Trying to Understand

I am really trying to understand what is going on in this country.

The Right is in the White House. We are being led by people who hold white nationalist ideas. We are being told to be afraid of Muslims, to keep Mexican immigrants out of the country. We are being told that when the news media (which does have issues) reports a fact, that it is “fake news.” We have a commander-in-chief who is shameless in his lying and hypocrisy, and aides to this man who say that his power is not to be questioned.

It feels like we are slipping into a dark, cramped space. The “drained swamp” is filled with the very people this president criticized his opponent for having relationships with. Billionaires, all over the place, are going to make policy. They, who have never done much to help America’s underclass, are going to be the ones to “make America great again.”

People who support the administration say, “We suffered for eight years. Now it’s your turn.” What does that mean? I don’t recall ever hearing that kind of rhetoric before. I know people did not like the previous president, but for many of them, that hatred came not because of what he said, but because of who he was. When he was elected, people on the Right were heard to say, “We want him to fail;” “We want to make him a one-term president.”

This president is hated not because of the election results. He is hated because of what he has said, how he has insulted everyone, called people names, encouraged Russians to hack into American cyberspace. He has been crude and dishonest, has known it, and has not cared. He has drawn white supremacists, white nationalists to him, with love. He has embraced Vladimir Putin, a long-time enemy of America and a leader whom many has called a “thug,” saying he admires him because he is a strong leader.

Maybe it was the progressive agenda that was making its way into American life that has some people genuinely upset. Many Americans have been distressed at how the world has changed and is yet still changing. America will never be what it “was” in the eyes of those who have always had privilege. But this administration – and its followers – seem to be intend on trying to make the impossible, possible. They want the days back when sexism, racism, heterosexuality, and God knows what else, reigned, when the voices of the underclass were muted by policy and by practices.

Hate crimes are rising; little children in school are being permitted to spew hate language at other little children. Immigrants are frightened; Muslims are frightened; black people realize that the promise of “law and order” on the part of this president probably means really bad news for them. Jewish-Americans are frightened. David Duke says this president has opened the door for white supremacy to reign again.

Evangelical Christians are happy, though there seems to be not much of the God I know in what is going on.

The trouble is, the language of this administration and his crew keeps the angst going. It keeps people up at night. It is causing people to suffer from real depression.It feels like every single thing that has made America what it is is being attacked. Nothing feels safe anymore – not the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press.

And nobody on the Right is saying anything. Those who have claimed to be so patriotic and religious …are, for the most part, silent.

It is beyond comprehension why people who said they hated the presumed dishonesty of Hillary Clinton are not bothered by this president’s dishonesty. It is beyond comprehension why the Congress isn’t railing about the presumed relationship of Gen. Michael Flynn with the Russians, when they spent millions of taxpayer dollars for hearings on Benghazi. It is beyond comprehension why a man who welcomed leaks when they were helping him is now saying that leaks are illegal.

Nothing makes sense. You can see the pieces of the puzzle, but it’s like the pieces in front of you do not belong with the puzzle you’re trying to put together. It feels like this nation is headed into a maelstrom, and will be hurled downward to a place from which we will never emerge the same.

Many supporters of the new administration say what he is doing is making America safer. I think not. I think this administration is feeding an anger and frustration in many, many people who at this point feel caged in and trapped and who will fight ferociously to get out.

That is not good.

I am trying to understand what is going on. I do not know. But I do know that it feels very, very scary.

A candid observation…

 

The Season of Dis-ease

Since the election of the new president, I have heard more than a few people say that they do not feel safe. People of color, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community have all said something to the effect of “I don’t know anymore, when I look at people, who is with me and who hates me.”

I feel them. I have felt the same way.

Not long ago, I was in a doctor’s office just to drop off a form. I went to the front desk and said why I was there and the receptionist, without really looking up, said, “You’ll have to sign in.”

OK. All right. There were about six names ahead of me. For the life of me I could not understand why I should have to sign in, but I did. I was irritated because I had somewhere else to go and had thought I would just be able to whisk into and out of this office.

After a half-hour wait, the receptionist called my name. Yes, by this time I was ticked off, but was relieved that I could finally just drop off the form. But another woman said, “you’ll have to sign in” as she looked at me.

Totally irritated now, I said – and my irritation came through my voice – “I already signed in” and someone else in the area, feeling the tension, verified that I had in fact signed in. The woman at the desk rolled her eyes at me and said, grudgingly, “oh, all right.”

This happened after the presidential election. I had heard of increasing incidents of racial hatred in schools and in businesses and saw a truck slowly moving in my neighborhood sporting a Confederate flag. It had all made me uneasy. I thought white Americans were pretty much moving away from racism.

But what I’d seen and heard since the election did not verify my beliefs, and raised in me, I admit, some concern and anticipation of what to expect from people who were happy with who was now in the White House.

They were glad; they had a guy in place who would “make America great again,” which meant, in my mind, that he would make America unabashedly embrace her white supremacist world view.

The fact that I have heard so many different people say the same thing boggles my mind. At a recent direct action rally, a man of Hispanic descent said the same thing. I have heard Muslims, little black and brown children, members of the LGBTQ community all say the same thing – and I have read stories where even the little children, little white children, have picked up the language of division and hate and are spewing it to their classmates.

Nothing, when it comes to race relations and tolerance and acceptance and affirmation, and egalitarianism and pluralism has changed. In spite of her boast of being the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” America is still a foundation ally racist country which espouses and supports hatred toward people of color and people of different religions.

It is very disheartening, but true.

I don’t know if that woman in the doctor’s office that day rolled her eyes at me because I sounded irritated or if because she felt her whiteness gave her the right to do so. I know I raged inside because of my now heightened distrust of the fundamental American spirit when it comes to people of color.

None of us feel safe …here. Radical Islamic terrorism are the battle-cry words of those in power, but for us who are black, brown, members of marginalized groups, Muslim…for us, “radical American Christian terrorism and hatred” are far more real to us. I and many like me are in a state of dis-ease, the same dis-ease that people of color have felt for literally hundreds of years.

Little has changed, in spite of our hope that it would.

A candid observation.

Trump and America

What is America, really?

I mean, we have held ourselves up as a nation that is benevolent and righteous and Christian and just. We have defended our “exceptionalism” with a fury.

And yet, it seems that a large core of Americans are anything but ..benevolent, righteous, Christian (in practice) and just. Donald Trump, who has sounded and acted like a 21st century George Wallace, has gotten up in front of Americans and been racist, sexist, arrogant and disingenuous …and Americans love him.

OK. So it’s not all Americans. But it is a lot of Americans, and his lead, according to the polls, is increasing.

He insults, bullies, and cuts people down when they try to question him. He has made the most outrageous claims of what he will do if he’s president – all of which feels like he thinks he’ll be able to act independently of the Congress  – and Americans love it. I have heard people say he sounds “strong.” No monkey business with this guy. Under his “regime,” world leaders will cower and give into him as he makes America “great again.”

It seems that some of his Republican colleagues have just hidden under a bush. He has said things that none of them would have gotten away with, and they have been unwilling, for the most part, to challenge him.

He says he “adores” women, but from his mouth come the most foul, distasteful comments about women that seem to indicate otherwise. His “adoration” includes putting women down for what they wear, what they look like and how they ask questions. Yet, if he is challenged, he changes the story, blames the media for taking his words out of context, and generally moves to the point where the issue becomes moot.

He is “The Donald,” after all. And in spite of his disparaging comments about women, polls show that American women are flocking to his camp.

Does anyone understand any of this?

When I think of Trump’s arrogance and his hot-headedness, I shudder. What would happen if he were elected and Kim Jong-un said something to offend him or challenged him, and what if Trump responded like he shows he responds: hurling insults, getting on Twitter to further the reach of those insults, and totally bullied the young North Korean leader? Does anyone but me think that it would be a recipe for disaster, that Kim Jong-un would not hesitate to pull a machismo and press a button to annihilate America? Doesn’t Trump know that much of the world does not like America and is probably itching for an excuse to go after us?

Americans are tired of politics. They are tired of the lack of jobs and of having to struggle. They are tired of a Congress which has been impotent and of a president whom many are still not sure is a “real” American. When Trump says “we’re going to make this country great again” it makes their chests swell. The attitude is “do what you want, in whatever way you want to do it.”

Isn’t that the way dictators are born? Are tired Americans so tired that they cannot see what danger a Trump presidency would be to the world?

Someone said to me, “it’s not that they are tired, not like that. They are tired of “the coloreds” having too much power and presence, too much “say” in things.

“What they want is to get the coloreds out,” she said.

Maybe.

But whatever these Trump Americans want, it is a scary thought.

Trump might be a good businessman, but a world leader, he is not. He seems no better than the lives of dictators who have gotten into office in other countries and wreaked havoc.

America is in trouble.

A candid observation…

America’s Denial of Black History

Well, it’s the end of February. It’s the end of Black History Month. And for many people, white and black,
“the end” couldn’t have come sooner.

In fact, many wish there would be an end to even mentioning black history in this country at all.

“Why,” I hear irritated Americans ask, “why do you have to keep talking about “it?”

The “it” is, of course, America’s ignominious and wretched treatment of African-Americans in America.

The fact is, America does not want to talk about the horrors that Black people have endured, and the enormous contributions they (we) made to this country, in spite of the horrible treatment received here. When people have approached me asking why we don’t “let it alone” and “forget it,” I ask them, “Is the world supposed to forget the Holocaust? Would you want that?”

Of course not, they say quickly. How absurd to ask such a question.

Why then, I ask, do you think we should forget …or even learn …the history of African-Americans here? The horror for this race of people has been continuous, and nobody seems to care. It is easy and self-aggrandizing to talk about what the Muslims (ISIS) does to innocent people – and make no doubt: ISIS is a horrible organization.

But ISIS is no more cruel and mean and practitioners of barbaric behavior than were the Nazis under Hitler …and Americans under the shield of the U.S. Constitution and the Holy Bible.

The treatment of African-Americans in this history is the history of their holocaust. Denying it and ignoring it will not erase that reality.

In an article in the The New York Times Magazine on February 26, 2015, author David Amsden wrote a fascinating story of African American history in Louisiana …and about a white man who finally “got it” and built, with his own money, the first slavery museum in this nation. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/magazine/building-the-first-slave-museum-in-america.html?emc=edit_tnt_20150226&nlid=54450187&tntemail0=y&_r=1)

The white man’s name is John Cummings …and the slavery museum he has constructed is the Whitney Plantation. The museum, the article says, is located on land where “slaves worked for more than a century.” While I have always felt that what happened in America was comparable to what happened at Auschwitz, Amsden points out that when the museum opened in December, 2014, Mitch Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans, said out loud what I had felt for the longest time.

I once suggested to an irate white friend of mine that this country was built upon the backs of black slaves. The reason why is no different than is the reason corporations have taken work away from Americans and shipped it overseas…those who make money want to make it for as little money as possible. Slaves made the slavocracy wealthy, and the slave owners were the better for it. This nation flourished because of slave labor. And when slavery ended, a system called “convict leasing” was instituted in order to continue the building of America for pennies on the dollar.

It’s called capitalism.

Part of what Cummings includes in his slavery museum is history that is never talked about anywhere in this country. He is building a memorial which is sure to be provocative; he is dedicating it to the victims of the “German Coast Uprising.”  In 1811, “at least 125 slaves walked off their plantations and, dressed in makeshift military garb, began marching in revolt along River Road toward New Orleans.” The area was called the “German Coast” because there were a large number of German immigrants who lived there. The slaves, writes Amsden, were subdued after two days. Ninety-five of them died, “some during the fighting and some after the show trials that followed.”

But here’s the thing I didn’t know: “As a warning to other slaves, dozens were decapitated, their heads placed on spikes along River Road and in what is not Jackson Square in the French Quarter.”

Yes, America, that is what our “exceptional” country did. And yes, America, it was barbaric…

When I visited South Carolina, Charleston to be exact, I remember being at once fascinated by the gorgeous Southern mansions in the city …and angry that there was no mention of slavery at all. I knew that those homes had probably been built by slaves, but our guide, dressed in a Confederate uniform, seemed not to care. It wasn’t an issue. The tour allowed those who would to slip into the fantastic and romantic fairy tale called “The South,” ‘where beautiful young white women, all trying to be as alluring as the fictional Scarlett O’Hara,  were courted by handsome white men.

In that fairy tale, what is left out is that far too often, those handsome white men had violated, raped, black women in the slave quarters. They worried about their women being raped by black men, but the truth is, they were doing the raping and there was little to nothing black men could do about it.

In spite of the Declaration of Independence’s words that “all men are created equal,” America never intended to treat black people as “equal,” and for the most part, still does not. The belief that America is a “white man’s country” is a sentiment just underneath the craw of white people who would rather forget America’s holocaust. Amsden notes, as have other authors, that the White House and the Capitol were built largely by slaves. Nobody ever mentions it. Roads were built by black people; crops were planted and harvested by black people.  Every single gain black people have made has been made by the emission of blood, sweat and tears.

Every single gain.

So, Black History Month is ending and people will fall back into the arms of  denial, ever waiting to make this country feel better and to believe in its “exceptionalism.” The dratted mention of black people rising above racism will be stowed away for another year, although bits and pieces of the history of that racism will continue to fall out of storage and irritate people yet another day.

We cannot forget it.

We need the slavery museum, yes and an American Holocaust Museum as well.

I will visit this Whitney Slavery Museum…but I will also keep on trying to find what it is I can write that will make the hardened hearts of Americans get a tad softer and let Truth in. America is ill; racism is an illness, after all, and no serious illness goes away without treatment. The treatment for the denial which has covered America’s history is Truth.

Perhaps the Whitney Slavery Museum, built by a white man who “gets it,” will begin to make it so that denial is finally swept away and America can look at its history and not deny it, but embrace it and pull from it the strength that always comes after a serious illness has been beaten.

The voices of those who have died making America great, I am sure, cry out from their graves. I am hoping that more of us will cry out while we are yet alive …and put this history in its proper place within the story of America.

It will strengthen us and …make us truly exceptional.

A candid observation …

 

 

 

America Exceptional?

Flag of the United States of America
Flag of the United States of America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have heard over the past couple of days several people talking about “American exceptionalism.” I have remained quiet as I have listened to these people tenaciously defend the concept, one person saying that anyone who didn’t believe in American exceptionalism was not a true American.

The concept of American exceptionalism holds basically that America was chosen by God to be a beacon of light to the entire world. In an article which appeared on the CNN website this weekend, CNN Religion Editor Dan Gilgoff wrote that “the Puritans saw themselves as the last, best hope for purifying Christianity and for saving the world.”  (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/30/despite-fights-about-its-merits-idea-of-american-exceptionalism-a-powerful-force-through-history/?hpt=hp_bn1)

Gilgoff writes that “America’s exceptionalism was a religious idea with big political repercussions.”  The Pilgrims, Gilgoff writes, formed a theocracy which they thought would be a model for English Christianity.”  I guess that means that the Pilgrims believed that they had to create something better than the Christianity in England from which they had fled.

Boston, America…were to be the “New Israel,” the “New Jerusalem.”  But for whom?

Gilgoff’s article makes me lean toward believing that the first Americans really wanted an egalitarian society. Democracy, he writes, meant that everyone had rights, but everyone also had responsibilities. That is a delicious, democratic thought, at least as I have always interpreted “democracy” to mean.

But the reality was that by the time the United States Constitution was written, the notion of egalitarianism was gone. Howard Zinn makes the point, which I had never thought about until I studied him, that the Founding Fathers only meant for men of means, property holders, to be exact, to be included in the definition of “all men  being created equal.”

That revelation broke my heart…

As America grew, it was clear that there was no intent for the government to make everyone equal politically and economically. America did become the symbol of economic opportunity, and really did allow (and does allow) more economic freedom than I have read exists in other countries.

But America has also sorely neglected many of her own people. Native Americans, African-Americans, women…are amongst those who were never intended to be granted equal rights. So, the notion of Independence Day, a day where “everyone” in this nation is free, has at times left a bitter taste in the mouths of some Americans.

A nation, it seems, cannot be “exceptional” if it neglects its own, even if it is helping people in other countries. There is a strange disconnect when a family can ignore its own while it reaches out to others. Today I heard someone on NPR said that “big business and big government should work together.” For whom and for what?

I wonder how American exceptionalism will play out, or if it will have a role or will be thought about, as this nation wrestles with its economic situation. I have heard some Americans call us a “welfare state,” the disdain unmistakable. I have heard people criticize entitlements, programs put in place by government to help more people live a decent life in this country. At the end of the day, will “exceptional” America cast its poor to the wind, drastically cutting programs and funds for the most needy?

Don’t get me wrong. We need our economy to get a whole lot better…but can a nation which calls itself “exceptional” really feel OK about perhaps going after programs that make life more bearable for millions of people?

It seems to me that that’s kind of impossible…but maybe that’s just me…

A candid observation…