st. If we work at it, we can ensure that the new anti-Trump groups–the Indivisibles, the Solidarities, and other local coalitions–rise to take their place and keep the garden of democracy watered and nourished.

 

Subscribe to One Thing You Can Do by clicking the button on the upper right of the page. And tell your friends about the blog!

 

 

Purchase and read Bowling Alone:

http://www.powells.com/book/bowling-alone-the-collapse-revival-of-american-community-9780743203043/17-28

 

 

Read Putnam and Sander’s 2010 paper, which serves as a hopeful update to Bowling Alone:

https://www.hks.harvard.edu/ocpa/pdf/still%20bowling%20alone.pdf

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Take a Break Every Now and Again. It’ll Help You Stop Trump.

This OTYCD entry originally posted in June 2017.

 

For your own sanity’s sake, plan periodic breaks from fighting Trump and his ilk.

 

With so much going on, it might be tough to convince yourself to step away and rest. But you must if you want to fight Trump and the Republicans effectively. No, really. You’ve heard people say ‘This is a marathon, not a sprint’? It’s not a bunch of yap-yap. You can’t go the distance if you don’t slow down to grab some water every now and again.

 

You need to sit yourself down and plan these respites, and you need to commit to them. Blocking out one day a week where you disengage from the news and from social media to do something you like–be it hiking, knitting, reading, hanging out with friends, or binge-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer–put it on your calendar and don’t talk yourself out of it.

 

If you’re having trouble giving yourself permission to take one day off a week, then let us at OTYCD tell it to you straight:

 

 

“We, your friends at the One Thing You Can Do blog, are telling you, our faithful reader, to unplug and chill out completely once a week. We are giving you formal permission to do so.”

 

 

Print it out and tape it to your mirror, or your computer monitor, or staple it to your forehead–whatever it takes to get through to you.

 

 

If you won’t listen to OTYCD on this, follow Jen Hofmann on Twitter and subscribe to her Weekly Activism Checklist newsletter. She’s a fire-breathing evangelist for self-care.

 

Follow Jen Hofmann on Twitter:

@inspiredjen

 

 

Sign up for her Weekly Activism Checklist:

Americans of Conscience Checklist

 

 

Like her on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/Jennifer-Hofmann-463228547169366/

 

 

Subscribe to One Thing You Can Do by clicking the button on the upper right of the page. And tell your friends about the blog!