Monday, April 10, 2017

A Lull for Boo-birds

One thing that’s particularly fun about the first few weeks of the baseball season is the spirited back-and-forth taunting between fans of rival teams. My Dad’s cousin, the local butcher and a plumber friend are all die-hard Yankees fans and early in the season is the best time for maximum bravado. They’ve been a little more muted in recent years as the Red Sox have more recently won the World Series (note that this column will surely end that silence) but hearing from them at the beginning part of the season is something I look forward to every year.

President Trump — who has not experienced any silence from critics since the start of his administration — may have noticed a drop in the roar last week when the U.S. bombed Syria in response to the latest atrocity committed by the Syrian government on its people. Love him, hate him — and most of the people I talk to really do hate him — apparently President Trump has a soft spot for children and can’t stand to see them killed in a chemical attack.  To me, it would appear that for the first time in many years, the United States is doing what needs to be done in Syria. We’ve been watching this genocide unfold for far too long.

The facts are horrifying: according to the U.N., more than 400,000 Syrians are dead and more than 5 million have fled the country (and that number is low because it only accounts for those that have registered as refugees). While some countries are straining under the weight of refugees — Turkey has three million — some in the United States have patted themselves on the back for taking a handful of these mistreated souls. I’m glad the focus has now shifted to ending the cause of the refugee crisis rather than debating immigration law.

I’m no foreign policy expert but I believe that the U.S. — and other superpowers — have a moral obligation to intervene with force if needed when a country is mistreating and murdering its citizens. For almost 6 years we’ve “observed” as Syrians have been killed, tortured and driven from their homeland because of a brutal civil war. The U.S. and the UN have imposed sanctions, investigated the use of chemical weapons and sent numerous other diplomatic missives — to no effect. I can’t imagine why President Obama did nothing but clearly he had his reasons and stuck to them. That is his legacy.

Will a few dozen tomahawk missiles dumped at an airbase end the Assad regime? Of course not. Do any Americans want to see us engaged in another war in the Middle East? Probably not. Is it important to send a message that we will not stand by as a government murders its children? Yes, I think so.

The momentary lull in criticism has already ended and the cacophony of “here’s what he did wrong” has begun. Considering that there has not been peace in the Middle East since political columnists were tapping away on stone tablets, my expectations for the Trump administration are low, but at least they have engaged on the side of humanity.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Boys Game is Back

Baseball is back! Every year Opening Day (and yes, I capitalize it like a holiday) brings a renewed sense of hope to fans around the world. It’s the time when every team has an even shot at the World Series and every player has a chance to be the MVP. The cynical among us (me) will note that some teams have neither the lineup nor the pitching staff to contend and that many players will bounce back and forth between the farm team and the big leagues over the course of the season. That field for MVP is limited to a very small group of men.

I have to admit that my excitement for the return of baseball is dampened by the feeling that I’m abandoning my sex by focusing so much energy on a sport that’s all about men. I love baseball — and the metaphors are perfect for politics — because it’s truly a man’s game too. This is not a revelation of course, but in the past few months women around the planet have been more vocal about their place in the world and have made me think about mine.

In my 20s and 30s I think I tried to ignore the misogyny around me since I liked my work and was just happy to be employed in a field that was so interesting. I brushed off the inappropriate comments (my favorite from a Member of Congress: “he must be the brains of the operation because you sure are the looks”) and paws (too many to recount) as I was paying my dues. At 46, my dues are paid, but I was recently in a meeting where a male colleague ten years my junior and with at least ten fewer years in professional life held a hand up to me and said, “Stop. I know what you’re going to say.” I was (surprisingly) stunned into silence so he just kept going. I remain a little shocked that none of my other colleagues called him on it, but I think it’s the bystander syndrome — and I’m guilty of it too.

For example, I was a bystander when I poo-pooed people who said that being a woman would cost Hillary 10-15 points and when I ignored those comments about her clothes, her ankles and her wrinkles. (And then we elected someone who is fatter, older and uses scotch tape to hold his ties together.) I was a bystander when I ignored comments from people who said that “if Gina just softened up she would be more likeable.” (And then I realized that no one would have asked “Don” to soften up — or would have even called him “Don.”) I was a bystander when I didn’t blow up a recent post from one of Rhode Island’s esteemed journalists that implied that our Senators voted for Elaine Chao’s confirmation in deference to her spouse, Senator Mitch McConnell. (One look at her resume shows that’s he’s actually been the underachiever in the household.) I extend my apologies to Secretary Clinton, Governor Raimondo and Secretary Chao. I haven’t had your back. As we launch into a new season of baseball, I’m going to enjoy watching the game I love and shake off my bystander status to make the game of politics a fair place for women.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Get off the bench

It's been quite a week in the American political arena. The inauguration of the 45th president followed by a day of gatherings across the world has a put our politics under a microscope — and the close-up inspection has not been pretty.

President Trump's inaugural address was caustic. He did not — and cannot — take back the things he has said that have offended many Americans. His behavior can be inappropriate — even childish — but he is, in fact, the duly elected President of the United States. The President of the United States is not supposed to be our spirit animal. He is the lead administrator and one piece of the policy-making authority in the federal government.  Maybe this is why I find the “not my president” discussion offensive. I get that you didn't vote for him but part of being an American and participating in our electoral process means that sometimes we don't get to be the winner every time. Have we been so coddled that we can't stand to hear an opposing viewpoint? Have we had so many participation trophies presented to us that we are mentally unprepared for when something doesn't go our way? If sour grapes of this magnitude were on display after every election, this would be a far less inspiring country. If Hillary Clinton can show support for our system of government by being on the stage while her opponent gets sworn in, I have to believe that the rest of the country can follow her gracious lead.

For the millions of Americans who participated in the events across the country on the 21st, I hope the experience was an energizing one. I struggle to call them “Women’s Marches” because some were broader in theme and some seemed more like anti-Trump rallies. Some rallies seemed right on point and inspired participants to “go high” and make their voices heard while others were (disappointingly) more divisive in tone. Preaching inclusion while telling other Americans they are wrong if they think differently is how we got to this angry place. Instead I hope that participants follow the lead of Martin Luther King Jr. and DO SOMETHING. Note that taking s selfie and calling yourself a nasty woman doesn't actually move the ball. Encouraging tolerance (which means accepting everyone — including people who disagree with you) becoming active in politics, engaging with policy makers and giving your beliefs a voice will make a difference. Mocking Barron Trump and calling the president a Cheetoh on Facebook only makes you look foolish. Finding common ground with an adversary and having fact-based discussions about the issues of the day makes you brilliant.

It’s time that our best, brightest and most thoughtful minds participate in the political process, so if you can be smart and “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” it’s time to get off the bench and engage.