Counterpoint: Donald Trump got elected and I know exactly what to think

This is written as a public response to Jonathan Imbody, VP of Government Relations for CMDA, who recently wrote an opinion piece for a CMDA blog titled “Donald Trump got elected and now I don’t know what to think.” As he introduces:

If that statement describes how you feel, you are a member of a large group of Americans who neither enthusiastically support nor disgustedly oppose the new administration. You land somewhere between “Not My President” and “Make America Great Again.”

The brief suggestions below aim to help you process what’s happened, what’s happening and what you can do about it all.

While I have great respect for the work of CMDA in legislative advocacy to protect physician freedom of conscience (even if I disagree with certain points), and would consider Mr. Imbody and others as part of the Christ community, there are both specific and coded references written in this piece that I have concerns about. As a former student leader for CMDA and ongoing active member, I am obligated to represent viewpoints of Christian healthcare professionals otherwise excluded in this narrative. Even if my points here constitute a minority perspective, I hope to demonstrate their validity. I also hope these words will not be construed as contention or meaningless dissent, as I do support much of the work and perspective of CMDA, but that it represents a plea to not alienate those who share my concerns from within the body of CMDA constituents.

Mr. Imbody writes this piece as an attempt to placate concerns regarding the Trump administration. He states that detractors are unnecessarily concerned because they have placed disproportionate faith in government to be the “primary vehicle for social change.” He assuages:

Our founders and Constitution, however, designed government with a small “g.” They designed a limited government that reserves maximum power to the people, a deliberately cumbersome system that makes sweeping change difficult.

That realization should help hyperventilating Trump opponents breathe a significant sigh of relief. Ironically, the small government system that Big Government advocates have been trying to dismantle is actually the very system that will protect them from any tyranny they now fear. (emphasis mine)

However, he minimizes or overlooks issues concerning to both physicians and patients related to the new administration and the public. Here are a few:

TRAVEL BAN

Mr. Imbody cites the federal court “kiboshing” of the executive order on immigration as an example of this natural check and balance system. Though the ban has now been limited twice by the federal court, it illustrates both the persistence and the scope with which the Trump Administration is seeking such restrictions. Even with these reversals, the initial implementation of the original ban created sufficient chaos within the legitimate migration of refugees, visa and green card holders, healthcare practitioners, and patients that the response of other medical professional organizations was swift and strong. These concerns focused primarily on the uncertainty it produced among practicing & research physicians planning to travel abroad, International Medical Graduates (IMG) planning to match, and the care & treatment of immigrant children:

Internists: The ACP issued a comprehensive statement with plain opposition to “denying refugee status from persons in designated countries of origin who otherwise would meet refugee status law requirements in the United States,” interference with legal migration, religious discrimination, and forcible deportation. The NEJM published a specific perspective piece on the order’s “detrimental effects on medical training and healthcare,” again related to interference of graduate medical education.

Pediatricians: The AAP statement reads: “Children do not decide where they or their parents were born. They do not choose whether or how to travel to the United States. We owe it to these children to protect them. Far from doing so, this Executive Order temporarily bans refugees—including children and families who are fleeing persecution, war, or violence—from entering the United States and appears to open the door for individual states to refuse to resettle them.
The Order also impacts our colleagues in medicine, as international medical school graduates and pediatric researchers will continue to be among the foreign nationals and refugees impacted by the travel ban. Leaving it to the discretion of Customs and Border Protection to decide whether to grant entry on a case-by-case basis will prevent these professionals from traveling or training here. This means that vulnerable children, particularly in rural and underserved areas of the United States, will be unable to access care provided by some of the brightest minds in medicine.”

Family Physicians: The President of the AAFP issued a public letter to the president plainly stating: “We are deeply concerned that steps your Administration has taken will have a chilling effect on our nation’s physician workforce, biomedical research, and global health. It is often America’s physicians who answer the call to assist people around the world when a public health crisis occurs. Imagine a world where physicians fail to answer the call of the needy because they fear they may not be able to return to their home and families in the United States. Many family physicians are international medical graduates, who have completed all or part of their education and training in the United States. They are professionals who dedicate their careers to the service of their patients in communities large and small, urban and rural. In fact, 20 percent of our membership and over 25 percent of family medicine residents are comprised of international medical graduates. The AAFP applauds and supports wholly the contributions of these individual family physicians to their patients and communities and we celebrate their diversity.”

These are neither hypothetical nor minor concerns. While the multiple publicized examples of physicians temporarily denied entry or re-entry have been reversed, the case of a Houston OB/GYN physician who cancelled his medical team’s trip to perform fetal surgeries, likely resulting in those pregnancy losses, should be distressing to any pro-life advocate. Additionally, the areas that IMGs from these countries serve are disproportionately in medically underserved areas, and though the second iteration of the travel ban would exempt visa holders, it is entirely plausible that it would continue to have a chilling effect on applicants from those countries as well as an implicit bias by program directors against ranking applicants from those countries if there is any degree of uncertainty of their immigration eligibility in the future. In fact, even the NRMP issued a statement on the Executive Order:

The consequences of the Executive Order are far reaching for Match applicants, and the upheaval it is causing is extensive. The affected applicants have worked hard for many years to achieve their goal of becoming physicians, and they should not be denied that opportunity because of a blanket policy that does not consider the individual. Similarly, U.S. training programs should be able to select applicants based on their excellent character and qualifications, without regard to nationality. Both applicants and programs benefit from an orderly process for entry into graduate medical education. The Executive Order disrupts that process very considerably.

This does not even begin to address the impact on refugee migration, which represents a particularly vulnerable population of patients. The revised ban continues to seek a complete and arbitrary suspension of the refugee program for 120 days which threatens the supportive infrastructure of refugee resettlement programs. In fact World Relief, a Christian non-profit agency that works with refugee resettlement, has closed 5 of 27 offices and laid off over a hundred employees in response. Robert George, eminent Constitutional scholar and avid Catholic pro-life advocate who has favored the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, soundly denounced (in conjunction with Angela Wu Howard) the travel ban in this joint article from First Things:

I myself only learned about the stringency of our refugee vetting procedures as a result of extensive briefing when I was chairing the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). There are many things in our government that are “broken,” but our refugee vetting system isn’t one of them. We needn’t, and therefore we shouldn’t, shut out refugees who are fleeing terrorism in places such as Syria and Iraq, even temporarily. Because it isn’t necessary to do it, it is, in my opinion, necessary not to do it.

When I was chairing USCIRF, I called for an increase in the refugee quota. I continue to favor that. Many of my conservative friends disagree, but I believe that justice as well as compassion requires it. The U.S. is not without responsibility for creating the refugee crisis (or the conditions for it)—though we can debate just which presidents and others bear just what portion of that responsibility. I also favor maintaining the stringency of the vetting system, even if that means we do not reach the quota. That’s because I do believe that national security is preeminently important, and I want to make sure that what has happened in some places in Europe does not happen here. The other thing I advocated, and continue to advocate, is prioritization of refugee acceptance based on vulnerability to the worst forms of abuse: murder, rape, torture, enslavement. This is not because I want to bias the system in favor of Christians, as some of my more ridiculous critics on the Left have claimed. It is because decency requires it. Yes, Christians will benefit, but so will Yazidis, Shabak, Turkmen, minority Muslims, and even majority Muslims who are targeted by terrorists (such as ISIS) for helping U.S. forces or opposing terrorist entities. These are the people targeted by ISIS and other evildoers for the worst forms of abuse.

While a check-and-balance system may limit the long term consequences of an administrative agenda, to overlook the short term consequences of the uncertainty introduced does not provide reassurance because it intentionally understates the power of the President to cause real, actualized harm and therefore further alienates the very group meant to be comforted. If the physician creed is to “first do no harm”, how can we as healthcare practitioners — especially Christian ones committed to political advocacy — not object to the irresponsible use of force and poor policy?

I know exactly what to think about that.

HARMS TO PATIENT CARE AND LIVELIHOOD

Even more puzzling is the assurance that we should trust the administration because “thousands of good people will run the new government.”

The Chief Executive determines broad policies, but these people scattered throughout federal agencies make the government run. They flesh out laws through detailed regulations. They write the aims and guidelines for grants that fund the work of non-profit charities and organizations across the country. And they develop the pragmatic policies and programs that help our children learn, ensure that patients receive good healthcare and assist in feeding the poor and housing the homeless.

But Mr. Imbody’s statement remains problematic for many reasons. I draw direct attention to the gross omission, in his benevolent description of the “thousands of good people”, of Steve Bannon, the Chief Strategist of the White House. Bannon, who occupies a position not subject to the scrutiny of Congress for approval (one of the checks-and-balances cited earlier), has raised significant controversy for his leadership of Breitbart News and the alt-right movement. This alone was enough to draw criticism by the Anti-Defamation League for implicit support of white supremacists (though it acknowledges Bannon himself has not explicitly done this). But Bannon’s agenda, which as Chief Strategist is a reasonable proxy for that of the administration itself, has moreover explicitly been to “deconstruct the administrative state.”

While I appreciate Mr. Imbody’s point that government is not necessarily meant to be the “primary vehicle of social change,” the new administrative agenda stands in direct contradiction to his appeal that we trust in its intent to “develop the pragmatic policies and programs that help our children learn, ensure that patients receive good healthcare and assist in feeding the poor and housing the homeless” in that it has both implicitly and explicitly pledged itself to dismantling those things. Not restructuring, dismantling.

Though the American Health Care Act (AHCA) eventually failed to pass the House, it is indicative of the agenda of the administration (and the GOP). On a patient care level, the impact of the AHCA according to CBO estimates would result in worsening coverage loss, premium increases, and Medicaid contraction. Though multiple other professional organizations have taken stances criticizing the current form of the AHCA (including the AAFP, AAP, AMA, ANA, AHA, and even the AARP and Medicaid CMO), I understand that CMDA may not necessarily agree with these shared perspectives of healthcare policy as its constituents are diverse and not all agree that health insurance is necessary for quality healthcare; as an example, the AHCA pledges to increase funding to Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) which are primarily designed to care for uninsured patients, many of which are operated by explicitly Christian organizations (though doubtful that the proposed augmentation will be proportional to the needs of the newly uninsured). I also recognize that other elements of the AHCA also directly align with CMDA interests, such as reducing abortion subsidy by decreasing funding for Planned Parenthood.

But, as the Annals of Internal Medicine has cautioned regarding proposed ACA repeal: first, do no harm:

The 2010 health reform law is far from perfect, in either its structure or its execution; in a less dysfunctional political era, the flaws would have been addressed through subsequent changes. Now, amid the drive not to amend the law, but to repeal it—and absent a definitive replacement plan—physicians, as stewards of the nation’s health care, should be up at arms about the potentially dangerous impact.

Additionally, to imply that the new administration will be proactive about developing new programs to “help our children learn… assist in feeding the poor, and housing the homeless” is also directly contradicted by President Trump’s initial budget proposal, which:

- Eliminates US Interagency Council on Homelessness
— Eliminates Community Development Block Grant and Community Services Block Grant
— Eliminates funding for Habitat for Humanity and YouthBuild
— Eliminates the Home Investment Partnership Program
— Eliminates assistance to Community Development Financial Institutions
— Eliminates weatherization assistance program and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
— Reduces Legal Services Corp
— Reduces SNAP and WIC assistance
— Reduces Job Corps
— Eliminates the Senior Community Service Employment Program

In summary, this is a reduction of the:

- Department of Health and Human Services by 16.2%
— National Institutes of Health by 20%
— Department of Education by 13.5%
— Department of Housing and Urban Development by 13.2%

While one may make an argument in favor of these cuts in terms of a lack of efficacy by these programs, any claim that these are meant to improve the deficit is offset by the fact that these savings only make up 6% of the simultaneously proposed increase to defense spending by $54 billion. The proposed increase in defense spending also sends the signal that there is no intent to replace the cut programs but to rather displace their responsibility to states.

To therefore claim that this administration will make these issues a priority is financially, intellectually, and politically disingenuous.

I know exactly what to think about that.

THREAT OF INTERPERSONAL VIOLENCE

While not all instances of violence should be attributable to the new administration or its constituents, it cannot be ignored as a primary cause of concern and anxiety among the many who oppose it. Mr. Imbody’s logic that the opposition’s primary concerns stem from “trust in government” and therefore the protections of the checks-and-balances system above should let “hyperventilating Trump opponents breathe a significant sigh of relief” is incomplete. Quite frankly, people are afraid of getting hurt. A Muslim colleague at my institution had a brick thrown through his daughter’s window after the election because she had a Clinton sign in it. Two Indian men were shot and killed by a white man telling them “get out of my country.” A Sikh man was shot in his driveway after being told “go back to your country.” There has been an increase in reported hate crime incidents in the past year (though this number is hopefully declining). Though President Trump has denounced some of these and the administration has suggested that they are statistically unlikely events, so are terrorist attacks. Yet the President and administration have used one set of threats against the safety of Americans to justify the Executive Orders for a travel ban while responding to the other set by excluding “white supremacists” from categorization as violent extremists.

This does not even begin to address issues of structural violence such as the mass forcible deportation and incarceration of illegal immigrants or that of mass incarceration in general. Whatever our political position regarding immigration or social policies may be, as Christian healthcare providers our primary concern should be the health of our patients, whomever they may be and however we come to encounter them. From this perspective, the administration’s early actions paint an aggressive stance that cannot be brushed aside as mistakes or indelicate handling.

I know exactly what to think.

CONSTITUTIONAL DISDAIN

Mr. Imbody also highlights President Trump’s appointment of Gorsuch as an example of comforting change to the composition of the Supreme Court:

From this list, President Trump has nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch, an originalist in the mold of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whom Gorsuch would replace. This nomination provides significant reassurance that the Supreme Court will be guided more by the rule of law, which protects everyone equally, than by ideology, which favors only those who support the ideology.

But the President himself, as indicated by his tweets and rhetoric and unprecedented leverage of Executive Orders, expresses disdain or ignorance for Constitutional principles themselves. He recently hinted, in reference to prior suggestions made during his campaign, that he would like to change libel laws to influence the media. He has openly challenged the legitimacy of Judge Curiel’s rulings against Trump University solely on the basis of Curiel’s Mexican ethnicity and heritage, a remark that Speaker Paul Ryan openly admitted at the time as being “the textbook definition of a racist comment.” This does not even begin to probe the concerns regarding conflicts of interest with the Emolument clause.

What does President Trump really think about the Constitution? Does he intend to govern in a way that respects the rule of law and the courts or does he intend to push their limits in favor of his maximal benefit? I know exactly what to think about that.

ANTI-BIBLICAL CHARACTER

This is the most egregious omission in a blog post representing an explicitly Christian organization. That there would not be a single word of criticism or even expression of concern by Mr. Imbody regarding this President — who would be disqualified to become even an overseer in a church much less a self-proclaimed Christian President — is both disturbing and disheartening.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. — 1 Timothy 3:1–7

CONCLUSION

Mr. Imbody concludes his piece by stating:

As of this writing, the Trump administration is just a month into governing and already has made some strides and some mistakes. The normal course of any administration is a rocky start followed by greater calm and competence. It’s too early to call.

The extent to which the administration advances policies and achieves results that better our own lives and the lives of others around the world does not just depend on one man. It depends upon all of us, advocating for good policies, demanding accountability and supporting our elected leaders with respect for their offices and with prayer.

I agree that it depends on all of us to advocate for good policies, accountability, and respect. However I strongly disagree that it’s too early to call.

I know exactly what call to make.
I know exactly what to think.

Counterpoint: Donald Trump got elected and I know exactly what to think

Dead Bodies and Lamentations

What do you do with a dead body in the room?

My first dead patient arrived that way. He was half naked, pupils blown, head bashed in from a car accident in which he was thrown through the windshield. It was my first week on the wards as a medical student and though I had been through enough trauma alerts with the surgical team to know the drill, the brutality of it all still took me by surprise. The trauma bay was chaotic for all of twenty minutes as the team performed what they already knew would be an exercise in futility: chest compressions, central lines, bags of saline, etc. Someone had asked me to get warm blankets so I scurried around retrieving them but primarily tried to stay out of the way. Once the twenty minutes of resuscitation were over, the chief resident called the time of death and everyone simply stopped what they were doing and awkwardly shuffled out of the room. I remember standing there under the bright spotlights alone with the dead body, blankets still warm in my hands, watching as blood suddenly decided to gush out of the man’s skull and onto the tiled floor. I remember staring at the growing puddle and feeling like the most helpless and useless person in the world.

In the years since, I have been in the room with a dead body more times than I can count. I have been the one to warn the family of what was coming, whether they were prepared or willing to hear it or not. I have begged them for permission to stop CPR, to acknowledge the death as final and irreversible. I have had to make the pronouncement of death. I have watched family weep with silent tears and have had them scream at me from down the hall. I have done CPR on babies and adults. I have helped zip up the body bag. Even as I write this, my memory relives the hearing of those noises, faces, voices, lamentations.

Whether I want to or not, whether it is fair or reasonable or not, my job puts me in a position to listen to a wide range of hurt and anger and grief. It has become reflexive to absorb these narratives, in part because it makes me better at my job but also because the plainness of the suffering voice is compelling. That said, some days I come home both thoughtful and irritable, resentful of my role as a dustbin for the sorrows and troubles of others. I grouse and pour myself some seltzer over ice and sort through the emotions of others that have been laid on me.

But in some odd way, I have also come to appreciate such experiences even if I cannot bring myself to be thankful for them. In thinking about that helpless experience of watching blood spill out of a man’s head, of pushing a baby’s chest in perfunctory CPR, of shocking a dead body into convulsions over and over again, I am forced to acknowledge the brutality of death and visualize how easily the sacred becomes desecrated.

I recently heard seminary professor Dr. Soong Chan Rah talk about the Book of Lamentations, how it begins with a funeral dirge for a nation humiliated, raped, and obliterated into exile. He talks about how the book speaks about the dead body in the room, the death of the nation of Israel. It is composed in broken meter, styled to imitate a limp, written from the voices of the beaten and wounded.

How lonely sits the city
that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become,
she who was great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces
has become a slave…

My eyes are spent with weeping;

my stomach churns;
my bile is poured out to the ground
because of the destruction of the daughter of my people,
because infants and babies faint
in the streets of the city.

They cry to their mothers,
“Where is bread and wine?”
as they faint like a wounded man
in the streets of the city,
as their life is poured out
on their mothers’ bosom.

- Lamentations 1:1; 2:11–12

There has been a lot of talk in the post-election season about “understanding one another” and “coming together” and “moving on.” There has been a lot of wondering about “why can’t we all just get along?”, a question that would seem honest and harmless if not for its implicit favoritism towards the dominant culture.

There are many things to lament, as there are many things that are broken, and this is legitimately true in most shades of American politics. But racism is a particular sort of devastation in our history that merits its own dirge, one that the American church has been too reluctant to sing. Think for a moment about the white nationalist conference in DC and resurgences of the KKK, then think about these words from the book, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree”:

No historical situation was more challenging than the lynching era, when God the liberator seemed nowhere to be found. “De courts er dis land is not for niggers,” a black man from South Carolina reflected cynically. “It seems to me that when it comes to trouble, de law an’ a nigger is de white man’s sport, an’ justice is a stranger in them precincts, an’ mercy is unknown. An’ de Bible say we must pray for we enemy. Drop down on you’ knee, brothers, an’ pray to God for all de crackers, an’ judges, an’ de courts, an’ solicitors, sheriffs, an’ police in de land.” Whether one was lynched on a tree or in court, the results were the same. “Lord, how come me here,” they sang, “I wish I never was born!” (page 27)

The language of lament has helped me understand what has been so bothersome about the “evangelical” Christian voice in the national politic. We talk about how the church is the cure to American culture without acknowledging its complicity in a long history of corruption and tainted ambition. We talk about our entitlements to freedom without mentioning the offal nature of slavery and oppression. We demand forgiveness and reconciliation without recalling our viciousness of speech and deed. We talk about God’s sovereignty as resurrection without mourning the abused and defiled body of Christ. We have skipped ahead to resurrection songs when the bleeding body is still naked on the stretcher.

What do you do with a dead body in the room?

What can I say for you, to what compare you,
O daughter of Jerusalem?
What can I liken to you, that I may comfort you,
O virgin daughter of Zion?
For your ruin is vast as the sea;
who can heal you?

Your prophets have seen for you
false and deceptive visions;
they have not exposed your iniquity
to restore your fortunes,
but have seen for you oracles
that are false and misleading.

All who pass along the way
clap their hands at you;
they hiss and wag their heads
at the daughter of Jerusalem:
“Is this the city that was called
the perfection of beauty,
the joy of all the earth?”

- Lamentations 2:13–15

Dead Bodies and Lamentations

Guns, Children, and Suits: that which does not belong

I would rather talk about guns and children than wear a suit. I do not like suits. Whenever I have to dress in anything fancier than casual, I become nervous because I know I am dressing for someone else’s eye. It sounds childish because it is, as an emotionally traumatic holdover from my super-awkward middle school days. I have gotten used to it over time, if only because it has become a daily professional requirement (and because people are too polite to voice their fashion critiques.) I suppose this is part of the appeal of pediatrics, where my little patients don’t care for the white coat or business attire anyways and I can let a goofy smile be the most memorable part of my appearance.

However, this means I feel even more uncomfortable wandering around the legislative district of Washington, D.C., where appearances and impressions seem to mean everything. To me, everyone seems immaculately dressed and my scuffed shoes and worn belt feel out of place among the polished lobbyist briefcases and horn-rimmed hipster eyewear. I feel like that awkward geek all over again, trying to measure up to the popular kids who now wear Hugo Boss instead of Adidas and lunch at a French bistro instead of the pizza parlor.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is trying to help me figure this out, here at the biannual Legislative Conference. There are all these advocates and representatives and staffers trying to teach me the rules of the government game: how to “frame” an issue, how to send clear messages, how to say things in a way that gets those with the authority to make decisions to listen. They also model for me the right way to wear a suit, but this still does not make me feel very comfortable. The sinful side of me feels jealous of their ease and expertise, and it becomes overly fixated on things like image and word choice and fundraising and the fear and love of power, things that make me feel like I am part of a massive popularity contest… one in which I feel sure to lose.

So I made some phone calls yesterday.

I called my friends from the city, people whom I have come to Washington to represent. All of them dedicate their work and lives to kids in the city; all of them live in the so-called inner city itself. I asked them to tell their stories, and here they are:

“Yesterday, I heard gunshots outside the office, the afterschool camp where the kids were coming.”

“This past week, a student… he came up to me excitedly and said, ‘I just saw a shooting! Down the street! People are running!’ I asked him if anyone was hurt, and he said he didn’t know. Then he went back to playing basketball, as if it was something normal, but I know it’s not… it shouldn’t be something that’s just normal. He’s ten years old.”

“I asked the kids to do a watercolor of things that they were afraid of. I didn’t tell them anything else, but they started to paint pictures of guns, and of blood spurting out… they’re in 1st to 5th grade.”

“How many of them have been affected by guns? I can’t think of someone who hasn’t had someone in the family or a friend get shot.”

“Two years ago, I was walking down the street and got robbed at gunpoint. I still get paranoid when walking down the street, and I grew up here.”

“We had a young mother, 19 years old with two kids. One day she picked them up from daycare and took them home… and found a dead body in the backyard, who had been shot. She hasn’t let her kids play in the street since, and it’s been years.”

“The person who taught me to read got shot. He was just sitting in his car…”

“Guns are just a part of these kids lives.”

“There was a 14 year old who used to come to camp; he went ahead and shot his friend over some fight over a girl. Now he’s in jail…”

“The kids are afraid to walk home from the bus, or the park, or out on the street because of guns.”

“One time I heard gunshots just around the corner… I was having to tell kids to get inside because someone’s been shooting a gun down the street. The older guys were standing outside… they’ve seen this play out hundreds of times.”

These stories came easily from people who were far too comfortable telling them. If there was any silence on the phone, it was because I was at a loss for words. And yet, without fail, as I stumbled for appropriate words, my friends would help me close such a casually horrific conversation with this question:

“Can I pray for you?”

I am still struck by this outpouring of grace that seemed so counterintuitive at first. To them, and to me, true power does not come from a gun or a sword or a pen or a suit. It comes from obedience to a simple series of commands: do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. If this means we lose our lives that we may find it, then we do so gladly. If it means we speak unpopular truth to overwhelming power, then our feet should only ask for the direction to go. If it means I wear a suit… well, I am wearing it now.

This is the message in my mind for the Senators we will be speaking to today. Join your pediatricians in advocating for our children, that they may be spared from the terrors we have permitted by our collective and willful negligence. Call your Senators and Representatives today to say that you support the message of pediatricians nationwide: that all children should have freedom from the fear of firearms. This is not in support of or opposition to any legislation; this is not an attempt to strip others of Constitutional rights. It is simply a call to let your elected officials know you care about gun safety, that you want firearms to stay out of hands that seek to harm. It only takes several minutes.

I am tired of waking up to gunfire. I am tired of watching my neighborhood live under its crushing terror. I am also tired of wearing suits.

Share this. Call someone. Remember us.

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Guns, Children, and Suits: that which does not belong

I Voted! / He Votado!

Hi! Fellow urban dweller here, guest blogging for the DISPLACEMENT series. In light of the Prez’s upcoming re-inauguration, here is a reflection on my first voting experience in North Philly, originally written this past election.

I received invites from two bloggers named Dave (one in Delaware, one in California) to write about the location where I live. I’ve been meaning to sit and write, since it’s good therapy. Therefore, I figured this would be an opportunity to kill multiple birds with one stone.

Today, I voted for the first time in my neighbourhood. I walked 6 blocks, about half a mile, at a dimly lamplit 6 p.m. to get to my polling place.

People tell me I shouldn’t walk by myself in the dark in the city, let alone the inner city. People often express concern for my safety, and occasionally express anger about my decision to move to North Philadelphia. One of my rebuttals would be, “Well, it’s not like I’m walking around by myself at night.” Oops.

I walked toward the entrance and was handed a flyer that said, “HOW TO VOTE DEMOCRAT: PUSH #2 STRAIGHT TICKET,” or something like that.

Flashback to 2008 — my family’s first time voting as U.S. citizens. I went to vote with my mom. She was peeved by my Obama t-shirt. At the front of the line, I gave her a hug and said, “Do the right thing, Mama!” She pushed me away and responded with a shameless, “Aiya! Stop campaining in my face! That’s illegal!”

I looked at the flyer, then looked at the woman. SMH. She asked, “Do you know how to vote? I can tell you if you don’t.” It wasn’t clear if she wanted to tell me how to vote (Democrat) or how to use the electronic voting machines (read the instructions on the machine and follow them).

For a moment I forgot my purpose for living in the community and thought, “Whyyyyeee would I choose to live here if I weren’t a Democrat?!?!” Though my Republican friends get on my nerves sometimes, I was indignant, wondering how someone from their party might feel alienated if they were registered at this election site. I also felt defensive towards her hypothetical assumption that I wouldn’t be able to read how to use the machines, perhaps because I’m Asian.

So, I didn’t end up voting straight ticket, partially out of spite at the flyer, partially because the electronic machine was so easy. T’was definitely less labourious than the bubble sheet I filled out 4 years ago in Michigan, while living the dental school life of constantly filling out bubble sheets to the point of tears.

A few hours later, as I write this, I am annoyed at myself: for being inconsistent between what I say and what I do, for not wanting to be labelled or typecast based on my life decisions or group identities… yet wanting to label myself, and for letting go of my primary identity and prioritizing an identity that I normally don’t prioritize. I think this is what makes it difficult to live in and write about my experience in ‘da hood. I want to discover and articulate generalities about cultural behaviour, because maybe understanding will make me feel more in control. But, I can’t even predict my own thoughts and reactions half the time.

As mentioned above, therapy is needed. Hopefully, if I can keep this writing up, I will be more sane, though perhaps appearing more insane to you, poor reader.

I Voted! / He Votado!

Entitlement

One of the most difficult things I’ve struggled with since moving here has been a sense of entitlement. That word is not one I ever hear from those living here, mainly because it’s never used in a positive context. It is typically in reference to “handouts to the poor” and finds its anchoring in food stamps and other poverty-related imagery, even though the largest entitlement programs in the US are Medicare and Social Security (which merit the name simply because they are guaranteed payouts/benefits from the government, even if they are drawn from money you put in previously through your paycheck). I hear it mainly from politicians these days, people who want you to believe that such handouts are not only unmerited but expected. It is meant to inspire you with a sense of injustice: that there are deserving victims and undeserving freeloaders, there are hardworking benefactors that just need a hand and lazy ingrates who not only feed off the system but feel that the benefit is owed to them. I don’t mean to be politically one-sided, but it is impossible to ignore a statement like Mitt Romney’s, who put it starkly and bluntly:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what … he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax.… I mean that’s what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

In watching the video, you can hear the disgust that permeates that single word, “entitlement.” It is not a pretty word, mainly because it is not meant to be. For some reason (perhaps many reasons), it is important to distinguish between those who are deserving and who are undeserving, those who have earned a right or entitlement and those who have not.

But this is not what I mean in struggling with entitlement. It is not a problem with “them”; it is a problem with me.

It was difficult to describe at first, these twinges of irritation, cramps in the soul. It would be a missed compliment I had been expecting to receive, perhaps triggered by a generous and sacrificial action on my part that went underrecognized and underappreciated. Or it would be a moment of temptation to slip a reference to my educational pedigree into the conversation, how unusual and awkward I felt in a community “so different from the one I grew up in.” I still can’t describe exactly what it was I felt entitled to, but it was probably a number of things: a pat on the back, gratitude, respect, change. I guess I wanted to fit in enough to be accepted, but stick out enough to be exalted. And phrasing all this so bluntly sounds terribly egotistical and obnoxious, but it is what I struggle with, and I describe it because perhaps you struggle with it too. There is a neediness deep inside me for what I subconsciously believe is the rightful recompense for my efforts. Some days it is just the right to be thanked, to a quiet home at night, or to working heat in the house. Other days, it is the right to have my desires fulfilled, to be praised, to see positive results in my work.

But in reality, I deserve none of these things. My sentiments of entitlement run deep, but they run foul.

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. — Revelation 3

The true reality of our human condition is that we are all impoverished, that there is nothing that we deserve or have earned by personal right or vigilance. We are fools to think otherwise. Politics gets it all wrong; it is not that 47% feel entitled, or that 99% are disenfranchised or that 1% hoard the wealth. We are 100% impoverished in demographic, in spirit, and in human condition.

Who will liberate me? How am I freed from this body of death? In Jesus Christ, we find the secret to contentment, the effacement of entitlement. Through the willing and intentional identification with Christ and his suffering, I choose to allow the revelation of the selfish and human-centered desires of my heart and through that twinge of self-righteousness and entitlement, understand the audacity and magnitude of the self-emptying suffering of Jesus Christ.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. — Philippians 3

Entitlement