Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sympathy for a foolish young man

Yesterday, when I was out walking, I saw a shrine at the intersection of SE 43rd Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard.

A teenage pedestrian was hit and killed last Friday afternoon by a car speeding down the center turn lane, westbound, on Hawthorne. Eyewitnesses estimate that the vehicle was traveling upwards of 60 miles per hour in an area rife with pedestrians. The driver of the car, Abdulrahman Noorah, faces manslaughter and other charges. (You can read about it here.)

A young life ended and a grieving family left to pick up the pieces of their shattered existence. A terrible tragedy that will leave the survivors, including the victim's mother who saw the event firsthand, forever scarred.

The shrine, decked with flowers and placards posing impossible questions ("Is your convenience worth a death?"), reminded me of the fragility of life, of how everything can change in the blink of an eye.

And while we all grieve for the victimized family, is it impertinent of me to suggest that there might be another party deserving of sympathy?

I mean the perpetrator.

I mean Abdulrahman Noorah.

Almost certainly, he will go to prison.  He is forever cast a villain and outcast.

If he is human enough to care (and the sight of him on the local news, weeping at his arraignment, convinces me that he is), he faces an impossible karmic debt. Even were he to dedicate his life to winning redemption, the odds are long. He can never redress the hurt he has inflicted on his victims. One moment of impetuousness and impatience (Hawthorne Boulevard is interminably congested on Friday afternoons) invoked his doom.

It's a terrible fate, made all the more terrible by the fact that it is utterly just. By our human reckoning, Noorah deserves opprobrium.

But here's the thing. I don't believe he meant to harm anyone with his reckless behavior. Rather, I see him as a foolish young man who made an astoundingly bad decision. When I recall my own youth, enraptured, as I was, with myself, with my priorities, with my desires, I can see how easily I might have shared his fate.

At 20 years of age, Noorah is saddled with a debt for which he must atone. Years from now, he will undoubtedly remember his foolish decision last Friday, and wish with all his being that he had had more wisdom in that fateful moment. To live one's life like that would be an unspeakable horror.

I hope my words won't be interpreted as lacking in sympathy for the victim and her family. But I can't help but remember those times in my life where my own bad decisions have earned me the condemnation of the people around me. It's a lonely and terrible place to be. And it is where Noorah has placed himself, irretrievably, for the rest of his days.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Democrats, say 'no' to complacency!

Hoo boy!

One glance at this election forecast map, created by Nate Silver's organization,, and anyone can see that, as of this moment, Trump is on the verge of destroying the Republican party. Never mind the traditional swing states of Ohio, Virginia, and Florida where she's leading comfortably, as of this writing, Hillary is leading in Arizona! In North Carolina! In Georgia! She's on track to win 365 of the country's 538 electoral votes.

Important note about this map: it estimates the probability that each candidate will win a given state. It does not indicate the polling margins. So, according to the map, Hillary has an 87% chance of winning the general election based on current polling data. She does not have an 87 to 13 lead in the polls!

If it falls out this way, the way this map seems to indicate --well, that's a blowout. It could very well kill off what is left of the Republican party. And I sincerely hope that it comes to pass.

But, of course, as the son of an ultra-competitive football coach, I'm well-acquainted with the folly of taking comfort from an early lead.

So, in the interest of firing up my fellow liberals and progressives, consider what we stand to gain if Trump is routed in November:
  • This would be the fourth popular vote victory for Democrats in the last 5 national elections. Republicans have long known that they're losing the demographic war, but a blowout this year means it's over. It means they have lost. The much-mentioned-but-ultimately-ignored GOP autopsy performed by Reince Priebus in the wake of Romney's 2012 loss will have proven both prophetic and futile. In spite of recognizing the need to build bridges with minority voters, the GOP will have proved itself incapable of overcoming the racism they began nurturing with their infamous Southern Strategy
  • A Hillary victory will mean anywhere from 1 to 3 Supreme Court nominations from a Democrat rather than a Republican. For many years, progressives have endured horrendous decisions handed down by an anachronistic, reactionary court shaped by Republican presidents. (Citizens United is the most egregious example.) But, with Antonin Scalia's death earlier this year, and with Anthony Kennedy (80) and Ruth Bader Ginsberg (83) getting a little --er --long in the tooth, we have the chance to pack the court with young(ish) progressive justices. As we all know, the Supreme Court molds our national culture as much or more than does the President, or even Congress.
  • And here's a tantalizing morsel for any Bernie Bros out there who can scarcely stomach the thought of voting for Hillary: if the Republican party collapses, the Democratic party won't be far behind. I wrote a piece about this idea back in 2010 (you can read it here). My hopes that year didn't bear fruit, but I think the idea is still valid. Quoting from my earlier post:
"If the GOP ceases to exist, it will kill the Democrats! If the Democrats are deprived of their ability to define themselves against the Republicans, they will fracture into their component parts: labor unions, environmentalists, racial and religious minorities, blue-collar workers, et alia. New alliances and coalitions would necessarily form, unrestrained by the corrupted two-party system. At long last, progressives would have a chance to make real change. We'd have to do it the way liberals always do: by bringing people together, building coalitions, working with others. But we'd have a better chance than we have now."
Folks, complacency is our enemy. Donald Trump's shocking implosion offers tantalizing possibilities for reshaping the political landscape. But it will only happen if he is not just beaten, but crushed.

So don't get overconfident in this period when Trump seems to be crashing and burning. The polls (and thus, the probabilities) will change. And, as we learned on that terrible day of November 2, 2004, one must never underestimate the stupidity of the American people.