On Loving America

In light of the news of Republican Arizona Senator John McCain deciding not to seek further treatment for his brain cancer, I shared that even though I did not agree with his politics, of one thing I was (and am) sure: He loves America.

The statement got some immediate push-back, with people reminding me of his political record: he was a hawk, he opposed the Affordable Care Act, and most recently, he cast a vote for the president’s tax reform bill, a measure which in my opinion helps only the very wealthy.

I know all of that. But what sticks in my mind is that John McCain has stuck to his beliefs and principles, even when they have been unpopular with his base and with this president. And I will forever respect him for shutting down the ugly lies about his opponent, then-Senator  Barack Obama, as whites shared that they were afraid of him and their belief that he was an Arab, or, more specifically, a Muslim.

McCain shut it down – and said that Obama was a good, decent man, which was and is true.

It takes courage to stand up and say what you believe, even when it means you may pay a great cost. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the book, The Cost of Discipleship, which I refer to quite a bit, and Christians should remember that Jesus the Christ says in the Gospels that whoever wants to be his disciple must deny him/herself, pick up their crosses daily, and follow him.

In defending the character of Obama, when it cost him votes and must criticism, McCain was living that scripture.

We are not supposed to hate those with whom we disagree. We can dislike their beliefs, but at the end of the day, that is actually kind of juvenile. There is no one way to look at the world. If there were, this world would be a much better place. I will never forget reading the account of a Southern senator who believed in segregation. He was asked if he didn’t know the scripture about how one should love his neighbor, and this senator said, “Of course I know. But I get to choose my neighbor!”

Not so. Our neighbors are those with whom we agree and those with whom we disagree. In the frenzy to get and keep political power, most politicians cave to cultural demands. They will do what they need to do and say what they need to say in order to get elected and to stay in office.

McCain sought the presidency twice and lost both times. That had to have been horribly difficult to bear. I was not unhappy that he lost because I didn’t believe in his politics and believed that if president, he would pass laws and enact policies that would hurt “the least of these,” especially black, brown and poor people. I was angry with him for picking Sarah Palin as a running mate, in an attempt, I suppose, to appeal to angry white people; I was glad their ticket lost.

But the senator held his ground. He, unlike the majority of this current Congress, had the courage to speak out against the current president, a man who seems hell-bent on leading America away from democracy and toward fascism. While others in Congress have become sycophants, many to a sickening degree, McCain has held fast.

He endured the disgusting insult hurled at him by the current president, who downplayed his being a war hero, criticizing him because he had been caught and was a prisoner of war. This, from a man who never served a day in the military, burned me to my soul. Yet, McCain didn’t meet him on his ground or at his level, but held his own and worked to serve his country in the way he saw fit.

That McCain, a wealthy white man, and myself, a struggling African American woman, do not see and have never seen eye-to-eye is not the issue here. What is the issue is that this wealthy white man stayed true to what he was, regardless of what it cost him. And that is something I will always respect, especially now as the executive and legislative branches of our government seem to be hell-bent on creating an autocracy in which most of us will suffer greatly.

A candid observation …

Is America’s Democracy in Trouble?

The antics and behavior that are coming out of the White House are disturbing on many levels, but one of the most troubling is that it feels like this country is moving toward becoming an autocratic state.

A survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp during the Holocaust, architect Stephen Jacobs, said in a recent interview that the “rise of Donald Trump is reminiscent of the years that led to the Nazi takeover of Germany.”  (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5596737/Holocaust-survivor-says-Trumps-America-reminds-years-lead-Nazi-takeover.html)

At the time that Hitler rose to power, Germany was experiencing economic, social and political unrest. Hitler seized the moment, telling Germans that he could restore their country to its former greatness. The people bought his argument, and the fall of civilized government resulted in the murders of over 6 million Jewish people.

What is astounding is not so much that the president is doing what he is doing, but that so many people seem not to care. From the Congress – representatives and senators alike – to Evangelical Christians, to masses of people who like it that he “tells it like it is,” there seem to be few people in power – politically or morally – who have the best interests of “the least of these” at heart.

These people turn a blind eye to the role of the Congress to check the raw ascent of power of the Executive branch of our government. Evangelical Christians, who have been known to be deeply judgmental of all kinds of people for behavior much less offensive and troubling than that of the president, are silent and acquiescent.

It has been amazing to listen to people defend this president at every turn; nothing, it seems, not even the cyber-attack of our voting system by a known enemy, has been enough to inspire people to do something to put the brakes on what seems like a train running downhill, spiraling out of control.

We thought that our government was immune to becoming autocratic. We thought that our Constitution and our professed love of “liberty and justice for all” were enough to incubate us from encroaching fascism. It appears that many Conservatives feel like there is no danger of our democracy falling into disrepair or ruination. But democracies, historically, have fallen, following a course much like the one on which America now finds itself.

What is worrying is that the only people who might seem to not have to worry are the very rich. This country has not been a “democracy” for some time; it has been a plutocracy, with a very few really wealthy people making policies for everyone else. But even that number of wealthy people, in control of the lives of the masses, is dwindling; we are more an oligarchy now than ever before.

Oligarchies do not care about the masses.

During the Holocaust, Hitler and his minions made decisions about who was worthy to live and who was not. The Jews were certainly deemed unworthy, but so were people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses, gay people, gypsies, twins, priests, and other groups, were murdered. It is estimated that 5 million non-Jews died under Hitler.

Germany, using the science developed in America that formed the foundation of the eugenics movement, made it its cause to eliminate those who were not the right kind of “white” person – i.e., those with Nordic features.

It feels like everyone, with the exception of that very small group of wealthy white people, are in danger from the way this administration is running the country, and none of the people who we might have thought would defend the masses from this kind of tyranny are stepping forward.

It is difficult to understand how “people of faith” can marginalize the directives given for how to create a “Beloved Community” by Jesus the Christ. Jesus is far removed from what is going on, it seems, and very few people are working to bring Jesus of Nazareth back to the center of who we are.

It feels like we are on a collision course with tragedy, and in this, the so-called “land of the free and home of the brave,” that ought not be the case.

A candid observation …

 

The Definition of Strength

It has always seemed to me that the common definition of strength is not what it really is.

Many Americans this morning are celebrating that force is being used in the war-torn Middle East. The missiles fired on Syria were supposedly dropped because the administration, specifically, the president, were horrified by images of people who had been hit with a deadly gas.

Then, the Mother Of All Bombs (MOAB) was dropped in Afghanistan, killing a some members of ISIS.

Many Americans are rejoicing. They are saying that the moves made by the administration show “strength.” People are saying, “we are back in the game again.”

The game? What …game? Is it really a game that we seem to be on the brink of a deadly war?

Diplomacy, I guess, is a punk technique. In the presence of ISIS, the only way to handle this is to “bomb the —- out of them.” The way of the Empire is to engage in war, to force change by killing innocent people and destroying other countries.

People have been absolutely incensed with former President Obama for not engaging in war. It made him and the United States look weak, they say.

But this new president – this is the Popeye against the Brutus called terrorism. He really believes he can destroy ISIS with bombs.

Meanwhile, he is hurting his own people by proposing budget cuts that affect programs that help the poor, the elderly, and children.

It doesn’t matter, though. He does not see the irony of him and his administration being outraged about Syrians treated badly by their government while his own government is treating his own people badly, under the sanction of the law.

All that matters is that he is showing “strength” in a conflict which seemingly has no end. Americans will run to participate in a war against an idea, and in a war which has such deep roots that not even the strongest nuclear weapon would be effective.

Is it arrogance or hubris that makes a nation “strong?” That seems to be the message. In a world in which so many people profess to believe in Christianity, which touts the formation and preservation of community, the basic Christian message seems to be disposable.

Refraining from force is perceived as being weak. The strong do all they can to maintain power, a mindset which inevitably causes the less fortunate (or “weak”) to be trampled upon. The deployment of force is held more dear than is the exercise of compassion and restraint.

So, this American president is standing on a platform, beating his chest, bragging about his strength. He is Popeye; his “spinach” is the belief that using force means or defines that very strength.

Meanwhile, the huddled masses, here and around the world, will be trounced upon, and nobody seems to care.

So much for strength.

A candid observation …

What is a Joke?

At the height of the Democratic National Convention, Donald Trump, our Republican nominee for president, called a press conference, and during that press conference, he invited the Russian government to hack into Hillary Clinton’s email account.

He said that if the Russian government could find 30,000 missing emails, emails that Hillary Clinton said she erased, that the American press would probably “mightily reward” them. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/29/world/europe/russia-trump-clinton-email-hacking.html)

His statement was shocking and troubling, and the press, as well as American government and security personnel, jumped all over it. Pundits tried to play it down; it was just “The Donald” being “The Donald,” practicing his craft of manipulating the press, as he so skillfully does. Any press, even bad press, is good, he believes. What better way to keep the spotlight on him, in light of what some might say is a fairly successful Democratic National Convention, than for him to say something outrageous?

But as the press and people who know government spoke out, Trump backtracked some, and said he was merely being sarcastic. And his friend Newt Gingrich, said that Trump had only been “joking.” (https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2016/07/27/newt-gingrich-says-donald-trump-was-joking-about-hillary-clinton-mails/vx5Ml4OXKJmfIcFMaDv6BK/story.html)

I’m confused. I thought a “joke” was or is supposed to be funny. Granted, the perception, understanding and interpretation of what is “funny” is left to the beholder, but there ought to be some thread of commonality, regardless of who is doing the interpreting, right?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that a joke is “something said or done to cause laughter. : a brief story with a surprising and funny ending. : someone or something that is not worth taking seriously.” Good comedians are rare; they are capable of taking what we experience every day and making it funny. Their jokes make us laugh at ourselves, laugh at our habits and idiosyncrasies, laugh at our situations or even how we think. The best jokes, it seems, don’t make us look at someone who has a problem and laugh at them; at best, good jokes make us look at how we look at different people at laugh at ourselves.

But it seems that far too often in our world in general, and in our American world specifically, people say things that insult or put others down and when their words are found to offend, the immediate response is, “It was just a joke,” or “you can’t take a joke.”

Seriously?

When the mayor of a small town in Washington State called Michelle Obama a “gorilla face” and President Obama a “monkey man,” he said that it was just “playful back and forth banter.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/washington-mayor-racist_us_55a71677e4b04740a3defd84)

Amy Schumer has been called on the carpet for saying disparaging things about Mexicans. She calls them “jokes.” Mexicans call her words hurtful, racist and offensive. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/07/06/dont-believe-her-defenders-amy-schumers-jokes-are-racist/)

I personally hate the “n” word, but when an African-American is telling a story about some experience he or she has had with friends or family and uses the word, sharing an experience with which we as African Americans are all familiar, it is funny. But when a white person begins to use the word, not becoming immersed in a common, comical cultural experience but instead is standing outside looking in, the words sound judgmental, racist, and, frankly, inappropriate. A white person using the “n” word is never funny, and black people need to drop it, too. But there is a noticeable difference when black people are using it to describe black life, black experiences, black emotions and black pain.

But back to Donald Trump and his invitation to Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails – where  is the humor? Where is the joke? What are we supposed to find amusing about a presidential candidate inviting a known enemy of this nation to commit espionage?

Am I missing something here?

It is a cop-out to say one was only “joking”  when his or her words have backfired. If President Obama gave a presentation and called Donald Trump some disparaging term that has obvious racist overtones, the airwaves would burn. When people have said things about Trump, say, for instance, about his hair, they haven’t had to back up and say they were joking. They weren’t.

And neither was Trump. He was speaking from his heart, just as too many people do who say things that offend other people, especially along racial, ethnic and sexual lines. Calling someone a name, like too many have done, is not funny. Inviting an enemy to compromise your own nation’s security…is not funny, either.

Donald Trump was not joking and you were not being sarcastic. That’s what makes what he said so troubling, and even more troubling is the fact that his hard core followers do not care.

But many more do care, Mr. Trump. Many more do.

A candid observation …

 

Obama the Most Divisive Ever

Sometimes, I get confused.

I think I understand something and then someone says something that makes me …confused.

I have listened with interest …and confusion …to people who say that President Barack Obama has been the most divisive president in modern history. They are talking about issues including race, and say that he has divided the country along racial and economic lines. (http://theweek.com/articles/599246/republicans-say-obama-been-historically-divisive-thats-revealing).

Former GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl) said continuously during his campaign that Obama was the most polarizing president in history, and a recent article in Newsmax concurred. (http://www.newsmax.com/Politics/Barack-Obama-Gallup-polarizing-president/2015/02/06/id/623299/).

The country  certainly is divided, but is it because of President Obama? Can it be said that those who vowed to oppose him on anything and everything he proposed to do have something to do with where we are today?

Certainly, the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) made people furious. While millions of people now have health insurance who did not have access to it before, those who opposed it when it was on its way to becoming law still oppose it, and if a Republican wins the White House, the GOP still plans to repeal it.

The fight over the president’s landmark legislation did, in fact, pit people against each other.

But how else has Mr. Obama’s presidency divided the country? He has done some really good things, like, for example, pulling the country out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. He has said he didn’t know how bad things were, how the issues of Wall Street were spreading to Main Street, until he took office …but he worked on the economy and saved the country from a total economic meltdown. A lot of people were negatively impacted, and many are still trying to recover, but the president took the problem on and did the best he could do.

He wanted to be a president who worked across the aisle, but even before his inauguration was over, there were Republicans meeting to make sure that he would do no such thing; they wanted to make sure he was a “one term president” and they worked on a plan on how to best obstruct any and everything he tried to do.

I hear the subtle and often unspoken charges levied against him that he made the racial divide in this country worse, but that simply is not true. Obama has stayed away from “things racial” for the most part. America’s bubbling and diseased underbelly simply began to erupt to the surface as angry white people could no longer hold their resentment about a black man being in the White House.

The fact that the country is not so lily-white anymore, and that there are fewer jobs now for the masses than there were before is not, again, Obama’s fault. There are factors that “the angry” don’t really deal with, like who it was that voted in trade agreements that have resulted in the United States losing manufacturing jobs. “The angry” don’t seem to remember when “outsourcing” was going on like crazy, resulting in America losing its source of employment for so many people, especially white men.

Obama has supported trade agreements, as has Secretary Clinton, but he didn’t initiate them, right?  He might have supported NAFTA, and he does in fact support the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), but has his support of those trade agreements been the reason America is so divided?

How about this: America has always been a divided nation. Romantic Constitutional rhetoric aside, America has always pitted the “haves” against the “have-nots,” and has not made it easy for the class differences it created to be overcome. Obama has had to deal with the normal antics of oppositional politics compounded by a Republican resolve to make him a “one term president.” (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/05/sorry-marco-rubio-obama-isnt-as-divisive-as-bush-lincoln-or-clinton/257483/) He has had his hands full, to say the least. America, in spite of its claim to be a democracy, is in fact an oligarchy and that system by definition divides people.

This is not to say that Obama should be pitied. He has found a way to get things done in spite of the cantankerous Congress with which he has had to work in a way that has made people spit-fire mad, but it feels like he did what he had to do because it was clear Congress was not going to take its foot off of his neck. He was elected to do some things and he worked hard to do just that.

He failed in unifying the nation, but really, who can? Donald Trump says he can do it, and all one can say to that claim is, “hardly.” Trump is dangerously divisive and everyone except his blind followers knows it.

In the end, all presidents cause some division because no president can please all of the people, but as I read it, Obama is no worse and no more divisive than some of the other presidents who have graced the White House. He has endured his time in office in spite of an openly and unreasonably stubborn Congress, and it feels like most of their opposition has been seeded in America’s garden of racism.

Nobody would ever openly admit that, though, just like few people are willing to admit that much of what Trump is doing is feeding that same garden, seeding it with pent-up resentment and anger. Trump’s divisiveness could throw this country into a downward spiral from which it might never recover.

It’s something to think about …and it is certainly a candid observation.