Tabroom Blue™, or, The Death of the Text Blast

Elon Musk loves to inspire headlines. He’s also good at it, whch is nice because he doesn’t appear to be good at much else. Take, for instance, running a busness. It’s a skill you’d think a self styled god-tier entrepeneur might have. But just last year, Musk signed a $42 billion agreement to buy Twitter without apparently understanding it. Perhaps he didn’t even read it. But Twitter’s lawyers sure did, an when Musk got cold feet and tried to back out of overpaying for the company, they took him to court and lined up a sufficiently rapid beatdown that he surrendered and bought the company anyway. He then strolled into the company, spent barely a week in the office, and fired 3/4 of its workforce without bothering to understand what they do.

Next time you want to light $42 billion on fire, Elon, feel free to invest in speech & debate tabulation software instead.

That only started the headlines; they’ve been near nonstop since. Each article is a paragraph in a wider story. Musk’s original goal, the spark that spurred him to sign that awful contract in the first place, was to find an online home for unimpeded right-wing discourse. He found it unacceptable that Twitter and other social networks drew boundaries around Trump and his fiercest supporters. So Musk bought the place. Now the only people who get banned from Twitter are people who annoy him, people he deems too ‘woke,’ or sometimes folks who point out facts about his decisions.

But that policy shift created some serious problems for Twitter. The forces pushing to remove far right discourse from social media wasn’t a diabolical progressive conspiracy in Twitter’s management, funded by George Soros and connected to the Clintons somehow. Musk’s real problem is that as long as social media is paid for by advertisers, alt right speech cannot be welcome.

The dirty secret of the rightmost wing of the Republican party is that they’re a very small part of the overall population. They exploit loopholes and broken rules in the constitution to produce an oversize political impact in the US. Their demographics are skewed older and whiter, and such people turn out to vote in large numbers; they’re more rural than urban, and rural areas are over-represented in Congress and the electoral college. The GOP has spent a few decades cheerfully narrowing voting rights protections so as to produce election wins from an ever smaller base of support. But, that base is small, and when it comes to business, you can’t built much of a market on just that small faction, unless you’re running a scam.

Businesses need to reach a large mainstream audience. And modern far right rhetoric is polarizing: its few fans want to hear nothing but, but everyone else is allergic to it. So engagement and audience sizes on Twitter have been dropping off ever since Musk designated it as a safe haven for his brand of free speech.

Apropos to nothing, you can now find me on Mastodon at

Naturally, as customers leave a platform, so too do advertisers. They always chase the largest audience. But it’s not just a matter of how many ads get seen, but what type of ads they are. Before Musk, Twitter’s revenue was about 90% brand ads. Brand ads are not designed to generate clicks and direct sales, the way most ads on Amazon work. Brand ads intend to create positive associations, so you remember the company the next time you need to buy whatever it is they sell. A car maker is a classic brand advertiser. The chances someone clicks an Instagram post and puts a Camry in their cart are very low. But if readers associate Toyota with “reliable” and “comfortable” and “safe” over time, through repeated exposure to brand ads, they are more likely to buy a Camry a year from now when their old car dies and is too expensive to fix.

If you’re running brand ads, you take care that the only associations you build are positive ones. Twitter is a news platform, and when the news ran bad, brands would pause their ads. Nobody wanted their ads to be associated with wars, earthquakes, or mass shootings. As discussion of the weekly tragedy would dampen out, brand ads would come back.

Now, enter Elon. Racism, sexism, or anti-LGBTQ rhetoric once got you banned; now it gets you retweeted by the company’s owner. Almost immediately, that rhetoric was everywhere. Advertisers reacted. Various estimates say Twitter’s brand ad revenue has dropped anywhere from thirty to seventy-five percent. That free speech sure has cost Musk a lot. Note that this process does not require advertisers themselves to personally object to the speech in question. They only care that most customers hate it. The companies and their management could be wildly racist, sexist and homophobic, but if they answer to investors, they’re still going to yank those ads. The bottom line is their only true morality.

So, a conundrum for Musk. Almost all of Twitter’s revenue was brand ads, and brand ads cannot coexist with the type of speech he spent $42 billion to liberate. Perhaps the genius Elon was supposed to be could untie this knot, but our real world Musk has no answer. His main attempt is Twitter Blue: selling blue checkmarks for eight bucks a month. It’s brought in nothing comparable to the revenues he’s lost. And Twitter has almost nothing else it can offer to a paying customer.

So Musk is now lashing out: he’s threatened his advertisers, but then gave ads away — and neither brought them back. His company is drunkenly lurching towards bankruptcy, perhaps as early as this summer. Musk, without any real idea of how to fix it, has crawled into the last refuge of the rich guy: cheaping out on everything.

He’s cut most of the staff, and cut perks, space and benefits for those who’ve stayed on. He stopped paying rent on his offices. Twitter keeps having technical failures because he shuts off servers at random to prove they’re not needed. Hundreds of vendors have overdue invoices sitting on his desk. He’s cutting pennies because he can’t find dollars. It won’t save Twitter, but it’s all he has left.

A few weeks ago, the tech press was baffled when Twitter announced that 2-factor authentication via text message will only be available to those checkmark buyers. Two-factor authentication, or 2FA, means you need more than a password to get access to an account. In its simplest form, a random code is emailed or texted to a user, and then asked as a confirmation of your identity. That should prove you have the phone listed in the account, which gives the site further proof that you’re you. Musk now said text messages only were for paying customers.

The more complicated method, 2FA by means of an authenticator app, was still free. Such apps work by taking a sequence of random numbers, called a shared secret. The site generates the secret, and you copy it into the app on your phone, usually by means of a QR code. After that, it’s never sent over the internet again. Instead, the app combines it with the current date & time, and runs that in turn through some math that produces a six-digit code. The site you’re logging into runs the same math on the shared secret stored in your account. If its result matches the six-digit code you typed in, you’re allowed to login.

Because they rely on timestamps, the correct code changes every minute, making them hard to snoop usefully — by the time you’ve cracked one, it’s changed. And, for Math Reasons, you cannot easily guess the original shared secret from the codes it outputs. The math works only forward, not backward. One-direction codes like that are called hashes, and among other things, it’s how your Tabroom password is stored in our database. When you log in, we can’t tell what your original password is, but we can tell that you typed it in correctly, or else the hashes would not match.

Shared-secret apps are a much more secure method of 2FA than using text messages. Texts aren’t sent encrypted, and it’s proven relatively simple to hijack cell phone numbers, especially if you’re targeting someone in particular. Phone company customer service reps are relatively easy to fool, and have often give account and phone access to hackers. With apps, the shared-secret is never sent to a phone company; it’s never trusted to anyone at all besides you and the service you’re logging into.

That’s why the tech press was confused. Paying customers are being given exclusive access to a less secure system. Most outlets assumed Elon was just being arbitrary and bizarre. Again. Given how much of the last year Musk has spent playing the role of “clueless clown on fire,” they can be forgiven for falling back on that explanation. But I knew right away what it’s all about, because it’s related to a slow crisis that Tabroom has been facing for most of the last year.

You probably think sending a text message is free. They have been free for people with most US phone plans for at least a decade. As soon as smart phones became the norm, and data became the bulk of cell traffic, phone plans stopped charging for talk minutes and texts. Data was where the money was. Who even talks on their phone anymore, anyway? My own ringer has been on silent for about four years, now.

So texts between phones are free now. But sending a text from a non-phone, such as a web system that manages speech & debate tournaments, to pull a random example out of nowhere, it’s more complicated. For Tabroom, I have two basic choices. I could use an SMS/MMS gateway service, which talks directly to the cell providers and sends messages. Or, I can use email. An email sent to will deliver as a text, as long as that line is on AT&T.

So why not use a gateway? They charge a small amount per text you send. But if you’re Twitter, those charges can add up. Rumors say that Twitter spent $60 million or so per year on these texts, which seems staggering but not when you weigh it against a company that once had $5.4 billion in annual review. That is, until a business leader with no idea how to save his sinking ship takes over and starts attacking every little expense he can find. So, I figured he saw that bill and decided to cut it.

I hope this revelation doesn’t shock you, but Tabroom has never had $5.4 billion in annual revenue. So, we use the free method. But much as Musk’s free speech had costs, so too does free text messaging. Email to text gateways are much less reliable. Messages get tagged as spam, or sometimes just don’t deliver, all the time. I also have to keep track of your cell provider, because each one has a different email address I have to send messages to. When Tabroom users switch carriers their text blasts stop working until they update their account. And of course, when folks who judge tournaments do switch carriers, their Tabroom blasts aren’t usually their first concern, or their tenth. Few judges are constantly yearning to be harassed into hitting their start round button.

Those downsides are all annoyances. However, now Tabroom also faces a legitimate danger: those email gateways are not really intended for bulk messaging. And, spammers sometimes use them to bother phone customers. So the carriers are growing more restrictive. AT&T drops any message with a web address in it. That’s why Tabroom doesn’t send map URLs anymore. And then in late 2022, T-Mobile began capping how many messages per hour a single sender can send them. Which means, if you haven’t noticed, that T-Mobile users don’t get text blasts during the middle of the day most Saturdays; we hit that cap all the time when Tabroom is busy.

I can’t complain to T-Mobile, because T-Mobile’s answer will be “you should be paying to use the SMS gateway.” So, Tabroom hosted 192 tournaments this weekend, with 2356 schools, 21,312 entries and 6,133 judges. Over the course of this Saturday, those 27,445 folks were sent 144,350 text blasts. At that rate, we’d run up a $75,000 annual bill. That’s a lot of money for the right to yell at debaters to be on time.

Is it worth it to increase Tabroom fees a substantial amount for that? Should we try to track who texts a lot and bill them extra — but therefore increase our own overhead tracking every time Menick harasses that judge who never hits start? What happens if Verizon or AT&T follow suit and start limiting us, too? AT&T is already quick to delay deliveries sometimes too, when it decides we’re sending spam. Do we rely on emails and forget texts, when most people don’t get audio notifications of new email anymore? Do I have to write an app for Tabroom just so people get notifications through it — and then pray new judges install it basically so they can be bothered?

I don’t know the answer. But I hope it doesn’t become a crisis. We’ve come to rely on the text message as a prime form of communication, especially during the pandemic and online debates. We need to rethink that a lot in the coming months or years. It’s already tumbling around my brain, for what it’s worth. I’m trying to make sure Tabroom survives longer than Twitter will, at least.

The way Musk is going, that shouldn’t be too difficult.


I was born into a city as it started to die.

That takes a long time, and it may still recover, but it by the late 70s, Fitchburg was fading in all the ways that more famous cities in the center of the country would. Fitchburg was a place that worked with its hands, turning out machine tools, paper, wood and the like. It was a busy booming city in the late 1800s. The city carved the Hoosac tunnel out of a western mountain to build a train to Albany and beyond. The New York Times was printed on its paper, along with others up and down the coast.

And like many other places that worked with their hands, a haze of decay began to set in during the 70s and 80s, as factories closed and were not replaced. Poverty is now around 20%. Grand old buildings sit quietly, unpeopled, crumbling for want of a few coats of paint. If either end of Main Street were blocked entirely, no traffic would pile up. It hasn’t been hard to park for decades. The population as a whole shrank by a tenth, which yet understates the change. Almost everyone I went to school with then would leave. About three to five generations of my ancestors in any direction were born there, but my classmates’ children were mostly not.

My age cohort was also one of the last where schools were mostly full of white kids. A large stock of empty cheap housing was a draw, even in a poor and wage-sparse area. As the white folks left for fancier places, we were gradually replaced by others. By the grace of a local quirk, most of these newcomers were not in fact immigrants. The vast majority were Latinx, and despite many coming from other places, they were broadly labeled for their majority: The Puerto Ricans.

My parents and their siblings didn’t go to school with any kids who spoke Spanish. I went to school with a few, though that was an era of separate bilingual education, so we didn’t know any of them. Those kids weren’t in our classes, and we were separated by language. And beyond that, I was in no way encouraged to get to know them. They didn’t have names, or individual identities to us, and the adults around us were careful to keep it that way.

These white adults were anxious for their jobs and their homes, and saw both declining at the same time as this new population moved in. So they associated the decline with the people. And the lessons passed down to us were as clear as they were horrible: these different strangers were Ruining. The. City. They weren’t even working; they were instead sitting around at home sponging off the system, absorbing welfare benefits that were put in place for Us, not for Them. They were dirty, immoral, incomprehensible thieves, and their very presence an affront to all that was good and just in the world.

And so, it was The Puerto Ricans that were used to teach me racism. This message was never laid out all at once, of course. It was collected in brief asides, comments that were clear only in context, snide remarks half concealed around the kids. But it was made clear to us all that the Puerto Ricans were the lowest of the Different. The Laotians and the Vietnamese were war refugees, and were here because they sided with America. We had more black kids around school than most New England towns, but that’s not saying much, and they weren’t visibly worse off than anyone else. I only later learned the hidden ways the world deals harshness to black kids. Overall, in Fitchburg in the 1980s, it was all about the Puerto Ricans, who ruined all they touched.

“Puerto Rican” is not a pejorative term. It simply denotes someone from Puerto Rico, after all. It’s the actual name, of the actual island. But I cringe to write it and automatically search for an alternative phrase, because as I grew up, it was voiced as a slur. It was spoken in that tone, with that heat, and with that intent. It was sometimes used as insult. I could almost wish the adults around me had used actual slurs instead, so the real term wouldn’t carry this fearful weight for me.

Of course, this picture of a people left out an awful lot. I didn’t know they were US citizens by birthright until we hit the Spanish American War in 8th grade history. The history of the US’s treatment of Puerto Rico also undermines any view that they weren’t owed the benefits of American citizenship. Hurricane Maria and its aftermath are only the latest testimony. Also, welfare benefits were never generous enough to provide that lavish lifestyle — after all, if welfare was so good, why didn’t we sign up? A good lifestyle on welfare was only possible if you cheated the system a bit, which we knew because white people in the family had done so before. But somehow, this sin was far worse when done in Spanish.

The Puerto Ricans tended to live in the worst housing on any street, with a few too many people per apartment — not a sign of excess wealth. The jobless rate among them was higher than white people, but not so high that the claim “none of them ever work” could be defended. As actual knowledge replaced the lazy folk wisdom, the collective sins of the Puerto Ricans of Fitchburg were reduced to “their music was loud sometimes.” But then, so was ours. And man, can they throw a killer barbecue.

I tried to say as much, and got nowhere. My family has not known Puerto Ricans personally, except a few people they worked with who were clearly The Good Ones, evidenced by their having a job. But “seeing people lying around all the time” was good enough evidence to support the narrative. Those people were moochers and thieves, and that was that. After all, if you want to believe something, any proof will do. And if the Puerto Ricans weren’t to blame, that would present some uncomfortable questions. So, anytime we’d pass some Puerto Rican people out on the porch or something, the line was “Look at them, just sitting there without a care in the world, while we work to support them.” I’d hear that often enough. On Sundays.

But as humans grow up, we don’t just understand things in isolation. Part of growing up is putting the things you learn into a broader context. The mind relies on categories, grouping things together to understand them more quickly. That’s part of why racism is so lazy and yet so hard to overcome. But these judgments go beyond race: the picture being painted with snide remarks and half-concealed hatreds was a clear to any 10 year old. It was a lesson being taught to tens of millions of other kids in the 1980s by parents fearing the change falling upon them: to be different is to be less. A generic white person is the pinnacle. Everything else is a faded and flawed copy. The more flaws among your neighbors, the worse off you’d be. It was a lesson I held onto for far too long.

I adopted my mother’s newfound judgmental strand of Christianity, and the conservative politics that resulted from it. By then, I’d gotten scholarships, and headed off to increasingly prestigious private schools. The academics were great, but I didn’t fit in well. I remember individuals would often be kind and open to me, but groups usually were not. And I was set apart politically as well as socially. Mom’s flirtation with evangelism didn’t go very far, but the politics were more stable. And I loved to be contrary, seeing absolutes and truths everywhere in the rigid way of the intelligent teenager. The timid liberalism of those private schools, with its placid faith in the system to do right, had no answers for me. Private school kids, and most of the teachers, didn’t understand places like Cleghorn or the Patch, and so they couldn’t address the real source of my fears and prejudices. Their talk of race and economic relations was rooted in the black/white divide of Boston and most of the rest of the country, and that seemed bizarre and irrelevant to what I believed. I knew something of their world, but they knew nothing of mine, and so they were unable to move me.

But then, I would end up moving myself.

There was a hairdresser named Keith who rented an apartment from my grandmother and came over a couple times to give us all haircuts. My uncle would mention his name and AIDS an awful lot. I didn’t know much about AIDS then, other than it was deadly, and had something to do with gay people. So, I was afraid of Keith. I didn’t know much about gay people either, beyond the bare facts of who they “liked”, but I definitely knew Keith was Different. Maybe different like the Puerto Ricans were different. Bad different. And a very few years after Keith moved on from my grandmother’s building, I came to know that I was Different too.

What followed was a story too typical of my generation, of sleepless nights learning to fear to love anyone, of trying to explain it away in a million ways, of stealing glances when I thought nobody was looking while everyone else got to leer openly. Of pretend conversations about pretend girls with pretend boobs. Of remembering my young childhood insistence that girls were icky and I’d never marry one with a twist of irony. Of seeing relationships and love as for other people, not for me, as the hand of the God would definitely punish me in some awful way, probably involving hairdressers with AIDS. If I ever gave into it. Which I tried very hard not to do.

And of knowing, most of all, that now I was Different.

And the adults around me, they hated Different. They were unfair to it, harsh to it — mocked it, avoided it, and penalized it. I was already different in enough smaller ways to understand that. I caught enough grief for reading books a lot, and being awkward physically, and having ideas nobody else around had, even though they also acknowledged these qualities were likely to help me out in life. They knew these were signs of a smart kid who might go places, but wouldn’t engage with them. I’d get blanket expressions of approval for Being Smart, but these were belied by criticism and poking at the particulars. So, I learned to keep these differences to myself, since I’d at best only be laughed at for expressing them. And if I could be mocked for small differences, what would a huge difference do to me, if it came out? “Reading too often” had nothing on being gay.

I did the only thing I could think of. I boxed it all in. I learned to keep the greater part of what I was going through from them, and everyone else. And even from myself. It pulled us apart, of course. One of the first lies a gay kid tells himself is that being gay doesn’t affect your personality, it’s just who you like for sex. But of course, that’s only possible to believe if you’re a teenager who has no personal idea what love is yet. Love goes far deeper and affects far more than just sex. So as I hid the parts of myself related to being gay, I hid the parts related to love. And therefore came to hide nearly all of what I truly am.

But my internal life changed. I gave my heart to someone. It was given back. He didn’t have a choice; my gaydar wasn’t so hot back then. So I was deprived of a villain in my first failed love story, and was never able to properly hate him as might have been better for me. Instead I spent an unreasonable amount of time being morose and weird about it. However, it made me realize how deep being gay ran. The bullshit line a conservative gay kid clings to is “I’m not a gay person, I’m a person who happens to be gay.” But it was clear to me now, love’s not that simple. I couldn’t pretend that to myself any longer, and giving that game up turned my world around.

I didn’t abandon my politics immediately, but they were much less central. My college friends would have been surprised by my high school polemics. I was reconsidering everything, starting with my heart, but eventually I worked outwards. I ended up in the wrong major as a result, but so it goes. There’s no good time to go through a huge, personality redefining crisis. I rejected the prejudices I’d been handed about being gay, came out in college, voted for Al Gore. And I started to question a lot of the other attitudes I grew up with. Now that I was okay with my Different, I started to reconsider the other Different people. I started to learn the lies behind the racism I was taught, and how similar they were to the lies I was taught about gay people. I can’t claim to be racism free — no white American does so without generous self-delusion. But, I’ve learned at least to recognize a lot of it and fight my impulses towards it.

But I still lead a dual life. I grew far more cosmopolitan, far more accepting, and far better able to embrace differences instead of rejecting them by reflex. But I never shared this outlook with the family whose prejudices I had to overcome to gain it. I tried a few times, halfheartedly, but settled into a truce where they didn’t get their ideas challenged, at the price of not knowing the vast parts of me that didn’t fit with those ideas. They know only a shell, not the full me.

The election of 2016 did not surprise me; I knew America was capable of it. Trump is what poor people think rich people are like, a self promoting liar and charlatan who proves every day he knows nothing and does not care, and his fans still love him for it. I knew this country was capable of deeming him the best of us and giving him power. So no, the election did not surprise me. But it did disappoint me. It scared me, and scares me still. We have a racist in power, who doesn’t even understand the law much less respect it, and who lets his aggressive hostility rule him. The same type of quick false judgment that made my family look down on people for not working on a Sunday is now setting White House policy. And, a good chunk of my own family had voted for him, both proudly and reluctantly, out of those same old impulses that scared me of AIDS and loud Spanish music and difference.

It was a step too far. I snapped. I haven’t spoken to most of them since.

Trump has been a remarkably hostile president to the LGBT. But he’s been so much more horrible to others within the LGBT community, and worse still to other groups of people, I almost don’t dare bring it up in reference to myself. I wish I could claim the worst of it, and spare those more vulnerable still. There are concentration camps full of children in this country. There are now laws in place saying others’ religion can be used to deny me just about anything. There’s a judge sitting on a stolen seat on the highest bench who’ll freely and gladly vote to downgrade my particular citizenship. We have a vice president who probably thinks in his deepest heart that I should be killed. And I still don’t have the worst of it.

The thing about building a big wall between yourself and other people is you don’t get too choose which side everyone is going to stand on. Where you place the wall doesn’t matter. Building the barrier is itself the sin. I’ve been outside enough walls to take no comfort from being inside theirs. The walls of the closet I was stuck in for too long, and the closet I walk mostly back into when I’m around them, are made of the same hatreds they taught me for Puerto Ricans.

The “freeloaders” and “welfare mamas” and various far ruder words they flung around built the walls of my closet, and fired the fears that kept me there far too long. So now, when you say those words and express those beliefs, you mean me. You can’t drop the n-bomb or the s-word or any other epithet without me automatically translating it to faggot. I can’t hear it otherwise. Nearly all gay people understand it so. Trump claimed strong LGBT support, but it was just another lie: McCain got 27% of the LGBT vote, Romney 22%, while Trump got 14%. He doesn’t attack the LGBT first, but most of us understand that when targets are being lined up we’ll make the list eventually. Any world made of walls is a threat to all of us, and we have to stick together in the face of opposition, of hatreds — and of family, be they ignorant, hostile, or both.

This message is partly an answer to an aunt who doesn’t understand boundaries — at all — and so has been drafting other family members as messengers to undermine my wish to have nothing to do with her. But that will fail. I no longer will crawl back into the box they created and continue to create — and vote for! Ignorance is no defense. It’s how we got here, after all. And I’ve tried to inform, and to teach. They can’t handle me outside of my box, and I won’t go back inside anymore. That would make of me “a person who happens to be gay.” Which is to say, a lie.

What’s more, I wouldn’t do it even without the personal angle. Trump’s language has an edge and venom unlike any Republican presidential nominee before him. I wouldn’t have liked President McCain or Romney, but I wouldn’t have been unable to accept them. But Trump is plainly different. And an election like this must have consequences for the winners. If you voted for an openly racist President, you can’t get pissed at me for treating you like the type of person who would vote for an openly racist President.

I can’t countenance that when there are children separated from their families no matter what their parents’ crimes were. I can’t be at peace with that when your hatchet man in chief destroys the last vestiges of welfare, health care for millions, social security, and more, while profiteering personally and inflaming racism. He calls people animals on a regular basis. He destroys relationships with our allies and embraces terrible dictators. His followers would make a dictator out of him. And you are marching along with those people, people waving the Confederate battle flag and even the swastika, people who’d have my friends deported, and many of whom would have me shot. Look at your fellow travelers, and wonder no longer why I won’t be there to quietly pass the turkey in November. To stand beside you is to stand beside them. I will not do it.

I had no choice over being different, and neither do the Black people in your state, or trans people in your bathroom, or Puerto Ricans down the street. The Trump faction label us together to blame us, to attack us, and in some cases to kill us. And in the face of that threat, solidarity matters. The only way the Different can last this thing through is if we don’t abandon each other. And in voting for Trump you helped build that wall you’ve been working on my entire life, the wall between the Different and you. Thanks to your wall, I can’t live on both sides at once. So, misguided Trumpist family, you’ve given me a choice. On one side of your wall are the people who share my burdens and struggles, the people who don’t dismiss facts with prejudice, who understand how privilege and power work, and who know what it feels like to be an outsider. On the other side sit you, the builders of that wall, the makers of the box I shoved myself into for decades too long.

The choice was not hard. And I do not regret it.

What your vote means

So you tell me you’re voting for Trump.

You may like him because he’s different, and you want a change.  You may like how he sticks up for you.  You might choose to believe the accusations against Clinton more than those against Trump.

Or maybe you don’t really like him that much.   Maybe you fear  his flaws, maybe you dislike how harsh and cruel he sounds, how cruel he is.  But you worry about the Supreme Court judges that Clinton would choose.  You worry about liberal control, about taxes and immigrants and health care.  At least he’s the bastard who agrees with you, right?

But either way, whether you’re his cheerleader or his reluctant voter, you’re voting for him.  And when you tell me that, you tell me a lot of other things.

You tell me you want a man in office who will try to take  rights from me.  You want me to once again be legally unable to marry, and so to be barred from the hundred little rights that come from that one big one: hospital visitation, taxes, foreign citizenship, shared benefits at work, adopt children.   My rights to these things don’t take away yours, but you’re voting to take them from me anyway.  You want me and other gay people to be second class citizens, punished by law for being born.  And when we lose those rights, when the law says we’re not equal, it tells the world that it’s all right again to fire us for being gay, to evict us, to beat us on the streets, to ignore us when we’re injured, to refuse us medical service even if our lives  depend on it.    All that still happens today, though less than it used to.  You’re voting to make it happen more.

Your vote tells  me you  want  a world where your children to fear being gay.  Gay people are different than other outsiders  in that we do not grow up in families of people like us.  We grow up with sleepless  nights, knowing the law and the world are against us, and fearing whose  side our families will take when they find out.  When  families don’t take their gay child’s side, we  are suddenly cast out on our own, in a country  with little help or kindness to offer.  You’re voting to give these children more reasons to fear, to hide, to doubt their own parents and families.  You’re voting for more gay teens to become homeless drug addicts and prostitutes.  You’re telling kids too ready to consider it already that they’re better off killing themselves.  And many will.

Do not deny  you want these things.  You’re voting for them.   Avoiding “Clinton’s Supreme Court” is the first motive  I hear from the most reluctant Trump voter.  He promises to nominate judges like the late Antonin Scalia.  So, my rights are the first and sometimes the only thing you’re voting against.  A court of Scalias would take as many rights away from me as they could.

The Trump campaign is all about believing that some people are by nature better than others.  If you’re white you’re better than Black.  If you were born north of the border you’re better than those born to the south.  If you’re straight you’re better than gay.   If your body’s gender matches your mind and heart’s, then you’re a Good Person.  If they differ, you should  be punished.  It doesn’t matter that none of these differences were anyone’s choice.  You got the good end of the birth lottery, and you’re voting for a guy who promises to make that pay off again.  Your vote means you believe America wins when the Right People win.  And Trump has made it clear where I stand a thousand times over.   I’m the Wrong People.

Don’t bother to say  I’m taking politics too seriously.  I don’t care if you root for the Republicans with as much thought as you root for the Red Sox.  Don’t try to score argument points with clever zingers.  My rights are too new and challenged by too many for me to relax about politics and not take them seriously. Don’t tell me about Clinton’s flaws and dark past; I have hope for her presidency, but she could be the weakest, most corrupt and dumbest Democrat alive and I’d still have to vote for her.  Your party has made my rights depend on it.  Your candidate  believes  I should be punished for who I am, and your vote will give him the power to do it.

Above all, don’t tell me you respect me but disagree.   When you tell me you’re voting for Trump, I understand what you’re really saying, and it has no  respect for me and people like me.

It’s National Coming Out Day today.    I am gay, and I’m with her.  And if you’re with Trump, you’re not with me.


Why I coach debate

There’s a great diner in Watertown, the Boston burb where I eat & sleep when I’m not coaching debate or paying homage to the ancestors back in Fitchburg.  I discovered that the ownership’s opened a new location, in Newton Center in an old train station.  The menu is mostly the same, and the food’s just as good.

I had dinner there a few Sundays ago with Wild Bill, who’s a Team Palmer alum from my second forensics stop, Newton South.  WB was one of the first debaters I’d coached in a long time, after a long run doing purely speech events.  He switched over from extemp to PF and never looked back, foreshadowing my doing the same.

He graduated just three short years ago, and headed to Delaware for college, and is about to graduate from there a year early.  He’s not quite 21; so while I had a hot toddy — it was cold out and my throat was sore — he stuck to water.  He did most of the talking, which is good, because he had some great stories to tell.

WB comes across as old, which is jarring, because he looks so young; he has that blue-eyed blonde-haired fresh look that means he’ll get carded until he’s 35.  He’s conservative in his manner, if not his politics.  He maintains a brash, over the top and loud public persona to hide a deeply private inner life.  In normal conversation, when he’s not playing the dictator, he comes across as sad; he speaks slowly, and with little affect.  Sometimes he is sad, sometimes he’s just being quiet; I figured out the difference a long time ago, through coaching him.  He got overlooked a lot, and could sometimes be hard to deal with.  But he was always worth dealing with, I thought.

Much of his story involved a somewhat typical bout of college relationship angst whose details are important to the actors and their friends, and unimportant to anyone else.  The other half of the story was the traditional Plans After College.  These were less typical.

Next year, WB is going to spend a year that he could have spent in college instead working on the Delaware Right to Marry PAC, a non profit group agitating for full marriage rights for gays and lesbians in Delaware.  WB himself founded it a few years ago, and now he’s going to take his tuition dollars for his nonexistent fourth college year and use them to make a serious go of effecting a big change within a small state.

It’s ordinary for college kids, especially former debaters, to go off and try to get involved in politics after college.  Usually they take a much safer route; finding an internship in some Washington office where their work is dull but they can suck up to the right big names and hopefully increase the size of their own.  These types run up a spiral of increasingly lofty titles, but ultimately end up doing different types of clerical work all their lives and calling it power.  Liberal or conservative, they usually just become agents for the status quo, finding more difficulties than opportunities and calling that experience.

WB’s doing it better.  He’s going to spend a whole year living on ramen fighting a thankless battle for equality in a state that may not yet be ready for it.  If it fails he’ll have gotten nearly nothing.  If it succeeds, there’s a good chance a better-connected figure will swoop in and claim much of the credit.  But if he can move the lever and be the difference, he will be.  He made it abundantly clear — through action, not words — that he’s doing this because it’s right, not just because it’s right for him.   He can, he should, and therefore he is.

He’s straight, by the way.

For graduation, I gave WB the 2nd volume of Robert Caro’s excellent biography of Lydon Johnson, Means of Ascent, whose second half is a hugely entertaining tale of how LBJ engineered a stolen election against an entrenched Texas legend.  I wrote a note in the cover, which WB apparently re-reads often; I remember taking care to tell him the 2nd half of the book was not to be treated as an instruction manual; but more to the point, to remind him that power is to be used, not simply gained.  I told him I had faith he could be a rabble rouser and a big name someday, but if he didn’t harness it to a real cause or a real purpose, it’d be hollow and dry.

Mitt Romney fails to inspire because nobody knows why he wants to be President beyond having his name in history books; Barack Obama likewise has disappointed by conserving power instead of maximizing its effect.  Power conserved is power wasted; especially if it’s conserved for so petty a goal as re-election.  WB is better than both; underlying his sadness and sometimes anger, his occasional abrasiveness, and his aggressive public demeanor is a moral compass that puts most of our high leaders to shame; he’ll tweak Important Personages wherever he can find them, but the thing that surely must annoy them most is that he’s usually right; he’s shining light on areas they’d prefer to keep dark.

I can hope I had a small part in writing this story instead of simply hearing it.  If I taught him something about moral philosophy, political theory, or general causticness that nudged him onto this path, then 16 years coaching speech & debate were worth it.  I tend to be deeply cynical about What Is, but demand a lot of people to shape What Will Be, and try to impart some of the same to everyone I teach.  The Right Thing is often clear enough; we don’t fail to do it because we don’t know what it is, but because we don’t want to; and for that, there’s little excuse.

WB wasn’t my most talented or successful student, not even in his class.  He had a better than average debate career, but not a spectacular one.  Perhaps he was saving his spectacular for later.  I’m privileged to watch and find out.