Eddie Angelbello

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The Art of Disagreement

When was the last time you walked away from a disagreement (especially a political one) feeling good about yourself? If you are anything like me, the answer might pre-date your awkward middle school years or maybe even your first words.  Maybe that’s just the way disputation happens—arguing isn’t supposed to make you feel good, is it? Well, the jury is still out on that one, but one thing is for sure—disagreement is designed to be constructive, not destructive. So instead of me arguing on either side of the political divide, let’s talk about the thing we must talk about before we can cause any waves worthy of creating meaningful change: the all-important art of disagreement.

It goes without saying that many of us do not disagree very well nowadays. Social media disputes have become debates on steroids between people who feel empowered to say whatever they want from behind their keyboard. Before I continue, I am not discouraging anyone from saying what they believe at any time they see fit. All I’m saying is that I’d rather take a sharp pencil to the eyeball than scroll through the comments on a politically charged Facebook post. Even in person, when we cannot manage to escape difficult conversations, we usually end up joining in (willingly or not) on a nationwide symphony swelling louder and louder with witty language and hurtful jabs until our lack of progress sends us back to our trenches for the night. We are pre-programmed for this sort of total-war polarization. We are programmed to believe in two sides. Programmed to choose one of two parties. We are pretty much the left-Twix right-Twix commercials minus the self-aware satire. We aren’t in on the joke. We give into the he said she said of political argumentation, and many of us are quick to assume that characteristics like gender, sexual orientation, or even ethnicity are more polar than they are spectral. If you aren’t with me, you’re with them.

Some of you are probably rolling your eyes, screaming through this article and into my soul that this is not always the case. You are right. But, even when we begin to see that our arguments are not so two-sided, somehow oversimplification always drags us back to those trenches we are so accustomed to. I saw, for example, more than a few articles the day after the recent State of the Union Address claiming that there was not one Democrat courageously patriotic enough to rise to their feet even for the powerful stories of veterans who have given everything for our freedom to disagree. For anyone who bothered to watch the Address, you know this is untrue. Most of the room could be seen standing to applaud the valor of our service members. If you are a staunch conservative, however, perhaps you read one of these articles the next day and decided to take advantage of the excuse to override your memory and go back to seeing Democrats as the bloodsucking vampires Hannity tells you they are. If you are, on the other hand, aligned with us vampires, then maybe you heard Trump return to his routine of criminalizing immigrants and decided to (perhaps rightfully so) clamp your ears shut and wait patiently for some young guy named Kennedy with a superb jawline and a sweet-sounding message to come in and steal the show.

I know what you’re thinking now—here is yet another article building up to some grand declaration about how we need to listen to each other and stop disagreeing so much (or at least so loudly). You’re thinking this guy with no influence whatsoever is now going to tell me that hugging a neo-nazi would do more than punching one or that I should “try to understand” the position of those threatening to tear immigrant families apart. No. My only intention is to tell you that disagreement, in its purest form, is a beautiful thing. As Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic put it in a 2017 article on disagreement, “Democracy is a contact sport. Everyone gets bruises.” When the goal of our arguments is discrediting individuals, then we confine ourselves to being hecklers in the stands. It is only when we embrace a much-needed paradigm shift and focus our arguments on dismantling opposing ideas that we become real players in our democracy. Do not even think about fighting less about politics. I’m telling you to fight more, but, to borrow again from Friedersdorf’s article. I’m also telling you to fight fair. Tear down ideas, not the people who espouse them. Disagreement is a beautiful thing. It is what allows us our individuality, and its beauty is what draws us all to be rebels in some way. I’m not here to tell you to stop shouting and start listening, I’m here to tell you to stop shouting about the wrong things. Focus on what matters, and start boldly telling (yelling if you must) your truth.

Here Come the Hurricanes

People in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands are currently experiencing the effects of the second major hurricane to hit in only the past two weeks. The Puerto Rican governor has just reiterated after the island was ravaged by Hurricane Maria, depending on how severe the damage to their electrical grid is, the power could be out all across the island for months on end. According to Holly Yan of CNN, the island of Dominica, often heralded as “The Nature Island”, has been virtually stripped of greenery—now brown and bare. Meanwhile, Donald Trump has successfully posted a Twitter poll asking his followers if ESPN Sportscenter host Jemele Hill should be fired. He has also shared a video someone compiled of himself hitting a golf ball at Hillary Clinton. Striking accomplishments, Mr. Trump. Simply striking. Before I lose half of the people reading this by shamelessly bashing the Donald, let me get down to what this article is truly about: climate change and international solidarity. If you choose to not believe in anthropogenic climate change, then please feel free to continue reading, but I am not sure what I will be able to convince you of if climate scientists haven’t been able to alert you of the fact that we have are continuing to warm the earth at faster and faster rates. I think there are two different lessons hidden in the goings-on of the past few weeks. The first is that we must curb the effects of climate change in order to stop the development of an increasing amount of these superstorms in the future. According to the Geophysics Fluid Dynamics Laboratory over at NOAA, there is not enough evidence at this point to show a correlation between human activity and changes in Atlantic cyclone activity. Their overview of current research results on the subject of global warming and hurricanes states, however, that “anthropogenic warming by the end of the 21st century will likely cause tropical cyclones globally to be more intense on average (by 2 to 11% according to model projections for an IPCC A1B scenario).” The overview also states that, over the next century, the odds are good that in some basins, the occurrence of intense storms like Harvey, Irma, and Maria will increase at a rate much higher than two at 11%. These statistics and predictions demonstrate that, although we cannot pin the destruction of the past two weeks on climate change as quickly as we might like, we should focus on subduing climate change as a means of preventing the increase of occurrences of such storms in the future. The only issue is, unfortunately, that Donald Trump’s continuing to threaten a U.S. exit from the Paris Climate Agreement, which would not only deliver a debilitating blow to the international climate initiative, but also add another embarrassing piece to the domino line of failures he has been working tirelessly to set up his whole presidency. Who knows when it is all going to come down. The Donald (I will consider calling him the President when he earns the title) has also appointed a staunch climate change denier to head the EPA in another embarrassing move that has people around the world laughing (and cringing in fear) at our White House. Another lesson flapping around in the wake of these recent storms is a plea for international solidarity. As hurricane Irma pushed towards Florida, it seemed too many people on social media and in conversation were quick to offer prayers for the southeastern United States while almost entirely ignoring the small island nations and territories that were even more prone to near total destruction by a category five impact. I felt echoes of the nationalist movement, currently sweeping across the U.S. and Europe, while I was scrolling through articles detailing where exactly along our Eastern coast the storm might hit, failing to mention which islands (even some that are U.S. territories) were in severe danger, and how hard they were going to be hit. Everything going on in the world right now should be a wake-up call; it should shake whole countries out of the nationalist mindset that separates us, impedes progress, and threatens to remove empathy from the list of human capabilities. The nationalist movement and the worldwide refusal to accept the realities of climate change and the need for drastic action are both factors that seem to push us closer and closer to seeing that first domino fall. It is our responsibility to elect leaders who feed into neither ignorance in the face of indisputable science nor dangerous nationalistic pride that silently draws us away from the rest of the world.

Op-Ed: The Problems of ‘Proportional Response’ in Military Intervention

On Tuesday, April 4, the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad carried out a chemical attack that killed 80 people in the Idlib Province of Syria. After about 72 hours of deliberation and examination of options moving forward, President Donald Trump ordered a strike on the Assad regime’s Al Shayrat airfield, the site of the warplanes that carried out the chemical attack two days earlier. Around 7:40 p.m. on Thursday, Navy destroyers launched 60 Tomahawk missiles into Syria, 59 of which reached their targets, according to United States military officials. The missiles, targeted at Syrian aircraft, aircraft shelters, radars, air defense systems, ammunition bunkers and fuel storage sites, killed six soldiers and nine civilians, according to news outlets and Syrian Officials.

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, right, looks on as President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi of Egypt speaks in the Cabinet Room of the White House April 3, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Trump received overwhelming international praise from his friends in Britain, Germany, France, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other nations. He also managed to get the two sides of Capitol Hill to agree (for the most part) for a few hours and stand behind his strike, although some critics rebuked his actions as illegal, saying he should have run his plan through congress before making any moves. I’m sure you remember someone who did exactly that in 2013 when Assad carried out a chemical attack that killed and injured far more people than did the attack on Tuesday. Former President Barack Obama, in what is now widely considered one of his weakest moments throughout mainstream politics, was presented with an option to attack and destroy a large portion of Syria’s air force following the attack in 2013. He had, after all, drawn a red line right in front of chemical weapons, telling Assad that if he crossed that line, the United States would resort to force. After the British Parliament and the U.S. Congress both voted the plan of action down, Obama decided not to attack without the assurance of international support. He instead opted to strike a deal with Russia stipulating that Assad eliminate his stockpile of chemical weapons.

Trump, who urged Obama (via Twitter of course) not to retaliate against Syria in 2013, was presented with similar circumstances following the attack this week. Apparently swayed by pictures of the attacks and the civilians affected, Trump went ahead without the express approval of Congress or the international community. He enforced the red line that Obama drew during his tenure, while also stating, in his elusive signature style, that Syria had crossed not only that line but “many, many lines.” Some have said that the attacks and Trump’s actions put Putin in a tough spot, a spot in which he must decide whether or not to condemn his ally’s egregious actions. But Vladimir Putin seems pretty comfortable to me. The Kremlin has denied any Russian involvement in the chemical attacks and has even denied that chemical weapons were involved in the attacks at all, instead holding that the attack was “a conventional strike that hit a chemical weapons warehouse controlled by insurgents,” as was recorded in an article in the New York Times written by Peter Baker, Neil MacFarquhar and Michael R. Gordon.

In Fred Kaplan’s article published Thursday on The Slate, he contends that Trump, not Putin, is the one who is now in a tough spot. If Putin steps up Russia’s military presence in Syria, and if there are more chemical attacks, Trump must now make another important decision: does he surrender the red line and allow it to be crossed, or does he enter a civil war and jump headlong into a spiraling collision course with Russia?

Kaplan’s claim, however is not the one I want to make here. The idea I want to leave you with is that this attack should not only make Trump feel like he is in a tough position, but it should make you, me and every American and global citizen uncomfortable as well. Here is why.

The latest chemical attack and Trump’s subsequent response should make us question our own personal ethics as well as the ethics of our nation. As has been stated by Sean Spicer and echoed by international leaders in the wake of this week’s events, the actions taken by Trump were “decisive, justified, and proportional.” That word “proportional” stuck out to me and set off a few alarms in my head. Firstly, if we simply respond proportionally each time there is a human rights violation carried out by a nation (not one of our allies of course) that is egregious enough to warrant a response, are we truly acting in an ethically sound manner, or are we simply perpetuating a global war machine in which an unending series of “proportional” responses would almost certainly lead to a world entirely ravaged by conflict.

Second, if we are to draw a red line or “many, many lines” in the sand to detail exactly what a nation can and cannot do, then we must define those lines. Do we decide to allow violations of human rights up to a certain point? Do we only draw red lines when a nation is not a direct ally of ours?

If we are to draw red lines, then we need to ensure that they are not simply in place to make us feel as though we are on the side of justice, as though we are ethically sound even while we fall deeper and deeper into the pile of quicksand that is modern perpetual warfare.  We have killed thousands and thousands of citizens throughout the Middle East and if each side of every conflict in the Middle East continues to act “proportionally” in response to the other, the fighting will never end.

Op-Ed: A Nation of Refugees

Our world is currently seeing the largest refugee crisis it has ever known. According to the World Bank and the United Nations, over 65 million people are currently displaced from their homes, 21.3 million of which are displaced because they have literally no other choice. Their flight is entirely involuntary. The report details these numbers also lays out the root of the problem and the reason we are seeing an unprecedented number of refugees. It shows that the heart of the issue involves ten conflicts around the world accounting for the majority of forced displacement every year for the past 25 years. Admittedly, we have a lot of problems here of our own that we struggle to solve (mostly because we endlessly waste our money on pumping up military and subsidizing large corporations). Often these issues blind Americans; pulling us in to the seductive idea that refugees are not our problem and not our priority. They just need to stand up for themselves and fix their own countries, because we have too much fixing of our own to do here in the United States. When we begin to believe this, we fall into the cowardly mindset that refugees are weak, they do not deserve our hospitality, or that they need to work to attain it. When we do this we become entirely un-American.

I know most people have different views of what it means to be “American,” but instead of going through the thousands of different interpretations, let’s just take a brief look at our history. The first settlers in what would become the United States were nothing more than religious refugees. They fled persecution in Europe and hoped to find a safe haven where they might be able to practice their religion freely and begin a new life. This wasn’t the first place they fled to either—they tried going almost anywhere else before they ended up halfway across the world in a place they would not have chosen without a huge nudge from those who chased them out of their homeland. This story repeats itself over and over again throughout our history all the way up to the present.

Given everything about our history as a country, to disregard the modern refugee crisis and to tell those struggling to find safety that they are simply too weak and that they need to stand up and fix their own problems would be to look our ancestors in the face and tell them that they should have stayed behind in Europe and stood up for themselves. It would be to tell them that their journey to this land was one of cowardice and not bravery and I hope we can all agree that this would be a lie.

It feels like we hear it every day now: “We are a nation of immigrants.” What I am telling you is that we are not just a nation of immigrants, we are a nation of refugees who came in search of freedom and safety. In other words, we are a nation of people who (should) understand the plight of every refugee in this world today. Unfortunately, we are also a nation who has failed to live up to the responsibility of helping those who are just like ourselves. We have instead repeatedly discriminated against people who came here in search of the same things we all want.

Compassion alone should be enough to convince us we need to increase our role in alleviating the urgent refugee crisis going on all over the world, but if compassion does not do the trick, then let us look to the responsibility that stems from our history and from the standards that we set for ourselves yet fail to meet over and over again. It is time we stand up for what we say we believe in and stop blaming our problems on immigrants while we refuse to help refugees, opting instead to continue to fail at solving our own problems first.

Andani Nabiha, 38, left, and Rana Al Kard, 38, talk about their lives as Syrian refugees in San Diego County on Wednesday, February 8, 2017 in La Mesa, Calif. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Op-Ed: No Ban, No Wall, No Alt-Facts

It’s no secret that Donald Trump takes pride in size. Size feeds his insecurities like lies do to his fans. The enormity of his buildings, the immensity of his bank account, the “yuge”ness of his little munchkin hands and (as he made clear in a nationally televised debate) even his size “down there”.

Trump has demonstrated to the American people time and time again that he believes he is bigger and better than all of his competition. He is that kid in your kindergarten class who would knock everyone else’s Lego towers down and then claim to be the greatest Lego architect in all the world. Usually that obnoxious kid realizes this kind of behavior doesn’t fly in the real world when he makes it to the first grade and a child-genius proves him wrong and builds a Lego skyscraper all the way to the ceiling. But for some reason, the President of the United States of America has not learned this lesson yet. Instead, he continues to sit in the corner with his tiny tower, convincing himself that his Lego building (read: inauguration) is bigger, so that he doesn’t have to feel like less of a man.

Why? Well if you’ll allow me to extend this cheesy and slightly annoying analogy for just a few sentences more, I will explain my point of view. You see, if Trump is this elementary school bully described above and if the United States is his classroom, then the reason his alternative facts are not admonished and laughed at is that half of the students in the classroom seem to be convinced that this bully is on their side, he will take the power back from their well-intentioned teacher and give it back to them, he will make kindergarten great again.

Now, at this point those of you who are on the other side of the political spectrum from me may have all moved on to the next article or the latest Tomi Lahren video and if you are still here it is probably only because your day has been relatively good so far and you need something infuriating to keep you going. But, before I lose any more of you let me say that I do not believe that Trump is intentionally trying to cause any harm to our country. Although I am skeptical that he never wanted the job in the first place, and although I do take issue with his conflicts of interest, I am not someone who believes that Trump is using the highest office in our nation for personal gain.

What I do believe is that Trump is greatly misled in terms of his idea of what it means to be a bigger and better country; trusting a government that is misleading and overly controlling of a media that is at most overtly biased, is ignorant and extremely dangerous. A country that gets all of its information and its facts (alternative or real) from the government looks more like North Korea or Cuba than the America that we should envision. Our President needs to understand that strength is not about strong-arming the media into portraying the world the way you see it. Strength is not about building the biggest border wall you possibly can, or banning an entire group of refugees based on a religion when you are afraid of the small amount of people who have turned that religion into a perverted ideology. To do so would be to fuel the fire of a new ideology sweeping the world (of which ISIS is just one small part) that perpetuates the idea of “us versus them”. Strength is not about being the bully who destroys everyone else’s towers. True strength is instead about breaking down barriers. It is about helping those in need, befriending those you fear. It is about upholding the ideal imprinted on the Statue of Liberty.

So, President Trump, since I know you care oh so much about size, please be the bigger man here and grow out of your bullying stage. Open your mind to what being strong truly means. This country will be better for it.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer speaks at the daily briefing at the White House on Feb. 3, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Op-Ed: The Death of Fidel

 

Cuban community in Miami celebrating the announcement that Fidel Castro died, on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/TNS)
Cuban community in Miami celebrating the announcement that Fidel Castro died, on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

My grandfather has called many times with false news of the death of Fidel Castro, originating from who knows where. But on Friday, that news was finally real. I watched as CNN aired a pre-recorded segment about Castro’s life and the Revolution that he sparked, a segment they had probably been prepared to air for years. It was real this time: Castro, the man who caused such an unimaginable amount of pain for so many of his own countrymen, was dead.  

As I watched, I thought back to the first time I realized the immense impact of this man’s cruelty. My father had stumbled upon a cassette tape my grandpa had made. As he plopped it into our cassette player and pressed play, my grandfather’s voice came loudly through the speakers, eloquently reciting poetry about Cuba. Poetry about the home that he fled when he brought his wife and two sons to this country over 50 years ago. Poetry so beautiful you could hear the longing in his voice as he recalled walking through the streets of Sancti Spiritus, the town they lived in. You could here everything he lost, everything he sacrificed, everything that was stripped away from him and from the millions of Cubans who fled Castro’s regime along with him. It was all right there in that cassette tape and as I listened to it, I reflected on the sacrifices my family made. I reflected also on the fact that the man I hate so much is also the reason I am alive. Had my father’s family never been forced out of Cuba, I would have never been born.

The emotions came sounding through my speakers that night were the same emotions that had been building inside the hearts of all Cuban exiles for decades. My grandfather stored his in his poetry and my father put every ounce of his into paving a better future. On Friday, for many, those emotions were finally released. Stored up for far too long, they came gushing out as people came pouring into the streets of Miami, waving Cuban and American flags, hoping for a better future.

But Cuba and the Communist Party prepared a thousand times more diligently than even CNN for this day. Castro’s death means everything to the Cuban exile community, but very little for the communist dictatorship he left behind. The nation will go through its (mandatory) 9 days of mourning and then all will go back to normal. Fidel’s quiet death, though it seems a victory to us Cuban Americans, pales in comparison to the victories he has stolen. This man succeeded in silencing any and all of his opposition, torturing or killing those who disagreed with him. He succeeded in establishing a dictatorship based on false hope and promises he would never deliver on. He succeeded in creating a one-party system that disguised itself as a “democracy” but really pressured people into compliance by way of fear. He succeeded in enslaving his own people, who by now have lost hope in the ideals of the revolution.

Cuban Americans celebrating in the streets of Little Havana chant “Viva Cuba Libre!” but just 90 miles south, Cuba is still anything but free. So, for me, this still feels like another false claim from another one of my grandfather’s friends who heard “Fidel Castro croaked today,” when a sportscaster said “The Houston Astros choked today.” Because although Fidel is really gone this time, his legacy of oppression stays behind to further haunt the Cuban people.

I am awaiting the day that Cuba is truly free, because although the nation remains relatively unchanged by Friday’s events, there is still hope for a better future. Castro’s rise is the reason I am alive. His demise is the reason I have hope that one day his dictatorship will fall—that Cuba will be free.

Op-Ed: Sexual Assault in America through the Lens of Donald Trump

Daughter-in-law Lara Trump, right, speaks to the crowd as other members of Women for Trump stand beside Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a campaign rally at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016. (David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer/TNS)
Daughter-in-law Lara Trump, right, speaks to the crowd as other members of Women for Trump stand beside Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a campaign rally at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016. (David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer/TNS)
So Election Day is a week away and what has seemed like an eternity of painful presidential campaigning is slowly sputtering to a stop. For most of us, it’s almost time to take a huge sigh of relief (or a huge swing at the closest wall) when the election finally comes to a close, but for millions of Americans it is first time to make an extremely important decision. I assume that this group of “undecided” voters is mostly comprised of those who maintain such a fervent hatred for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump that they cannot possibly vote for either one. Although, I personally have decided to take more of an optimistic view of Clinton and her past, I understand this sentiment forcing voters toward third party candidates. I do have to admit I considered jumping behind Gary Johnson, but my departure from his side started when I began to read up on his actual policies and was set in stone when the words, “What is Aleppo?” came flowing from his mouth.
Although I was shocked to hear that a presidential candidate had never heard of Aleppo, that in no way compared to my reaction as I listened to Trump’s Access Hollywood tape for the first time. As I sat and watched Trump and his partner in crime, Billy Bush, completely dismantle every previously held notion of normal human behavior. I could almost hear Clinton’s maniacal laugh as she practiced her induction speech over and over again. As I expected, minutes after the release of the tape, media outlets were live with a barrage of Trump haters and supporters alike ready to fire off their opinions at will. This was nothing out of the norm, but what I found shocking was that many Trump supporters immediately jumped to dismissing the language used in the tape and deciding to, as I did with Clinton, take a more optimistic view of Trump and his actions (if that is possible), even going as far as believing his “locker room talk” excuse. It may seem hypocritical of me to be entirely intolerant of any kind of lee way that Trump supporters give to their candidate and you know what? It absolutely is. But for this particular instance, let’s move past the personal politics and the charges of hypocrisy that people like to fling all over the place in political arenas and let’s look at the actual issue at hand: sexual assault and rape culture in America.
No matter which way you are inclined to twist this tape, the words are right there and as clear day. What Trump describes in the tape, even if you want to label it “locker room banter” is, in fact, sexual assault. Now let’s get one thing clear, all I have been hearing for a few weeks are calls for conversation on “actual issues.” According to Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), an American is sexually assaulted every 109 seconds and yet only 6 in 1000 perpetrators end up in prison. So, of course we need to talk about tax plans and balancing the budget, but if sexual assault in our country is not an “actual issue”, then I have no idea what is. As I stated earlier, I am all for embracing more optimistic views of politics, but that does not mean ignoring important issues that plop themselves right in front of us, so with that in mind, let’s talk about the many things that are wrong with this tape and the larger problems that the idiocy of Trump’s words allows us to uncover in our society.
First of all, every time I watch this video I experience a distinct, growing sense that Trump is in most ways just a naïve schoolboy who says whatever he wants and does not realize how his words affect others. Do you blame a kid like this for what he has said when he doesn’t even know how wrong it is? Well that’s completely up to you but either way you probably shouldn’t let him rule the free world. That being said I would almost be more comfortable with a misinformed school bully as my president than Donald Trump, because at least the latter shows some type of opportunity for improvement, whereas Donald has been that same naïve schoolboy for all 70 years of his life. He most likely won’t change in the next four.
All jokes aside, Trump’s childish disregard for the way his words make people feel points out an important flaw in his personal character and in our collective character as a society. Recently, there has been significant pushback against political correctness and against heeding the feelings of other human beings. Trump is viewed as strong because he doesn’t care what people think. But while this trait seems like a macho suit of armor to walk around in, it is a trait that, when exhibited in the Trump’s signature manner, can be one’s greatest weakness. In certain situations, a carelessness for the opinions of others helps us rise above obstacles and break free of what is holding us back. In this case, Trump is not rising up, but pushing others down, silencing their voices by being the loudest voice in the room or by threatening to sue anyone who accuses him of being anything but the best. Trump is the epitome of a “haters gonna hate” culture gone way too far, because at some point we have to either care about the feelings of our fellow humans, or trade our humanity in for a false sense of strength. It is not strong to grope women without consent. It is not strong to threaten to sue so as to silence all opposition. It is not strong to give no thought to the feelings of those around you.
Trump thinks he is strong and capable of anything because he is a “star.” His perception of politics and America is much like his apparent view on the appropriateness of sexual assault. He believes what makes him great is his ability to take whatever he wants with no repercussions. That is not the kind of greatness I want for my country. He has repeatedly told the public that he is the only one who can save our nation. But when we do away with his false, middle school-like idea of strength, then we realize that we do not need a champion in the form of an angry, orange man with a toupee and tiny hands. We realize that we are strong not because we do whatever we want, take whatever we want and say whatever we want without any regard for the rest of humanity, but because we work together towards doing the right thing despite a past riddled with mistakes and deviations from what is right. Striving for greatness requires more than just an empty slogan and a few million red hats sold nationwide. It takes action. So for you undecided voters: When you go to the polls, take action. Don’t let our country become Trump’s twisted version of a high school locker room. Vote for unity and for greatness in the form of action, not words.

Op-Ed: It’s time for change

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) and Eric Reid (35) kneel down during the playing of the national anthem before their NFL game on Monday, Sept. 12, 2016 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group/TNS)
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) and Eric Reid (35) kneel down during the playing of the national anthem before their NFL game on Monday, Sept. 12, 2016 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

A few days ago I set out to write an opinion-based article about the recent wave of NFL silent protests during the national anthem. As I sat down and opened my laptop, however, I quickly ran into an inescapable problem—I was not entirely sure what my opinion was. Always a huge believer in the right to protest—a right derived from the same freedoms that enable me to freely publish my opinions in articles like this one—I respect Colin Kaepernick for his decision at the start of that oh-so-important pre-season game. That respect came dangerously close to tumbling down a steep cliff when the quarterback decided to walk into a press conference the following day sporting a shirt that depicted the meeting of Malcolm X and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Below the images of the two leaders were the words, “Like minds think alike.”

Though my anger mostly arises from my bias as a Cuban-American, anyone in this country should understand the reason his wardrobe choice had me up in arms. If Kaepernick were to travel just 90 miles south of the States and attempt to protest any of the countless injustices of the Cuban government in similar fashion, he would meet much tougher response than the wrath of millions of self acclaimed patriots armed and ready with locked and loaded YouTube accounts.  Regardless of my response to Colin’s shirt, let’s return from my brief wardrobe-themed digression and focus instead on the nation’s response to the wave of anthem protests that followed in Kaepernick’s wake, because in reality my opinion on his protest or on his shirt means nothing to all of you who have undoubtedly already formed your own. My opinion on how we as a nation respond to these incidents, however, might prove more intriguing. So let’s focus not on Kaepernick, but on the social media-wielding responders.

As with most anything that happens in today’s world, the media quickly announced the most recent national gossip to millions of Americans already hunkered down in their respective trenches. With fingers still sore from the last battle (probably over Hillary Clinton’s bout of pneumonia), the rapid fire of keystrokes began. Even as tweets came whizzing at lightning speed across the online battlefield, it was easy to see that in recognizably American fashion, two distinct sides were quickly materializing. It was sincerely surprising how rapidly the public began to forget what they were even fighting about. Actually, in retrospect it seems that there was nothing to forget, because every single soldier in the virtual battle missed the point from the very beginning, just as we have for some time amidst the political debacle plaguing our nation.

After this realization came to me a few days ago, I decided not to join the online trench warfare with an article that clearly settled on one side of the debate, but to instead attempt to expose the fact that we use these small and unimportant battles to constantly distract ourselves from the real problems at hand. The pattern is obvious. For every event that could possibly occur in this nation, we have been programmed to respond in predictable ways that place us on opposite sides of the battlefield.

A shooting occurs in a school: some shout gun control and others say that good guys with guns are our only hope.

Another terrorist attack is carried out: some blame Obama, and others are quick to remind their opponents that the blame lies definitively with Bush, not Obama.

You get the gist, but one interesting and frightening thing I’ve realized is that this polarization of beliefs is beginning to pervade even the most trivial of subjects. Cat videos that used to be a safe refuge from the online warfare I described above are now riddled with commenters digging a second trench and accusing innocent cat-owners turned cat-videographers of animal abuse, but I digress. Somehow while we stand in the middle of constant political warfare, we forget that although we may not agree on the means, we usually agree on the end. The only problem is that we may never reach the end if we waste our time arguing about the manner in which people protest instead of the issues they are protesting. The self-inflicted diversions are understandable. We humans will do anything we can to ignore problems that are not immediately contributing to our extinction.

Perhaps my point is best made with a more literal reference from history. In World War I, traditional warfare tactics began to become obsolete with improving technology. The war quickly settled into a stalemate between the French and the Germans, each dug deeply into their trenches. The area between the two enemies was called “no man’s land.” The reason that World War I was perhaps the most grueling war in recent history is that both sides could lose hundreds of thousands of men and advance less than a hundred yards. One of the greatest war films of all time, “Paths of Glory,” highlights the dehumanization that occurs in situations like this. The most moving scene in the movie is the final scene, in which French soldiers are moved to tears by the voice of a young German woman singing a folksong in her native language. The tears come from the realization that they are fighting to kill men who are in most ways no different from them. Amidst the constant blur of mortars exploding and bullets flying, it was simply easier to pin the people on the opposing side as evil animals, but at a certain point we can no longer ignore the reality of our situation.

I realize I am risking an overdramatic comparison, but if today we continue to dig deeper into our own virtual trenches and refuse to hear the voices on the other side of “no man’s land,” then we will never resolve any of our actual problems. It is easy to burn a Kaepernick jersey. It is easy to then stamp out the flames and shut him out just as you ignored his valid argument. It is far more difficult to speak out about actual issues.

And so, in conclusion, all I have to say is that I think it is about time we bring some humanity back to our world. It is time we turn our focus to real issues. It is time we talk about what we need to start doing right instead of what Kaepernick or anyone for that matter may be doing wrong. It’s time to emerge from our trenches and realize that not everyone who disagrees with you is an idiot. It is time to wake up, and it is most definitely time for change.