Thought of the Day: America First

I get the whole America First thing. Especially for politicians, because we elect them (or, in some cases, the Electoral College elects them, despite the actual vote of the people) to represent us, and our needs.

But my loyalty, first and foremost, is to the human race. I may have been born in America, but I was also born on Earth, which makes me just as much a citizen of the world. And while I appreciate the need to take care of and support my fellow countrymen here in the United States, my ultimate loyalty is to my greater community, that of humanity.

To better understand the America First mindset, let’s take a moment to follow the logic of placing the interests of your country above the interests of mankind. Why do people believe in putting the interests of America before those of the rest of the world? Because they feel like they have more in common with their fellow countrymen than they do with people from afar, which is only natural.

However, by that logic, shouldn’t they then be putting the interests of their state or province above the interests of the nation as a whole, because they have even more in common with them than they do with people in other states? In fact, we have already seen this to some degree, with the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (though they are quickly learning the folly of their own thinking).

Of course, the logical progression would then dictate that they should put the interests of their local city or town above the interests of their state. After all, these are their neighbors, their local community, people with whom they are likely to have the most in common, people they may know and care about.

Fundamentally, what this line of thinking comes down to is putting their own personal interests above everyone else’s. For America Firsters, their home – like their nation – must come first, so they put their interests above even their neighbors’ interests. Ultimately, America First is nothing more than “Me First.” Which is why it’s no surprise that Trump is the posterchild for this sort of selfish thinking, bolstered by a base of people who use false patriotism to mask their self-serving worldview.

These people claim to care about America, but they really only care about themselves…their own little version of what they think America should be. You see it time and time again. They refuse to make a small sacrifice even if it will benefit the greater good, whether helping fellow Americans or everyone around the world.

Climate change is a great example. America is a leader in energy consumption, waste production, and pollution emissions. Yet we also have the means to significantly reduce all of those things but cannot achieve a consensus to do so. Why? Because our nation is filled with people (enough to put Trump in the White House) who are too lazy or too selfish to use less energy, eat less red meat, recycle, etc. despite the fact that such small steps, when done collectively, can have a massive impact – creating a safer, healthier, and wealthier world for everyone’s children, including their own.

And what really galls me is that so many of these America First types call themselves Christians. Would Jesus build walls to protect his disciples while the rest of humanity struggles and suffers outside? No, he was more of an Earth First sort of guy, quite famously putting the interests of all mankind ahead of his own personal interests. Perhaps we should all try to be a little more like him.

Personally, even though I am an atheist, I am an Earth First sort of guy, just like Jesus. And, again, I have never understood why more people, especially those who call themselves Christians, don’t follow his Earth First example. According to your holy scriptures, he died for our sins (not just the sins of Nazarenes, Galileans, or Judeans – but everyone’s sins). And yet, again, you won’t even separate your recyclables? You won’t reduce your carbon footprint, conserve energy, minimize pollution, make the world a better place for your children…and the rest of mankind? For those of us blessed with the opportunity to live in America, these are fairly small sacrifices to make compared to what Jesus would do for you.

And, yes, I understand the whole concept of the nation state, and it certainly made more sense when the world seemed a little smaller. But as I have noted in an earlier post, so many of today’s problems are problems that we all face together, as a species, regardless of our artificial borders and barriers.

For example, there’s the aforementioned challenge of climate change. Oh, wait, you America Firsters are pretending that global warming doesn’t exist because the politicians you support have their pockets stuffed with petroleum-soaked cash from Big Oil lobbyists. OK, fair enough. But the money you think you are saving by not addressing this challenge is a mere drop in the gradually warming ocean compared to what you are going to end up (and already are) spending to combat the growing impacts of climate change, such as the melting of the polar ice, rising sea levels, intensifying storms, failing crops, etc. (not to mention the money you are leaving on the table by not investing in becoming the global leader in green technology, which would surely have enriched the American economy for decades to come).

There’s also the energy crisis, with the eventual exhaustion of fossil fuels, all of which contribute to global warming – and many of which are produced by nations that use the profits to support terrorism. Oh, I forgot, those special interest groups own your politicians, so you have to conveniently look the other way…again. Keep driving that smoke-belching, gas-guzzling Mercedes G-class while your neighbor’s kids are shipped off to defend someone else’s oil fields.

What about social and economic inequities, as the population of have-nots exponentially outgrows the haves, who happen to be getting exponentially richer? You may be able to ignore that for now, but the walls you build today won’t be able to protect your children.

What about overpopulation, which is set to make food security and access to clean water two of the greatest challenges of this century? Again, you can’t build walls high enough to escape those consequences.

And what about health concerns, whether we are talking about plagues that don’t respect borders or simply the need for new antibiotics? Yeah, now you are getting a little worried, aren’t you?

Finally, your favorite…terrorism. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that this is a global threat that isolationist policies cannot prevent, right?

These, of course, are precisely the kinds of challenges the United Nations is working to address. And whether or not you choose to acknowledge all or any of them because they don’t jive with your political or religious beliefs doesn’t make them any less of a threat.

Like it or not, the one thing we all have in common – everyone on the planet – is that we are all citizens of the world. So, rather than just focusing on what’s best for America (and be honest, we’re really talking about what’s best for ourselves), we should also be focusing on what’s best for mankind. Because, with challenges like these, we’re all in this together. If we don’t tackle these global problems together, there won’t be any borders to defend – or anyone left to defend them.


Groundhog Deniers

ghogdIt’s Groundhog Day. Every February 2nd, hordes of my fellow Americans gather around the burrow of a Marmota monax, commonly known as a groundhog, though we called them woodchucks where I grew up. When the animal emerges in the morning, presumably from its winter hibernation, the theory is that if it sees its shadow, it will return to its burrow and winter will last for six more weeks – until around the vernal equinox, which is the official start of spring in the northern hemisphere. If it doesn’t see its shadow, presumably due to cloud cover or perhaps even a large pine tree overhead, then spring is supposed to arrive early – before the equinox.

This is, of course, absolute nonsense. And the fact that the media actually cover it, including professional meteorologists, is rather insulting. After all, there is no scientific evidence backing any of this up. In fact, a study of groundhog predictions in 13 cities over the past 30-plus years determined that the animal’s forecasts were accurate only 37 percent of the time. And America’s best-known groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, has only been accurate 39 percent of the time. In other words, flipping a coin is a far more effective way to predict the weather.

Why am I even whining about this? Why make a fuss about a relatively harmless folksy tradition? Because I live in a nation run by imbeciles who put far more stock in such stupidity than they do in proven, rationale thinking.

Last year, 60 percent of the Republicans in the House of Representatives and 70 percent of them in the Senate were climate change deniers. They insist on ignoring the overwhelming body of evidence and educated views of leading experts across the scientific community, which have proven that climate change is real and that humans are impacting it. And now we have a President who is just as stupid. OK, let’s be honest, he’s a lot more stupid…but you get the point.

And we use the term climate change deniers because it’s not like these people actually believe that our climate isn’t changing, or that we, as humans, aren’t contributing to that change. They not stupid (well, at least not all of them). It’s just that these politicians are funded by special interests – a whopping $117.5 million in donations from oil and gas companies last year – who stand to lose money if we enact legislation that curtails the use of fossil fuels, even though that legislation would be prudent to protect our planet – as well as ensure the safety and security of the United States – from the adverse effects of climate change around the world.

Because they accepted those checks, these politicians cannot openly acknowledge the truth about climate change, let alone enact any sort of policy to address it. Instead, they choose to blindly deny all the evidence, citing fringe reports published by lackeys who are also on the payroll of Big Oil, and simply pretend that there is no scientific consensus on climate change. They turn their back on the green energy boom and all the jobs and revenue it would create for Americans (not to mention the future health and welfare of our species and our planet) in favor of getting a fat check today. They serve themselves, instead of serving the people.

So, yeah, I’m a little pissed that we give the groundhog tradition more credence than we do science-based phenomena like climate change. The good news is that 70 percent of Americans believe that climate change is real and affected by humans. The bad news is that we appear to be too stupid to elect officials who are willing to embrace the truth.

Today may be Goundhog Day, but every other day seems to be Big Oil’s.

God & Country

GeorgeCarlinReligionIt’s hard to imagine now, but when John F. Kennedy first ran for President of the United States, there was concern that his allegiance would be to the Catholic Church instead of to his Country and its Constitution. Contrast that with the current presidential campaign, in which Fox News asked – in all seriousness – if any of the Republican candidates had received some sort of communication from God regarding what they should do if elected. Yes, not only do they want to know if any of these potential leaders of the free world have been hearing voices from unseen beings, but they seemed really excited and hopeful that some of them are indeed hearing voices and planning to base their presidential decisions on them.

Jeffrey Tayler offers an overly animated take on this very subject in a recent piece for Salon. But it’s certainly a question worth considering. Take George W. Bush. It was troubling enough that he claimed that God wanted him to become president, telling a friend: “I believe that God wants me to run for President.” But then he claimed that God told him to invade Iraq, telling a Palestinian diplomat: “God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq.’ And I did.”

It’s terrifying to think that the man with the nuclear launch codes was receiving instructions from some unseen being. But it is absolutely horrifying to learn that this presumed deity actually instructed him to invade a sovereign nation, at a cost of 4,491 American lives, as many as 500,000 Iraqi lives, and an ongoing burden to the American taxpayers in excess of $2,000,000,000 (that’s two trillion dollars…or two-thousand stacks of a million dollars, for those struggling to imagine expenses of such magnitude; and this, from a man who promised to reduce government spending*).

HigherPowersIs it easier for “a man of faith” to believe what he wants to believe in spite of all the evidence to the contrary? That certainly was what Bush did in the case of Iraq. And what many of his contemporaries have been doing in the case of Climate Change. So while most see “faith” as a good thing, it clearly poses significant dangers when someone in power makes decisions based on by “faith” instead of on facts. It’s one thing to have faith in a higher power, but it’s a very risky proposition when people in power start claiming that we should have faith in their ability to interpret the wishes of that higher power.

When a presidential candidate claims to have heard the “call of God,” or received some sort of instruction from such a deity, how do we know he isn’t simply hearing voices in his head, the result of some mental illness, delusion, or deficiency? How do we know it isn’t Satan speaking to him, masquerading as God? How do we know he isn’t just lying, making this up to sucker the evangelical vote or to give credence to otherwise ludicrous policies? After all, how likely is it that God would decide to speak to – or through – a politician, the least trustworthy profession on our planet?

Should our next President have to pledge his or her allegiance to the United States and its Constitution, vowing to put it above any instructions they may (or may not) receive from some invisible entity? Sure, it’s easy to argue that it’s a non-issue, because God is inherently good. But look at what George Bush did in the name of his God. The unnecessary and unjustified deaths of hundreds of thousands of people can only be categorized as evil. Not to mention what horrors other men have done, claiming to act under orders of God.

*If God wanted Bush to invade Iraq, at a cost to the American taxpayers of more than $2 trillion and growing, then clearly God is in favor of massive government spending; and, therefore, God is certainly not a Republican.