Monthly Archives: June 2020
Something interesting happened Wednesday night. Someone left a comment on a post I wrote in 2015 about the song “Good Ole Boys Like Me” by Don Williams. The post had been inspired by a comment made by one of my readers the day before that the song reminded him of me. So naturally, I looked at the post from the day before; it was about the firing of English teacher and speech coach, Matt Eledge who had worked at Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, Nebraska. Eledge was fired because he is gay and was making plans to marry his partner.
Little did I know then that 18 days later, I too would be fired from my teaching job. The official reason given was there had been “complaints” about me. No one would tell me who my accusers were or what their complaints were. I have always suspected part of the reason I was fired was because the headmaster and some others suspected I am gay. Later, I found out the headmaster had hired a new football coach. The school needed classes for him to “teach,” and they gave him mine. Supposedly he could teach history.
Karma is a bitch and came back and bit the headmaster in the ass, though. That football coach was neither a coach nor a teacher. He never won a single game. Also, parents did complain to the headmaster and the school’s board, but not about my role as a teacher; instead, because I had been fired. Several board members also complained to the headmaster about his decision. Even parents I had disagreements with over their children’s behavior respected my teaching skills. Many parents of former students lamented I had been replaced with an awful and lazy teacher who only gave out worksheets and never taught their kids anything. Everyone I heard from said with me, their children had actually learned something. Some of those parents, students, and other teachers still tell me today how much they miss me and what an asset I had been to the school. The saddest part was the drama program I had worked so hard to establish. It died when I was fired.
Things turned out for the best though. I got a new job and moved to Vermont, and my salary is more than double what it had been as a teacher not to mention now having retirement, sick leave, vacation time, plus health, dental, and vision insurance. I never had benefits teaching in Alabama. Technically, we did have sick leave and vacation time, but we weren’t really allowed to use it. I am in a far better place today than I was five years ago.
And if you are wondering what happened to Matt Eledge, he was hired at another school and married his partner, Elliot. He made headlines again last year when his husband’s sister donated an egg for a surrogate, and Matt’s 61-year-old mother was the surrogate giving birth to her first granddaughter.
Religious bigots and homophobes may sometimes close doors on us, but new doors open. Often, we are better for it. I have a good career now. Vermont may not be my ideal location—in many ways it is more rural than where I was in Alabama. But, Montreal is just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from where I live; Boston is only two hours away; and I can easily hop on a train and visit my friend Susan in Manhattan. And there are other advantages, too. I can go to LGBTQ+ events and not worry. Winter Is a Drag Ball in February and Vermont Pride in September are wonderful events. I now know drag queens I consider friends. Often, I go to First Friday, a monthly LGBTQ+ event hosted by my friends. I am freer in Vermont than I ever could have been in Alabama. Now, I just need to find a man.
I want to thank everyone for their wonderful words of advice and encouragement on yesterday’s post. I’m still feeling a bit down and anxious over the argument with my mother. I can’t help it. Family can be so frustrating. I have lived with my agreement with my mother that I made when I came out, which was that I would not tell anyone else in the family I am gay. (I have not lived by the agreement that I would be celibate, that was just taking it too far.) While only my parents know for certain, I am pretty sure my aunt knows. I have a large collection of books that are stored in bookcases at her house. Many of those books are gay fiction or gay history that I had collected over the years. After I moved to Vermont, she took down all my books and built new sturdier bookcases. She then placed all of my books back in the new bookcases. If she didn’t notice a theme, then…. Anyway, I’m pretty sure she knows and doesn’t care. My aunt worked for a dentist that she admired and cared for a lot; he was gay and died of AIDS back in the 1980s. She has always seemed pretty accepting of things like that.
My biggest fear is not what my parents would do, but I do fear telling my sister because since she married a complete asshole in 1998, her in-laws have brought her over to the dark side. My sister used to be laissez-faire about most social issues. She just didn’t care, and she was never political at all. However, her husband and in-laws are extremely conservative, homophobic fundamentalists. She becomes more and more like them every year, so I fear if she ever knew I was gay, she would not let me see my niece and nephew. She and they are of that mentality that gay people cannot be trusted with children.
My only hope is that the world is different enough for my niece and nephew not to have the same prejudices as their family. They are growing up in a far more accepting world than I grew up in. They are growing up in a time when LGBT couples can get married, and we can’t be discriminated against in our jobs. Things are so vastly different than they were 20 years ago. (I know, there is still much to do, but we are getting there.) I hope they will have a mind for themselves about social and political issues. They aren’t old enough yet to really understand. All they know right now is that they love their Uncle Joe. I get to see the joy and excitement in their eyes when they see me, and I hear it in their voices when I talk to them on the phone.
All of my other close relatives have passed away. In fact, yesterday would have been my grandmama’s 97th birthday. I miss her so much. I think if I’d had the courage to come out to her, she would have accepted me for who I am. I may be wrong about that, but she would always listen to reason from me, even when she was unreasonable to everyone else. I had a connection with Grandmama unlike anyone else. If she had accepted me, as I believe she would have, she would also have been my advocate and told my parents they could go straight to hell if they didn’t fall in line. That may just be wishful thinking and a fantasy on my part. I will never know what her reaction would have been, but I have faith she would have accepted me.
I will make up with my mother at some point. She will probably have to be the one to call me, and if she does, she is likely to act as if we never argued. Denial is not just a river in Egypt to my mother, it’s a way of life. She has been in denial about my sexuality since she found out I’m gay. I always hoped that one day she would accept me, but she seems to have doubled down and is more homophobic than ever. It goes along with her faith which seems to no longer be the Bible but Fox News.
I have a fervent desire for something to happen that would discredit Trump and Fox News so badly that they would lose all of their support. They do more harm to American than anyone else. I hope that when/if that ever happens that people like Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and all the other Republican idiots go down hard with them. You can also throw in the Rush Limbaughs, Franklin Grahams, and their ilk with it. The hatred in America needs to end, and November is the best time for that to begin to happen.
We need to have a great movement that will change the minds of Americans. We need something that will move America away from the right and teach the American people about love and acceptance. I just hope it isn’t a great tragedy. It will probably take the Rapture* coming and no Republicans rising into Heaven, but then they would say it was a liberal conspiracy.
*By the way, I do not actually believe in the Rapture (an event in which it is believed that both living and dead Christian believers will ascend into heaven to meet Jesus Christ at the Second Coming). It is nothing more than a postmillennialism belief/hoax dreamed up by the 19th-century theologian John Nelson Darby. I use it here in jest. The lawyer I used to work for always joked “I hope I’m standing outside when the Rapture happens. I don’t want to hit my head on the ceiling.”
For the past month, I’ve been taking an online professional development course designed to teach museum educators, like myself, how to develop and write formal lesson plans for K-12 teachers. It’s been a pretty interesting class; our end project is to write a lesson plan for our museum. I chose to write about our vast collection of World War I propaganda posters. Most lesson plans are no more than 5-10 pages; mine currently is 36, and I still need to add in the curriculum standards for Vermont. While I did get a bit carried away, my teacher said the lesson plan did not contain anything that wasn’t needed. In fact, what takes up the most pages are the posters themselves as well as background information on the artists and posters. I also compiled a list of early propaganda techniques. Tweets and accusations of “fake news” may be everyday politics for Trump, but in April 1917, the U.S. government had to create an entire committee to influence media and shape popular opinion; and for the most part, they used propaganda for the good of the country.
When I look at the various propaganda techniques, I see correlations to the tactics of the current administration. The only difference is propaganda is usually based on at least some shred of evidence or a grain of truth. What that man in the White House says and disseminates has no grain of truth; it’s just lies. He doesn’t even attempt half-truths, and when he does tell the “truth” such as in his Tulsa speech when he said he ordered a slowdown in COVID-19 testing because it was revealing too many positive cases, the truth is worse than fiction.
For this assignment, I’ve been doing a lot of research on types of propaganda, and it’s easier to come up with ways Trump uses it than ways it was used in WWI. To give you some examples: Name Calling (Sleepy Joe), Transfer (I’m a very stable genius), Plain Folks (calling Neo- Nazi’s “very fine people”), Weak Inference (referring to Putin’s claim of not interfering in the 2016 election, “I believe he believes it”), Stereotyping (Kung-Flu), Guilt-by-Association (Liberal Media=Fake News), Bandwagon (“I’m a winner. I beat people. I’m ahead in the polls and there’s no end in sight.”), Faulty Analogy (“All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here—a lynching. But we will WIN!”), Glittering Generalities (Make America Great Again), Virtue-by-Association (Trump’s claiming he’s a Christian), Patriotic Symbols (How he abhors protestors who kneel for the National Anthem), Testimonials (Trump’s new slogan “Transition to Greatness”), Distortion of Data (Do I even have to give examples of his more than 19,000 lies?), Emotional Appeal (the way he demonizes immigrants, protestors, Democrats, etc.). The list goes on and on and on ad nauseam.
It’s difficult to understand why people blindly follow Trump. It can’t be only about being pro-life. Which brings me to the main point of my post: I’ve been a bit down since Sunday night. I got into an argument with my mother about her support of Trump. She made me so upset, I ended the call by telling her, “Bye,” and hanging up the phone. I just could not take any more of her parroting Fox News drivel. I told her she had disappointed me by supporting a bully like a Trump, that I’d dealt with bullies all my life—which she knows—and I didn’t want one in the White House. I don’t want an amoral person as president who goes against everything I was raised to believe in. I was literally shaking when I got off the phone. What upsets me the most: she didn’t seem to care that I was upset.
I read an article in The Washington Post the other day that talked about how many public health officials were being harassed and threatened. People were publishing their emails, home addresses, and phone numbers so others could harass them from around the country. I thought of my mother who spent 25 years as a nurse at the county health department. If she were still working, she’d be one of the people enforcing rules to mitigate the spread of the virus. I wonder if my family—my mother specifically—could have faced the hatred and retribution of Trump supporters who care more about money and their “freedom” than they care about the safety of others. I wonder if she were still at the health department would she have felt differently about an administration that has downplayed the deadliness of this disease and politicized a public health crisis for their own political gain.
Mama was always a particularly good and caring nurse; I don’t understand what has happened to her. She wasn’t like this when I was growing up or at least, I never saw it so blatantly. I can’t help but take some of the blame for her change of heart. Since she found out I am gay, she has become more of a fundamental evangelical Christian and a diehard Republican who sees no good in anyone who doesn’t think like Fox News tells them to think. She has closed her mind to so much of the world, and I wonder if this is all because she has a gay son. She has never been able to accept my sexuality. As she becomes more and more in line with conservative Republican ideology, the less I want to talk to her. I am getting to the point where I no longer care what she thinks of me. I have held off finding someone to spend my life with because I knew she’d never accept him. Now, I fear I’ve wasted my life hoping for my mother’s love and acceptance when that hope can never be fully realized.
I do love my mother, and in some strange, twisted, and warp-minded way, I know she holds some love for me. But I don’t know if I can continue to live my life this way. I live 1,100 miles away from my parents. Perhaps it is time to become who I really am, and to quit holding back because of the fear of what my parents and family might think of me.
by Pablo Neruda
I am not jealous
of what came before me.
Come with a man
on your shoulders,
come with a hundred men in your hair,
come with a thousand men between your breasts and your feet,
come like a river
full of drowned men
which flows down to the wild sea,
to the eternal surf, to Time!
Bring them all
to where I am waiting for you;
we shall always be alone,
we shall always be you and I
alone on earth
to start our life!
[original Spanish text]
Antes de mí
no tengo celos.
Ven con un hombre
a la espalda,
ven con cien hombres en tu cabellera,
ven con mil hombres entre tu pecho y tus pies,
ven como un río
lleno de ahogados
que encuentra el mar furioso,
la espuma eterna, el tiempo!
adonde yo te espero:
siempre estaremos solos,
siempre estaremos tú y yo
solos sobre la tierra
para comenzar la vida!
I’ve been listening to the book, The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel whenever I drive anywhere. On Thursday, I will be teaching a class on the history of the Monuments Men, and I wanted to know as much as possible about the subject. I hope it goes well as it will be the first class I’ve taught as a webinar. If you don’t know who the Monuments Men were, they were part of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program under the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Allied armies established in 1943 to help protect cultural property in war zones during and after World War II. The group of approximately 400 service members and civilians worked with military forces to safeguard historic and cultural monuments from war damage, and as the conflict came to a close, to find and return works of art and other items of cultural importance stolen by the Nazis or hidden for safekeeping.
One of the things that really struck me in this book is the description of the greed and opulence of the Nazis and their collaborators. Edsel points out that Hermann Göring, though being the main “collector” of art and items of cultural importance, was mediocre at best in his taste. He just wasn’t well-educated enough in art to know good art from bad art. Furthermore, it was more about the prestige of owning things that drove Göring not any artistic value. Göring, like many fascists, was garish: he owned dozens of uniforms each more grand than the last; he kept a pocket full of rubies at all times so he could jingle them like change; he had homes decorated with the most expensive things he could find most of which he confiscated illegally; and the list goes on. Göring was almost cartoonish in his appearance. It doesn’t seem real that someone could have such poor taste and at the same time feel his possessions and clothing were the height of taste. The same thing is also often said of the nouveau riche which has become a derogatory term for people who have recently acquired wealth, typically those perceived as ostentatious or lacking in good taste. The nouveau riche and the opulence of the fascists seem somewhat ridiculous to us these days, and they would be thought of as just that—ridiculous and cartoonish—if it had not been for the horrendous things they did with their power.
The ridiculousness of the fascists goes beyond just their ostentatious possessions. There are their actions in public. Think of Benito Mussolini in full military regalia with his chest puffed out, arms crossed, and his chin up. Hitler studied oratory delivery, hand gestures, and body language to make his speeches more hypnotic and mesmerizing. Both overemphasized their gestures. Hitler took lessons with the hypnotic clairvoyant and magician, Erik Jan Hanussen, and learned speaking and mass psychology from him. Looking back at the 1920s and 1930s, history shows us the rise—and fall—of charismatic leaders and/or demagogues: Mussolini, Hitler, V.I. Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Ataturk, and Mao Tse-tung. Even good guys like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Huey Long used their personal charisma to get where they wanted to be. The exception to these charismatic leaders was Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco. Franco was one of the few dictators in modern times who was a professional soldier who fought for power to the very top. Hitler, Mussolini and Antonio Salazar (of Portugal) had to win over or neutralize the national armed forces to come out on top. Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh were primarily civilians who politicized the military for their own strategic ends. These other men bent their followers to their own will; Franco became everything to everyone.
Looking at the dictators from the 20th century, I wonder if the historians in the 22nd century will look upon Donald Trump and think he was just a silly, horrible man with power. Will they see him as charismatic? Inhumane? Dangerous? Will they mock him for his garish and ostentatious lifestyle? Will they recognize his diminished intelligence? His disdain for intelligence? His lack of action on important issues? His disastrous actions to harm others (immigrants, LGBTQ+, women’s rights, the most vulnerable in American society, etc.)? I read an article by a historian the other day who said he believed Trump was not one of the worst presidents, but the worst president—even worse than James Buchanan whose actions, or lack thereof, led to the Civil War. Will Trump’s successors be able to undo his harm? If they do, will it make historians look at Trump differently? A friend of mine commented on Saturday that when the ludicrous things a politician—referring to Trump— says and does become common place, people forget it’s not normal; they begin to normalize that behavior.
Saturday, June 20th, was Trump’s first rally since the start of the worst of the pandemic when quarantines, social distancing, and the wearing of masks were implemented. Trump chose Tulsa where a race massacre took place on May 31st, and June 1st, 1921. During the riots, mobs of white residents attacked the black residents and businesses of Tulsa’s Greenwood District. One must wonder what Trump and his campaign were thinking when they chose a rally there amid widespread protests against racial discrimination and police brutality. (And remember, the rally was originally scheduled for June 19th, or Juneteenth.) I’m pretty sure I know why, and I think it was calculated, but I will leave that for you to decide.
Like Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, and Mao, Trump thrives on the adoration of crowds. His followers are so fanatical, they are convinced they will be saved by God from the virus; that by supporting Trump, they are doing God’s work; and if Trump didn’t see the need to wear a mask, they don’t either. It may take days or weeks before we know the full extent of the outbreak that is likely to occur because of Trump’s rally. The questions are: How will Trump explain the outbreak caused by his rally? Will he just ignore any ill effects from the rally? Will his supporters ever come to the realization they put their life and the lives of loved ones in harm’s way in order to see a megalomaniac speak? The answers to all of these questions are probably predictable.
My greatest fear is that when Trump loses the election, he won’t accept it and won’t leave the White House. He’s already setting up the scene to call the election fraudulent with his cries against mail-in votes, etc. He will use every tactic he has to resist the inevitable. But one question remains, will he burn the country down in the process like a modern-day Nero burning Rome to keep himself in power? I’m afraid he will. Trump and the Republicans have done more to harm the sacred institutions of the American government than anyone else in American history. Just as he uses the charismatic tactics of fascists to advocate his position and power, he will try to use tactics of dictators to stay in office. All of this could end badly for Trump: Hitler shot himself; Mussolini was captured and publicly hanged; Göring took a cyanide capsule; Trotsky was assassinated. How will it end for Trump?