I have been silent, not writing much, watching what is going on in our country. It is troubling and frightening. It has been disappointing to see Republican lawmakers allow the president to run roughshod over the constitutional requirements of those who have been elected to office; they are supposed to “protect and defend” that document, which I call “sacred.” Continue reading “Watching Democracy Crumble”
I have smiled, chuckled and laughed out loud as I have watched House Speaker Nancy Pelosi handle the president of the United States.
She has reminded me of my own mother, and of the mothers I have known and watched. Mothers have a way of making known to children – spoiled or not – as to how far they can go. In the case of my own mother, it was a look, accompanied by a particular timbre of her voice, that let me know that I was standing on shaky ground. It was not wise to continue what she obviously considered to be unacceptable behavior when I got “the look” or heard “the voice.”
Speaker Pelosi, the mother of six children and a grandmother, knows how to be a mother as well as how to work the system called politics. As I think back on the day of her swearing-in as speaker, I am moved again at how she called the children to come forward. I was moved to tears that day because it was such a warm moment in what has been a bitterly cold political season, but I was also moved because she was bringing a different spirit into the House of Representatives. It was going to be different. She would handle her political duties, but she would also handle the children in her midst.
As I have watched her handle the president – and that is the correct word for what she has been doing – I go back to seeing those children surrounding her. They were invited into the cradle of political power; they laid their eyes on the woman who would keep things in order and listened to her voice. They watched her use the gavel, the symbol of her power, and they left feeling a kind of assurance we have all felt when we have known our mothers (or mother figures) have shown us that they had things under control.
Without raising her voice or quaking under the pressure and criticism, Speaker Pelosi has told the president what will and will not happen. She has let him know that she will not be bullied. She does not scare easily, and she has not let him objectify her. She seemingly has let him know how far is “far enough,” and he, like a child, has gotten the message. She has acted courageously, firmly letting him know that he will not be allowed to present the State of the Union address in the House chambers, and when he pushed back, like an arrogant jock, she pushed back yet again. Her message: it is not going to happen.
The more petulant he gets, the stronger her resolve becomes. It is as though she is saying that as long as he is in her house that he will follow her rules – or, more accurately, the rules of the American government. It is as though she is saying that if he wants to be an autocrat, he will have to get out of “her house.” As mothers are charged to take care of their children, Speaker Pelosi takes seriously her charge to take care of the American people and the American government.
I find myself comforted by her presence. I find that I give little sighs of relief that there is finally someone in the House who loves this country more than his or her political proclivities. It feels like that as long as Speaker Pelosi is in charge, the train wreck that the president is causing will be less severe. It feels like we may survive this terrifying chapter in American history.
I have been deeply disappointed in the GOP men – and women, certainly, but mostly the men – who have quaked under the president’s bullying. I have been disappointed that they have stood idly by and let him do whatever he has wanted to do, just because they are afraid of being attacked. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a total disgrace. None of these GOP lawmakers have honored their promise to protect the Constitution of the United States. It has been disgusting to watch.
But Speaker Pelosi has let it be known that she is not “fooling” with them. She is a savvy politician, yes, and a woman who knows how to use her power. She remembers the lessons of politics that her father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., who represented New Jersey’s 3rdcongressional district and later became the mayor of Baltimore, taught her and she is using them. He taught her how to play political hardball, and she learned well.
And I feel a measure of comfort.
Speaker Pelosi is no saint and is not perfect; that is not my argument. What I am arguing, however, that it has taken a woman to reel in a power-hungry and power-grabbing man who has stopped at nothing to get his way, a man who knows little about politics and who cares little about the American people – including his “base” to which he always directs his rhetoric. He is a stirrer of hatred and bigotry, a man who has no regard for the “rule of law” which he claims to respect.
But in Speaker Pelosi, there is a “mother in the house” who is determined to keep her house in order. She is giving “the look” and sharing “the voice” to remind her adult male children that she is “not fooling with them.”
A candid observation …
The remembrance of the late President George H.W. Bush was moving; his good work as president – i.e., ending the Cold War, getting the Berlin Wall down – was rightfully noted. His civility was understandably emphasized in light of the total lack of civility we are experiencing now. His family was surely comforted by affirmation of his inherent goodness.
But his racism was nearly totally glossed over.
It was his administration that used the case of Willie Horton to feed into the racist fears of white people. In 1988 a group called “Americans for Bush” created and ran what came to be known as the “Willie Horton ad.” It was so reprehensible that it still gives me chills. This group of white Americans capitalized on the sad fact that a man who was given a furlough by Bush’s Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, raped a white woman twice while on a weekend furlough. Many governors in states across the nation granted furloughs at that time, but the impact of this ad on white people was enormous. Lee Atwater, the brains behind the Bush campaign, ended up apologizing for the ad on his deathbed, but at the time of the election, all bets were off. Dukakis was too much of a threat, and so white campaign strategists used what is being used today – race – to make sure their guy got into office.
It was disgusting.
It is beyond dispute that President Bush 41 did some really good things while in office. Nobody can dispute that. But he did some things that were not so good (https://truthout.org/articles/i-will-not-speak-kindly-of-the-dead-bush-was-detestable/?utm_source=sharebuttons&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=mashshare&fbclid=IwAR3lfOMPejr4FOtKxgkUda0PfQaaSjWchIGO3LvF1uyVUm7AMBpb5hqZGPk) and in lifting him up as one of America’s last great presidents, those things, which have had a tremendous impact on the world, have been ignored – including his racism.
White Americans have historically been able to separate their racism from their faith. In the antebellum South, whites would say that slavery was a problem but that it was not immoral or wrong; the Slavery Bible was written to contort the will of God to fit the racist mindset of Southerners who believed in it. White Christianity has always been different from the Christianity practiced by oppressed people. The god of white people has been ok with racism and all of its tentacles, but their god did not gel with the God of all people described in the Christian Bible.
Robert P. Jones in his book The End of White Christian America says that “White Christian America…has died.” But has it? This sect of Christians is making a comeback, using race as their foundation, to maintain what has been the status quo. If the “swamp” was drained, it was refilled with these “good, Christian” people who believe in the sanctity of white supremacy. The noticeable silence on the part of the media about this president’s racism supports that reality. Nobody expected the funeral of the late president to be the place where Bush’s racism was mentioned, but the media should have. The role of racism in this country and its use by the “best of the best” as indicated by the Bush campaign, should have been noted more prominently, not to beat him over the head but to remind America that we still have a problem.
My guess is that the majority of white people, white Christians especially, do not know about the Willie Horton ad and that if they did, it would not bother them. They would shrug and say that Willie Horton was a bad guy and that using him to win an election was fair game.
This attitude, even though the very architect of the ad struggled with the wrongness of that ad until he died.
Revising history when it comes to race seems to be the only way white Americans can survive. Dr. Joy DeGruy, the author of Post– Traumatic Slave Syndrome, identifies the cognitive dissonance that white people have learned to use so well as a major reason why racism still fills this country with its stench.
The voter suppression that is running rampant throughout the country has a racist core; many of the policies being created have a racist core. We are a racist nation, and we will not admit it.
President George H.W. Bush was a good person to and for his family and friends. He did some things that perhaps helped the African American community during his presidency. He was certainly civil, unlike the current president; he was not an outright liar, again, as is the current president.
But he was racist and knew how to use racism to get what he wanted. I cannot forget that, and I suspect, many others cannot, either.
A candid observation
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 …
In Psalm 137:7, the psalmist writes, “Remember, O Lord, the Edomites, the day of Jerusalem’s fall.” The words are those of Israelites who have been cast out of their homeland; they sit on the bank of a river in Babylon and mourn their exile from Jerusalem. They remember how things “used to be” in Jerusalem, and how things are now that they have been captured by the Babylonians. They are in shock. They were God’s people, but God, tired of the people’s constant rejection of God’s rules and laws, used the Babylonians, their enemies, to bring them down.
The Israelites are angry. They plea to God to “remember the Edomites,” who joined the Babylonians in the attack on Jerusalem. The Edomites had been vicious, saying to their soldiers to “tear it down,” meaning Jerusalem. In the psalm, the beleaguered Israelites, in essence, curse the Babylonians, and vow vengeance, “Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!” The psalm concludes with the Israelites saying, “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock.”
They are angry and hurt and lost; they had a good thing in Jerusalem, they now realize, as they sit under the rule of foreigners who laugh at them and beg them to “sing one of the songs of Zion.” They balk, insulted, one might guess, and ask, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
In 2001, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr, then the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, preached a sermon entitled, “The Day of Jerusalem’s Fall,” quoting this psalm and prophesying that America was in trouble. It was shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11. The nation was reeling and angry; Wright, the prophetic preacher, recalled in the sermon how those who had gone against the will of God had been forced into exile …by God.
Nebuchadnezzar II was the king of Babylon in 597 BCE and he fought against the Pharaoh Necho in the Battle of Carchemish and then went on to invade Judah. The king of Judah at the time, Jehoiakim, resisted Nebuchadnezzar but lost. Jerusalem fell, and the Israelites mourned the loss of all they had ever known and treasured.
Today the president of this nation sided with a modern-day Babylonian king, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and on international television, put his own country down in obeisance to one of America’s arch enemies. It was stunning to watch. Today we watched the “day of America’s fall.”
It has been coming for some time, though nobody could have predicted that the man elected to be the president of this nation would hand it over to Russia. It has been shocking to watch the president cow-tow to Putin, putting this country’s systems down and insulting its institutions, and it has been noticeable that this president, who has put down almost everyone in this government, has not said one negative word about Putin.
Not even today.
This president has put the country he swore to protect – and its institutions and constitution – in real jeopardy, leaving the way clear for our present-day Babylonians – aka Russia, to have its way.
He has not done this alone. The Republican-led House and Senate have been partners in the undoing of America. The rabid fear of the browning of America, along with other social changes that Conservatives have hated, has been paralyzing even as it has been motivating for these primarily white men to resort to base instincts which have led them to make moves and create policies that will have repercussions for generations. They are afraid to stand up to him and to oppose him, a fear which has encouraged him to do what he did today: give the America we have known since its birth – to an arch-enemy.
The American democracy was far from perfect, but it was better than many governments. This country was known, even in somewhat mythical proportions, as the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” People had confidence in what America claimed to be.
The world has watched this president destroy the progress that has been made over five decades; it has watched as the president has trashed allies and praised and supported autocrats. Already, so much damage has been done that it will take at least a generation to repair what has been destroyed – if, in fact, it can be repaired.
Americans have not believed that its democracy could be destroyed. We have been like Germans, who when Hitler was grabbing power, never believed it would get as bad as it did. The truth is, in most countries where democracies die, the leaders of the destruction have been voted into office by the people.
When Jeremiah Wright preached that infamous sermon in 2001, he was bombarded by critics who called him everything from racist to anti-American. He preached that America was being paid back and would be paid back for what it had done over the years in its quest for power, and he reminded listeners of some of America’s history.
It was not pretty.
In the name of God, he preached that we should be reminded that God sees what both individuals and countries do and that there is a price to pay when God’s people stray from God’s requirements.
God directed the fall of Jerusalem.
And God is in this, the day of America’s fall. We, too, may find ourselves looking back at what we had, taunted and insulted, asked to “sing a song of Zion,” and we, like the over-confident Israelites, may find our voices quieted, our spirits wounded, because we did not believe that this country would ever see the day when its president threw it under the bus.
(To listen to Wright’s sermon, visit (http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-put-trump-online-letters-20180716-story.html)