Requiem for America’s Mythical Democracy

            The debacle of the Trump impeachment process ended, for all intents and purposes, with the GOP-led Senate refusing to allow witnesses and documents which were said to support the charges of the president’s abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

In spite of some very few die-hard optimists who hoped for a miracle of justice, the GOP senators followed the lead of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In spite of some Republican senators admitting that the president had, in fact, done something wrong, his offenses did not rise to the level of deserving impeachment.

When the president is acquitted of wrongdoing, he will be free to continue his disembowelment of the American democracy as we have known it, but he is not the primary source of this state of being in this country. If the truth be told, even the Founders did not wholly believe in the concept of democracy, where everyone, rich and poor, black and white, male and female, would have an equal voice and equal rights. The concept of “one person, one vote” was understood from this country’s birth to mean “one white wealthy man, one vote.”

The Founding Fathers had problems with what the phrase “we the people” meant. While it was an idealistic goal to have all of the people of the nation participate in its governance, the truth of the matter is that many of the founders thought that to be not only impossible but impractical. The problem was that the country was set up to be run by a small group of wealthy white men. The masses of people, who steadily increased the ranks of the poor, were a threat to what the founders wanted this country would be. Alexander Hamilton said “the people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give, therefore, to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government.” (Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States)

It was the wealthy, therefore, wealthy, white, Protestant males who set this country up with the firm belief that this country should function as an oligarchy.

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Democracy, they thought, was a problem, because a true democracy required something of the masses that they often did not want or could not handle. In the end, the masses were not able to govern themselves, and hence, would lean toward an authoritarian government. Hamilton’s assertion that the masses were turbulent and changing supported the contention made years later by Shawn Rosenberg who said: “human brains are not made for self-rule.” (https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/09/08/shawn-rosenberg-democracy-228045) The chasm between the poor and the wealthy makes the capacity for more turbulence all the greater, leading to the poor fighting against each other and blaming each other for a piece of economic power that was never intended to be passed on to them.

            We in America have basked in a sort of pseudo-democracy for years, but the powers that be, the very wealthy, have always been in the middle of government, leading the way and calling the shots. Presidents, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, and Lyndon Johnson have all exercised excessive power – an abuse of power according to the US Constitution, yet people have acquiesced and given in because they (we) have trusted wealth and the dream of becoming wealthy more than they (we) have trusted our collective power. Democracies die, say experts, not from guns and missiles, but through the acquiescence of people, people who vote them into office and keep them there.

            The United States Senate’s refusal to call witnesses in the impeachment of the current president is not surprising, given that they represent the power class and have grown wary of so many people of color coming into the country and, they believe, threatening their power and therefore, their wealth. Making America “great” again is about fixing what many believe to be the skewing of the American government model – where wealthy, white men govern the masses and it seems that many in the ranks of the masses want to be controlled and led rather than taking on the responsibility of living and working in a true democracy.

With the president’s almost sure acquittal next week, one thing is certain: the façade of this government being a well-oiled, functioning democracy will finish the crumbling that began years ago, only to be accelerated by the Trump presidency. America the mythical democracy is in decline. What will rise up in its place is yet to be seen, but it will surely not be a place where “one person, one vote” is the norm, and where “all” people are considered to be equal.

But then, that wasn’t the plan as the country was formed. As the guardrails of the myth of democracy come crumbling down, it will be interesting to see what kind of government America really is.

A candid observation.

The Cost of Denying What You See

             The political climate in this country has many people angry, confused, and anxious. Even as the impeachment proceedings are going on in the Senate (I cannot call it a “trial” because it is so fraught with issues) there is no comfort that there will be a civilized end to the turmoil that has been the signature of this country for the past three years. Tribalism has become a live, virulent creature that seemingly will not be tamed or quieted.

I have been silent for weeks because I have not known what to say. What I see is the systematic unraveling of our country’s government as we have known it. I see values like honesty, regard for the law and for the Constitution, and political civility giving way to bold lies and sense of arrogance that dares anyone to try to stop what is happening. I see attacks on the press, manipulation of the concept of religious freedom to support one group of religious people at the expense of all others, and a disregard for this country’s allies.

I see the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, showing and using his considerable political acumen, in all of its ruthlessness.  I see one group of politicians trying to show the country and the world what is happening to America’s democracy, and another group of politicians saying that what we are seeing and hearing is not, in fact, the truth or real.

It is daunting and exhausting to watch.

But what is bothering me most is that people are denying what appears to be the truth; they refuse to listen to or look at voices and/or documents that support accusations that are being made. And I see simultaneously others who do see what is going on and who are gnawing on their fingernails as the process of dismantling this democracy is happening right before our eyes.

Denial of a problem does not make it go away. We, as human beings, are good at denying. Wives and husbands who get all of the warning signals that their spouse is cheating deny what they see. Parents who sense that their child is in trouble, perhaps doing drugs or drinking too much alcohol, or hanging out with the wrong people, deny what they see, sense, and feel. Neighborhoods deny that there the trouble that plagues other places could ever come to their streets until a horrific tragedy happens. People deny that there is police brutality until one of their loved ones becomes a victim. Parents deny that their son or daughter is gay until that child comes out; they have “known” all along, but preferred to live in denial.

Denial doesn’t work. Truth always comes up and out, and usually at the most inopportune times.

We in this country have lived in denial for a long time, pretending like our foundation is not racist and pretending that we believe in democracy. In fact, a broad swath of Americans has never believed that people of color are “equal” or deserving of full American citizenship. In the 19th century, white people in the North denied that they were racist until they were faced with scores of black people migrating North, looking for work and dignity. Being against the institution of slavery was one thing; granting black people full citizenship and saying that they were equal with whites was quite another. We still live in denial about our innate racism, but it is part of the foundation of this country. Some analysts say that what we are seeing is the move to “make America white again.” The push-back against allowing people of color to img_0231enter this country or stay in this country is part of the fear of white people no longer being the majority population in this country by the year 2044. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/22/us/white-americans-minority-population.html) White men are intent on staying in power by any means necessary, but many of us are in denial that their practices and policies are rooted in the belief in the need to preserve white supremacy.

It is exhausting to watch, and troubling as well, because it seems that the progression of forcing regression to an earlier America where there was less tolerance of all people, in spite of our claim of American exceptionalism is on a fast train speeding down a hill. Nobody wants to admit it or talk about it. Nobody wants to say out loud that the voter suppression tactics that are being put into place are racist in their intent, designed to keep black and brown people out of the polling booths. And yet, what we are seeing is the result of having denied since our inception that white supremacy is America’s cancer. And it is eating us alive in the present day, even as we pretend we do not see what is going on.

Audre Lorde, an African American essayist, who described herself as a “black lesbian, warrior, mother, and poet” wrote the words, “My silences did not protect me. Your silence will not protect you.” The silence that so many people are living in and trying to maintain, the silence that keeps voices of truth from being heard, is not going to save America. Silence is denial, and denial is only a temporary stop-gap to the problems around us. Sooner or later, the truth will push through like an angry geyser, spraying the area around it with drops of truth.

The geyser of denial is bubbling beneath us, even as this president and administration continue their work to stay in power. I’m not quite sure what this country will look like once it bursts through our carefully cultivated ground of denial, but I am fairly certain that the “carnage” will be significant.

A candid observation.

America, Falling

I have been watching my country fall.

The current administration, the cast of players including not only the president but the attorney general, Bill Barr, the House Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and the entire GOP, is taking this government away from its designation as a democratic republic to a monarchy, or some form of totalitarian government.

I have watched and listened as the president has transferred onto his opponents the charges of what he is doing: destroying “our country.”( https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/trump-launching-re-election-bid-says-democrats-want-destroy-our-n1019176) He has blamed democrats for any and everything that has not gone his way.

What he demands is not the love of the country, but the love of Trump.

Even though some Republicans are said to be disturbed at what he is doing, they are remaining silent, and their party as they have known it is crumbling a little more each day, but the president blames the Democrats for the demise of the GOP. (https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/sep/26/donald-trump-says-fate-nation-stake-democrats-try-/) He blamed problems in Baltimore on the Democrats. (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/09/12/trump-says-democrats-destroyed-baltimore-house-gop-speech/2303002001/). Even though it is Trump and his administration who are running roughshod over the very structure of the American government, he and his friends say that it is the Democrats.

Democracy as we have known it is crumbling. Author Christopher Browning said that our democracy is being suffocated. (https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2018/10/25/suffocation-of-democracy/), and he blames Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for much of what is going on, something, Browning says, McConnell began while Barack Obama was president.

What is most troubling is that so many Americans, white and black, are in lock-step with this president. They refuse to admit that he has done anything wrong; they deny that he has lied about most everything. They nearly worship him; some believe that he was sent to this country by God. The people I always thought loved America most and the people who were always loudest on issues of morality and patriotism have joined the Trump movement.

What I don’t understand is what is underneath the abdication of the love for the America that has always been. I do not understand why this democracy is being trampled upon by the administration with the blessing of so many. What will happen to the masses of non-white, non-Christian nationalists if the president is re-elected?

There are striking and troubling similarities between this president and Adolph Hitler, another leader who demanded complete loyalty and who ushered in the Nazi party at the expense of Germany’s democracy. As I wade through my feelings on what I see happening, it is this demand for blind loyalty to this president that is bothering me most. People during Hitler’s rule were afraid to speak up and speak out, and it seems that while many of the masses of people have no problem with what they see happening, many politicians are afraid to speak up and speak out. And so, they acquiesce.

That so many people think there is nothing wrong with what appears to be a cozy relationship between this country and Russia – a country conservatives used to love to hate and which has never been a “friend” of this country – is confusing to me. It is troubling that so few people object to the president’s complimenting former enemies of this country while alienating long-term allies.

What role is the media playing in all of this? Even when this president was on the campaign trail, I felt like the media wasn’t taking him seriously, that they were letting him say whatever he wanted and were giving in too much to his role in silencing them as they sought to ask questions. I have felt only recently that there has been sufficient push-back from the media as this man has spewed lies. For the most part, he has had his way.

I wonder when he does his work, or more accurately, who is doing his work for him because he tweets so much! I wonder who is really running the country and letting the president stay on camera and do and say what he does to continue the distractions that have kept the media engaged since he entered the political arena.

I am afraid for the masses. I am afraid for black and brown people, afraid for Muslims, women, the poor and indigent, for the LGBTQ community, and for anyone this administration does not care for.

I am afraid that if he loses the election that he will not go quietly or with grace – if he goes at all. I am afraid that if he loses, he will increase the confusion and chaos he is so good at causing and say that he only lost because of the “deep state,” which he will accuse of “rigging” the election.

I am afraid that he has put in motion a model of government that will be authoritarian and totalitarian. I am afraid that he is setting the standards that other politicians will feel free to use if they are in office or run for office. It is the Democrats who are under attack now, but the tide will change – that is if the Republican party still exists in a two-party system.

There is something peculiarly unsettling about where this country is, and where many people living in this country are.

I am afraid of what I cannot yet see but which I feel is near. It feels like we are walking in the dark, feeling our way, but not knowing where we will be when the veil lifts.

America is falling, and I am afraid. I am afraid for this country. I am afraid for the masses. I  am afraid of the unknown that is still a big part of this administration.

A candid observation…

Tuesday Meditation: Doing the Work of Justice When You are Enraged

Note: I don’t normally share my Tuesday meditations on this blog but the emotion and pain that the president’s insensitive statement comparing what is happening to him to a lynching prompted me to share this meditation today.

Abraham Heschel wrote that “prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet’s words.”) (italics mine)

Our reading of the prophets suggests that God rages a lot. The lack of the capacity of the children created by Her to align themselves with Her and with Her will takes holy breath out of God. God doesn’t agonize over academic ideals; God agonizes over the depravity of the human spirit, a depravity that causes those whom God created to treat each other poorly. Though men and women are rebellious, Heschel notes, God’s love and compassion for them never wavers. But neither does the divine rage at what God is seeing.

Those who work for justice are prophets; they carry the word and the will of God into their daily attempts to get God’s people to align themselves with what they believe is right, but there are times when their own rage is so powerful, rising within them like water which has bubbled and boiled so much that it is about to spill over. What is it that should be done at times like that?

There have been moments within the past week and including today that have caused that type of rage. A person from the religious right said that God caused Rep. Elijah Cummings to die because Cummings had dared take on the president, and today, the president compared the quest to reveal his abuses of power – and more – to a lynching.

The rage bubbles.

The late James Cone concluded, in The Cross and the Lynching Tree that the lynching tree was America’s cross. Black people survived the lynching terror because of faith in God and a determination to keep pushing against the system which saw no issue, no problem, in lynching them at will, with no fear of retribution or accountability. Lynching reminded black people to stay in their place, to shut up and go along to get along. There was no angst about what the lynching did to families or to the very spirits of black people who lived under constant cognizance that they or someone they loved could be “next.”

To be honest, lynching is still something that black people, brown and Native American people, and Muslims fight against to this day. The very humanity and dignity of these groups of people, and more, are spat upon every day, and still, we move, we work, we pray, we push for justice. We work in spite of the deep pain we carry, as well as the realization that the lynching tree takes different forms, like mass incarceration, economic injustice, climate change, sexism and racism, gender and sexuality issues, and so much more.

This man who claims that what he is going through is like a lynching, then, is stepping – again – on the very souls of people who live with the threat of lynching every day. Contrary to what he is going through, people who are lynched rarely have the money to seek justice; they are accused and imprisoned or killed without much of a stir. This president is crying because there is an active attempt to expose his crimes and abuses of power. There is justice in that process that people who are lynched have rarely received.

What, though, does one do? The rage bubbles; the audacity of one to use a term that has so much history and pain is beyond the capacity of many to understand. Being put on a lynching tree and yet not being totally exterminated as a people supports Cone’s belief that the cross/lynching tree is for black people a symbol of power; we resurrect, though this system has sought to bury us. That same lynching tree for people like the president continues Cone, is and has been an instrument of terror. Those who have used lynching as a tool of domestic terror do not now get to claim it as now being accessory to their suffering.

One then must exhale and inhale the spirits of the ancestors who endured the lynching tree and yet stayed on earth long enough to pass on the need for us to pray and not faint. One must inhale the power that yet sprinkles down from our ancestors, a power that reminds us to “be still and know” that God is here. Attacking ignorance with raw anger will not help us; like those before us who learned to incline their ears toward heaven so as to stay alive and continue the work, we must do the same – in spite of the bubbling rage.

Amen and amen.

The Never-Ending Anger of White People

It seems that the anger of white people in this country has been an issue for almost as long as this country has been in existence.

That, in spite of the fact that their very whiteness has provided them free reign to commit crimes against black people and also has provided them protection against being called into accountability for their crimes. Black people, because of angry white people and a pliant political and judicial system, have never been able to get justice, something which all human beings desire and deserve. And yet, it is the white people who are always angry.

The eruption of white anger is never far from us. It was present in Charlottesville, Virginia when whites marched through the streets voicing their determination that they would not be “replaced.” Their anger resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer, run down by a car driven by an angry white man. Their anger erupted after the Civil War when black people were given the right to live like human beings; their anger led and inspired them to lynch literally thousands of black people just because they could and get away with it.

Their anger erupted when black servicemen and women returned to this country after fighting in wars to preserve this nation’s democracy. Had blacks refused to fight they would have been castigated and probably arrested or worse, but their fighting did not make whites like them or respect them any more. If anything, it made them more angry because whites perceived that blacks had become “uppity.” Whites killed many blacks while they were still in uniform. (https://eji.org/reports/online/lynching-in-america-targeting-black-veterans)

White anger erupted when black people, in spite of all that was done to try to keep them “in their place” went ahead and prospered in spite of those barriers. The infamous massacre of black people by angry whites in Tulsa, Oklahoma is an episode of American history hardly even whispered about. (https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/21/us/tulsa-race-riot-black-wall-street-watchmen-trnd/index.html) Whenever and wherever blacks fought for economic justice, they were often opposed and too often murdered because they dared fight for what was rightfully theirs. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/death-hundreds-elaine-massacre-led-supreme-court-take-major-step-toward-equal-justice-african-americans-180969863/)

Whites have always been angry about black people being in this country, though it was white people who brought us here. White people tolerated black people as they built this country and once their usefulness was no longer needed, many just wanted us to go away.

There has been no single entity that has protected black people or insured that they get justice. The fact that the police officer who shot and killed Botham Jean in his own house only received a sentence of 10 years in prison, while a young man who missed jury duty got 10 days in jail plus a host of other punitive actions still causes the soreness caused by ongoing racism to smart all the more. In history, not even the United States Supreme Court could be counted on to make sure that black people got justice. (https://www.npr.org/2011/02/24/133960082/the-supreme-courts-failure-to-protect-civil-rights).

But in spite of black people being violated, challenged, discriminated against, and killed by people who killed them just because they could, it is white people who are always angry. Black people are expected to be quiet and not be angry at all while this system walks over them and causes them undue pain and misery, even while denying them justice and a level playing field. From those who were angry at the murder of Emmett Till to those who are insulted that Colin Kaepernick would dare “take a knee” to protest police brutality against black people, blacks who express anger are criticized and mocked. (https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/19/587097707/laura-ingraham-told-lebron-james-to-shutup-and-dribble-he-went-to-the-hoop).

To make matters worse, too many white people have relied on their religion – their version of Christianity – to justify their treatment of not only blacks, but poor whites, people with HIV/AIDS, and Muslims, for starters. As the country has had to absorb the painful loss of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Baltimore), one white religious talk show is saying that Mr. Cummings’ death was (is) “God’s revenge for taking on Trump.” (https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/we-know-the-bible-far-right-conspiracy-theorist-says-elijah-cummings-death-was-gods-revenge-for-taking-on-trump).

White anger is irrational. It is disgusting. And it is misplaced.

But it is a mainstay of America. And it is eroding whatever capacity for decency this country has ever had. In spite of this irrational and ongoing anger, black people in this country have been able to endure and prosper, but every now and then, the souls of black folk rise up, asking God, in the words found in the Bible, read by black people and by angry whites alike, a book they claim to love, “How long, Lord?”

It seems that that answer is yet to be cemented in the fabric of America. White anger is a pandemic, and going untreated and ignored, is only getting worse.