Are you terrified yet?

You shouldn’t be. But before the end of this essay you will be. This one is in my area of expertise.

There is a very real existential threat to America going on right now under our noses. It’s in our Churches, it’s in our schools, it’s out there walking around on our streets, it’s marrying our daughters, eating our food, drinking our water, and working our jobs–just waiting for the right moment to strike. It shakes me to my core.

Do you know what threat I’m talking about? Let me give you a hint.

I’m from New York. I grew up just over the border of the Bronx in a place called Yonkers. I went to school in the Bronx. I was in the 4th grade when 9/11 happened. I remember that day with stark, vivid clarity.

In my own personal pre-9/11 America I was more interested in computers, robots, and programming; my dad actually thought I was going to wind up as an engineer for quite a bit. When 9/11 happened I noticed, in my young mind, that there was something fundamentally wrong with America. Something with my world view was broken, and I needed to find out what it was and fix it. I was afraid, I was scared, I was glued to the TV, but most of all I was curious.

That’s where my love of politics and international relations started. Right there in the smoke and dust settling on lower Manhattan when I had to, in white-knuckled terror and apprehension, drive across the George Washington Bridge with my family to go to my younger cousin’s birthday party in New Jersey.

3,066 Americans have been killed in terror attacks since 9/11. 2,902 were killed in the largest terror attack on American soil, the September 11th terror attacks perpetrated by al-Qaeda.

I spent a lot of time as a kid wondering what the odds were that I would wind up in a terror attack. I still, as my parents suggested to me at the time, try my damnedest to avoid packed crowds. What are the odds of today being the bloody day? The day I get blown up for someone else’s war against globalization? At the time I am writing this (11/12/16) there have been 5541 days since 9/11. So the odds of today being that fateful day is 1 in 5,541. Roughly 0.02 percent.

Terrifying. Fucking. Odds.

What are the odds of me actually being killed in the attack? Not 400 miles away in a different city buy actually, physically there. The population of the U.S. is 318.9 million people. 3,066 is .0009% of 318.9 million.

So I have a .0009% chance of being in the right place at the right .02% of time. Multiplying that together my odds are .000018%. I’ll round up to .00002 to really shake my own boots. Two ten thousandths of a percent. Odds are even smaller for a smaller-scale attack.

Are you terrified yet? I am. But not of dying in a terror attack. Odds are better that I get in to a car accident. As you probably know if you’ve read my older posts, I don’t drive.

So, why, if a blast-hardened New Yorker like myself isn’t afraid of a terror attack is the majority of discussion regarding our national security about terrorism. Namely it’s because not everyone is privileged like me and gets to spend 4 years literally doing the math on what our biggest threat is.

People see what’s on TV, and they see a lot of people dying because guys from one culture are attacking guys from our culture. What’s more, some people from that culture are immigrating here to escape it, and a few guys that want to bring that culture over here and detonate a few of us have slipped in through the cracks.

I don’t blame anyone for being terrified of terrorism and voting for the guy with the most brutal option (the Donald). That’s human nature–that’s what any of us, myself included, do when we don’t have all of the facts and let feat get the best of us. We over focus on the unlikely option and lose out because if it.

I have some real bad news. Immigration policy can’t stop anyone from a foreign country who wants to detonate a bomb from getting in here. We can’t stop someone who is already a citizen from going lone wolf and detonating a bomb for the same reason as the foreign guy. You’re right, the terrorists are already within our walls. Don’t worry, as I just said, the odds of them hurting you or a friend are slim-to-none.

Still worried? Completely understandable, that’s not sarcasm, I get where you are coming from. Considering that I work half a block from the White House, aka terrorist target number one, and take a train near there every day, I have more of a reason then most of you to be worried. My odds are slightly worse.

One policy solution, as advertised by our President-Elect Donald J. Trump, is to put all Muslims on a registry.

This is an entirely inexcusable policy and the suggestion of it as a policy, in my opinion, disqualifies an individual from the office of President on moral grounds despite the suggestion of the policy not meeting the test for impeachment or treason.

Why do I think this? I could argue that the majority of terror groups throughout the course of U.S. history were not associated with Islam or the Middle-East in any capacity, or that the frequency of terror attacks by right-wing assailants is higher than that of Jihadists post 9/11, or that incidents of terrorism have decreased dramatically since the 1970s, I could argue that not all home-grown terrorists operating in the post-9/11 terror culture are Muslim, but I wont.

As I said in a previous post fear drives voting behavior and by voting for Donald Trump most of the land-mass of the United States (as opposed to the popular vote) has voted to, at the least, tacitly consent to putting certain groups of people on lists for their perceived  security. As I just displayed, they’re not actually at any real risk.

There is a very real risk to this nation’s security from putting people on a list because of their religion. Why? What you are consenting to is the forced enumeration of people based on an cosmetic characteristic. If you’re at peace with that, you have to either be at peace with enumerating Jews, Christians, LGBTQ, Conservatives, Liberals, et cetera, or you have to believe that Muslims fundamentally deserve to be treated differently from all other groups.

If you are at peace with forcibly categorizing and labeling people by force of law, you are probably a ‘law and order’ voter. Generally speaking you are folk that don’t want to see protests turn loud or violent and want to see security screenings at places you think are threatening. In general, there’s nothing wrong with that. Protests are ideally always peaceful, and ideally we’re secure, but ideals don’t always pan out.

If you’re ok with making Muslims register as Muslims because you believe in law and order ask yourself this: what order does the law create?

By definition, a law creates an order. That’s why the saying is ‘law and order’. Then, the idea is that the government enforces the order of the law. Once you have all the Muslims signed up on a list, is there anything to enforce? They’re already on lists. So, the law must be creating an order outside the scope of enumerating Muslims. What’s the law ordering, then? We don’t know for certain, but based off of the fact that Donald Trump wants to register Muslims because of terrorism we can safely assume he wants to use these registries to contain, control, and possibly reduce the Muslim population within the United States.

Now ask yourself this: what happens if [adjective] start to commit acts of terror?

I’ve already linked to plenty of resources that show terrorism in the United States has a varied and storied history. From liberal groups, to evangelical groups, to Christian groups, to Muslim groups. It might be Muslims today, but tomorrow it might be you.

Are you terrified yet?

If you believe that Muslims fundamentally deserve to be treated differently from all other groups, you are probably a Nationalist. Generally speaking you are folk that want the country to stay with the culture and makeup that is has–namely based on the makeup of your local area. America is great, and I want it to continue to be great, but America is great because it is highly adaptive and tolerates change well. Think about it, we are handling shifts in the economy and population far better than Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe. Asia hasn’t really been impacted yet, it seems.

If you believe that Muslims fundamentally deserve to be treated differently from all other groups, ask yourself this: how will putting Muslims on registries change the Nation?

It won’t. Muslims will still be here, just on registries. Muslims will still come here, because many of them are leaving countries where they’re put on lists for being a part of an ethnic minority or for worshiping the wrong type of Islam. So what is the law really trying to change about the Nation? We don’t know for certain, but but based off of the fact that Donald Trump wants to register Muslims due to terrorism we can safely assume he wants to use these registries to control the makeup of the Nation.

Now ask yourself this: what happens if [politician you don’t trust] becomes President?

I’ve already links to plenty of resources that show this country has a diverse groups–liberals, conservatives, Evangelicals, progressives, and more. It might be Muslims today, but tomorrow it might be you.

Are you terrified yet?

I am.

I am terrified. I am terrified we have thrown fertilizer on the seeds of authoritarianism. I am terrified that there is now a precedent for not just persecuting groups an administration does not like but for doing so while questioning the fundamentals of peaceful transition to power, while questioning the integrity of our democracy–one of the least corrupt in the world. I am terrified of delaying the independent court until a politically ideal time in order to bias that court.

I am scared because without belief in our already free and fair elections, without trusting the independence of the court, we have nothing holding up the fabric of our Constitution and identity. Without the fabric of our Constitution, without our identity, without an independent court, without free and fair elections we are open to any form of rule. The form of rule we will have in a few short months is one that wants to fundamentally change our Nation and our laws to allow for persecution of any group it does not like.

There are those of you reading this that will site slavery and internment camps as examples of us being here before, and of us getting through. I hear your argument, but I disagree. We have never had a point in our history where we are at risk of having no court, no faith in our elections, and an elected official willing to use this to persecute civilians. It is not just a change in law, but a change in our character that terrifies me.

I am scared because without leaders who will, upon losing an election and justly conceding defeat, are too elite and too insulated to use their position to call attention to how dire this situation can be.

Mainly, I am scared for my friends.

I grew up with a Muslim friend. He was one of the most quick-witted, funny, and energetic people I ever had the pleasure of knowing. I have gone to school with Muslims, none of who ever did me harm and many of who helped me in class. I have been to weddings with Muslims, one of my closest friends is married to a Muslim and her husband is also a close friend. I have celebrated Muslim holidays with them. All of these people have only made me a better man, with a better understanding of the beauty and struggle that is diversity. I am scared for them because, if the black stars align they could be disappeared. I, by my association with them, could also be disappeared.

I am relieved that Donald Trump’s transition team is filled to the brim with Washington insiders (called it). I recognize these names and while I disagree with pretty much all of their policies, stemming from the Bush era, I have some faith in some of them to understand the cliff we are on the edge of and expect them to hold us over back from falling–if only because stability benefits their trade. I hope that new leadership emerges in both parties that restore America’s faith in government, in the courts, and in elections. I hope they rework our electoral system to better hear the voices of Americans (more on that later). This all remains to be seen. Not all clouds have silver linings. Not all playbooks lead to victory.

I am terrified my hope is misguided.

I am not afraid of being killed in an attack, or hit by a car, or personally victimized. I am afraid of the outside chance we lose our Nation’s soul.

But I am one average person with little power. Only together we can ensure the salvation of our soul.

Are you terrified yet?

 

Fear and Loathing in Waukesha Couty

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” from Dune by Frank Herbert

This is the one where I get decidedly more partisan.

Fear and anxiety are powerful emotions. In fact, some would argue that those emotions are important to decision-making. Specifically, fear can lead a given individual to put more focus on catastrophic outcomes as opposed to an expected normative analysis.

Applying this to voting behavior, one could  argue that fear of an outcome could lead a voter to over-focus on that less-likely outcome and vote based on the less-likely event. To translate that: people who are really afraid of getting involved in a car crash may want cars off the road all together. I don’t drive, so that one makes total sense to me.

Clearly, it is more valuable to have some cars on the road than to ban all cars because of the 1% chance you get hit. I would be over-focusing on an unlikely outcome, and losing real value/utility because of it. They are, however, gaining perceived value if they successfully ban cars because of their assumptions.

Let’s apply this to immigration policy.

By and large, Republicans are pessimistic about immigration and see it as a large threat to the nation. This is particularity interesting, as Republicans have also done a 180 on globalization. Globalization is decidedly pro-immigration at the end of the day. Immigration was ranked as a high priority by Republican voters; and the Trump campaign tied this in to global insurgency. (Global insurgency, Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism–whatever you want to call it–is a completely different essay. I’ll write that one at some point later, I promise. Right now, I’m going to focus specifically on illegal immigration).

Let’s break down immigration. I’m going to start with the the easiest point to knock down, the idea of ‘building a wall’.

Personally, I identify this as campaign rhetoric; I don’t think anyone, even Donald Trump, can seriously thing a physical wall would keep out immigrants. Dog whistles work. All campaigns use them to some degree. BUT I’ve been wrong before and will be wrong again, and we don’t have a clear immigration plan yet from Campus Trumpus outside of building a wall so let’s all pretend we’re in Wonderland and “begin at the beginning”.

Argument 1: Building a wall on the Mexican border will prevent or reduce the rate of illegal immigration to the United States.

Counterargument 1:  The ACLU estimates that nearly half of illegal immigrants entered the country legally on visas and overstay them. In fact, according to the Department of Homeland Security as reported by conservative paper The Washington Times more than 500,000 visitors overstayed their visas in 2015–thus becoming illegal immigrants. This number is higher than the 408,870 people apprehended crossing our southern border in 2015 as reported by the DHS via the Daily Wire rag. This is about equal to the DHS estimate of how many people made it across the border, around 400,000. 

For those playing the home game, that means that even if the wall were 100% effective and apprehended all estimated 400,000 immigrants crossing the border, the wall would be less than 50% effective at stopping illegal immigration. For those playing the deluxe edition, this isn’t counting the fact that a wall would probably cause more visa overstays.

Response to Counterargument 1:  50% ain’t bad, and we could stop them visa overstays, too.

Counterargument 2: To address your second point I’m going to go back to my favorite conservative newspaper source, the Washington Times, the Feds have had no success catching visa overstays.  To address your first point, I’m going to bore you with math. Donald Trump estimated the cost of his border wall between 8 to 12 billion dollars US; other estimates say between 5.1 to 25 billion dollars US. I’m going to be a doll and go with the lowest estimate, and I’m going to be a pal and give you a $1,ooo,ooo dollar discount by going with a cool 5 billion dollars US. Illegal immigrants paid $7 billion in sales tax alone in 2013. 50% ain’t bad, it’s terrible. You’re removing a source of revenue greater than the cheapest estimate of your wall. Not to mention the Donald himself would be paying an extra $1 billion to lose a source of income. Insert bankruptcy joke here.

Response to Counterargument 2: it isn’t about the money, it’s about morality. People should not violate our laws.

Counterargument 3: I could take the easy route and argue that politics is amoral (I partially disagree, but that’s a different essay). I could take the easy route and invoke the Hitchen’s razor. I could take the easy route and cite times where the US violated international laws (US law, to a foreigner, would be international). But that’s not what you’re arguing. You’re arguing that violating the laws of the nation you are emigrating to disqualifies you from immigrating there.

You’re wrong.

 

To quote a famous emigrant, no, political refugee to America, Thomas Jefferson, “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”

Our immigration laws are unjust. It is fundamentally American to do whatever you can to get here and become a part of our national fabric. It is fundamentally moral.

If you want to fix immigration, fix our immigration laws. A wall will do nothing. Cracking down on visa overstays increases your taxes or the national debt at best. If you cannot find it in you to be moral, at least be cheap.

Response to Counterargument 3: Cheap? They’re taking our jobs! Where is the morality in that?

Counterarguement 4: They’re not taking your jobs. Literally, there are more jobs. There’s even an under-qualification gap.


Author’s Note: originally, I intended to write something about how my own anxiety and fear informs my voting behavior, and how that breaks with what you’d expect but the best laid plans go to waste. I think that theme is better for the aforementioned essay on terror, which will be written eventually. The beginning of that one will probably look similar to this one.

 

Don’t Fear the Insider, Become the Insider

The narrative of Election Day is shaping up to be ‘outsiders fed up with insiders’. I find that narrative to be a very intimate one. For a very long time I was, and in many ways still feel like, an outsider. As a child I was always more comfortable associating with the misfits and outcasts. I never had an easy time socializing as a kid, often I would entertain myself on weekends by playing board games against myself; I never fit in at the ‘popular kids’ table. This, coupled with the curiosity fostered in my by my parents, meant that I spent many hours of my childhood learning and observing social structures of power from the outside.

The irony of this is that now, as a grown man, I am what the overwhelming majority of Americans call a ‘Washington Insider’. I’m acquaintances with a handful of Congressmen (they’re both men), know many people that work on the Hill and for the Federal government, and I myself work as a consultant for pretty much every possible type of “D.C.” organization you can think of. This is my original sin; I’ve betrayed my inner child.

The narrative of Election Day is shaping up to be ‘real people fed up with elites’. I find that narrative to be a very intimate one. I started this essay off by doing something I rarely do: talk about myself, my persona, and my memories of my childhood. I do this for a reason. I want you to remember that behind the text there is a human, a real person, whose heart beats the same as you, who bleeds the same as you, and feels the world shake the same as you.

The irony of this is that now, as a grown man, I am what the overwhelming majority of Americans call an ‘elite’. I have a Master’s degree, I went to a top-tier University, and I have a comfortable middle-class lifestyle (at least as far as a Millennial can). This, too, is my original sin; I’ve betrayed my inner child.

My mother is from a different country and worked for the Board of Education. My father is a contractor, and has worked with his hands for as long as he has lived. My mother’s mother came to this country from war-torn Italy without a penny to her name and without knowledge of English. Her husband, my grandfather, was murdered protecting the small business he ran in the Bronx. My father’s father served in WWII dutifully and then became a police officer in the NYPD.

My story, my roots, are common. The majority of you reading this are first or second generation from lower-middle to working class families. The other portion of you are laughing at me right now.

I want to explain to the majority of you, the outsiders, why the other portion, the insiders, are laughing at me. They’re laughing because they know I am neither an elite nor a Washington Insider. I am, for the area where I live, an incredibly common and run-of-the-mill man.

When you say you want to ‘drain the swamp’ or ‘clear out DC’ what we are hearing is that you want to bring harm to people like me. Generally speaking, a friend of yours. You want to take away our jobs, take away our homes, and destroy our community. But all you would do, if you could do that, is hurt real people just trying to live doing jobs you wouldn’t want to do in the first place. I hope this gives you pause when thinking about immigration policy.

Here’s the thing about ‘taking down Washington’: this is America. You can’t destroy any American community, big or small. For those of you who see “D.C.” as a place of corruption and greed, a modern Sodom that needs to be destroyed realize that your task is a Sisyphean one. You can’t destroy it, but maybe you can change it.

Here’s why D.C. is indestructible. If you’re reveling in your Electoral victory (you did not win the popular vote, and that’s twice that’s happened in five elections) your candidates, your campaign structures, and your organizations are about to become my neighbors. They’re about to be “inside” “D.C.”. If your plan was to destroy Sodom, all you’ve done is make more Sodomites.

Elections involve a lot of moving parts. They involve the media, elected officials, PACs, policy groups, thinktanks, and a host of other NGOs. All of this structure, the people writing the policies, vetting the speeches, filling in the transition teams, are “D.C. insiders”. Anyone who comes to D.C. will become a D.C. insider. It’s like moving to New York and becoming a New Yorker; one day you nearly get hit by a car and chew someone out at 8am. Shit happens.

So know that the system really won’t change because of an election. Sorry to piss on the parade but you need to hear it. The last thing I want to see is someone who was excited to vote become disheartened. If you were voting to change the system, you voted for the sizzle but not the steak. There was no steak in this election. If you want to change the structure of government, you need to change the structure of elections. I can go more in to that if you’d like.

If you think ‘well the polls were wrong, the media, and the analysts were wrong so he must be wrong’ I ask you to think about who you’re saying is wrong. You’re arguing that the New York transplant with an expensive education, history of working with and befriending both sides of the aisle that lives in D.C. is wrong.

Look up the President-Elect’s donation history. I didn’t describe myself; I described Donald Trump in January. I live in Virginia.

Think about it this way—anyone who has worked on the Hill for more than 20 years has seen 4 elections come and go, and has had tangible input on law longer than most of the House, the Senate, and the President. We were here before. We were here after. We exist because we have to.

Now that I’ve, hopefully, popped the anti-DC bubble I’d like to make confetti out of the remaining bits. I’d like to talk about the more important side of Washington the side many of you who are outside DC never see, never hear about, and complain about incessantly—laws and policy.

Lawmaking is hard. Governing is an impossible task. Policy is really just hoping to god you’re within a margin of error (ditto polling). One of the main reasons D.C. seems like a business is because it is. It takes a lot of time and research to figure out what options are feasible, and it takes special skillsets to write those in to a legible law. Think of it like looking at a bachelor’s fridge, making a recipe out of the few ingredients you have, and then cooking that recipe as best you can. Seems easy, but all of us have burned toast before.

It takes years to develop and execute policy options. The people that are doing this need to eat and live. Again, I stress that they are people. That requires money, and that makes D.C. a business. I’m a part of it, most of the people reading this are a part of it. Yes, we get paid different amounts, some of us are better at our jobs, and there is a revolving door around Capitol Hill. D.C. has its glaring flaws. It is not, like democracy and like capitalism, a perfect system.

The reason why this system seems so corrupt to outsiders, to me at least, is because government has failed in a few fundamental ways. First, we have failed to adequately educate our citizens on government. Second, it is easier for elected officials to misguide voters with simple solutions because they believe them (see: failed to educate). Third, politicians have systematically changed electoral districts to make it easier for them to win without educating voters or giving real answers.

So if you’re wondering why D.C. seems so corrupt to you, look at who you voted for. That’s not a dig at either candidate. It’s a dig at what you wanted from a politician. A good sale. A deal. Simplicity. If you argue that D.C. is a business, or is corrupt, then there’s a chance the person you pencil in is a sales representative.

We have to do more to dispel the electoral fog that has descended over us all. We have to do a better job at re-organizing our elections in to ones that give us better options, we have to push ourselves to look for high-quality information, we have to challenge ourselves to learn constantly. Ask any economist; liberal or conservative, education is the primary driver of economic growth.

That being said, it’s not all doom and gloom. America has the least corrupt voting system in the world. We have the longest continual peaceful transfer of power on the history of the Earth. America also has the strongest lobbying regulations in the world.

We are facing serious issues. We just elected a man who threatened to ruin peaceful transfer of power, we elected a man with no actual policy laid out, with no understanding of Washington, who is under investigation for a variety of unspeakable crimes. He won against a candidate as controversial and suspected as she was well-qualified. He won in the first election where there was no positive rating for candidates. Our country is, at a mathematical level the most divided it has ever been (that district thing plays a part).

Beyond the personnel issues I just listed, we’re facing what will be the most transformative century in global history. Automation will wipe out large sectors of the economy, climate change will restructure the map and completely move around populations of people, the world is becoming multipolar, and the world is slowly walking its way towards state-on-state warfare.

If you were at all motivated by this election, I ask you one thing. Do not let go of that motivation. Hone it, let it feed your curiosity. Learn about government, learn about your candidates, and learn about policy. You can do it. You do not need to go to school to do it. Learn. Observe. Watch the system from the outside and you will begin to understand it from the inside. Then go out, demand better from your candidates—ask the hard questions—and send someone to Washington that is the best of you, not the lowest common denominator. We will be here, and we will be ready to do whatever we can to get it done, and then we will get ready for the next one.

Do not fear D.C., do not fear government, and do not run away from it. The only way you can fix something is by understanding it and then wanting to fix it.