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John Roosevelt Boettiger
Mill Valley, CA, Seattle, WA, Phoenix, AZ, Los Angeles, CA, Amherst, MA, Hyde Park, NY, New York City (Manhattan), Dedham, MA, Vikersund, Norway, Paris, France, Sebastopol, CA, Berkeley, CA
Author, writer, editor, psychologist, father, grandfather, great-grandfather
Interests: Writing, reading, conversation, hiking, walking, bicycling, asking and responding to intriguing questions, metta, silence, prayer, meditation, justice (social, economic, judicial, political, familial, personal), the wily craft of coyote politics, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, family trees, redwood trees and live oaks, marsh land, hillsides, mountains, geese in flight, birds of a feather
Recent Activity
Thanks to my dear friend Al Braidwood for sharing with me the wisdom of some Buddhist remarks about death, following a few personal recollections of my own. I was eleven when I first encountered death, that of my father. Early one morning at our home in Berkeley my mother received a telephone call. When I heard the tone of her voice — only a few words as she listened — I knew she was hearing an important message. Minutes later she came to my room — I was still in bed — to tell me what she had learned. I can't remember my feelings in response. I didn't go to school that day. My mother asked a grownup friend of hers, a man I didn't know, to come to my room — to see, I suppose, if I wanted to speak about my father's death. To a stranger? To anyone? Not for many years. My mother came to understand. She wrote several months later, "Johnny still hasn't reached the stage where he talks naturally and normally about his father... [W]e can never be quite sure of what goes on deep inside a child, and Johnny has been almost completely 'bottled... Continue reading
A major Guardian investigation has found that authoritarian governments around the world are using a powerful surveillance tool to hack the phones of political opponents, prompting a global backlash and anxiety over the international spyware market. As the whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted on Sunday: “Stop what you’re doing and read this. This leak is going to be the story of the year. The Guardian this week is publishing stories exposing the widespread use of Pegasus, a powerful spying tool sold to governments by NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm selling its spyware with the permission – and possible help – of the Israeli government. Working with a consortium of 16 other media organizations from around the world, our journalists examined a leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers believed to be slated for surveillance by NSO’s clients. The list was shared with us by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based non-profit media organisation, and Amnesty International, who initially had access to the leaked list. There aren’t a lot of outlets in the world that are capable of leading this kind of project. From the first Wikileaks disclosures to Snowden's revelations and Cambridge Analytica, the Guardian has earned its stripes when it comes to... Continue reading
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Our climate change turning point is right here, right now Rebecca Solnit People are dying. Aquatic animals are baking in their shells. Fruit is being cooked on the tree. It’s time to act. Mon 12 Jul 2021 Human beings crave clarity, immediacy, landmark events. We seek turning points, because our minds are good at recognizing the specific – this time, this place, this sudden event, this tangible change. This is why we were never very good, most of us, at comprehending climate change in the first place. The climate was an overarching, underlying condition of our lives and planet, and the change was incremental and intricate and hard to recognize if you weren’t keeping track of this species or that temperature record. Climate catastrophe is a slow shattering of the stable patterns that governed the weather, the seasons, the species and migrations, all the beautifully orchestrated systems of the holocene era we exited when we manufactured the anthropocene through a couple of centuries of increasingly wanton greenhouse gas emissions and forest destruction. This spring, when I saw the shockingly low water of Lake Powell, I thought that maybe this summer would be a turning point. At least for the engineering... Continue reading
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I just signed off at the end of our Boettiger family's biweekly Zoom call. We are a hardy and diverse band, and it is a pleasure to see and share news from my immediate and extended family - my children, their children, and always a dear cousin or more of my own or my children's generation from hither or yon. We all missed my daughter Sara, who is head of public affairs, science and sustainability for the Crop Science Division of Bayer. She has been on the road; maybe still is, but she well deserves a rest. My sons Adam (and his companion Lisa Plunkett), Paul and Joshua (and Joshua's daughter, my granddaughter Paloma, going into the 4th grade) were aboard, as was my dear cousin Nina Gibson, who lives in a currently verdant desert outside Tucson, AZ. Not a plea to which I am accustomed, but it's heartfelt: Send us some rain, Nina! Joshua and his family, and my youngest son Paul, have recently moved east, to our old home ground of New England, living within a very few blocks of each other in Catskill, New York, on the Hudson River. Adam and Lisa are pursuing their life and... Continue reading
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Layli Long Soldier's poems are a treasure. Her first book, Whereas (2017), won the National Books Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry. It is a response to the U.S. government's official apology to Native peoples in 2009. That apology, writes Krista Tippett in On Being, "was done so quietly, with no ceremony, that it was practically a secret." Krista continues, "Layli Long Soldier is a writer, a mother, a citizen of the United States, and a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation. She has a way of opening up her life, and American life, that inspires self-searching and tenderness." She lives in Santa Fe. John Freeman wrote of Whereas in The Los Angeles Times: "Writers who live between two languages face an extra challenge in their role as lexicographers of metaphor. They must create a mythology through language that acts like double-pane glass. As in, they must correct for the distortion of the words they are translating from one language to another...Layli Long Soldier manages this double-ness with the precision of a master glassblower." She illustrates that quality in her experience as a young mother and her realization that she must speak... Continue reading
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Here is a description of Christian Wiman's short book, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. Wiman's essay, "Love Bade Me Welcome" is reprinted below. Christian Wiman is a poet and editor of Poetry magazine. He was born in West Texas in 1966. He graduated from Washington and Lee University, and has published two books of poetry as well as an eloquent and widely admired collection of reflections on the relation of poetry and religious faith, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. The novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson, author of Housekeeping and Gilead, wrote that Wiman's poetry and scholarship "have a purifying urgency that is rare in this world. This puts him at the very source of theology, and enables him to say new things in timeless language, so that the reader's surprise and assent are one and the same." In 2012 Christian Wiman joined the Yale Divinity School Institute of Sacred Music as a senior lecturer in religion and literature. Wiman's essay "Love Bade Me Welcome," was widely reprinted on the internet and evoked much response from readers. It first appeared in Wiman's book, Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet (Copper Canyon Press, 2007). In his... Continue reading
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WHERE THE HORSES SING by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee May 20, 2021 Emergence Magazine Witnessing a growing wasteland, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee seeks the threshold that could bring us back to the place where the land sings—to a deep ecology of consciousness that returns our awareness to a fully animate world. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, PhD, is the author of many books, including A Handbook for Survivalists: Caring for the Earth, A Series of Meditations, available as a free PDF, and editor of the anthology Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth. The focus of Llewellyn’s writing and teaching is on spiritual responsibility in our present time of transition, spiritual ecology, and an awakening global consciousness of oneness. I LIKE TO WALK early and am often alone on the beach, the ocean and the birds my only companions, the tiny sanderlings running back and forth chasing the waves. Some days the sun rising over the headlands makes a pathway of golden light to the shore. Today, the fog was dense and I could just see two figures walking in the distance, until they vanished into the mist, leaving a pair of footprints in the sand until the incoming tide washed them away. It made me wonder... Continue reading
[I'm sending this column of Nicholas Kristof from today's New York Times to family and close friends, although I know most of you read the Times and that you have probably read Kristof's column. Many of you know of my high regard for his recognized humane perspectives, including two Pulitzer Prizes for his work on (and from) China and Darfur. So for those of you who may have missed it, or might read it again (a practice I'm grateful to have learned early, and find of even greater value as an elder). [The first thing that struck me was its length: about two-thirds longer than a typical opinion piece, his own or others'. The second tip was that he writes from Yamhill, Oregon, the town in which he was raised and to which he often returns, especially, as I recall, when his writing turns to subjects about which he cares most deeply. [The pandemic is thankfully in recess for most (not all) of us here in the U.S., which means it's time for us to begin to assess its impact, as well as to recognize that elsewhere in this beleaguered world of ours it continues to take a terrible toll... Continue reading
Nine Years to Zero: The Climate Emergency Movement May 12, 2021 The movement to address the climate emergency at the scale and speed required is growing. Today TCM, along with over 650 allied organizations, has sent a letter to key Democrats in Congress demanding a Renewable Energy Standard to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2030 be included in the infrastructure package that is currently in the works. Please retweet and repost to help increase the pressure to achieve this key goal. Big news out of Hawaii: After diligent work from nearly 40 organizations that make up the Hawaii Climate & Environmental Coalition, the Hawaii legislature passed Senate Resolution SCR44, declaring a climate emergency in the state on April 29, 2021, paving the way for more comprehensive, urgent climate action at the state level. This resolution is the first state-level declaration of climate emergency in the United States. As the only U.S. state surrounded by the rising sea, this move sends a message about the severity of the climate emergency and the need to act to meet the scale of the crisis. This declaration brings the total number of climate emergency declarations in the U.S. to 146 within 24 states. 12.49%... Continue reading
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1. NEW DOCUMENTARY “EXTERMINATE ALL THE BRUTES” WAS 500 YEARS OF GENOCIDE IN THE MAKING The fact that Raoul Peck’s new HBO film on white supremacy exists shows that something profound about the world is changing. Jon Schwarz The Intercept May 2, 2021 IN THE FINAL episode of Raoul Peck’s HBO documentary, “Exterminate All the Brutes,” Peck says in a voice-over, “The very existence of this film is a miracle.” That is 100 percent true. Before this moment in history, it would have been impossible to imagine that one of the world’s largest corporations — AT&T, owner of HBO, with a current market cap of $220 billion — would have funded and broadcast a film like this. The fact that it somehow squeezed through the cracks and onto our TVs and laptop screens demonstrates that something profound about the world is changing. Decades, centuries of people fighting and dying were required both to widen the cracks and mold someone like Peck, the right human at the right time, to step through. “Exterminate All the Brutes” is a sprawling disquisition — four episodes, each an hour long — into the invention and consequences of 500 years of “white” supremacy, presented via... Continue reading
[There is some overlap between John Cassidy's assessment of President Biden's transformative policy proposals and the account of those proposals by Nicholas Kristof published in The New York Times two days ago. That is as it should be, as we are contemplating a major reconception of American governance. Biden seeks to strengthen the very foundations of our democracy. Both commentators agree that "like F.D.R. in the nineteen-thirties, (Biden is) looking to rebalance and preserve a capitalist economy that has been going askew for decades, reclaiming a vision of shared prosperity" that we have lost." The need for such change is palpable. The circumstances of 2021 differ from those of 1933, but only enhance the need for such rebalancing. The legacy of Trump—the emptying of substantive dialogue with the impoverished remnant of the Republican party—is a dismaying parallel, but all the more reason to mobilize popular support for Biden's initiatives.] John Cassidy The New Yorker, May 3, 2021 According to some commentators, President Joe Biden is turning out to be a quiet revolutionary. After he laid out his sweeping agenda to a joint session of Congress last week, reports described it as an epoch-shifting effort to reset the terms of American... Continue reading
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Joe Biden Is Electrifying America Like F.D.R. Credit...Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group, via Getty Images By Nicholas Kristof New York Times May 1, 2021 YAMHILL, Ore. — The best argument for President Biden’s three-part proposal to invest heavily in America and its people is an echo of Franklin Roosevelt’s explanation for the New Deal. “In 1932 there was an awfully sick patient called the United States of America,” Roosevelt said in 1943. “He was suffering from a grave internal disorder … and they sent for a doctor.” Paging Dr. Joe Biden. We should be clear eyed about both the enormous strengths of the United States — its technologies, its universities, its entrepreneurial spirit — and its central weakness: For half a century, compared with other countries, we have underinvested in our people. In 1970, the United States was a world leader in high school and college attendance, enjoyed high life expectancy and had a solid middle class. This was achieved in part because of Roosevelt. The New Deal was imperfect and left out too many African-Americans and Native Americans, but it was still transformative. Here in my hometown, Yamhill, the New Deal was an engine of opportunity. A few farmers... Continue reading
The Heart and Soul of the Biden Project It’s a daring revival of “the American System.” By David Brooks Opinion Columnist, New York Times April 8, 2021 What is the quintessential American act? It is the leap of faith. The first European settlers left the comfort of their old countries and migrated to brutal conditions, convinced the future would be better on this continent. Immigrants all crossed oceans or wilderness to someplace they didn’t know, hoping that their children would someday breathe the atmosphere of prosperity and freedom. Here we are again, one of those moments when we take a leap, a gamble, beckoned by the vision of new possibility. The early days of the Biden administration are nothing if not a daring leap. I asked Anita Dunn, one of President Biden’s senior advisers, to reflect on the three giant proposals: Covid relief, infrastructure and the coming “family” plan. What vision binds them together? What is this thing, Bidenomics? Interestingly, she mentioned China. This could be the Chinese century, with their dynamism and our decay. The unexpected combination of raw capitalism, authoritarianism and state direction of the economy could make China the dominant model around the globe. President Biden, Dunn... Continue reading
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Biden Plots a Revolution for America’s Children By Nicholas Kristof, Opinion Columnist New York Times March 24, 2021 National pre-K and affordable day care don’t have to be a dream. The most revolutionary part of President Biden’s agenda so far is his focus on a constituency that doesn’t write whiny op-ed columns, doesn’t vote, doesn’t hire lobbyists and so has been neglected for half a century: children. Biden’s proposal to establish a national pre-K and child care system would be a huge step forward for children and for working parents alike. It would make it easier for moms and dads to hold jobs, and above all it would be a lifeline for many disadvantaged children. Imagine: You drop a kid off at a high-quality prekindergarten program in the morning and pick the child up on the way home from work. That’s how it is in many other advanced countries, and in the United States military. When my wife and I lived in Japan in the late 1990s, we sent our kids to one of these nurseries, and they were a dream. But the United States never developed such a system, because for half a century as other countries were investing... Continue reading
Don't Go Back To Sleep The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don't go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want. Don't go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open. Don't go back to sleep. Rumi Continue reading
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"Novel Overtures to the More-Than-Human World" is not only focused on climate change and its implications. It does raise compelling issues that may intrigue readers of Reckonings as they have me. Climate change affects not only humans like us, but the overwhelming number of species that are not human: yet they are our kin; thus "the More-Than-Human World." It's an awkward construction, yes, but it should be clear to us all that the well-being of our own species, homo sapiens, is intimately, consequentially interwoven with the quality of non-human life with which (with whom?) we share this planet. "Nature," we are accustomed to say, or "the natural world," as if it's ours to enjoy, despoil, care for or not, alarm, be alarmed by, admire or ignore. At the bottom of this message is an alternative construction in the essay by David Bollier (http://www.bollier.org/ and https://centerforneweconomics.org/people/david-bollier/). Readers may also enjoy Robin Wall Kimmerer's related essay in The Ecologist magazine, "Living beings are our kith and kin." In Kimmerer's essay and in her altogether admirable book cited below, Kimmerer suggests we need a new pronoun in order to avoid objectifying the world of nature. Her choice, with good reason, is the word... Continue reading
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I know I have, in earlier years in the pages of Reckonings, offered this deeply moving blessing by John O'Donohue. I do so again, just after discussing his attention to grief and its manifold lessons, because the complementarity of the two is so compelling. I wish I could include, as well, his own reading of "Bennacht." He read it in a conversation with Krista Tippett of On Being: https://medium.com/@onbeing/beannacht-a-poem-8c2c29a4d14e. (Scroll down when you come to that page.) The only two Gaelic words readers may not know are, first, the poem's title, Bennacht, which means blessing, and mid-poem the word "currach." A currach is an Irish boat principally used for sailing in the west of Ireland. An Oxford dictionary offers this definition: "a small boat made of wickerwork covered with a watertight material [like canvas], propelled with a paddle; a coracle." With that brief introduction, here is John O'Donohue's poem. Beannacht by John O’Donohue On the day when The weight deadens On your shoulders And you stumble, May the clay dance To balance you. And when your eyes Freeze behind The grey window And the ghost of loss Gets into you, May a flock of colours, Indigo, red, green And azure... Continue reading
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George Arthur Wilson (1931-2020) My dear friend George might be touched and amused—or perhaps say "Why not?"—that he reminds me of an Irish saint: 5th century Brendan the Navigator, the voyager, one of the earliest Irish saints, after Patrick, after Brigid of Kildare. There is Frederick Buechner’s beautifully composed fictional biography, titled simply Brendan. As Thomas Cahill wrote of that book on its flyleaf (think of George): “A lusty, teeming, festooning, dancing marvel of a book for anyone who cares about Ireland or Christianity or paganism or history or sailing or — reading.” George was truly an anam cara, a soul friend. Obituary from the East Hampton Star: George A. Wilson, Minister and Sailor By Mark Segal October 22, 2020 George Arthur Wilson, who started his ministry at the Old Whalers Church in Sag Harbor (among the Hamptons on Long Island, NY), ended it at the Springs Presbyterian Church, and sailed the world between postings, died in Mill Valley, Calif., of late-stage kidney disease on October 15, 2020. He was 89 and had been ill for seven years. Mr. Wilson had deep ties to the East End (of Long Island) and its waters, according to his longtime companion, Betsey Crawford.... Continue reading
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The writings of Martin Buber, including the masterpiece for which he is most known, I and Thou, have lived deeply in my learning and teaching for half a century. Their incarnation has often taken on new meaning as I’ve grown. Now, for example, my rabbi son Joshua and I meet once a week — virtually during the pandemic — to explore religious texts that, for various reasons, have again come to intrigue us. As a child and through most of my teenage years, I hardly knew the Episcopal tradition in which my Roosevelt ancestors lived. That began to change during my late college years, when my mother and stepfather were living abroad and my grandmother—so characteristic of her generosity and love—invited me to share her home, both in New York City and in Hyde Park, New York. I began to know and treasure Martin Buber’s social thought in my earliest teaching years, first at Amherst College and then more richly at Hampshire College. More recently I renewed my love and regard for his work when I encountered its expression in a fine blog I’ve followed for several years, Maria Popova’s “Brain Pickings” (https://www.brainpickings.org). Here are the fruits of her gathering.... Continue reading
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I have become familiar over the years with much of the writing of the Celtic bard John O'Donohue, but until very recently I was unfamiliar with this poem. "For Grief" came to me through reading the remarkable journal of my dear friend Betsey Crawford, embedded in her altogether lovely website The Soul of the Earth. I'll always remain struck by and grateful for the circuitousness of the ways gifts come to us, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. Betsey wrote: After reading my last essay, A Year of Love and Death, on the losses of 2020, both personal and worldwide, my brother-in-law sent me a poem by John O’Donohue called For Grief. My partner George’s Irishness was a wild and wonderful force in his life. In the years before his death, he explored Celtic spirituality with his usual exuberance and loved John O’Donohue. So I was doubly moved by the poem, which means more to me every day. _____________________________________ Now to a few of my own thoughts: Yes, we've all known it, though it still astonishes me how we can occasionally twist ourselves into misshapen forms of ourselves to avoid our consciousness of it. I'll speak... Continue reading
Many thanks to you, Judith, for sharing your experience of Modum Bad. I am still in close touch with some of my friends and colleagues there, and treasure my time at Modum Bad as the most nourishing therapeutic community I know. Warm wishes, John
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Pope Francis: A Crisis Reveals What Is in Our Hearts To come out of this pandemic better than we went in, we must let ourselves be touched by others’ pain. By Pope Francis The New York Times, Nov. 26, 2020 In this past year of change, my mind and heart have overflowed with people. People I think of and pray for, and sometimes cry with, people with names and faces, people who died without saying goodbye to those they loved, families in difficulty, even going hungry, because there’s no work. Sometimes, when you think globally, you can be paralyzed: There are so many places of apparently ceaseless conflict; there’s so much suffering and need. I find it helps to focus on concrete situations: You see faces looking for life and love in the reality of each person, of each people. You see hope written in the story of every nation, glorious because it’s a story of daily struggle, of lives broken in self-sacrifice. So rather than overwhelm you, it invites you to ponder and to respond with hope. These are moments in life that can be ripe for change and conversion. Each of us has had our own “stoppage,” or... Continue reading
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Entering the Bardo by Joanna Macy Emergence Magazine In this short essay published in Emergence Magazine, eco-philosopher and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy introduces us to the bardo—the Tibetan Buddhist concept of a gap between worlds where transition is possible. As the pandemic reveals ongoing collapse and holds a mirror to our collective ills, she writes, we have the opportunity to step into a space of reimagining. We are in a space without a map. With the likelihood of economic collapse and climate catastrophe looming, it feels like we are on shifting ground, where old habits and old scenarios no longer apply. In Tibetan Buddhism, such a space or gap between known worlds is called a bardo. It is frightening. It is also a place of potential transformation. As you enter the bardo, there facing you is the Buddha Akshobhya. His element is Water. He is holding a mirror, for his gift is Mirror Wisdom, reflecting everything just as it is. And the teaching of Akshobhya’s mirror is this: Do not look away. Do not avert your gaze. Do not turn aside. This teaching clearly calls for radical attention and total acceptance. For the last forty years, I’ve been growing a... Continue reading
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Rumi's poems have for more years than I can remember been sources of inspiration and guidance in nourishing the crafts of life and offering inspiration and guidance in how to live it more fully, more closely to what I have come to know as sacred. Naturally over the years I have been drawn to others who have found similar companionship in Rumi. Seldom, though, has that experience come as richly and from more than one source at once. I feel blessed that such is now one of those instances. The first is a book given to me by a friend. Carol Saysette brought it yesterday to my door, saying she had helped modestly in the book's publication, and so purchased a few copies for her own friends. I only glancingly know its author, but the book is entitled Julie Taylor's Best Loved Poems. Julie Taylor's life and my own have drawn nearer to one another because we have been grateful fellow members of the Community Congregational Church on the top of Rock Hill Road in Tiburon, California. I didn't know until I began reading Julie's best loved poems that in her preface she gathered the poems partly in thanks to... Continue reading
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I want to share with readers of Reckonings two photos of father and son, Joe and Hunter Biden, in the context of excerpts from a current New Yorker article by Liz Plank on changing views of masculinity in the US. Here's a bit from Liz Plank's article: "President Donald Trump and his allies have tried a series of increasingly desperate tactics to derail former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign momentum. As these would-be October surprises fall flat, Trump surrogates appear to have reverted to the oldest tool in their political arsenal: attacking Biden's masculinity. On Wednesday, John Cardillo, a host on Newsmax, a Trump-aligned media network, tweeted out a photo of Biden holding his son Hunter and kissing him on the cheek. "Does this look like an appropriate father/son interaction to you?" Cardillo asked. "While Cardillo isn't an official Trump surrogate, his attacks are very much in line with Trump's incessant bullying of his opponent's masculinity. From mocking him for the size of his masks to simply calling him physically weak, Trump hasn't been subtle. Many male voters have taken notice. Because like many other institutions in America, fatherhood is changing. Men want to be able to express their love... Continue reading