Friday, March 18, 2016

One Mexican's view of Trump

Hi. I'm a Mexican and I'd like to give you my view of Donald Trump and his campaign. I've already blogged here about the racism of Trump and his followers, people who want to ship ALL Mexicans out of the country, keep ALL Muslims out and take action against anyone Trump identifies as a threat to the country, physically, economically or socially. I've written on my other blog about how this kind of backlash always comes after a minority group reaches a certain level of presence, measured by straight numbers as well as by cultural and social impact.

But recently I came across an article that more accurately describes the Trump phenomenon and how it signals a political shift that's much bigger than El Idiota alone. It helped me understand why he's supported by so many immigrants, thinking women, well-educated professionals and racial minorities (who are in the minority for now). Trump has a very wide appeal to people of all backgrounds, including those he's antagonized. How can it be?

Amanda Taub at has written an excellent article that puts the Trump campaign in the context of what she calls The Rise of American Authoritarianism. Please read it.

Oh, is it too long? Here's my summary:

1. Ever since Hitler, academic researchers have wondered how large numbers of people can adopt (and so quickly) such extreme political views that coincide with fear of minorities and the desire for an aggressive, punishing leader. To answer that, they've come up with a definition of authoritarianism that doesn't describe the dictators themselves, but the psychological profile of people who, under the right conditions, will desire such extreme policies. These authoritarian civilians want policies that exclude those who are different, enforce traditional social structures and laws, and that punish those who don't fall in line.

2. Many people who don't consciously ascribe to those views still have latent authoritarian tendencies that just haven't been triggered. These tendencies can be activated by the perception of physical threats or by destabilizing social change. The U.S. has had a lot of both in recent years.

3. Trump followers are actually quite diverse: they include people of all cultural backgrounds (including immigrants), different economic statuses, differing education levels, etc. What they have in common are latent authoritarian tendencies that have been activated, making them full authoritarians.

4. Taub writes that authoritarians are much more susceptible to messages that tell them to fear a specific "other" — whether or not they have a preexisting prejudice against that group. Those fears change over time as events make different groups seem more or less threatening. 

5. So what might look like racism and bigotry is actually closer to this theory of activation: authoritarians are unusually susceptible to messages about the ways outsiders and social changes threaten America, and when those fears are activated, authoritarians lash out at groups identified as threats.

6. The GOP has (unwittingly) aligned itself with authoritarianism since it started representing itself as the party of traditional values in the 1960s. But the GOP establishment is in trouble now because it's not truly an authoritarian party and isn't willing to call for explicitly authoritarian policies. This means a true split is developing within the party and Taub hypothesizes that it might lead to a third party candidate in 2016. She writes that we might get a Democratic candidate, a right-wing establishment candidate and an authoritarian candidate.

7. Most disturbingly, Taub predicts that the rise of authoritarianism will outlast Trump's candidacy and will afflict the GOP for years to come. She ends with this statement: "For decades, the Republican Party has been winning over authoritarians by implicitly promising to stand firm against the tide of social change, and to be the party of force and power rather than the party of negotiation and compromise. But now it may be discovering that its strategy has worked too well — and threatens to tear the party apart."

So it's not just about Trump and it's not just about racism. This problem is bigger than him and his wall, and this shift towards authoritarianism will continue as the country goes through more social and cultural changes. So let's stop trying to reason with Trump-supporters and calling them names and trying to convince them they're wrong. Any opposition to Trump is seen by his supporters as evidence that the country is out to get him/them. We can't win that way. Our best strategy is to just keep him out of office, by rallying the Democratic vote in November. That's the most productive use of our energy.

The United States is only 240 years old. We're still forming and figuring out how to live together. Let's just face that things are going to get uglier before they get better because that's just how it is. But it doesn't mean things have to fall apart.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Trump is still on a roll

UIC Pavilion earlier tonight
Charles Rex Arbogast | AP
Don't you dare think tonight will be the beginning of the unraveling of Trump's campaign. Don't allow yourself to dream that the protest that shut down El Idiota's rally in Chicago tonight will slow his ascent to the Republican presidential nomination. The people who support him see him as being victimized by the angry, "violent" protestors of color who "denied Trump his freedom of speech" at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This only solidifies their view that white Americans are under assault and they need Trump to save them. Tonight's events will have no effect on support for El Idiota, except maybe to increase it.

NOTE ON THE FIRST AMENDMENT: The American Constitution protects citizens from laws that limit their free speech and right to peaceful assembly. It protects citizens from the U.S. government taking away their freedom of speech. It doesn't protect us from each other. Trump says his freedom of speech was violated tonight, but that's not legally correct. The U.S. government didn't stop his rally. He did when he made the decision to cancel it.

Trump can only further alienate the people who already dislike him. As long as he doesn't insult the white, Christian, conservative male population (that's also cis-abled, cis-gendered and straight), his campaign will only look more and more like the solution to all America's problems with The Blacks, The Mexicans, The Muslims, etc. (including The Women). The 2016 election is about race much more than the 2008 election was. In Trump-speak, these terms are all code for people of color: immigrants, thugs, foreigners, protestors, Muslims, dudes (he keeps describing protestors at his rallies as "bad dudes"). This election is about race, so don't let yourself get distracted by Trump's thin rhetoric of economics, foreign policy or anything else. Forget his tax return. Forget his failed businesses. Forget his grammar. This election year is about race and Trump is riding to the White House on a wave of fear of a Black planet. Those of us who oppose Trump should NOT relax tonight, thinking tonight's fiasco will spell his doom. Quite the opposite.

All we can hope is that the rest of America, the part that isn't afraid of foreigners and social progress, will see tonight's events as indicative of the demagoguery that Trump plays on. The protestors' message was for us, too, and it's up to us to outnumber Trump's supporters at the polls in November. Forget protesting. It just feeds Trump's racist narrative. Focus on getting out the VOTE.

Politer explanation for Trump's rise that you can share with friends: Why Trump Now?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Go, old white guy!

I agree with Bernie that if so many other industrialized countries can afford universal healthcare, free higher education, maternity leave and a livable minimum wage, we can, too! It's just a matter of drastically reorganizing our national budgeting priorities and taxing people fairly. I believe what's fair is requiring those who make more, to pay more. People think this is fantasy. Well, how else do you achieve the passion and momentum to make real change but by having wild dreams? I actually like Bernie more right now than I liked Obama at this point of the 2008 election cycle (don't tell anyone).

Today I will vote early in Illinois' primary. I'm atypical as a middle-aged Mexican-American: most of my extended family backs Clinton and apparently that's how many American minorities are voting. Not me. I'm a Berner.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

As slow as weight loss

I've spent most of my life as a thin person. I was a skinny kid and then a gym rat who constantly struggled to stay down at a size 10 or under. My raging sweet tooth that never stopped somehow never tipped the scales past size 12, and when I reached 12 it was only because stress had caused me to hit the sugar hard for weeks.

In 2012 I started reading a lot of Geneen Roth's books on women, weight and food issues. I was taken by the idea of letting go of all my fear-driven behaviors and just letting myself eat whatever I wanted and exercise as I felt like it. I joyfully blogged about stopping the frantic exercise and food restriction, learning to not hate myself and my body, and the relief I felt at letting myself gain weight. I didn't feel afraid of food or terrified of being fat and that felt great (from October to December of that year, I went from size 10 to size 14).

Then the fear kicked in and I began to feel uncomfortable with my new fatness. It didn't feel like it was really me. But through the winter of 2013 I stayed with Roth's recommendation of not dieting or restricting, kept eating whatever I wanted and reached size 16. I fluctuated between feeling free and feeling unattractive. One of my most positive posts was Fat and middle-aged: the advantages. One of the most negative was I want to bend easily again.

By spring 2013, I hit size 18. My husband ended our marriage and my mother died and oddly, those two events were closely followed by my weight gain stopping. Snacking on baked goods and eating junk food every day stopped. I'd had enough! That food no longer called to me and I began to want healthier foods. I was over the Doritos and ice cream sandwiches. I had gone from size 10 to 18 in nine months, but in the summer of 2013 my weight plateaued and receded a bit. I was back to size 16 by the end of the year.

And I stayed at size 16 for all of 2014. Continuing to trust Geneen Roth's approach to healing one's food issues, I refused to see my body as in need of dieting and exercise. I accepted myself as I was, although my chubby body still felt foreign to me and I looked forward to getting my true, natural body back. I wanted to ask Roth: so when does the real me emerge?

Health problems (unbearable menstrual cramps) required me to greatly change my eating habits in 2015 and that's when the weight loss began. Relief! I was finally able to do yoga poses I hadn't managed in years, my clothes began to fit better, my mood and general health improved and my face came back (anyone who's put on enough weight to change the shape of their face knows what I'm talking about). By the end of 2015 I was back to size 14 and heading towards 12.

But then I stalled out and I can no longer pretend I like being this size. In January and February 2016 my depression came back and I indulged in a lot of cookies, candy and fruit juice. Although my daily eating habits have permanently changed and I now exercise regularly, I still wear the sugar monkey on my back and crave sweets whenever I feel stressed. Also I'm going to be 50 in July and realize that a lifetime of messing with my blood sugar levels (by eating lots of sugar and starches) have affected my insulin sensitivity which contributes to my body retaining extra fuel (fat). I'm frustrated.

So I'm being careful to keep meditating, practicing EFT and continuing all the things that have helped me so far. I've switched chiropractors to Dr. Katie Ray at New Day Network Wellness Center (with her I've made remarkable progress which I'll blog about another time) and I've added a specialist in nutrition response testing. I'm trying very hard to kick the sugar addiction (does it ever end??), but I get discouraged and upset when my size 14 pants barely fit (like today). I get angry at myself for "ruining" my body like this and I feel angry at Geneen Roth for suggesting that by giving in to your food obsession you can heal it. I admit that it worked because I no longer want junk food all day long or get mesmerized by donut shops, but look at me.
Taken just now.

Actually, just writing this post has helped me to put things in perspective and recognize that as long as I'm heading in the right direction, my problem isn't progress but impatience. Maybe it'll be okay. Maybe I can trust that if I just keep sifting out the bad (sugar) habits from my daily routine, I'll settle into the natural weight where I belong (by "natural weight" I mean the weight one's body reaches when one eats a healthy, energy-supporting diet without the blood sugar level spikes). Maybe I can trust my body to reach its healthiest state without me having to fuss so much. Maybe I need to let go of the belief that my real body is the thinner one I had for most of my childhood and adulthood. I'm ashamed to admit that I'm as body-fixated as the rest of American culture, but I guess I am. Ugh. Ugh! If that's true, then what was all this for?

WARNING: Following Geneen Roth, I put on 50 pounds that I never lost. Don't do it. 
-updated 28 Feb. 2018

Monday, March 07, 2016

Stop using mental illness terms improperly

Bernie Sanders has my vote, which I plan to cast later this week during Illinois' early voting period. But I was disappointed by his remark in last night's debate: 

We are -- if elected president -- going to invest a lot of money into mental health. And when you watch these Republican debates, you know why we need to invest in that.

No, Bernie, no. What we see in the Republican debates is rudeness, childish behavior and ill-tempered name-calling. Those do not point to mental illness. Traits like insensitivity and self-absorption might be part of personality disorders such as sociopathy and narcissism, but those aren't mental illnesses. Sanders conflated a lot of complicated disorders with his glib remark and I did not appreciate it.

It's a sign of our cultural ignorance about mental illness when people use mental illness as an insult or to describe annoying, antisocial, rude or unpleasant behavior. Often people are just assholes, not "off their medication." And as someone who requires daily anti-depressants, I beg everyone to stop the jokes about someone "being off their meds." It's really not funny and such jokes (spoken, posted and in memes) are insulting to those of us who use prescription drugs to successfully manage our disorders.

Americans also show ignorance about mental illness when we use terms like "OCD," "depressed," "schizophrenic," "bipolar," "PTSD" and "panic attack" in ways that aren't clinical at all. People use these terms as shorthand for behavior that has nothing to do with mental illness, and that isn't just ignorant, it's damaging. I like how Rebecca Fuoco puts it in her Huffington Post piece called Let's Stop Using Mental Illnesses as Figures of Speech:

The more the names of mental illnesses occur in our conversations as facetious self-diagnoses and misappropriated adjectives, the more difficult we make it for those with clinical diagnoses to speak out and be heard.

So let's review:

OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) - includes obsessions and compulsions that can occupy more than an hour of each day, interfering with one's daily life. And the compulsion may have nothing at all to do with cleanliness or tidiness. Being fastidious about your clean apartment or making sure all the files at your job are always in place are not signs of OCD.

PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) - can include flashback episodes, nightmares, emotional numbing or detachment, feeling like you have no future, insomnia, guilt, impaired memory and more. It's not induced by doing badly on an test or watching a scary movie.

Depression - a persistent state of disinterest or detachment, often accompanied by despondency, anger, irritation, self-hatred or numbness. It's not an emotion like sadness! It's a clinical state. It affects how you feel, behave and perceive reality and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. Your new car getting scratched isn't depressing. It's upsetting or saddening and might even make you cry, but it's not depressing. Events don't cause clinical depression. Brain chemistry does.

Schizophrenia - is a severe illness that interferes with one's ability to think clearly, manage emotions, perceive reality, make decisions and relate to others. It can include delusions and hallucinations. Politicians who change their minds are not schizophrenic. An unpredictable stock market is not schizophrenic. 

Bipolar Disorder - describes someone who experiences periods in which they feel overly energized and confident (mania) and other periods when they feel sluggish and hopeless (depression). These episodes have little to do with outside events or influences and a person can alternate between the two periods with alarming frequency. It's called "bipolar" because of the two "poles" of moods. Manic periods can include sleeplessness, impulsive decision-making, delusions, talking very quickly and high activity. Depressed periods are similar to those experienced by people who don't have the accompanying mania. Someone who changes their opinion a lot isn't bipolar. Weather that goes from very warm to very cold isn't bipolar. People who just act weird in a general way aren't bipolar.

Please! Let's stop using these terms in any way other than to describe actual clinical disorders. Making light of a disorder causes misunderstanding of what that disorder is. Tossing these terms around diminishes their seriousness and demeans those of us who suffer from these illnesses. If you say that "everyone is a little OCD" or that "everyone gets depressed," you make it harder for us to be taken seriously. It can even cause us feelings of guilt and failure. 

And let's definitely stop describing rude and otherwise unpleasant behavior as mental illness. Some of the most intelligent people you know manage a mental disorder and some of the biggest idiots have no mental illness in their family at all. They're just jerks.